Consider the ravens. (Luke 12:23).
I’ll never forget the day that I first preached on Luke 12 at St Stephens. It was February 2003. Five minutes before the service began my son informed me that there was a dead crow outside the kitchen window. A minute later an elderly lady asked for some milk for morning tea and I dashed back down to our kitchen for the milk and remembered the bird. It was too good an opportunity to miss, so I found a box and voila – the children had a big black, dead raven before them for their bible reflection in church.
I’m not quite sure what I said about it because in a way a dead raven does not really illustrate the point Jesus made in his instruction. Jesus is underlining the way that the Lord looks after these ‘unclean’ birds (Leviticus 11:15). They don’t sow or reap, nor have storehouses or barns, and yet God feeds them (Luke 12:24). These words echo Psalm 147:9: ‘[God] He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry’, and Job 38:41: ‘Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young cry to God for help, and wander about for lack of food?’ Dale Davis has a typically colourful application:
“When God feeds them it may be with armadillo road-kill. Next time you are driving along and see those shiny dark birds picking at a smashed-up skunk corpse on the asphalt, you should begin singing, ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’. Set your mind on the crows. If He is the God who feeds dirty birds, won’t He take thought for the likes of you.” (Luke, 225).
That captures the tenor of the teaching of Luke 12, but there is more to be said about dead ravens in the bible. Or at least the Hebrew word, Oreb, which is translated ‘raven’.
Oreb and Zeeb were the two princes of Midian who were killed by Gideon’s army in Judges 7:25. And while Oreb is the Hebrew word for ‘raven’, Zeeb is the Hebrew word for wolf. This latter is certainly a familiar one for us moderns conveying the wickedness of these men. It is easy to resonate with the declaration that righteous judgement has come when ‘they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb (raven and wolf) to Gideon across the Jordan’ (Judges 7:25).
In Psalm 83, Asaph calls on God not to remain silent but to deal with those who attack God’s people. Asaph cries for righteous judgement and recalls the demise of the ‘raven and the wolf’ of Gideon’s day:
“Do to them as you did to Midian, as to Sisera and Jabin at the river Kishon, who were destroyed at En-dor, who became dung for the ground. Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmnunna, who said, Let us take possession for ourselves of the pastures of God.” (Psalm 83:9-12).
Down through the centuries there have been those who trust in their own might and think that they can trample upon God’s people. But that is to ignore the Word of God and the Justice of God. And perhaps also the ‘signs of God’. I still recall the way dear Ted Jarrett (now passed on), said to me back in February 2003 after the ‘dead raven’ service – ‘it’s a sign’. What is clear is that when God might seem silent, Psalm 83 spurs us to pray for God’s judgment upon such ‘ravens and wolves’:
‘Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever; let them perish in disgrace, that they may know that you alone, whose name is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.’ (Ps 83:17-18).