I like to watch the birds that come into my garden, so perhaps I’ll start off with a couple of bird stories. One morning a sparrow flew into my workplace and ended up in the kitchen. Now this was quite a feat, because to get there, the bird had to fly through four doors, doors which are not supposed to be left open. The sparrow must have flown through these various doors as people went through them. However it got there, it ended up in the kitchen, where all the windows are sealed and don’t open. I’m sure the sparrow was very frightened as it flew toward the light of the windows and couldn’t get out. We tried for a couple of hours to catch it, so we could put it outside, but we couldn’t. In the end we had to call the SPCA. When they arrived, it took them less than a minute to catch the sparrow and release it outside, unharmed. One of the ladies who worked there suggested that God had sent the bird to remind us that his eye is on the sparrow.

I have one more bird story to tell; this one concerns my cat. Late one night I went to let him into the house before I went to bed. Everyone else in the house had already gone to bed. I hadn’t turned any lights on near the door, but thanks to the streetlights I could see as he came up to the door that he had something in his mouth. I just knew he had caught a bird, though I don’t know how he did that at night, when birds are usually in their nests. Anyway, I grabbed him and turned him around to face outside; the last thing I needed was a wounded bird in the house in the middle of the night. My grabbing the cat was enough to make him let go of the bird, which flew away, outside.

The Old Testament: Provision, Protection, Teaching

I’d like now to look at some of the “bird passages” of the Bible, and see what we can learn from them. The first passage I would like to look at came to my mind because I was wondering what I could plant in my garden that would encourage birds to come to it.

The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. In them the birds build their nests; the stork also has its home in the fir trees.” (Ps. 104:16-7)

Evidently God knows what to plant that will attract birds. These verses speak of God’s provision for the birds. He has given them the trees in which they can build their nests. He also provides for the trees themselves, giving them the water they need, and in abundance. And these are no ordinary trees, because the cedars of Lebanon were famous and highly valued throughout the ancient world. And that tells us something about God’s provision too. He provides the best for those he loves. Speaking of provision of trees, I have firethorn and high-bush cranberry in my backyard. These bushes produce berries which the birds like. I get sparrows, juncos, cedar waxwings, blue jays, cardinals, and even the occasional Baltimore oriole. I suspect that my cat believes that I’ve provided the bushes in order to provide birds for him to catch. I also have trumpet vine, which hummingbirds like. Unfortunately bees and wasps like it too, but that’s another story.

There are other ornithological passages in the Old Testament; let’s look at them, in order. The first one is Deut. 32:11-12.:

As an eagle stirs up its nest, as it spreads its wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on its pinions; the Lord alone guided him [Israel]; no foreign god was with him.

It seems that when a mother eagle feels that her young are ready to learn to fly, she has a dramatic way of teaching them. She pushes the fledgling eaglet out of the nest; it must either fly or fall to its death. But she does not leave it to its fate. She swoops down underneath it, and, if the eaglet is unable to fly, its mother catches it on her back and takes it safely back up to the nest for another try. This she does again and again until the eaglet has the understanding and the strength of wing that it needs to master this important skill. I’m sure this isn’t a pleasant experience for the eaglet; being in free fall is rather unnerving. But it is a vital one if the eaglet is to come to maturity.

There is a sense in which our relationship with God is like that. He is more concerned with his children’s spiritual maturity than with their comfort. So at times he allows things into our lives which challenge us, causing us to move beyond our comfort zone and attain the spiritual maturity we need to do what God has called us to. This isn’t very pleasant when it’s happening, but it’s necessary for our spiritual growth. As the apostle Paul puts it,

Trouble produces patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 5:6)

Just as the mother eagle teaches and challenges her young, so God teaches and challenges his children to bring them to spiritual maturity. Sometimes the ride gets rough. But that doesn’t mean that God has abandoned us. Sometimes it just means that he’s taking us “further up and further in.”

Our next “bird passage” comes from one of my favourite passages of the Old Testament, Job 38—41. This is God’s reply to Job, and it’s where all the answers in the Book of Job are to be found. We haven’t time to study the entire passage here; let’s focus on Job 39:26-27:

Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars, and spreads its wings toward the south? Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up and builds its nest on high?

Up to this point in the story, the humans have been doing a lot of talking about what God might be up to, and Job especially has been complaining that God has been silent. Finally, near the end of the story, it’s God’s turn to speak. It’s interesting that God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind, out of the storm. This suggests to me that God speaks to us during, and through, the difficult times. And what does God say in his reply to Job? He asks a series of questions, most of which begin with, “Were you/are you there when...?” or “Can you...?” Of course, the answer to these questions is obvious: Job can’t, but God can. Getting back to our bird questions, Job didn’t teach the hawk or the eagle to fly. God did that. What I get from these verses is that God is in charge. He knows what he’s doing, even when we don’t know what he’s doing. If I may be allowed to digress for a moment, this also includes current events. I’m not going to get into the situation in the Middle East and all the things connected with it. All I want to say about that is that the Psalmist said, “Dominion belongs to the Lord; he is ruler over the nations” (Ps. 22:28). God is in charge, both in our lives and in international affairs.

Our next “bird passage” is Isa. 31:5: Like birds hovering overhead, so the Lord of Hosts will protect Jerusalem; he will protect and deliver it; he will spare and rescue it.

Again, the image is of a mother bird with her young; here she is hovering over the nest to protect them from anyone who might want to do them harm. Just so, God watches over his people and protects them. Again, this applies not only to international affairs but to our individual lives.

Of course, we can’t leave out the most famous “bird passage” in the Old Testament, Isa. 40:31:

Those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

It’s not easy to wait for God’s timing. We humans are impatient, we want what we want when we want it. But God knows more than we do. We may need to wait for something that he has for us until we’re ready for it, or until other things are in place, things that maybe we don’t know about. The important thing is that we wait for God, and keep our focus on him. If we do, God will strengthen us and take us through the difficult times. Of course, this kind of waiting requires spiritual maturity. Maybe that’s why the author of Hebrews lists among the heroes of faith those who “won strength out of weakness” (Heb. 11:34). I wonder if the writer had in mind the verse from Isaiah which we have just read. God knows how weak we can be when we get into difficult times, and he promises that he will strengthen and sustain us through them.

The New Testament: Worth More Than Many Birds

There are “bird passages” in the New Testament as well as the Old, and we won’t leave them out. The first one is Matt. 10:29-31: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall apart from your Father. And even the hairs on your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

(I’m sure you were wondering when I would get to this one!) A sparrow is a small bird, and it could be bought for a small price—two of them for the smallest coin in circulation. But, says Jesus, not one of these inexpensive little birds so much as falls to the ground without God noticing. God notices and values even the little creatures. Indeed, he pays so much attention to details that he knows the number of hairs on each person’s head. How much more, then, does God value us than sparrows? The Bible says that we have been bought with a price, and that price was far more than two for a penny. God paid for us with the life of his one and only Son. That’s how much he loves and values each one of us. As the apostle Peter puts it in one of his letters, we were “redeemed...not with perishable things like silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without spot or blemish” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).

What then should be our response to this? Jesus tells us this in Matt. 10:31: “Do not be afraid.” We’ve seen how valuable we are to God, and how much he has given for us. We’ve also seen what close attention God is paying to even the small creatures. That’s why we don’t have to be afraid. God loves us and values us, and he’s watching over us. He sees when we get into difficulties. This is all summed up in a children’s hymn I remember from Sunday school:

God sees the little sparrow fall, It meets his tender view. If God so loves the little birds I know he loves me too. (Maria Straub, 1838-1898)

There’s one other response we should make, and Paul tells us what it is in his letter to Christians in the city of Philippi: Do not be anxious about anything, but rather in every situation make your requests known to God by prayer and supplication. Then the peace of God, which is beyond all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ” (Phil. 4:6-7)

In other words, instead of being afraid, we should make our needs known to God who loves us and values us, and put them in his hands. If we do that, we’ll have God’s incomprehensible peace to protect our hearts and minds. By the way, God’s peace is incomprehensible because we can have it in situations where we wouldn’t naturally expect to be peaceful. To the natural mind, this doesn’t make sense. But God often operates in ways which the natural mind can’t understand.

Our last “bird passage” is Luke 12:24-28:

Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your lifespan? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, you of little faith?”

Again, these verses speak about God’s provision, and here what is being provided is food and clothing. The point of these verses is that God’s provision is not earned. God doesn’t feed the ravens or clothe the lilies because they do something to deserve it. Likewise God doesn’t provide for us because we deserve it. He provides for us because he loves us. And he doesn’t love us because we deserve it, because of who we are. He loves us because of who he is.

We’ve looked at some of the ornithological passages in the Bible, and we’ve seen that there is much to learn from them. They tell us that God teaches, provides for and protects the birds. And if he does this for the birds, how much more will he do it for us? We are far more valuable to God than the birds. In Israel in Jesus’ day one could buy two sparrows for the smallest coin then in circulation; God bought us with the life of his one and only Son. That’s how much God loves and values us. When we get into difficult times—and God never promised us that we wouldn’t—we can take comfort in knowing that God sees our difficulties and will help us through them. Many of our “bird passages” are promises which we can claim for ourselves and believe that God will keep them. But there’s something that we must understand. God’s promises are for those who have a relationship, a friendship, with him. We have to have that relationship before we can claim those promises. If you don’t have that relationship, will you consider making Jesus your personal Lord and Saviour? And remember, you are more valuable to God than many sparrows.