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Lessons Gleaned from the Migration of Birds

By Rev Tan Eng Boo

I took the above photo in Sungei Buloh of a tracking device attached to this migatory bird, a Whimbrel. Every year about 200 Whimbrels spend their winter periods over at the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (SBWR). They migrate from as far as the Arctic and North America and spend their winter months on the coast of SW Europe, Africa, Middle East, Australia and the Pacific, and on this “little Red Dot” (Singapore). The migration of birds is a fascinating subject. Did you know that it is also mentioned in the Bible?

“Even the stork in the heavens knows her times, and the turtledove, swallow, and crane keep the time of their coming, but my people know not the rules of the LORD” (Jeremiah 8:7)

In a sermon entitled, “Migratory Birds,” Spurgeon began, “We shall mark these migratory birds, and set the wisdom of their instinct in contrast with the folly of mankind.” He then proceeded to make the following four points:

· The migratory birds know when to come and go.

· The migratory birds know where to go.

· The migratory birds, by some strange instinct, also know the way to go.

· The migratory birds show their wisdom by actually going to the sunny land.”

Birds observe the time of their migration and do so with extraordinary regularity and precision. In an October 13, 2020 issue of the Guardian, Daniel Boffey reported that,

A bird said to have the aerodynamic build of a “jet fighter” has been tracked flying more than 12,000km (7,500 miles) from Alaska to New Zealand, setting a new world record for avian non-stop flight.

The bar-tailed godwit set off from south-west Alaska on 16 September and arrived in a bay near Auckland 11 days later, having flown at speeds of up to 55mph.

The male bird, known as 4BBRW in reference to the blue, blue, red and white rings fitted on its legs, also had a 5gm satellite tag harnessed on its lower back to allow scientists to track its progress.”

The Collins Atlas of Bird Migration has also observed that the “true wonder of migration is that it is instinctive.” God gave migratory birds instinctive wisdom regarding the seasons, but He gave man the ability to discern the times and the seasons. Jesus says, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time? (Luke 12:54-56). So were the Israelites of Jeremiah’s day who were oblivious to such signs. God explained the underlying problem with them, “… behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD….”​ (Jeremiah 8:9).

What biblical lessons can we glean from migratory birds?

1. Let’s follow the rules of God (just as how the birds “keep to their time” of migration).

In the context of Jeremiah 8, we note that God’s people have rejected His Word. While the fowls of the air “know their time” and “keep to their time” of migration, we are told that God’s people “do not follow the rules of the Lord.” The prophet Jeremiah rebuked them and warned them of a dire consequence (Jeremiah 8:13ff). It is wise to keep God’s Word in our hearts and to follow it fervently. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Birds don’t argue with which route they will take. They will just fly away to the intended destination. God’s people must obey His Word. It is written for our admonition and instruction (1 Corinthians 10:11).

2. Let’s cultivate a sensitivity to God’s voice and a simple instinct to obey (just as birds follow their instinct in their annual migration).

God’s people need to listen to the voice within. A major difference between birds and us is this, birds have no competing voices. No moral choices. No image of God to bear. Just simple instinct to obey. On the contrary, we have the blessed Holy Spirit to instruct and guide us. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). Be sensitive to His “voice” when you read the Bible. The people of Jeremiah’s day refused to listen to God. We might end up like them and be judged by God (Jeremiah 5:15). Like birds which follow their instincts in their annual migration, we can take heed to the following:

“In your annual journey with God, make sure His Word alone is your guide” (Wayne Stiles)

Pray these words from Psalms:

“Make me know Your ways, O LORD;

Teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me,

For You are the God of my salvation;

For You I wait all the day.”

(Psalm 25:4-5)

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