As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it.
I. THE VERY STRIKING AND BEAUTIFUL PICTURES. There are three of them.
1. "As birds flying," &c. The original shows that it is the mother-bird that is thought about. And the picture rises at once of her fluttering over the nest, where the callow chickens are unable to fly and to help themselves. It is a kind of echo of the grand old metaphor in the song that is attributed to Moses, which speaks of the eagle fluttering over her nest, and taking care of her young. Jerusalem was as a nest on which, for long centuries, that infinite Divine love had brooded. It was but a poor brood that had been hatched out, but yet "as birds flying" He had watched over the city. Can you not almost see the mother-bird, made bold by maternal love, swooping down upon the intruder that sought to rob the nest, and spreading her broad pinion over the callow fledglings that lie below? That is what God does with us. It is a poor brood that is hatched out. That does not matter; still the Love bends down and helps. Nobody but a prophet could have ventured on such a metaphor as that, and nobody but Jesus Christ would have ventured to mend it and say, "As a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings," when there are hawks in the sky. So He, in all the past ages, was the One that "as birds flying... defended" His people, and would have gathered them under His wings, only they would not. Now, beautiful as this metaphor is, as it stands, it seems to me, like some brilliant piece of colouring, to derive additional beauty from its connection with the background upon which it stands out. For just a verse before the prophet has given another emblem of what God is and does. "Like as a lion," &c. Look at these two pictures side by side; on the one hand the lion, with his paw on his prey, and the angry growl that answers when the shepherds vainly try to drag it away from him. That is God. Ay! but that is only one aspect of God. "As birds flying, so the Lord will defend Jerusalem." We have to take that into account, too. This generation is very fond of talking about God's love; does it believe in God's wrath? Has it pondered that tremendous phrase, "the wrath of the Lamb"? The lion that growls, and the mother-bird that hovers — God is like them both.
2. The second picture is not so obvious to English readers, but it is equally striking. The word that is translated in our text twice "defend" and "defending," means literally "shielding." Thus we have the same general idea as that in the previous metaphor of the mother-bird hovering above the nest. God is like a shield held over us, and so flinging off from the broad and burnished surface of the almighty buckler, all the darts that any foe can launch against us.
3. "Passing over, He will deliver." The word that is there rendered "passing over" is almost a technical word in the Old Testament, because it is that employed in reference to the Passover. And so you see the swiftness of genius with which the prophet changes his whole scene. We are swept back to that night when the Destroying Angel stalked through the land, and "passed over" the doors on which the blood had been sprinkled.
II. THE REALITY MEANT BY THESE PICTURES. They mean the absolute promise from God of protection for His people from every evil.
III. THE WAY BY WHICH WE CAN MAKE THE REALITY OF THESE PICTURES OURS. All the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament are conditional, and there are many of them that were never fulfilled, and were spoken in order that they might not be fulfilled, because the people took warning.
1. Put thou thy trust in God, and God is to thee the hovering bird, the broad shield, the angel that "passes over."
2. But having thus fled thither, we must continue there, if we would continue under His protection. Such continuance of safety because of continuous faith is possible only by continued communion.
3. Another condition of Divine protection is obedience.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: As birds flying, so will the LORD of hosts defend Jerusalem; defending also he will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it.