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Moses' seventh speech, Part 9, Law of the bird

Mar 07, 2013

In Deuteronomy 22:6 and 7, Moses gives a law which seems trivial. Many may wonder how such a law ever came to be found in Scripture. But “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching” (2 Timothy 3:16). Scriptures are trivial only to those who do not appreciate the principles on which they are based. Deuteronomy 22:6, 7 says,

6 If you happen to come upon a bird’s nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; 7 you shall certainly let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, in order that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days.

The practical application of this law is that it shows God’s concern for conservation. A mother bird provides eggs, not only to increase the supply of birds, but also to supply food for those who eat eggs. This is seen throughout nature. Most egg-laying birds and fish lay far more eggs than are needed to reproduce the species, and the excess is used as food for others.

This law shows not only God’s concern but also God’s sovereignty over His creation. As Creator, He has established a balance in nature, and He has the right to regulate how men treat the birds and animals in the world. The earth does not belong to men, for God says in Leviticus 25:23, “the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me.”

This law also reflects the Fifth Commandment, with its command to honor father and mother. A related law in the context of sacrifice is found in Leviticus 22:27, 28,

27 When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain seven days with its mother, and from the eighth day on it shall be accepted as a sacrifice of an offering by fire to the Lord. 28 But whether it is an ox or a sheep, you shall not kill both it and its young in one day.

In the broad sense, every time an animal is killed, it is a sacrifice. For this reason, even when hunting in the forest, the blood of the animal was to be poured out upon the ground, rather than consumed (Leviticus 17:13). Therefore, when a man, in essence, hunts for birds, he must treat it as a sacrifice. Indiscriminate killing is unlawful. However, this may not apply to an unclean animal, which is a scavenger and was not created to be food for mankind, but to keep the earth clean. Unclean animals were not used in sacrifice.

The law tells us, then, that among the sacrificial animals, the parent could not be killed with their young on the same day. The link had to be broken between parent and offspring in order to reflect the principle of sacrifice. Hence, when we apply this law to the sacrifice of Christ, who is our Father, His death brought us life on the same day. His death on the cross took upon Himself the penalty for our sin and made it unlawful to keep us in our state of mortality. When the parent dies, the offspring must be given life.

This opposite principle is seen in the law regarding the mother bird and its young. That law said that the young could be killed if the mother was kept alive. So Jesus said in Matthew 23:37 and 38,

37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. 38 Behold, your house is being left to you desolate!

This was more than a metaphor. It was a prophetic statement based upon the law in Deuteronomy 22:6, 7. First, we see that Jerusalem was the mother bird, and the prophets were her offspring that were killed regularly. And so, by the law of equal weights and measures, the law was to be applied equally. The parallel situation, Jesus said, was that He Himself was the “hen,” and His disciples (all believers) were the “chicks under her wings.” Christ, the “bird,” was killed in sacrifice, but because most of the people did not apply His blood to them, rejecting His sacrifice, it was as if the “bird,” in a legal sense, was still alive. Hence, the offspring could be killed, according to the law.

That is why Jerusalem was later destroyed.

If we study the law of sacrifice in Leviticus 17:1-10, we see that sacrificing an animal was insufficient in itself to cover sin. The one making the sacrifice had to apply the blood of the sacrifice in the place where God had put His name. Only then was the sacrifice acceptable before God in a practical way, where the blood actually covered the sinner. And so, armed with that knowledge, we can see that even though Jerusalem’s priests offered the sacrifice of Christ as prophesied in the law, they crucified Him outside the city but did not apply His blood to the temple of their body. Hence, in a legal sense, it was as if the sacrifice were never made.

When we link this to the law allowing a man to kill the young birds or take the eggs, as long as the mother bird is kept alive, we can see how it applies prophetically to Jerusalem. Jesus is the “hen,” and most of the people of Jerusalem were the offspring who were killed in the Roman siege in 70 A.D. The law of the bird allowed the offspring to die, if the mother was not sacrificed.

A related law extends this principle to fruit-bearing trees. Deuteronomy 20:19 and 20 forbids cutting down fruit-bearing trees in a military siege. Trees that do not bear fruit, however, were allowed to be cut down, and for this reason John the Baptist said in Luke 3:9,

9 … every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

At the end of Jesus’ ministry, He cursed the barren fig tree in an act of spiritual warfare against the nation of Judea (represented by the fig tree). The nation’s refusal to accept Him as Messiah made them unfruitful. Moreover, the nation refused to consider Jesus Christ to be its father figure, and so Judea and Jerusalem stepped outside the protection of these laws. First, by law they were mere fuel trees; secondly, they were chicks that refused to consider the “hen” (Christ) to be their mother.

This situation is being repeated in recent decades in the Israeli state and Jerusalem. That nation is again unfruitful, and if Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 21:19 is correct, it will never again bear fruit. For this reason, the Israeli state will soon lose its divine protection, which it has enjoyed up to now because of Isaac’s promise to Esau, which was explained previously.

In the end, Jeremiah 19:11 will be fulfilled, and the city will be destroyed in such a complete manner that it will never again be repaired or rebuilt. All of this might have been avoided, if the people had come under the protection of the very laws that they claimed to follow. Their lack of understanding proved to be a disaster for the people of Jerusalem and Judea.


This is the ninth part of a series titled "Moses' Seventh Speech." To view all parts, click the link below.

Moses' Seventh Speech


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