June 10 – Example of the Birds

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?—Matt. 6:26

Many birds live in northern Galilee, and it’s likely some flew by as Jesus was teaching. As an object lesson, Jesus called attention to the fact that birds do not have intricate and involved processes for acquiring food.

Like every creature, birds receive their life from God. And He provides them with an abundance of food resources and the instinct to find those resources for themselves and their offspring. The Lord asked Job, “Who prepares for the raven its nourishment when its young cry to God?” (Job 38:41). The obvious answer is: God does.

If God is so careful to provide for such relatively insignificant creatures as birds, how much more will He take care of those He created in His own image and who have become His children through faith?

This doesn’t mean Jesus is suggesting that birds do nothing to feed themselves. But they never worry about where their next meal is going to come from. They gather food until they have enough, and then go about whatever other business they may have until time for the next meal.

Use this example of a bird’s worry-free life and adopt the same attitude for yourself.

ASK YOURSELF
It really is worth reiterating that birds don’t sit around waiting for their needs to be met. Keep your eye to an open window one morning, and you’ll see just how industrious they are. How does this help you understand Jesus’ words better? In what ways have laziness and other lacks of good character increased your worry quotient?[1]

6:26 The birds of the air illustrate God’s care for His creatures. They preach to us how unnecessary it is for us to worry. They neither sow nor reap, yet God feeds them. Since, in God’s hierarchy of creation, we are of more value than the birds, then we can surely expect God to take care of our needs.

But we should not infer from this that we need not work for the supply of our present needs. Paul reminds us: “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). Nor should we conclude that it is wrong for a farmer to sow, reap, and harvest. These activities are a necessary part of his providing for his current needs. What Jesus forbids here is multiplying barns in an attempt to provide future security independent of God (a practice He condemns in His story of the rich farmer in Luke 12:16–21.) The Daily Notes of the Scripture Union succinctly summarize verse 26:

The argument is that if God sustains, without their conscious participation, creatures of a lower order, He will all the more sustain, with their active participation, those for whom creation took place.[2]


26. Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. You are of more value than they, are you not? The sky above Palestine and neighboring countries is full of birds. Scripture mentions many of them. In the small compass of seven verses (Lev. 11:13–19) no less than twenty kinds are listed: eagle, ossifrage, osprey, kite, falcon, raven, ostrich, nighthawk, sea gull, hawk, owl, cormorant, ibis, water hen, pelican, vulture, stork, heron, hoopoe, and bat. In the old dispensation all of these were considered “unclean.” The pigeon and the turtle-dove are mentioned in Lev. 12:6 (cf. Luke 2:24); the sparrow and the swallow in Ps. 84:3; for the former see also Matt. 10:29, 31; Luke 12:6, 7. In addition to turtle-dove and swallow Jer. 8:7 mentions the crane. In the passage parallel to Matt. 6:26 Jesus calls the attention of his audience to the (already mentioned) raven (Luke 12:24). The barnyard with its domestic fowl is not neglected; note the strikingly beautiful passage about the hen and its chicks (Matt. 23:37), and the part the rooster plays in the story of Peter’s denial (Matt. 26:34 ff., and parallels). The eagle, referred to not only in Lev. 11 but in several other Old Testament passages (including such well-known ones as Deut. 32:11; Ps. 103:5 and Ezek. 17:3, 11) returns in the pages of the New Testament (Matt. 24:28; cf. Luke 17:37; Rev. 4:7; 12:14). We have already become acquainted with the dove in our study of the baptism of Jesus (see p. 214).

For a complete list and description of the birds mentioned in Scripture one should turn to the delightfully interesting work by A. Parmelee, All the Birds of the Bible, New York, 1959. That author calls the country in which the Sermon on the Mount was delivered “the cross-roads of bird-migrations.” Was a thick swarm of winged travelers cleaving the air at the very moment when the Lord spoke the words of 6:26? It is entirely possible.

What Jesus is saying here is that the birds of the air neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, yet are being fed and kept alive by their Creator. This passage must not be misinterpreted as if it were an encouragement to idleness. It could not have been that, for the Lord knew well enough that his audience was conscious of the fact that adult birds are by no means lazy. They work for their living. They do not just settle themselves on some twig and wait for food to drop into their mouths. No, they are very busy. They gather insects and worms, prepare their nests, care for their young and teach them how to fly, etc. A certain degree of “care” for impending contingencies can be ascribed to them, especially to the migrants among them; for, as the season may dictate, these travel to warmer or cooler regions. Nevertheless, two things must be borne in mind. First, birds are not guilty of overdoing a good thing. They are not like the rich fool of the parable (Luke 12:16–21). Secondly, when these birds prepare their nests, train their young, migrate, etc., they are acting “instinctively.” When we say this, are we not really affirming that it is their Creator who, by endowing them with these instincts, is caring for them, while they themselves are merely responding to certain stimuli?

With men the story is entirely different. It is they, not the birds, who not only sow and reap and gather into barns, but who, while engaged in all this, are often filled with dreadful forebodings, in large measure ignoring God’s promises! While the birds are “carefree,” men are “careworn.”

Christ’s argument—from the less to the greater, contrast verse 25—amounts to this: If the birds, who cannot in any real sense plan ahead, have no reason to worry, then certainly you, my followers, endowed with intelligence, so that you can take thought for the future, should not be filled with apprehension. Again, if God provides even for these lower creatures, how much more will he care for you, who were created as his very image. And especially, if the One who feeds them is “your heavenly Father” but their Creator, then how thoroughly unreasonable your anxiety becomes. “You are of more value than they, are you not?” asks the Lord, in a question so worded in the original that it expects an affirmative answer.[3]


Worry About Food

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? (6:26)

There are many birds in northern Galilee, and it is likely that Jesus pointed to some passing birds as He said, Look at the birds of the air. As an object lesson, He called attention to the fact that birds do not have intricate and involved processes for acquiring food. They do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns.

Like every creature, birds have their life from God. But God does not say to them, in effect, “I’ve done My part; from now on you’re on your own.” The Lord has provided them with an abundance of food resources and the instinct to find those resources for themselves and their offspring. Your heavenly Father feeds them. He “prepares for the raven its nourishment, when its young cry out to God” (Job 38:41; cf. Ps. 147:9).

If God so carefully takes care of such relatively insignificant creatures as birds, how much more will He take of those who are created in His own image and who have become His children through faith? Are you not worth much more than they?

Arthur Pink comments, “Here we may see how the irrational creatures, made subject to vanity by the sin of man, come nearer to their first estate and better observe the order of nature in their creation than man does. For they seek only for that which God has provided for them, and when they receive it they are content. This solemnly demonstrates that man is more … vile and more base than even the brute beasts” (An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974], p. 229).

Jesus does not suggest that birds do nothing to feed themselves. Anyone who has observed them even for a little while is impressed with their diligence and persistence in foraging for food. Many birds spend the greater part of their time and energy finding food for themselves, their mates, and their young. But they do not worry about where their next meal is going to come from. They gather food until they have enough, and then go about whatever other business they may have until time for the next meal. Birds only eat excessively when humans put them in cages. They never worry about or stockpile their food. Certain species store seeds or nuts for winter, but they do so out of instinctive sense, not out of fear or worry. Much less do they stockpile simply for the sake of gloating over their hoard. In their own limited way they illustrate what we should know: that the heavenly Father feeds them.

Yet no bird is created in the image of God or recreated in the image of Christ. No bird was ever promised heirship with Jesus Christ throughout all eternity. No bird has a place prepared for him in heaven. And if God gives and sustains life for birds, will He not take care of us who are His children and who have been given all those glorious promises?

The idea that the world’s food supply is rapidly diminishing is untrue. A recent bulletin of the U.S. Department of Agriculture states, “The world has more than enough food to feed every man, woman, and child in it. If the world’s food supply had been evenly divided and distributed among the world’s population for the last eighteen years, each person would have received more than the minimum number of calories. From 1960 to the present world food grain production never dropped below a hundred and three percent of the minimum requirement, and averaged a hundred and eight percent.”

Nor has the per capita amount of food been dropping. The same bulletin reports, “World per capita food production declined only twice in the last twenty-five years. In fact production of grain, the primary food for most of the world’s people, rose from two hundred and ninety kilograms per person during the early fifties to three hundred and sixty kilograms per person during the last five years.” It is also stated that only ten percent of the agricultural land in the world could produce enough food to feed every human being on our planet, even by the standard of U. S. consumption![4]


26 To worry about food and drink is to have learned nothing from the natural creation. If the created order testifies to God’s “eternal power and divine nature” (Ro 1:20), it testifies equally to his providence. The point is not that disciples need not work—birds do not simply wait for God to drop food into their beaks—but that they need not fret. Disciples may further strengthen their faith when they remember that God is in a special sense their Father (not the birds’ Father), and that they are worth far more than birds (“you” is emphatic). Here the argument is from the lesser to the greater.

This argument presupposes a biblical cosmology without which faith makes no sense. God is so sovereign over the universe that even the feeding of a wren falls within his concern. Because he normally does things in regular ways, there are “scientific laws” to be discovered. But the believer with eyes to see simultaneously discovers something about God and his activity (cf. Carson, Sermon on the Mount, 87–90).[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 170). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1226–1227). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 349–351). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 421–423). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 215). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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