Updated: Sep 4, 2019
Judah and the Stork
Things in nature, all created by the hand of the Heavenly Father, have often been used to encourage and teach Israel to follow in His ways and walk in His Truth. The Wise Man wrote in Proverbs 6:6-8, Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, provideth her meat in the summer, andgathereth her food in the harvest.
Isaiah likewise was moved to write, The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider (1:3); and our Master said in Matthew 6:26, Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
Jeremiah uses parabolic language likewise in chapter 8:6-7, I hearkened and heard, but they spake not aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? Every one turned to his course, as the horse rusheth into the battle. Yea, the stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times;and the turtle and the crane and the swallow observe the time of their coming; but my people know not the judgment of the LORD.
The judgment of the LORD Jeremiah referred to was quickly approaching.Yahweh had pled with them to return to the old paths which they had agreed to follow (see the May 2019 Advocate feature article). But, like all of God’s pleas, it fell upon deaf ears. “Amend your ways, and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place… do not steal from one another by not executing righteous judgments… do not oppress the fatherless and widows… neither walk after other gods… all of this will result in your hurt” (7:3-9).
Again, the nation of Judah would have none of it.Yahweh spoke through the prophets,…rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not (7:13) Even to an outsider, their ways would have been confusing and hypocritical. They refused to honestly look at themselves from God’s standard, but instead continued their false worship and built shrines in the valley of Hinnom to sacrifice their children as burnt offerings unto Tophet. Though as a nation they were technically still alive, from the Divine viewpoint, the nation was as a carcass, to be torn and eaten by the ferocious teeth of the Babylon lion.
Jeremiah contrasts their behavior to that of the inferior animals who practiced a more instinctual wisdom than Israel seemed to be capable of. He makes allusion to the habit of the lower creatures which in their ignorance unknowingly follow times and seasons for their own safety and welfare. Surely Israel could have benefited from pondering these birds of migration and grasping the lesson for themselves. The stork specifically seems to be singled out in our theme verse Jeremiah 8:7, although the turtle (dove), crane and swallow are also mentioned.
The stork during the fall season migrates south to Africa to escape the cold winter weather of the north; and then each spring, massive flocks of these birds pass through the land of Israel on their journey back north to Europe. There are very old records (as well as present-day data) of enormous flocks of storks stopping off in Israel to rest and refresh themselves on the long journey home to their nesting grounds as far as south and central Europe (see Figure 1 below). On their resting stop in Israel, they are found consuming frogs, snakes and snails in the marshes, streams and rivers.
These birds somehow seem to know when to leave and especially where to go, for they return back to the same area year after year without direction or guidance. They come from the south, stop and refresh in Israel, and are off to the north driven by an unseen force.
These birds of annual migration would have been very familiar to all in Israel. Jeremiah’s allusion to them would be something they would understand; all they had to do was take to heart the lesson given them–“Israel, why can’t you see that these ignorant birds are guided to their final place of resting, yet you, with much higher intelligence, won’t follow after My ways and live? Don’t you know and understand that you will suffer judgment as a result of not acknowledging and following My directions?”
As we know, the nation as a whole did not heed the Divine Word delivered in patience and longsuffering by their God through His servant Jeremiah. Consequently, upon them fell the judgments of God by the hand of the Babylonian army. Their brethren were brutally killed; most were carried out of the land and into captivity in the North. Most tragically, their beloved Jerusalem, along with the temple, was destroyed. Only a remnant heeded the warnings of Jeremiah and kept Yahweh’s precepts individually. Though not always seen, there would have always been the proverbial seven thousand men that He reserved to Himself, having not bowed the knee to the image ofBaal (Romans 11:4), who from the heart followed after the God of Israel.
What lesson should we as Brethren of Christ learn from the migrating stork? We must follow and not stray from the path given us by our Heavenly Father, and the commandments and example of our Lord Jesus Christ. There are, as Hebrews 12 tells us, a great cloud of witnesses left on record to encourage us to follow the ways of righteousness, especially when times are tough. For example:
Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he. He heard, believed and followed (Genesis 6:22).
Daniel was determined to not defile himself in the sight of God: and in desiring to relate to his people’s times of distress, refused the “king’s meat and wine” (Daniel 1:5-16)
Also, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, when faced with the option to stay the course or deviate, had this to say, We arenot careful (didn't have to really give much thought) to answer thee in this matter. If it be so,our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up (Daniel 3:16-18).
The greatest example of following in the right way is seen in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. His ways were not his own, but that of the Father, as he said, I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me (John 8:28).
We have help and encouragement in our journey to the Kingdom by way of the examples in Scripture as well as help from our brethren on the same journey: much like the stork’s annual migrations together each year for the purpose of getting where they belong at the right time and in good health. It is known that their flight in that part of the world avoids what would be the most direct route over large bodies of water such as the Mediterranean Sea. There is little if any thermal updraft currents found there to aid their strenuous journey. Their routes by instinct follow land masses, where these thermal updrafts are formed naturally. Just how the storks are led on their migration journeyis not known. However, as brethren in Christ we follow our Lord who we don’t see, but who has shown us the way. By so doing, we avoid the unproductive and harmful ways the world has to offer. With one another’s help we struggle side-by-side to keep in the way of the Tree of Life.
The storks fly in a “V” formation and rotate the lead position. This pattern of nature also does not go unnoticed. We have in it an allusion to the tremendous help we receive from our fellow travelers in the Truth towards the Kingdom of God. We are taught by experience that there is not always just one leader, exhorter, or teacher, but a rotation of lovers of the Word, sharing in the work, stepping up to these necessary roles in each ecclesia.
There has been fascinating research done on the “V” formation. It is now known that there are many things going on in this activity that researchers have come to understand, that benefit the individual and the flock in their ardent struggle to get to their destination through their teamwork.
During the days of our probation, we follow in faith and the hope set before us. We rely on what we read, study and experience to form our character. We must individually follow our Father’s precepts and commands, and heed our Lord’s warnings against sin and foolishness. We must collectively share the load with our fellow laborers, staying the course as we migrate to the Kingdom Age just over the horizon. Let us be resolved individually and as a community to enter into that wonderful Kingdom of God on earth, which He has promised to those found faithful.
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him (James 1:12).
Dan Stanton, Maitland, FL