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Caged Birds

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Few of us have experienced something like what the whole world is focused on right now with the Coronavirus. There is uncertainty and fear and everything might feel a little surreal with whole countries on lock down as an invisible virus wreaks havoc on society. So to help keep our minds focused I thought it might be a nice idea to send out a short thought for the day, something to think about while we wait out the current situation.

I’ve noticed in the readings the last couple of days a little theme which is summarized by our Lord in Luke 6:21 – “blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh”. There’s a kind of a designed contradiction in each of Jesus’ beatitudes. The word “blessed” is connected with the idea of happiness, but weeping (in the sense which Jesus uses the word here) isn’t something normally associated with happiness. Of course, our Lord is talking about delayed gratification and that true happiness – godly happiness – can’t be found in this world. In this mortal life we weep, beset by the various circumstances we go through. Life can be a slog. But there is laughter to come – the kind of laughter associated with an outburst of joy.

We see the same idea in the Songs of Ascents (or Degrees) collected together by Hezekiah to memorialize his experiences and the way God saved him out of all his troubles. Hezekiah went through a lot to cause him to weep, both on an individual level and due to the problems his nation found itself in. The city of Jerusalem had been surrounded by the Assyrians, the superpower of the day. From a human standpoint there was no way out. Assyria had demolished every other nation in its path and Jerusalem was no match for them. The king of Assyria who besieged the city, Sennacherib, told in a famous prism that bears his name, that Hezekiah and the people of Jerusalem were like “a caged bird” inside the city. Impending doom is a horrible thing to endure but what the Assyrians didn’t know is that the people of Judah had Yahweh on their side. In the 124th Psalm it says “if it had not been the LORD who was on our side when people rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive” (v.3). The Assyrians were like a “flood [that] would have swept us away” (v.4) but the Psalmist then says “we have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped!” (v.7). Against Yahweh the superpower of Assyria and 185,000 armed men are nothing. There is nothing that is too hard for our God to defeat when we feel like a caged bird, feeling impending doom.

But that wasn’t the end of the trials for Hezekiah personally. He was told he was going to die and the king “wept bitterly” (2 Kin. 20:3). However, being the spiritually minded that he was, it wasn’t so much that he was going to die but that he didn’t yet have a seed to carry on the line of kings on David’s throne. We know this from his prayer – “O LORD, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart” (v.3), which are the same words David told Solomon concerning the kings that would follow him: “If your sons pay close attention to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel” (1 Kin. 2:4). Hezekiah had kept his side of the covenant, and was weeping because it looked like the promise was going to fail. But not even death itself can spoil God’s purpose and after this prayer God gave Hezekiah fifteen more years of life during which time the seed was born.

To commemorate his extension of life one of the Songs of Ascents chosen by Hezekiah was the 126th where the psalmist writes “those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him” (v.5-6). These are the words echoed by Jesus in Luke 6. The analogy concerns a farmer who must expend a lot of toil to prepare the ground, getting rid of weeds, turning over the soil, digging a hole, planting the seed and watering it. But that toil is worth it in the end. Likewise the daily difficulties life throws at us are worth it in the end, preparing us for “shouts of joy”. When it feels like we are staring death in the face “the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion” (v.1) and “our mouth was filled with laughter” (v.2). When we get through this trial, and all the trials we face, we shall echo the psalmist’s words and say “The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad” (v.3). That is true blessedness, experiencing the joy of salvation brought about by the faithfulness of our God.

Maybe we feel like caged birds at the moment. But our God will set us free.

Richard Morgan,
Simi Hills, CA

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