3.2.9 Bird: The Consequences of Choice
Volume 3: Living Symbols—Chapter 2.9
Bird: The Consequences of Choice
At first glance, it seems a stretch to assign a symbolic meaning to birds in scripture. After all, they are, as a category, a veritable study in contrasts: clean vs. unclean, predator vs. prey, large vs. small, carnivorous vs. vegetarian, domesticated vs. wild, captive vs. free, or flying vs. flightless. No other class of created being is represented in scripture with as many distinct variations—in alphabetical order: buzzards, cormorants, doves, eagles, falcons, hawks, hens, herons, hoopoes, jackdaws, kites, ostriches, several varieties of owls, partridges, pelicans, pigeons, quails, ravens, roosters, sparrows, storks, swallows, swifts, turtledoves, and vultures. (The list may vary, of course, depending on what translation you’re using.) Beyond that, birds are as often as not mentioned in the same context as other animals. “Birds and beasts” together are commonly employed as a euphemism for “living things comprising God’s created biosphere.” So perhaps the symbolic significance we’ll discover applying to birds can be extended to the rest of the biosphere as well.
But it is this very diversity that leads me to the conclusion that Yahweh is using birds to teach us something significant about our lives: the things we do, the choices we make, result in a wide variety of consequences, but they basically break down into two broad categories, good and bad. The most obvious tip off, perhaps, it the Levitical dietary instructions, that say it’s okay to eat poultry, but then go on to list quite a few specific birds that are forbidden as food. The lesson here is to be discerning—our actions have consequences.
Four words are used in scripture to designate birds in general, two in Hebrew and two in Greek. Not surprisingly, one variant in each language is based on a corresponding verb meaning “to fly.” The Hebrew ’owph is derived from ’uwph, meaning to fly, fly about, or fly away. Thus it is used in the broadest sense of any creature capable of flying, including winged insects and bats (a usage that explains why God included bats among the “birds”—’owph—on the dietary no-no list. In Hebrew, the usage is perfectly accurate). In Greek the word based on the ability of flight is peteinon (again, from a verb meaning “to fly”). The other Greek word translated “bird” is orneon (a generic designation for fowl). And in Hebrew, tsippowr is the word used to describe small birds that hop about (e.g., sparrows). It’s derived from the verb tsaphar, meaning to go early, or depart.
The creation account gives birds (i.e., flying creatures) a starring role on the fifth day: “And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.’ So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.” (Genesis 1:20-23) Since ’owph is the word used here, this would of course include flying insects and reptiles like pterodactyls and archaeopteryxes, which God apparently introduced long before the warm-blooded feathered variety we know as “birds” today. This fact broadens the scriptural definition of “birds” beyond what we’re used to thinking, adding weight to my contention that they symbolically represent the broad range of possible consequences—often unexpected or unforeseen—that our choices can precipitate.
The whole thing begins to come into focus when we learn of man’s assigned role in managing Yahweh’s creation: “And God blessed [Adam and Eve]. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:28) In case you were wondering (as I was), that word “subdue” is accurately translated. Kabash is a verb meaning to subject, control, subdue, dominate, tread down, or bring into bondage. This doesn’t mean we’re being commanded by God to abuse the environment, however. Rather, its well being has become our responsibility. More to the point, we’re being given insight into what birds (and all the rest) were supposed to signify to us: we are being instructed to bring our free will under submission—to control it, subdue it, and exercise dominion over it. In other words, we are not to live like animals, allowing our instincts and passions to rule us. Revealingly, the Dictionary of Biblical Languages notes that the phrase kabash ‘aown means to “remove sin, formally, subdue wrongs, i.e., remove guilt from wrongdoing, implying relationship, as a figurative extension of conquering a people or nation.” For example, “He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:19)
So David notes, “You have given [man] dominion over the works of Your hands. You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:6-9) In linking our derived dominion over the “works of His hands” to the majesty of Yahweh’s name, David has revealed God’s game plan: our free will, our God-given ability to select our own destiny, defines mankind. It puts us in a unique position in all of creation, for we alone may make moral choices. We alone may determine what deity we will serve. (Note that David specifically designates Yahweh as “our lord” here—there is no question in his mind who he has chosen to serve.) Our dominion over the earth’s birds, beasts, and sea creatures is a metaphor for the power we hold as the possessors of free will. It is a power not to be taken lightly. There are consequences to everything we do.
The principle is established, then: we are to rule over our own choices (and thereby control their consequences). That is, we are not to be ruled by animalistic instincts, passions, lusts, and desires, but rather bring them under submission and keep them under our own control. Our free will is the tool Yahweh has provided us to enable us to do precisely that. Of course, as with any tool, we have to be willing to wield it: the nail will not drive itself. And it would be silly, not to mention unnatural, for the nail to say to the carpenter, “You must hammer me in at the time and place of my choosing.” The carpenter, after all, is the one wielding the hammer—his free will. Yahweh warned us against this very thing, in so many words: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.” (Exodus 20:4-5) The things “in heaven above” are birds (and perhaps even angels—see Revelation 14:6). The admonition precludes making any image of anything for the purpose of worship, for Yahweh had purposed to provide His own image: Yahshua the Messiah. Our obeisance and service are to be rendered to Him alone.
Moses later brought it into focus: “Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that Yahweh spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, [or] the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air.” (Deuteronomy 4:15-17) Nobody really worships birds and beasts, of course. In bowing down to “carved images,” they’re actually paying homage to some concept they have assigned to the image. In the final analysis, it’s absurdly simple: mankind’s worship of “carved images” invariably boils down to a desire for one of three things: power, prosperity, or pleasure. Or, stated as a negative, it entails the wish to evade oppression, poverty, or pain.
Man’s erroneous worship practices are often based on the illusion that our mortal lives are all there is to it. But because the soul (if indwelled with an immortal Spirit) will outlive the body, to base one’s eternal outlook on “getting good stuff in this life” is the dumbest strategy imaginable. On the other hand, if this mortal life begins to look hopeless (as it does for the vast majority of mankind), then the paradigm slops over into a variety of afterlife scenarios based on the same sort of desires. The Muslim longs for avoidance of Allah’s hell fire, and to instead be given sex-starved virgins and rivers of wine as a reward for his “martyrdom”—performing acts of unspeakable horror in this life. The Hindu or Buddhist dreams of achieving nothingness—that is, nirvana, the state of feeling nothing, of needing nothing, of knowing nothing, of being nothing (the “no pain is gain” philosophy). The pagan Christian expects mansions in glory, a heaven with streets of gold, having no conception how hard those might be to walk on if you’re not “shod with the preparation of the good news of peace.” The secular humanist harbors visions of utopia, which I’d define as the irrational desire for man’s bad choices to somehow cease precipitating their normal disastrous consequences.
All of this is “carved images of birds and beasts,” mankind’s desperate manifestations of errant theories based on illusive (or unattainable) goals. Yahweh, strangely enough, promises us none of these things—neither power, nor prosperity, nor pleasure. What He offers us, rather, is a personal relationship, a loving familial bond, that of a parent to His beloved child or a husband to His bride. And yet, since He is the omnipotent Creator of the universe, we find ourselves intimately associated with the greatest power imaginable. Since He owns everything, we His children are declared heirs to His vast fortune. And since He loves us unconditionally, we can enjoy the exquisite pleasure of perfect peace, even as the world around us tears itself apart.
As I said, our choices carry consequences.
The Torah’s dietary laws divide birds into two groups, those that are approved for food, and those which are not: Israel was required to make a distinction between bird species; they were to exercise discernment in their poultry choices, based on Yahweh’s “nutritional counsel.” Funny how omniscience works: when Yahweh offers “advice” it can’t help but take on the proportions of a commandment. In Deuteronomy, the precept looked like this: “You may eat all clean birds. But these are the ones that you shall not eat: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind; every raven of any kind; the ostrich, the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind; the little owl and the short-eared owl, the barn owl and the tawny owl, the carrion vulture and the cormorant, the stork, the heron of any kind; the hoopoe and the bat. And all winged insects are unclean for you; they shall not be eaten. All clean winged things you may eat.” (Deuteronomy 14:11-20) I should point out that the ESV’s mention of the “ostrich” is almost surely a mistranslation. It should read ossifrage, i.e. a lammergeyer or osprey. The NIV renders it “horned owl.” The point is that it’s a carnivore, a predator, while the ostrich’s diet consists of seeds, shrubs, grass, fruit and flowers. And that, the birds’ diet, is the single differentiating factor between “delectable” and “detestable.” The unclean birds all hunt or scavenge meat—mammals, other birds, or fish—while the clean birds are primarily vegetarians (give or take the odd bug or worm).
The list in the original Leviticus instructions looked very similar: “And these you shall detest among the birds; they shall not be eaten; they are detestable: the eagle, the bearded vulture, the black vulture, the kite, the falcon of any kind, every raven of any kind, the [ossifrage], the nighthawk, the sea gull, the hawk of any kind, the little owl, the cormorant, the short-eared owl, the barn owl, the tawny owl, the carrion vulture, the stork, the heron of any kind, the hoopoe, and the bat.” (Leviticus 11:13-18) This would leave domestic “barnyard birds” like chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese, as well as wild seed-eaters like quails, doves, pigeons, partridges, pheasants, grouses—and yes, ostriches and emus—on the approved list.
At one time or another, I’m pretty sure, our mothers told each and every one of us, “Don’t touch that: you don’t know where it’s been.” The Torah’s dietary laws are sort of the converse of that. Yahweh is telling us, “I do know where that has been, and it’s not good. Don’t eat it.” “You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to Me, for I, Yahweh, am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.” (Leviticus 20:25-26) What one eats is a thinly veiled euphemism for anything he assimilates into his life. Between the lines, Yahweh is instructing us to welcome innocence, harmlessness, and goodness, and to reject iniquity, destructive behavior, and evil. Just as we risk illness if we eat crows and vultures, we put ourselves needlessly in harm’s way if we don’t make an effort to discern and draw distinctions between the moral influences with which we are confronted in this world. As with the birds of the air, we are not to assume that all things are beneficial to us in the same way, just because God placed them before us in His creation. Buzzards have a job to do, but unlike chickens, that job is not to be food for people.
But that brings up an interesting point: even what God has deemed “good” for us can become evil if misused. There is a line between enjoying prosperity and pursuing greed, between having a roof over your head and dwelling in pointlessly ostentatious luxury, or between getting a drink of water and drowning in it. The Israelites of the exodus learned this lesson the hard way. Having been rescued from their chains, they irrationally began questioning Yahweh’s ability to provide for them—after He had begun giving them manna every morning. The Psalmist Asaph summarizes: “They spoke against God, saying, ‘Can God spread a table in the wilderness?’… He rained meat on them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas. He let them fall in the midst of their camp, all around their dwellings. And they ate and were well filled, for He gave them what they craved.” (Psalm 78:19, 27-29) The point here is that they craved what God had not supplied, even though His provision was sufficient, adequate, and perfectly suited to their needs. In a world obsessed with non-essentials, this is a lesson we would do well to heed.
The Numbers narrative tells us how our craving for things Yahweh has not seen fit to provide—even “good” things—can get us into trouble. “Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving.” The desire for meat, in itself, was neither evil nor unnatural. It had been a normal part of man’s diet since the days of Noah. What was wrong was the way Israel expressed their longing—through whining and complaining. “And the people of Israel also wept again and said, ‘Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.…’” This is the classic “grass is greener on the other side of the fence” scenario. A couple of weeks out of Egypt and they had forgotten all about the bondage and forced labor; all they remembered, all they craved—faced now with a steady diet of manna—was some kind of food that could make their breath stink. Like us (all too often), they were fixated not on what God had provided, but on what they didn’t have. No wonder Yahweh polished off His Ten Commandments with “You shall not covet.”
Moses, meanwhile, was beginning to think maybe he should have kept his shoes on at the burning bush—so he could have run away. “Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat….’” Nobody seriously thought Moses was God, you understand. He was merely the only available target—God’s appointed human representative. Don’t look now, but we believers are performing the same role on behalf of our Messiah today: we’re His representatives among men. So, as with Moses, don’t be surprised if people (1) blame us for their troubles, real or imagined, (2) expect us to do miracles, whether or not God has ordained them, and (3) hate us just as they hate our God, just because He doesn’t perform like a trained monkey for them.
Yahweh’s poetic response was to teach His people to be careful what they wish for because they just might get it, though it’s seldom what they were expecting, exactly. “You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected Yahweh who is among you and have wept before Him….” The manna He had already given them was nutritionally perfect, and tasty to boot. It was everything they needed, and considerably more than they deserved; it just wasn’t what they wanted. Note that in whining to Moses (God’s appointed representative) they were actually demonstrating their rejection of Yahweh.
It would transpire that the “meat” Yahweh sent to the ungrateful Israelites came in the form of birds—low-flying quail, apparently millions of them. “Then a wind from Yahweh sprang up, and it brought quail from the sea and let them fall beside the camp, about a day’s journey on this side and a day’s journey on the other side, around the camp, and about two cubits above the ground.” In other words, they were sent flying through the camp and its environs at about waist level: “poultry in motion.” All the people had to do was go out and club them out of the air as they flew by. No game wardens; no bag limit. “And the people rose all that day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail. Those who gathered least gathered ten homers.” A “homer” (not to be confused with the much smaller “omer”) was a large unit of dry measure—roughly the weight a donkey was supposed to be able to carry. Depending on who you’re asking, it was somewhere between 6½ and 11 bushels, i.e., between 220 and 394 liters. Picture a big oil drum—that’s one homer. Multiply that by ten, and you’ve some idea how many quail each family knocked out of the air—not to mention the hysterical greed that had set in. And to give you a further idea of the scope of the miracle, factor in that there were upwards of half a million households in Israel at the time. That’s a whole lot of poultry. The Israelites, having no refrigeration, apparently decided to make quail jerky: “And they spread them out for themselves all around the camp.” But any way you slice it, that’s way too much meat to consume before it goes bad. So as the Israelites stuffed themselves with the unexpected bounty, the meat began to spoil. “While the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed, the anger of Yahweh was kindled against the people, and Yahweh struck down the people with a very great plague.” (Numbers 11:4-6, 13, 19-20, 31-33)
What are we to learn from all this? (1) Although God expects us to petition Him for what we need (and yes, even for what we’d merely like), don’t whine, and don’t grumble. His grace is quite sufficient. (2) Don’t be greedy with what He provides. Remember, Yahweh’s resources are not limited; He owns “the cattle on a thousand hills”—for starters. So if He has given us more than we need, we should assume that the excess bounty is there for us to distribute to others in need. And (3) overabundant blessings (represented here by birds flying through the camp) should remind us that our choices carry consequences. It would have made sense to take half a dozen quail home for one’s feast, to be eaten with thanksgiving and praise to Yahweh. But to kill hundreds of birds, just because they were available (and in truth, because you didn’t trust Yahweh to provide for you tomorrow as He did today) was just plain dumb. The Israelites killed so many quail in their feeding frenzy, the meat started to spoil “while the meat was yet between their teeth, before it was consumed.” And before it was over, their greedy little nostrils were filled with the unmistakable, unforgettable odor of rotting bird carcasses. If nothing else, it made them happy to be manna-vegans for the next forty years—anything but quail! I can’t help but reflect on the past blessings of my native land, America. We have been given immense resources, but like the Israelites, we have too often squandered or hoarded the bounty that Yahweh bestowed upon us. Choices have consequences, and we have rarely chosen to honor God as we should have. Does He not have the right to “strike down the people [of America] with a very great plague?” We need to repent, folks.
Of course, America is not alone in our national propensity for making poor choices. The whole world has, by and large, systematically turned its back on its Creator, leaving those who choose to honor Yahweh an isolated and beleaguered minority. This pervasive system of idolatry bears a scriptural code word: God calls it “Babylon,” an entity that is destined to grow more and more powerful—right up until the moment it’s destroyed. And here too, birds play a role in describing the nature of the beast. John writes, “After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice, ‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place for demons, a haunt for every unclean spirit, a haunt for every unclean bird, a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast. For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.’” (Revelation 18:1-3) “Babylon the great” has several faces—religion, politics, and finance or commerce—all of which are alluded to here.
Remember the definition of an “unclean bird.” It’s one who kills for a living, or who feasts on that which is already dead—a predatory carnivore or carrion bird. Figuratively, Babylon is where such unclean birds congregate. In other words, Babylon, the world’s collective expression of systematic idolatry (i.e., adoration of things other than Yahweh and His Messiah) is home to those who thrive on the carnage and death of their fellow creatures, who glean advantage from the misfortune of others. In the case of religion, it’s the elevation of the clergy and their system over the God they purport to represent, obfuscating the truth in order to exert temporal influence over men—even if it costs them their souls. In the case of politics, it’s the exercise of power for power’s sake, resulting in the loss of liberty. In the case of the financial and commercial side of Babylon, it’s the accumulation of wealth into the hands of a powerful elite class. Each of these permutations are driven by pride, self-absorption, and greed—the very antithesis of godly love. Babylon is the sum total of the bad choices in mankind’s experience—and as I said, choices carry consequences. But remember what the angel prophetically announced: “Babylon is fallen.”
If unclean birds roost in Babylon, where do clean birds find themselves at home? Not surprisingly, in the rites and rituals of the Torah, all of which conspire to inform us about Yahweh’s plan for our reconciliation with Him. Clean birds were not only approved for use as food, they were also authorized for offerings. For example: “If his offering to Yahweh is a burnt offering of birds, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or pigeons. And the priest shall bring it to the altar and wring off its head and burn it on the altar. Its blood shall be drained out on the side of the altar. He shall remove its crop with its contents and cast it beside the altar on the east side, in the place for ashes. He shall tear it open by its wings, but shall not sever it completely. And the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt offering, a food offering [literally, an offering by fire] with a pleasing aroma to Yahweh.” (Leviticus 1:14-17) A “burnt offering” (Hebrew: olah) was a voluntary sacrifice made for atonement, homage to Yahweh, and celebration before Him. Total dedication is implied, for the offering was to be completely consumed by fire. Unlike the peace offering, guilt offering, trespass offering, firstborn offering, or tithe, the burnt offering was not to be eaten. The olah represents the total, unreserved dedication of the Messiah as He offered Himself up for the sins of mankind.
We’ve all heard the expression “It’s the thought that counts.” In the case of the burnt offering, this is quite true. Under normal conditions, bulls, sheep, or goats were specified—always males without blemishes. But these animals were expensive, the kind of “currency” by which a landowner in agrarian Israel would measure his net worth. But not everyone owned flocks and herds. What then? Yahweh didn’t want to exclude anyone from offering his heartfelt worship just because he was poor. So turtledoves or pigeons (which could be purchased quite cheaply) were specified as alternatives to the normal sacrificial animals. In this case, a poor man’s choice to honor Yahweh was to be accommodated by the Levitical priesthood with just as much deference as if a wealthy man had brought a prize bull. “God shows no partiality.” (Acts 10:34; cf. Deuteronomy 10:17)
Leviticus also offers a long and complicated set of instructions concerning how one may be declared clean after being afflicted with “leprosy.” Here birds play a very similar role to that of goats in the rites of the Day of Atonement: one is slain, while the other is set free. “Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look….” This was not a cure for the disease, you understand, but rather a way to verify that healing had indeed taken place—something for which we have no scriptural record of ever happening under Torah rules—until Yahshua began curing lepers. Although the word “leprosy” is used for convenience (Hebrew: sara’at), the malady being referred to is not restricted to Hansen’s Disease, but encompasses a wide range of malignant skin diseases. (It even describes mold or mildew infestations in houses). The infected person was to dwell separated from “clean” society, and was to cover his mouth and issue a verbal warning to anyone who approached, for these diseases could be quite contagious (not that Moses or anybody else understood how that worked). So the leper couldn’t come into the camp (or the city) for this procedure; rather, the priest had to go out to him. Since “leprosy” is a symbol for the spiritual sickness that infects the world, I hear echoes of the Great Commission in that provision: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to every creature.”
Sin is a curable condition, so the instructions continue: “Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds [tsippowr—smallish “hopping” birds] and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop. And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh [or running—literally, “living”] water. He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field.” (Leviticus 14:1-7) This precept is so rich in symbolism, I could happily sniff about all day like a blind dog in a meat market, but I’ll try to contain myself and concentrate on the two birds. As with the two goats on Yom Kippurim, one is clearly seen as a substitute for the other—one bird is slain, while the other is set free to enjoy its liberty, though bearing the stain of the first bird’s sacrifice. The live bird is literally baptized in the blood of the slain sacrifice. In light of Yahshua’s finished work, you’d have to be comatose to miss the symbolic significance of this.
The Hebrew text draws a clear distinction between being “healed” and being “cleansed.” Healing—the actual curing of the disease—is achieved by God alone. “Cleansing,” on the other hand, denotes being declared cured by the priest, something that logically can only follow being “healed.” So the ritual describes what happens in the salvation process. Christ’s sacrifice healed all of us. (That is, everyone’s sins have been paid for, whether we know it or not, and whether we accept it or not.) But if we have subsequently been cleansed—if we have come to terms with our spiritual disease, accepted God’s provision of its healing, and asked to be admitted into fellowship with our Healer—then we are free to enter the “camp” of the saints. Like that second bird, we have been set free to “go and sin no more.”
The whole thing is reminiscent of the layout of the tabernacle courtyard: before someone could enter the sanctuary (where illumination, provision, intercession, and ultimately fellowship with God took place), he first had to encounter the altar, where innocent blood was spilled on his behalf (read: healing) and use the bronze laver (where cleansing was provided).
Lest we lose sight of what the birds signify, note that the act of healing our spiritual sickness (sin) is Yahweh’s prerogative alone, but going before the priest to be declared clean is a choice the former leper must make for himself. The consequences of choosing to do this are that he may rejoin the congregation of faith. But although he has been healed (since all of humanity was “healed” when Yahshua went to Calvary) he will not be declared clean until and unless he chooses to be. If he wishes to continue living like a leper, an outcast from the house of God, that is his privilege. Why anyone would do this, however, is beyond me.
The “birds” specified in the ritual for leprosy cleansing were tsippowr, the word usage that stresses flight, freedom, and escape to the skies. It’s a recurring theme in scripture—this tension between being caught in the snare of sin and death, versus flying away to safety like a wary little bird. David, for example, writes, “Blessed be Yahweh, who has not given us as prey to their teeth! We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers. The snare is broken, and we have escaped! Our help is in the name of Yahweh, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 124:6-8) The “fowler” of course is Satan our adversary—who would rob us of our liberty in grace and enslave us in a cage of iniquity if he could. Yahweh is He who breaks the snare, who releases us from the traps set for us by the devil, and who (as Paul would later put it) provides an avenue of deliverance: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (I Corinthians 10:13)
Each of us intends to escape from the evil circumstances that confront us. The question we must all face is how we intend to do that. What mode of flight will we choose? David puts it into perspective: “In Yahweh I take refuge. How can you say to my soul, ‘Flee like a bird to your mountain?” (Psalm 11:1) Here again, birds symbolize the consequences of our choices. David, being a man of war, might have relied on his own valor when faced with enemies foreign and domestic—from the heathen Philistines to his own king Saul—in our case, that would be “enemies internal and external.” But he chose instead to rely on Yahweh, to find shelter and refuge in Him, to fly to his God (and not to his own devices) in times of trouble.
One needn’t be in immediate physical danger, however, to yearn for shelter in Yahweh. Another Psalm makes this clear: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Yahweh of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of Yahweh. My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Yahweh of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in Your house, ever singing Your praise!” (Psalm 84:1-4) Sparrows and swallows are tsippowr who, however cautious and “flighty,” are nevertheless in the habit of coexisting with people—building their nests on or near our homes. Perhaps we should take that as a cue: though Yahweh is infinitely bigger and more powerful than we are, we are perfectly safe “dwelling in His house,” for He is a God of love and mercy. The consequences of choosing to build our nests “at His altar” are blessing, shelter, and joy.
That being said, it is our choice whether to remain near the nest or stray so far from it we have trouble finding our way back. Solomon reminds us, “Like a bird that strays from its nest is a man who strays from his home.” (Proverbs 27:8) “Home” is the center of our universe, where whatever we value most is to be found. We just saw that in David’s case (as in mine) “home” is Yahweh Himself. That’s not to say David spent every waking moment hanging out in the tabernacle courtyard, hiding from the world like a self-absorbed monk. He knew that Yahweh’s presence was with him wherever he went (which is why he pleaded in his repentance, “Take not your Holy Spirit from me”). Solomon’s point (I think) was that it’s not natural for birds to stray from their nests. Every spring for the last few years, a pair of bluebirds have made their nest in a small newspaper cubbyhole beneath my mailbox. When there are chicks in the nest, I don’t even have to peek inside to know it, because one of them will be warning me off with frantic chirping, or dive bombing me like a crazy two ounce flying mama grizzly, whenever I’m foolish enough to go out and retrieve my mail. This goes on as long as there’s something to protect. When the fledglings have flown, the parents abandon the nest, but as long as they’re there, they never stray very far from it. The question is: if we Christians consider our relationship with Yahweh to be essential, why on earth do we so often wander off into pointless pursuits and mindless distractions? What do bluebirds know that we don’t?
Some of the “danger” we face in this world is (potentially, at least) self inflicted. Dire need, for example, is generally avoidable, if only you’re willing to flee like a bird from the snare of indolence: “Give your eyes no sleep and your eyelids no slumber. Save yourself like a gazelle from the hand of the hunter, like a bird from the hand of the fowler. Go to the ant, O sluggard. Consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. How long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” (Proverbs 6:4-11) Even if “hard times” are unavoidable, sloth leading to poverty is not. If I may use king David as an example again, even though he “trusted in Yahweh,” and found “refuge” in Him, he still went out and fought the battles that needed fighting—he didn’t presume that victory would fall into his lap like ripe fruit, without expending any effort. And the same principle holds true for our “work” in the kingdom of God: although good works have no role whatsoever to play in bringing us into the kingdom, the fact remains that our gratitude as “naturalized citizens” should compel us to be active and enthusiastic patriots once we make our homes here.
Some reading Solomon’s words there (or mine, for that matter) might take offense, saying, “My poverty is not my fault; you have no right to accuse me of being a lazy sluggard. I’ve tried, but I just can’t find a job.” I can’t speak for Solomon, but as for me, I’m accusing no one. I know from experience how hard it can be; I’ve endured lean times myself—interspersed (thanks be to God) with times when my family and I enjoyed the “fat of the land.” Besides, accusations and curses won’t stick if they’re groundless. As Solomon (again) says, “Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, a curse that is causeless does not alight.” (Proverbs 26:2) The caveat, of course, is that we must be honest with ourselves, no matter what is being said by our peers. A “curse” that is well and truly earned will build a magnificent nest in our lives and refuse to leave, and all of our protests of innocence will avail us nothing. We needn’t defend or justify ourselves before men: Yahweh knows the truth. The curses mankind brings upon itself—those that “alight” because they are not “causeless”—are the consequences of the poor choices they’ve made. Bad times don’t just happen: they’re manufactured.
There will be (and have been) times, of course, when evil prevails even more than usual. Such times do not indicate that God has somehow lost control of his universe; they are merely punctuation marks in the “life sentence” of the human race, reminding us that what is true for individuals can also be true of entire societies. We would do well to remember that the “blessings and cursings” passages in the Torah are primarily national in scope—not personal. “For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.” (Ecclesiastes 9:12) For example, the second church on Christ’s mailing list in Revelation 2-3, that in the city of Smyrna, was warned of ten sporadic periods of overt persecution they would endure. (Historically, the prophecy would play out precisely as predicted: ten Roman mini-holocausts against the church were spread out over about 260 years between the reigns of Nero and Diocletian.) Whether living under peace or persecution, the snare of our own mortality awaits us all. But note that it is possible to suffer the consequences of other people’s choices, besides our own. “Man does not know his time.”
Israel has suffered perhaps more than any other nation in this regard, though the single disastrous choice that began it all—the rejection of Yahweh and His Messiah—was hers alone. The Psalmist predicts Israel’s plight: “I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; I lie awake. I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop. All the day my enemies taunt me. Those who deride me use my name for a curse.” (Psalm 102:6-8) If you study this Psalm in detail, you’ll notice that it includes a remarkably accurate description of the Jews’ suffering under Hitler’s “final solution” during World War II. But the solitude, isolation, and persecution suffered by Israel—the ultimate consequences of their own choices as well as those of the Nazis—give way in the Psalm to a celebration of Israel’s ultimate redemption: “He looked down from His holy height. From heaven Yahweh looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, that they may declare in Zion the name of Yahweh, and in Jerusalem His praise, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship Yahweh.” (Psalm 102:19-22) Okay, we’re not quite there yet: neither Israel nor the nations worship Yahweh, and Jerusalem does not yet declare His praise. But we’re a whole lot closer than we were in 1944, you must admit. The verse from this Psalm that gives me hope for the short run is this: “Let this be recorded for a generation to come [literally, the last generation], so that a people yet to be created may praise Yahweh.” (Psalm 102:18) The “people yet to be created” to which the Psalmist refers are, I believe, the church, the ekklesia—the called-out assembly of Yahshua who would (and did) praise Yahweh because of what He did for Israel in the wake of the Nazi Holocaust—and what He is yet prophesied to do in our near future: reawaken, restore, and revive them like a valley of dry bones miraculously brought back to life.
That reference to “a valley of dry bones” is, of course, a prophetic reference (found in Ezekiel 37) of the eventual restoration and rebirth of the nation of Israel. But how did they get that way in the first place? As usual, the answer is found in the Torah. Yahweh told Israel—both before and after the wilderness wanderings—that if they refused to heed His word and follow His instructions, they would endure all sorts of “inducements” designed to wake them up to the responsibilities of maintaining a relationship with Yahweh. They include this grim prediction, one that proved as true on a personal level for many Israelites over the centuries as it was true in a figurative sense for their political existence as a nation: “And your dead body shall be food for all birds of the air and for the beasts of the earth, and there shall be no one to frighten them away.” (Deuteronomy 28:26) Thus we are introduced to one of the primary functions of unclean birds: they are designed as consumers of carrion—they clean up the aftermath of death. Without them, it would take far longer for dead bodies fallen in the wild to be reduced to skeletons. The world would be a measurably nastier place without the assistance of carrion birds. And as we already have already seen (in our study of eagles), the carnage of the last days will keep the birds busy indeed: “Where the body is, there will the eagles gather.”
Joseph, in his role as the reader of dreams, recognized that birds could be a harbinger of death. He found himself in prison with Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, both of whom had fallen out of favor. Both of them had dreams one night, and Joseph, hearing of the cupbearer’s vision, announced that it meant good news for him. So, “When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, ‘I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.’ And Joseph answered and said, ‘This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you.” (Genesis 40:16-19) If nothing else, the fact that both dreams came about precisely as Joseph had interpreted them (using his God-given gift of discernment) proves that Yahweh’s symbols mean something, and that it’s up to discerning believers (like us) to deduce what that is. More specifically in this case, the birds were a portent of the death of the one from whom they were stealing.
The mention of carrion birds in scripture needn’t be quite that esoteric, of course. Sometimes it’s a literal reference to the grim realities of life and death in a fallen world. When young David met the giant Goliath of Gath on the field of valor, it was assumed that one of them would end up as buzzard bait. “And when the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was but a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. And the Philistine said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, ‘Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the beasts of the field.’” Talk is cheap, of course. But to all appearances, Goliath had a point. He was an experienced soldier, a proven slayer of mighty men, not to mention being a massive, muscular hulk of a man, and armed to the teeth as well. David was a skinny teenage shepherd boy who could barely lift Goliath’s spear. “Then David said to the Philistine, ‘You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of Yahweh of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day Yahweh will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that Yahweh saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is Yahweh’s, and He will give you into our hand.’” (I Samuel 17:42-47) I think David won the “trash talk” contest. Goliath had threatened one idealistic kid a third his size, but David called out the whole Philistine army.
We all know how it ended: David (in the power of Yahweh) stunned Goliath with one well-placed sling stone, and then cut off the giant’s head with his own sword. Poetic. The point I’d like to make, however, is that the birds didn’t really care who won. They would have been just as happy feasting on David’s flesh. Carrion birds don’t exercise judgment; they are not called upon to be the instruments of God’s wrath. They merely clean up the mess. In the context of their scriptural symbolism, they deal with the consequences of the deeds of men, whether good or bad—and there are always consequences to deal with. As if to make my point for me, the shoe was on the other foot in the Psalmist’s lament: “O God, the nations have come into your inheritance. They have defiled Your holy temple. They have laid Jerusalem in ruins. They have given the bodies of Your servants to the birds of the heavens for food, the flesh of Your faithful to the beasts of the earth. They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem, and there was no one to bury them. We have become a taunt to our neighbors, mocked and derided by those around us. How long, O Yahweh? Will You be angry forever? Will Your jealousy burn like fire? Pour out Your anger on the nations that do not know You, and on the kingdoms that do not call upon Your name! For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.” (Psalm 79:1-7) Note that God’s servants and His faithful are said to be among the slain, upon whom the vultures were feeding. At first glance, this seems to run counter to the principle demonstrated by Lot’s deliverance from Sodom—the principle that God does not destroy the righteous with the wicked. What’s going on?
I think the distinction that must be drawn (admittedly a subtle one) is that of God’s overt judgment versus the natural consequences of poor choices—whether our own or of those close to us. It should be obvious: not everything bad that happens can be attributed to the hand of Yahweh in judgment. In point of fact, such occurrences are exceedingly rare in scripture: they happen just often enough to alert us to the possibility that they can, because God’s judgment on a worldwide scale is coming upon the earth. So the flood, the destruction of Sodom, and the earth swallowing up Korah and his rebels (Numbers 16) are examples of the direct hand of God in judgment upon men—examples that ought to serve as dire warnings of the Tribulation now looming upon the world’s horizon.
But most of what we see in scripture—lost battles, plagues, and so forth, up to and including the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests—are perhaps better characterized as the inevitable results of people making bad choices, reaping the consequences, and causing a certain amount of collateral damage as they do. That’s not to say Yahweh isn’t involved: the “blessings and cursings” passages of the Torah make it clear that He would, on some level, personally administer the curses that would befall Israel if they did not heed His Instructions. But the warnings are invariably couched in terms of cause and effect. Blessings follow obedience and curses follow rebellion as day follows night. Remember, the blessings and cursings are national in character: a tiny minority of faithful servants would not negate the consequences of the idolatry and apostasy that had been chosen by the vast majority of their fellow countrymen. The bad choices my neighbors make can negatively affect my life, even if I don’t agree with them. American elections effectively (and invariably) demonstrate this fact.
So isolated faithful servants like Ezekiel, Daniel, and Jeremiah were unable to stem the tide of idolatrous mayhem that Judah brought upon itself. “For the sons of Judah have done evil in My sight, declares Yahweh. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by My name, to defile it. And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My mind. Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares Yahweh, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere. And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste.” (Jeremiah 7:30-34, cf. 19:1-9) There’s more going on here than meets the eye. Jeremiah is speaking of a place (just south of Jerusalem) where innocent children in ancient times were burned alive in homage to the pagan god Molech (a.k.a. Chemosh). By Christ’s day, the place was the city’s trash dump—including the ignominious disposal of the corpses of Roman crucifixion victims. Rubbish fires burned there perpetually. Thus it is not surprising that Yahshua used the designation “Gehenna” (a Greek place name derived from “Hinnom”) to describe hell, the place of eternal torment reserved for Satan and those indwelled with his spirit. So what was once used as the dumping ground for the slain worshippers of Molech—where carrion birds fed on the flesh of the wicked—became a metaphor for the eternal “dumping ground” of hell. The tacit “suggestion” is that if you don’t like the idea of birds unceremoniously picking your bones clean in the physical sense, then don’t go to Gehenna in the spiritual sense.
Yahweh is merciful, but there is a point at which His patience with our poor choices reaches its breaking point. With Judah, it was apparently reached with the reign of Manasseh (though the Babylonians still weren’t allowed to invade for several more generations). Manasseh was the son of the good king Hezekiah and grandfather of the good king Josiah, but he himself embodied all of the evil that Judah ever embraced, going so far as to “pass his sons through the fire” to Molech at Topheth, in the Valley of the sons of Hinnom (see II Chronicles 33:6). So Jeremiah pronounces Yahweh’s grim assessment: Judah was beyond hope. “Then Yahweh said to me, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of My sight, and let them go! And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says Yahweh: Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence, and those who are for the sword, to the sword; those who are for famine, to famine, and those who are for captivity, to captivity.’ I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, declares Yahweh: the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. And I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem.” (Jeremiah 15:1-4) Once again, we see carrion birds brought in to clean up the mess, to remove the idolaters’ filthy carcasses out of God’s sight, as it were.
Some would say, “Yes, but those were primitive and superstitious times. Nobody worships moldy Canaanite deities like Molech anymore. We have grown far too sophisticated and rational for anything like that to happen now. We now possess the scientific knowledge and diplomatic skills to avert anything like what Judah endured at the hands of the Babylonians.” Are you sure? Forget for a moment that Molech worship is still alive and well in the practice of aborting unborn children because they’re “inconvenient,” snuffing out upwards of forty million innocent lives worldwide each year. The fact is that the future Yahweh has predicted for mankind—all of it—makes the Babylonian conquest of Judah look like a paper cut. First, we’re shown the course of the “Battle of Magog,” in which the hordes of Islam will finally put their money (and blood) where their mouths are. They’ll invade Israel in unprecedented numbers under the leadership of “the Mahdi” (known in Ezekiel’s prophecy as Gog), just as their “scriptures” insist they must. It’s the ultimate legacy of Muhammad’s insatiable bloodlust against the Jews, born of a frustrated and unrequited Messiah complex, deep seated envy, insatiable lust, and unquenchable greed—all recorded in the Hadith and Sunnah.
So Yahweh tells his prophet: “And I will turn you [Gog] about and drive you forward, and bring you up from the uttermost parts of the north, and lead you against the mountains of Israel. Then I will strike your bow from your left hand, and will make your arrows drop out of your right hand. You shall fall on the mountains of Israel, you and all your hordes and the peoples who are with you. I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and to the beasts of the field to be devoured. You shall fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Lord Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 39:2-5) Left up to man, the cancer of Islam would spread throughout the world, either through immigration, conquest, or prodigious breeding. With a billion and a half souls now in bondage, it’s well on its way already—so much so that “infidels” are beginning to wonder if the scourge of Muhammad can be stopped at all. Yahweh’s word assures us that it will: the battle of Magog is how He intends to get the job done. “As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord Yahweh: Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field, ‘Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth…. And you shall eat fat till you are filled, and drink blood till you are drunk, at the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you. And you shall be filled at My table with horses and charioteers, with mighty men and all kinds of warriors,’ declares the Lord Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 39:17-20)
As squishy as that sounds, the Muslims are just an appetizer for the birds. The Battle of Magog will escalate into World War III, a nuclear conflagration that will consume one quarter of the earth’s population. And then this will happen: “Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, ‘Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.’” This time, the carrion birds of the earth have an engraved invitation from God Himself to attend the biggest single flesh feast in the history of man. It’s called Armageddon. “And I saw the beast [i.e., the Antichrist and/or the demon who inhabits him] and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against Him [i.e., Yahshua the Messiah, who has returned in glory to the earth] who was sitting on the horse and against His army [the now-immortal saints, who had been raptured previously]. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of Him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.” (Revelation 19:17-21) Yum.
By the time the Tribulation has run its course, well over half (actually, I’d estimate somewhere north of six billion) of the world’s human population will have died—far too many bodies to dispose of in the usual way by the comparatively few who remain. The un-battle of Armageddon is merely the last hurrah. (Well, actually, it’s the next-to-last hurrah, since the returning King will still have the separation of the sheep from the goats to attend to—see Matthew 25:31-46.) The seven-year buzzard banquet known as the Tribulation will, in the end, give way to Christ’s unending reign of peace and justice. Carrion birds, as a symbol, will go out of style. For a thousand years, man’s poor choices will be met with immediate corrective attention—they won’t be allowed to take on a life of their own as they do now, festering and growing until hardly anyone can perceive the truth anymore. Will vultures, like lions, eat straw like the ox (Isaiah 11:7) during the Millennial Kingdom? I don’t know, but when Yahshua finally reigns, there’s going to be precious little dead stuff for them to eat.
Birds display a great deal of intuitive knowledge concerning their environment. They instinctively know where sustenance might be found; they sense when to migrate to more hospitable climes; they are always alert to danger, remaining ready to fly away at a moment’s notice; they build their nests only where they feel safe; and species by species, they happily fulfill the roles their Creator assigned to them. All of this makes the term “bird brain” begin to sound like a compliment. We humans, by comparison, often seem out of touch, studiously insulated from (and insensitive to) the ramifications of our free will.
On the other hand, birds, operating on instinct rather than on intellect, can easily fall into clever traps. Yahweh’s simile makes that clear: “Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria. As they go, I will spread over them My net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens. I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation.” (Hosea 7:11-12) The “wisdom” birds seem to exhibit, then, has nothing to do with native intelligence. Rather, their instincts are implanted by God, sufficient for the task at hand—albeit predictable to someone who carefully observes their nature. Equally predictable are the consequences of the choices we make, especially in light of the warnings and admonitions Yahweh has given us.
Job asks, “From where, then, does wisdom come? And where is the place of understanding? It is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the air….” Birds don’t have to think. They just know. “God understands the way to it, and He knows its place. For He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. When He gave to the wind its weight and apportioned the waters by measure, when He made a decree for the rain and a way for the lightning of the thunder, then He saw it and declared it; He established it, and searched it out. And He said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” (Job 28:20-21, 23-28) It never occurs to birds and beasts to question their Maker, for their wisdom is not based on choice. A goose does not “choose” to fly south for the winter; it simply does. It’s “wisdom” is hard wired into the species. Man, on the other hand, must choose whether or not to heed his Creator’s instructions. Reverence for Yahweh is the “switch” that turns on human wisdom. “Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you…. Who among all these does not know that the hand of Yahweh has done this? In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7, 9-10)
Noah’s use of birds is instructive. “At the end of forty days Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made and sent forth a raven. It went to and fro until the waters were dried up from the earth.” The unclean carrion bird wasn’t terribly fastidious about what it was willing to land on. Any bloated carcass he found floating in the turbid sludge would do. In order to get any useful information about the world’s condition, Noah found that he’d have to used a clean bird, a dove. “Then he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. But the dove found no place to set her foot, and she returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her and brought her into the ark with him. He waited another seven days, and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf.” The olive tree, I’m told, germinates more quickly than most: this was an early sign that plant life was beginning to recover—somewhere within the dove’s flight range. I’ve always found it curious that because of this incident people consider the “olive branch” a symbol of peace. Really? To me, the olive branch is a grim reminder that God is not shy about destroying the whole world if that’s what it takes to cleanse it. But He won’t destroy the righteous with the wicked. He always has a back-up plan, a faithful and protected remnant with whom to start over. So on second thought, maybe they have a point: although Yahweh’s absolute authority being brought to bear on a sinful world is not exactly what most folks would call “peace” these days, it certainly gets the job done. “So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore.” (Genesis 8:6-12) Only when the clean bird was willing to alight somewhere other than the ark did Noah know it was safe to disembark. You can’t trust a raven to know what’s good for you.
In the aftermath of the flood, the birds and beasts apparently developed a bit better intuition about just how dangerous fallen man could be. “The fear of you [that is, mankind] and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered.” (Genesis 9:2) Since Adam’s day, man’s “job description” had been to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:28) That hadn’t changed, but now the creatures of the earth—with good reason, I’m thinking—would no longer intuitively trust man to act in their best interests. They would become wary, suspicious, and if pressed, even hostile. (Having been added to man’s dinner menu at this time didn’t help. See Genesis 9:3.) It’s as if God had warned the birds and the beasts that free will in the hands of man could be like a loaded gun in the hands of a three year old. You don’t want to get too close, because it might go off: the consequences can be tragic.
In a fascinating and unforeseen development, Yahshua’s reign of peace during the Millennium will undo this atmosphere of enmity between man and God’s creation that began in Noah’s day: “And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you [Israel] to Me forever. I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. And you shall know Yahweh.” (Hosea 2:18-20) The Millennial mortals (the descendants of the “sheep” of Matthew 25:34) will apparently be regarded by the birds and beasts of the kingdom the way Adam and his progeny related to them—in an atmosphere of intuitive trust. It’s not that mankind has gone back to a strictly vegetarian diet, either, judging by things like the animal sacrifices being reinstituted in the Millennial temple (see Ezekiel 40-46) and mention of a fishing industry in—of all places—the Dead Sea during the Millennium (Ezekiel 47:10). Could it be that the physical presence of the Messiah/King will precipitate an unprecedented paradigm of wisdom—that mortal men (who will by all accounts still wield their freedom of choice) will overwhelmingly choose the path of peace with God? What a different place this world is going to be.
Man’s prevailing propensity in this age, however, is to choose poorly. And the ultimate poor choice is to attack Israel, Yahweh’s chosen people. So God has told us how the end will begin: “But on that day, the day that Gog shall come against the land of Israel, declares the Lord Yahweh, My wrath will be roused in my anger. For in My jealousy and in My blazing wrath I declare, On that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. The fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and the beasts of the field and all creeping things that creep on the ground, and all the people who are on the face of the earth [Hebrew: eretz, the ground or land—not necessarily the whole planet], shall quake at My presence.” (Ezekiel 38:18-20) It is a well documented phenomenon that birds and beasts seem to have a sort of “precognition” when it comes to earthquakes: they know something is about to happen, even before the ground begins to violently shake. This particular temblor is listed as one of the prime causes of Muslim casualties during the war of Magog. We’re not told how, but Yahweh has intimated that the inhabitants of the land will somehow know that this earthquake is His doing, purposely directed against the invading hordes. The bottom line will be: “And I will set My glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see My judgment that I have executed, and My hand that I have laid on them. The house of Israel shall know that I am Yahweh their God, from that day forward.” (Ezekiel 39:21-22) Israel will see the defeat of Magog for what it is: the mighty hand of God. The nations will know that something significant has happened, but they (if I may judge by the bulk or prophetic revelation) will remain in denial, clueless as to what it is. But the birds of the heavens, like canaries in a coal mine, will be among the first to get the message and “quake at His presence.”
During the Tribulation, Satan’s oft-attempted goal will be to wipe Israel off the face of the map, for if he can do that (he figures) he will have proved Yahweh to be a liar. But Yahweh is not a liar. Though much of Israel will suffer great loss, it will be delivered through the trial—especially Jerusalem, the only city that God ever vowed to protect. “Like birds hovering, so Yahweh of hosts will protect Jerusalem. He will protect and deliver it. He will spare and rescue it.” (Isaiah 31:5) As I write these words, the whole world is in turmoil because Iran is on the cusp of acquiring nuclear weapons, and everybody just knows they’re crazy enough to use them, consequences be damned. The madness of Islam runs particularly deep in that part of the world. I don’t know how (or even if) Iran (which, by the way, is a very good fit for the home of Ezekiel’s “Gog of the land of Magog”) will be stopped from becoming a nuclear power. I do know, however, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Jerusalem (and, I’m guessing, all of eretz Israel) will be spared nuclear attack from any quarter, even though one third of the world’s lands will suffer this fate. Yes, Yahweh has let Jerusalem be “trodden down by gentiles” for almost two millennia now, the direct result of Israel’s refusal to heed His word and receive His Messiah. But the fact remains, Yahweh hovers over His children and His city like a protective eagle: Jerusalem will certainly be attacked, but she will never be destroyed. “He will spare and rescue it.”
And what of Israel’s people? Many—even most—of Israel (in the biological sense—the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) aren’t even aware of their lineage today. Between the Assyrian conquest and exile of the ten northern tribes (a.k.a. Ephraim) in 722 B.C. and the later subjugation of Judah and Benjamin by Babylon—from which only a relative handful ever returned—the majority of true Israelites in the world today have no idea who they really are. (The Roman evictions in 70 and 135 A.D. didn’t help, either.) The common racial term “Jew” technically describes but one tribe of the twelve: Judah. (As a practical matter, however, Israelites of many if not all of the tribes identify themselves as “Jews.” The term as it’s used in the Greek scriptures simply meant “Judean,” an inhabitant of the province of Judea.) But in the wake of the Tribulation’s horrors, Yahweh has promised to gather Israel’s children—all of them—back to Himself in the Land of Promise. Virtually every prophet predicts this, but Hosea gives us a glimpse of the newfound healthy “fear” of God that will drive their emigration:
“They [Israel and Judah] shall go after Yahweh.” As we read above, this will come about as the direct result of their national deliverance at the Battle of Magog. “He will roar like a lion.” Yahweh’s undisputed authority will at last be recognized; but surprisingly to many, that “roar” will emanate from Yahshua the Messiah—the reigning King, the only form of Yahweh’s persona that Millennial mortals will ever witness. “When He roars, His children shall come trembling from the west.” Half of the Jews who are aware of their heritage today live in America. “They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares Yahweh.” (Hosea 11:10-11) The trembling in awe at Yahweh’s power, trembling that began with the killer earthquake that destroyed so many bloodthirsty Muslim invaders on the mountains of Judea and Samaria, will not have abated, it seems.
The real surprise is where the “stealth” Israelites will come from. Egypt and Assyria (i.e., modern Iraq and Syria) are in Muslim hands, and they have been for thirteen hundred years. Although they have throughout the centuries hosted small (and oppressed) Jewish minorities, the recent rise in Islamic fundamentalism (or is it the approach of the end of the age?) has forced many of their Jews to emigrate to Israel—an exodus that began in earnest in 1948 when Israel won her independence, prompting the Muslim governments in several nations to expel their Jews. (Gee, I wonder how they feel about the “right of return” issue that’s so dear to Palestinian Muslims?) But they only exiled the Jews they knew about. God seems to be telling us that there are multitudes of Israelites living in “Egypt” and “Assyria” who have no idea that they’re actually children of Abraham.
Since this is a book about symbols, it’s worth mentioning that in the lexicon of Yahweh’s metaphors, both “Egypt” and “Assyria” seem to mean something. Although I have no doubt that a large and clueless literal remnant of Israel dwells in literal Egypt and in Iraq/Syria, these places also indicate where Israel is symbolically exiled, at least for the time being. Egypt is indicative of “bondage in the world.” The symbol is obvious from the spectacular—dare I say, miraculous—deliverance of the Israelites from their four hundred year sojourn in Egyptian bondage. There’s something about this period of trial that we should never forget: it began not with the conquest of Israel (which was merely a nomadic family clan at the time) by a more powerful force. It began with one son of Israel, Joseph, saving Egypt (and through it, his own family) by honoring Yahweh, even in adverse circumstances. Israel became enslaved only when they became settled and complacent in their new home, forgetting God’s promises, and to a large extent, forgetting God Himself. Today, dwelling in ignorance of their heritage and denial concerning their God and His Messiah, Israel (i.e., the hidden contingent) is indeed back in bondage in the world. But as before, Yahweh knows how to set the prisoners free.
Assyria is less clear cut as a symbol, but it seems to me to indicate a state of aggressive futility, of militant useless emptiness. The ten northern tribes that broke away from Judah and Benjamin after Solomon’s death fell so thoroughly into idolatry and apostasy that Yahweh did to them what Yahshua did to the fruitless fig tree: He declared that it would never again bear fruit, at which point it dried up from the roots. Assyria’s strategy was to exchange conquered populations in an effort to break their psychological attachment to their lands and nations. Ephraim was so completely absorbed into the Assyrian melting pot, they have ever since been called “the ten lost tribes.” But they’re not lost to Yahweh, even if they are to themselves. As with bondage in Egypt, Yahweh is prepared, in the end, to reverse the situation: Israel will once again bear fruit; they will at last be useful, productive citizens in the Kingdom of God. But first, they must learn to “tremble” like frightened little birds before Yahweh their God—to realize, accept, and come to terms with the consequences of the choices they and their forebears made. They must (as must we all) meet the requirements of the ultimate Day of Atonement: afflict their souls in repentance, and answer—respond to—the grace made possible by the sacrifice of Yahshua the Messiah.
The prophet characterized these birds as “doves” (not as eagles, or chickens). In the symbology of the avian world, doves seem to occupy a role parallel to lambs: they’re innocent, sweet, and lovable, but they’re also vulnerable, flighty, and none too clever. If Yahshua is the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,”we His followers might be characterized as the “doves of God whose sin has been taken away.” Thus Solomon’s torrid love poem revealing the visceral passion between the Messiah and His called-out assembly refers to the King’s lover as a dove: “O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” (Song of Solomon 2:14) She’s a little shy, which only adds to the attraction He feels for her. He says, “My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother, pure to her who bore her.” (Song of Solomon 6:9) Her “mother” can be none other than the Holy Spirit, who, like the King, sees us as better than we really are.
Estranged from our God—as we await the Messiah’s coming—we echo the words of Hezekiah: “I moan like a dove. My eyes are weary with looking upward. O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety!” (Isaiah 38:14) As the weight of the world’s insanity oppresses us, we long for the ability to fly away to our God and King: “Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me. And I say, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest; yes, I would wander far away; I would lodge in the wilderness.” (Psalm 55:5-7) Whether we know it or not, we do have wings like a dove. And one of these days, the trumpet will sound, and we will be startled into remembrance of how to use them—caught up on the wings of grace to be with our Messiah in the heavens.
Alas, until that day, we all too often forget how to fly. Though escape is as close as our wingtips, we walk through life looking for answers down here on the ground, like Ephraim of old: “Ephraim is like a dove, silly and without sense, calling to Egypt, going to Assyria. As they go, I will spread over them My net; I will bring them down like birds of the heavens; I will discipline them according to the report made to their congregation.” (Hosea 7:11-12) This “report,” the Torah, reveals how Yahweh gave us the means to escape our senseless, silly, sin-prone lives. The “discipline” of which He speaks is just that: the making of disciples of all the nations, as we are told to do in the Great Commission, “teaching them to observe all things that I [Yahshua] have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20)
But while we remain on earth endeavoring to fulfill the Master’s command, we are as vulnerable as doves. So with the Psalmist, we pray, “Remember this, O Yahweh, how the enemy scoffs, and a foolish people reviles your name. Do not deliver the soul of Your dove to the wild beasts. Do not forget the life of your poor forever.” (Psalm 74:18-19) Don’t worry. Yahweh will neither forget nor abandon us.
“For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is Mine.” (Psalm 50:10-11) One of the “perks” of being the Creator of the Universe is that whatever you make belongs to you. As significant as that may be with inanimate objects like, say, solar systems or galaxies, it is even more so with living things—and utterly earthshaking when you’re talking about living beings endowed with free will—us.
Of course, with ownership comes responsibility. That’s something we teach our children because we want them to learn how to be dependable and conscientious, but it’s an attitude we get directly from our Creator. Yahweh takes care of the world He’s built—and especially the living things within it. Left to its own devices, the ecosphere as God designed it tends to settle into a steady equilibrium between birth and death, growth and decay, predators and prey, parasites and hosts. This seemingly perpetual cycle was, I believe, intended by God to be a metaphor describing our lives as mortal men in His world. We are born, live, reproduce, and die. But somewhere between the beginning and the end, we are expected to make the choices that will determine our eternal destinies, balancing what we’ve learned of our mortal existence against that which Yahweh has told us about the glorious immortal future that can be ours in His grace.
We are therefore faced with one undeniable fact: even though all mortal beings eventually die, God provides for them as long as they live. Our feathered friends are a perfect example of this. It matters not whether birds are clean seed-eating doves or unclean carrion-eating vultures: God provides for all of them. It’s the same with people. Whether we’re His children or not, Yahweh provides the necessaries of life to all of us, clean and unclean alike. As Yahshua taught us, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:44-45) The point is that while life lasts, people have an opportunity to choose to receive and reciprocate Yahweh’s love. But if we believers show hatred toward them—even in the face of unjust persecution—they will have no opportunity to witness the love of God reflected in our lives. So because God loves and provides for all of His creatures as long as life persists, going so far as to die to atone for the sins of fallen men, we who are His children are to reflect and transmit that love—even to those who count us as enemies. I realize that’s a hard truth, and counterintuitive to our nature. But it’s something our Father does on an ongoing basis.
The ramifications of this principle are illustrated in several ways by the birds of the air. First, our trust in God’s provision should be implicit and unquestioned. It’s the lesson of the Sabbath all over again: in the end, we can’t obtain anything for ourselves that Yahweh Himself hasn’t made freely available. Birds know this; why don’t we? Yahshua says, “You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:24-26) It is an insult to our God (and an act of malice toward our fellow man) to act as if He is incapable of providing whatever we need to maintain life and godliness. (I hasten to add, however, that the key word there is “need.” Birds are not given palaces to live in—they don’t need them, and neither do we.)
Second, Yahweh knows what we need—even better than we do ourselves. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” As much as unregenerate man may irrationally complain that “it’s not fair,” pain and death—not to mention male pattern baldness—are part of Yahweh’s design for this world. They are there to teach us to trust Him, to rely upon Him, to know that His grace is sufficient even through trials. Man may act as if life is cheap; Yahweh would assure us that to Him, it most definitely is not. Not one drop of blood falls to the ground without His knowledge and concern. “Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” What makes us more valuable? Only our God-given ability to make moral choices. Thus Yahshua draws the intuitive conclusion: “So everyone who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:29-33) As I said, with ownership comes responsibility. But the only thing that man really “owns” is his free will: he is thus responsible for making good choices. And in the end, the only choice that really matters is what we will do with God. Will we honor Him, ignore Him, or attack Him?
Third, God’s provision for our needs was costly to Him—painful and expensive beyond anything we can comprehend. Because Yahweh is God (and thus unlimited in power and resources), we sometimes tend to think of His “sacrifice” as a billionaire giving a hundred thousand dollars to some charitable cause—in other words, it’s wonderful for the recipient, but no big deal for the giver. But if I’m seeing this correctly, it’s not like that at all. It’s more like a virtuoso violinist donating his left hand. Only dire necessity driven by unfathomable love could compel Yahweh to do what He did for us. His sacrifice is permanent and total; it cannot be repealed or repeated. “Now when Jesus saw a great crowd around Him, He gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to Him, ‘Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’” (Matthew 8:18-20) God incarnate became homeless? Yes, and worse, for our sakes. If we really understood the lengths to which God went on our behalf, would any of us say (as so many do), “Thanks, but no thanks”? I think not.
As Yahshua noted, “the birds of the air have nests.” He also observed that where they choose to build their nests can be instructive. “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” (Luke 13:18-19) Mustard plants are normally humble shrubs, growing in fields no more than a few feet in height. Under unusual circumstances, however, they can get out of control and grow to perhaps ten feet tall—making them, of course, more or less worthless as a cash crop, since the pungent seeds cannot be efficiently harvested from such an unwieldy, overgrown bush. The “kingdom of God” on earth in this present age is the church—the called-out assembly of Yahshua. And it has indeed grown so large, the “birds of the air” have come to nest in its branches—in terms germane to our present subject, it has become home to the consequences of all sorts of choices, good and bad, clean and unclean.
There are lessons in there somewhere, I think. (1) In order for the mustard plant to have grown so large, the seed must have fallen on fertile soil indeed. The world is desperately hungry for what the kingdom of God represents—peace with God through the sacrifice of His Messiah. But the “tree” is out of control. One might say that it has absorbed more than its share of resources: it has taken unfair advantage of the other shrubs in the garden, hogging the nutrients in the soil and the sunshine overhead. (That being said, it still isn’t as voracious as the Islamic kudzu growing like a weed in the neighbor’s garden, threatening to overtake the entire town.) (2) Since the “mustard plant” is so much larger than it’s supposed to be, it is far less productive in relation to its sheer mass than it could have been. It was supposed to have been a source of flavor and delight to the garden’s Owner (Yahweh), but it has instead become a living monolith serving mostly itself. (3) Although smallish shrubs provide natural shelter for small, clean, “innocent” birds (the tsippowr of the Hebrew scriptures), the “tree” growing in this garden has attracted unclean crows, ravens, cowbirds, and even a hawk or two—birds representing the consequences of choosing to center one’s life on oneself, no matter the cost to our fellow creatures. (4) The mustard plant has been allowed to grow unabated by the garden’s Owner (for reasons of His own). But He has told us (in so many words) that when the time is right, He intends to get out His pruning shears and cut it back down to size.
Yahshua once used another agricultural metaphor employing birds: “And He was teaching them many things in parables [which, if you’ll recall, is the whole point of this book], and in His teaching He said to them: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it.’” (Mark 4:2-4) What was being sown was the truth—the word of God. According to the parable, this truth was being scattered all over the place, in hopes that it would take root somewhere, even though the sower knew up front that some places were more likely than others to be receptive. In the case at hand, the birds (according to verse 15) represent Satan, who comes and “takes away the word that was sown in their hearts.” Why was Satan able to do this? Note where the seed fell: along the path. This is where the ground has become hard and unreceptive because men have walked all over it. Man’s solutions to our hunger for truth are inadequate and unsuitable. Our hearts are hard—inflexible and impervious to God’s word. In order to receive the truth, we must get off the beaten path of man’s theories and philosophies, and move into the field God has prepared. If we fail to do so, Satan will steal it from under our feet before it has a chance to take root.
Simon Peter learned this lesson the hard way. As the hour of Christ’s trial approached, Peter’s first instinct was to resort to conventional human solutions. First, he suggested that Yahshua (whom he had just declared to be Yahweh’s Messiah) shouldn’t really have to go to the cross to get the job done—prompting the Master to refer to him as “Satan,” His adversary. Ouch! Then, when it became all too obvious that crucifixion was the path Yahshua would have to walk, Peter summoned all the human courage he could muster and declared—in so many words—that he was strong enough to accompany Christ in His trial, even if it meant his death. And once again (though more gently this time) Yahshua had to remind Peter that this would not be accomplished through man’s strength or wisdom or courage. As God had told His prophet, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says Yahweh of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)
You’ve got to love Peter’s chutzpah, as misplaced as it was. But Yahshua had to give him the bad news: “‘Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.’ Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, I am ready to go with You both to prison and to death.’ Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know Me.” (Luke 22:31-34) A few hours later, it all happened exactly as Yahshua had predicted, much to Peter’s chagrin: “Then they seized [Yahshua] and led Him away, bringing Him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, ‘This man also was with him.’ But he denied it, saying, ‘Woman, I do not know Him.’ And a little later someone else saw him and said, ‘You also are one of them.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I am not.’ And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, ‘Certainly this man also was with Him, for he too is a Galilean.’ But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are talking about.’ And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.” (Luke 22:54-62; see also John 18:25-27) Another bird! The rooster’s job is to announce the dawn. Though all seemed black to Peter at the moment, He did as Yahshua had instructed him earlier: he “turned again” and “strengthened his brothers.” By the day of Pentecost, the dawn of a new age of grace had broken upon the world, and Peter could declare with the prophet, “Arise, shine, for your light has come! And the glory of Yahweh is risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1)
(First published 2014)