The brief observations I made in last week’s article about birdsong caused me to go and seek out a few facts about our feathered friends. I was amazed to discover how many different kinds of birds there are across the globe.
It’s reckoned that by the time of her death in 1999, American Phoebe Snetsinger had recorded seeing more bird species than any other person – an incredible 8,398.
According to John Stott in his book ‘The Birds, Our Teachers’, the Penguin, uses its wings to ‘literally fly underwater with extraordinary agility’.
For the majority of birds, those that can fly, Stott goes on to describe some of the other uses they have for their wings.
These include balancing, warding off an approaching intruder, used as a display in courtship, and in the protection of a bird’s eggs and its chicks.
It’s this final use that is frequently alluded to in the Bible to describe God’s care for needy people.
“Hide me from the wicked in the shadow of your wings,” is King David’s prayer in Psalm 17:8, and the promise in Psalm 91:4 is “The Lord will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.”
In the Gospels (Luke 13:34), the Lord Jesus uses the same analogy when he says of his people ‘O Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing’.
The testimony of countless Christians over the centuries is that in times of trouble and uncertainty, or when they have recognised their need of forgiveness and turned to God for comfort, they have discovered him to be a loving, compassionate parent.
Perhaps this is most clearly seen in the story that Jesus tells in Luke’s Gospel, that we know as the parable of the prodigal son. When his wayward but repentant son returns home, Jesus describes the boy’s father wrapping his forgiving arms around his child, just as (we might say) a bird wraps its protective wings around its offspring.