Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.
– Matthew 23:37
What more vivid and tender picture of a protective momma can there be than a hen with her chicks?
When I was growing up, I had a calico cat named Roseanne. Roseanne was an outdoor cat who loved to roam our eight acres of Idaho countryside. Not spayed until her later years, she was one of the most prolific cats I have ever seen—much to the dismay of my parents. Roseanne had kittens everywhere: under old boards, in our aging pink DeSoto sedan, in a cozy box if I found her soon enough. One spring she gave birth in the ancient hay barn next to the chicken coop.
Then her kittens were discovered by a setting banty hen whose own nest had been destroyed by a predator. The hen’s mothering instincts took over and she immediately adopted them. She spread her wings and hovered over them as protectively as she would have her own chicks, pecking anyone who threatened her new brood. Roseanne sat nearby, either unwilling to take on the misguided hen or just enjoying the break.
God used the imagery of a mother hen repeatedly in the Old Testament to describe His love toward His people. God longed to have compassion on His people, to gather them up and protect them. Over and over, they rejected Him. They killed the prophets He sent to them. They scattered from under His protection and suffered at the brutal hands of their enemies.
Then God arrived in the flesh, pouring out Himself in their image in the ultimate act of compassion to His rebel world. Here was their King, their Protector, their Refuge, their Deliverer, standing before them.
Still, they didn’t understand.
Jesus wept at the hardness of their hearts.
It’s easy to look back on the people of Jerusalem and see what they missed.
And yet, how often do I wander like an errant chick out from under His protective wings and straight into the claws of the predator? Why is it so hard to trust in God’s goodness, His wisdom, His compassion?
Why do I think I can run my own life, when in God’s eyes I’m just as helpless?
The only job a chick has is to stay put and grow up. No one wants to think of themselves as weak. But acknowledging weakness is a good thing. It’s what God’s been waiting to receive from His people:
Confessing our weakness. Returning to His side. Staying put and maturing under His protection.
Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.