How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
What follows is an excerpt from When Swallows Return by Mari Jones. The book is a collection of stories from farm life which, although written some years ago, contain spiritual lessons for us today.
The Hen and her Chicks
When fertile eggs have been kept at the correct temperature in an incubator, or when a broody hen has been sitting on a clutch for three weeks, one can expect to hear one gentle tap after another on one of the shells, until, eventually, the tip of a chick’s beak appears through a hole. Soon we can expect the same with all the other eggs. The tip of a chick’s beak is shaped like a miniature pick-axe to enable it to pierce the hard shell. Once it has served its purpose it falls off.
What a joy it is to watch the emergence of new life! For a short time nothing seems to be happening. Then another slight movement and more of the chick’s head comes into view. Then a bigger piece of shell falls away and soon the chick is half way out. This is the time when, unable to contain our impatience, we might be tempted to give a little help by peeling away the shell. But by doing so we could so easily hurt the chick, and cause bleeding, which would hardly be a kindness. There is ‘a time to be born’; we must let nature take its course.
The chick that has struggled and fought its own way out will be that much stronger to meet the hazards of life. We have to accept that there is no birth without pain. And if the eggs have been hatched by a hen, she will do her utmost to prevent anyone from interfering. ‘Leave us alone!’ she will noisily protest. Many a time was I pecked before I learned my lesson.
Soon after the chicks have hatched, the proud mother will be seen strutting across the farmyard showing off her new family, tiny fluffy balls of yellow scurrying around beside her.
It is interesting to listen to the different calls the hen uses to communicate with her chicks.
Having scratched and searched the ground with her feet, on discovering a tasty morsel, a worm perhaps, she will cut it into small pieces and then excitedly summon her little ones to come and feast together on the delicacy. In no time at all they will be there, each anxious to be the first to arrive.
Another time, when the busy little bodies are weary after a spell of foraging, the mother hen will call them to take a welcome siesta. Her wings spread out on the ground, with her soft clucking she gently persuades her little ones to hide beneath them. They gladly respond and rush to snuggle up in the warm comfort of her feathers. (But invariably there will be the inquisitive individual that will poke its head between the quills lest it should miss something that is going on in the wide world outside!)
But when the hen senses the proximity of a bird of prey or some other threat to her little ones, her call has that distinctive tone that conveys her alarm. It is a stern command to come without delay and take cover under her wings; it demands swift response. And woe betide the chick which turns a deaf ear, or the one which has strayed too far to hear the call.
We may marvel at the hen’s care for her brood, but it is only a pale reflection of the heavenly Father’s love for those who obey his call to repent and come to Him in faith. And when they come they receive all that they need: food, rest, shelter and safety. Our Lord’s words as He looked down on Jerusalem are a solemn warning to the church today. ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!’ (Luke 13:34; Matthew 23:37).
‘You were not willing!’ What an awful indictment! But if we respond to God’s call, our souls will be in His safe-keeping both now and for ever. How can we refuse such a gracious offer!
‘Hide me in the shadow of your wings.’ Psalm 17:8
‘He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.’ Psalm 91:4