How to Follow God by Pondering Amazing Bird Migrations in Israel

Instinct can only take you so far in your relationship with God.

Every winter, God’s design works without flaw. Thousands of birds take wing and head south. But in our lives, unlike the bird migrations in Israel, the chilly winds don’t always cause us to head the right direction.

Grey heron in Israel

(Photo: Grey heron in Israel. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Unlike birds, which instinctively know the way to go, we can wander away from God’s design for us. Birds have a lot to teach us about how to follow God.

Once learned, our relationship with God can take off.

God’s Highway in the Air

Travelers of antiquity made their way through the vast deserts of the Middle East by following the international highway along the Fertile Crescent. This highway extended northwest from the Persian Gulf and down through Israel to Egypt. 

God’s use of the land was amazing. The surrounding seas and deserts forced all who traveled to Egypt to pass through Israel.

What was true of people centuries ago is still true of birds today. Hundreds of thousands of large birds migrate to east Africa every year over Israel’s overland passageway. The International Hula Valley Bird Festival each November offers a great way to see thousands of cranes, pelicans, ducks, waders, and passerines. In fact, bird watchers have identified more than 300 species there.

But more than people watch the birds. 

The Lord Watches Birds

God’s wisdom put the migration instinct inside a bird’s brain. The Lord asked Job:

Is it by your understanding that the hawk soars,
Stretching his wings toward the south? —Job 39:26

The hawk heads south because of God’s wisdom in programming that instinct in the bird’s brain. Migration serves as part of God’s care for birds—for protection from predators, provision of food, and reproduction of the species.

White Storks in eastern Samaria

(Photo: White Storks in eastern Samaria. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

No need to tell the fowl: “You know, it’s probably time you head south again.” The bird just knows. The chilly wind acts as a hand on the bird’s back to push it to the place of God’s provision. It’s an intensifying urge to take flight. In the migration, the bird finds its fulfillment—its satisfaction, passion, purpose, and finally, peace.

The bird also takes its cues from other birds. Flying south becomes irresistible when other birds take wing too. The passion within is affirmed by the passion within others. It’s a mutual passion to do what God designed them to do.

Together, they head in a direction that they know, collectively, instinctively, is the way to go.

The Lord Watches More than Birds

These migrations served as God’s illustration of the spiritual lives of His people. The Prophet Jeremiah said it this way:

Even the stork in the sky
Knows her seasons;
And the turtledove and the swift and the thrush
Observe the time of their migration;
But My people do not know
The ordinance of the LORD. —Jeremiah 8:7

Unlike birds, which know the way to go, Judah flew away from God’s design for her. The Lord’s people pulled against His inert call for worship, obedience, trust, and hope of joy.

They ignored God’s gracious provision. But why? 

Listening to the Voices Within

A major difference between birds and us? Birds have no competing voices. No moral choices. No image of God to bear. Just simple instinct to obey.

Like the bird’s instinct, our conscience screams at us when we go north instead of south. We know we have violated what’s right. But conscience isn’t an infallible guide.

Our ability to make intelligent decisions without the crutch of instinct serves us wrong at times. The competing voices in our heads come from another nature—a fallen nature. This voice tells us that individuality offers more fulfillment that flying straight.

White Storks near Jordan River

(Photo: White Storks near Jordan River. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

Even though God’s Word has shown itself true and consistent with nature, history, and human behavior, our fallen nature listens to the voice of doubt.

Doubting God’s Word stems from Satan’s lie in the Garden of Eden. It’s a lie that says the way God set it up somehow misses the best possible life we could have. A better way, doubt demands, comes with striking out on our own and becoming our own person apart from God.

If we truly do have more smarts than a bird of instinct, we would see that God’s leading offers the best direction to go, even if the exact next steps seem unclear.

How to Look Past Your Inner Instincts

Even with birds, instinct takes them only so far.

Instint gets them airborne, but they need more to guide them. Birds look for landmarks along the way—following rivers, turning at mountains, navigating along familiar lakes that birds of yesteryear have passed on through generations of migration.

Although our conscience serves to warn us about wrong, we need a guide outside ourselves to show us the path to what’s right.

God’s Word is that guide.

When we choose to follow the Lord, as opposed to the competing influences of change, intellectualism, and even personal desires—we do ourselves a favor and we honor the Creator who designed us to follow Him alone.

In your annual journey with God, make sure His Word alone is your guide.

Tell me what you think: What else do the animals show you about your spiritual life? To leave a comment, just click here.

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