Jeremiah, a prophetic bird watcher

The Creator’s timer technology

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the internal causes that trigger bird migration. Presumably, prior to Noah’s flood there was no need for any birds to change their locality But now some species seem to have many inbuilt details involving their timing, their destination, and how close they fly to the ocean’s surface on their migratory journeying. I find it difficult to imagine that this detailed engineering of their travels could be the clever outcome of lots of trials and errors. I find it much easier to believe that the divine Creator inserted some sort of notional ‘navigational chip’ into each tiny ‘bird brain’.

Jeremiah was disgusted that his fellow Israelites seemed to have damaged their clock-and-compass intuition that would enable them to respond to the Lord’s regulations that he had installed in their human spirit. ‘Even the stork that flies across the sky knows the time of her migration, as do the turtle dove, the swallow and the crane. They all return at the proper time each year. But not my people, he complained, they do not know the Lord’s laws’ (Jeremiah 8:7, New Living Translation). He ends that section of his writings with the lament (8:20): “The harvest is finished, and the summer is gone,” the people cry, “yet we are not saved” – from defeat by foreign armies and the threat of exile from home in ‘The Promised Land’.

The prophet seems to be emphasising how his people are ignoring God’s ways.

Israel, an air terminal of the birds

I was intrigued when I looked through my bookshelves for help about the species of birds referred to by the prophet and found ‘The Natural History of the Bible’ by the Methodist naturalist Peter Goodfellow. I was pleasantly surprised with the information in the first page I read in his section about birds:

‘Israel is well known as being one of the best places in the world to witness bird migration. Millions of migrants from hundreds of species pass through Israel twice a year, making it one of the world’s busiest and most impressive flyways.’ For instance, I also learned that the land of Israel is a truly international airport for migratory birds that arrive there from all directions. ‘It is the northern limit of distribution for African bird species like Little Green Bee-eater . . . and Namaqua Dove, the southern limit for European species like finches, jays and others, and the western limit of distribution for fascinating Asian species like kingfishers, bulbuls, babblers and more.’

The other amazing detail that I read about was the diversity of species to be found in such a small territory: 540 have been recorded in a country smaller than England, which compares with 580 here in the whole of Great Britain.’

A new season of opportunity

The Song of Songs also draws the reader’s attention to the inbuilt timer inserted by the Creator in some of his bird families. For instance, Song of Songs 2:10-13 (in The Passion Translation, including some of its footnotes) calls us to focus on the season of spring. The Beloved calls on his dearest and invites her to hurry and come away with him. ‘For now is the time, my beautiful one. The season has changed, the bondage of our barren winter has ended.’ Indeed, ‘The season for singing and pruning the vines has arrived [the Hebrew for ‘pruning’ can also mean ‘singing’, says a footnote]. ‘I hear the cooing of doves in our land filling the air with songs to awaken you and guide you forth . . . The early signs of my purposes and plans are bursting forth [the blooming of the fig tree being a sign of an early spring, a new season] . . . There is change in the air.’

I find all this appropriate in our British season of spring, at a time when many Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted after the two-year ‘winter’ of limited contact with others. Although the weather was windy and cold as I took my daily constitutional the other day, I stopped to chat to a man with a walking stick who seemed keen to talk, and turns out to be a newly arrived neighbour. Speaking of recent storms that had brought down our garden fences, his daughter who is a vicar, from a rural area in the north of England that I used to know well, came with her husband to attempt to secure her parents’ ‘de-fences'(!) before the gales struck. Yet he and his wife do not appear to have been her inspiration to enter ‘the ministry’. I’ve since made one call at their door and got invited in by his partner . . . T.B.C.

Let’s prepare to become spiritually airborne into a new season!

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