Monday, November 2, 2009
The great speckled bird of Jeremiah
Writing, several days ago about living in the country and country music, I was reminded of a song my father liked, “The Great Speckled Bird.” That is a Christian song and I found a great recording by Kitty Wells. But my curiosity was sparked by the words which included a reference to a Great Speckled Bird in the Bible. The reference is in Jeremiah 12:9.
“Is my inheritance like a speckled bird of prey to me? Are the birds of prey against her on every side? Go gather all the beasts of the field, bring them to devour!”
The author of the song sees the verse as the people of God in faithfulness and is dispensational in its outlook. The Church will fly away into the arms of Jesus until the tribulation is over. "In the presence of all her despisers/With a song never uttered before/She will rise and be gone in a moment/Till the great tribulation is o'er."
But in all of this, the text is taken out of context and misused.
It is true this verse is about the people of God, Israel, and can be applied to the Church that is birthed out of Israel. But one must understand Israel in the context of the whole chapter in order to understand the verse and how it might be applied to the Church. It is a tragic story, but it ends beautifully. Its promise is unique.
But before looking at the context I want to say something about the difference between the song’s dispensational views of safety and the Reformed view.
In the song the Church is being attacked by her neighbors but is lifted, in their presence, to safety and kept from the “great” tribulation. But not so the Reformed teaching. The Church was born in tribulation, and still endures the tribulation, not in all places but in some places all the time. From Nero to Hitler, from Domitian to Idi Amin, from North Korea to radical Islam the anti-Christs keep appearing and being destroyed by the will of God. And yes, there will undoubtedly be a final anti-Christ destroyed by Christ’s glorious return.
But not out of the tribulation is there safety, rather in the midst of common life and tribulation, normal workdays and dark eras the Christian finds peace, safety and comfort in the arms Jesus Christ. His people are united to him, nourished by him, kept faithful by him.
And here, speaking of faithfulness, is the better understanding of the great speckled bird. As Calvin notes, The bird is a bird of prey, a wild bird that is not unlike the lion in an earlier verse.
“My inheritance has become to me like a lion in the forest; she has roared against me; therefore I have come to hate her.” (8) God calls for the enemies of his people and Israel goes into exile.
But why? Because she has copied the sins of her neighbors, she worships the Baals and enters into their sexual rites and she kills her children before false gods. But there is a promise here and interestingly it is focused on the neighbors.
The Lord is uprooting all of them because of sin. But he will restore them and if the neighboring peoples who have taught Judah to sin, to worship the Baals, will now, instead, learn the ways of the people of God they will be “built up in the midst of” his people.
This is the great reversal. The culture captured the people of God and taught them to sin. But God promises restoration not only to the children but also to a corrupt culture. Calvin points out that it isn’t Judah that changes the surrounding nations but it is God and his law. In the same way it is the work of Jesus Christ in the midst of his people that changes the surrounding culture.