Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bird Sanctuary

"The bird also has found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even Thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God." (Psalm 84:3)

I can imagine the psalmist worshiping God in the Temple in Jerusalem, his gaze rising up to the swallows flying overhead, busy with their nests and young. Here in the eastern Mediterranean, swallows come in droves in the spring and nest anywhere possible. Any building, wall, or niche can be the dwelling place of these diligent birds. I've seen their nests on the high walls of the airport terminal in Larnaca, and on the rafters of the little shack at the horse riding stables. In and out they fly, carrying food to their little ones who wait with open beaks, sounding out their impatient hunger with the beginnings of bird songs. Those many millenia ago, the psalmist was in the Temple contemplating the swallows of old, making their mud homes on the walls, flying above the altar in the house of God.

He does not mention any swallow eradication program for the Temple; apparently they were acceptable inhabitants of the holy place. Their presence in the Temple did not in any way interrupt the service of sacrifice and worship of the God who made the heavens and the earth. The psalmist enjoys their company and compares himself to the swallows, "How blessed are those who dwell in Thy house! They are ever praising Thee. Selah." (Psalm 84:4) We dwell in His house as the birds dwell in His house, accepted and appreciated for what we are - God's creation, His redeemed ones, those who offer the sacrifice of praise and simply enjoy His presence.

Today in the south of Israel, on the edge of the Red Sea and the Negev desert, there is a bird sanctuary called the International Birding and Research Center. Israel is the only land bridge between Africa and the continents of Europe and Asia. The birds that nest and breed in the northern regions of the earth migrate south to the feeding grounds of Africa, passing through Israel twice a year going and coming. It is estimated that 1.5 billion birds of 430 species fly through Eilat twice a year. 

Situated on the edge of what is left of an old salt marsh, the only remaining habitat for the birds is 5% of the land area that once was available to them. The rest of the salt marsh consists of development, hotels, suburbs of the tourist haven Eilat has become. When we consider the future, including the return of the Lord, how will areas like Eilat be transformed by the redeeming plan of God? Perhaps when God is finished judging the god of mammon, the earth will once again revert to its original purpose, the appropriate and adequate dwelling for man and beast. 

We are stewards of God's creation (Genesis 1:26, 28). We have been given dominion over the fish, the birds and the animals on dry ground. Like the birds in the Temple, the birds that pass through our lands and lots deserve a little more thought and consideration. I am not just talking about feeding birds in the winter, I am talking about considering how God takes care of all things, even us. "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?" (Matthew 6:26)

Dwelling in His house, close to His altars, is the place from which we can gain perspective on the tumultuous times in which we live. God takes care of the birds, He will take care of us. As stewards of His creation, we can take part in making our part of the earth a better place for ourselves, our children, and the animals God has entrusted to us. It is not a matter of money as much as it is a matter of will. As we gaze upon the swallows making their nests and taking care of their young, may we understand our place in God's creation and fulfill the original purpose of God for man -- for fellowship and for tending the garden of God. 

Aimee Hennen

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