Life Lessons From Ostriches
June 21, 2019
Animals are interesting creatures that we as people can learn from. They provoke interesting ideas and can teach valuable lessons when we study how they live and survive. Some animals are very sophisticated and intelligent in their manner of living. Other animals seem stupid and people marvel in how they’ve been able to survive, wondering what purpose they serve in the world. The Bible teaches that God makes use of both types of animals, and often times, uses them as examples to teach people about Himself. For example, the scriptures use the example of the ant to describe proper wisdom (Proverbs 6:6). Though the ant is small and fragile, God made the ant to be a tremendous laborer. Ants constantly work, and they work hard. However, they don’t work alone. They help one another, understanding that each individual is part of a greater work so that their labor is distributed among the group. According to the Bible, this is good wisdom that God gave to the ant, and people would be wise to learn from it. From the ant, we learn that God is the provider of wisdom. The ant doesn’t go to school, doesn’t read books, isn’t internet savvy. Yet the ant is not only able to survive, but is able to build and be satisfied in ways that are pretty incredible. This is because God has given the ant the wisdom required to do what ants do. Their instincts are a gift from God, and since a creature as small and obscure as the ant has wisdom, it is a clear indication that God is gracious and impartial when distributing wisdom.
The testimony of Job 39:13-18 shows that God created some creatures to teach different kinds of lessons. When God was chastening Job, He described His transcendent grace and goodness by describing the nature of the ostrich. This might seem like an odd example, but when examining the natural habits of an ostrich, God’s grace and goodness can clearly be seen. First, God pointed to the exterior of the bird. Ostriches are clothed with wings that they can waive “proudly.” In other words, they have fancy feathers. Ostriches are the largest birds in the world and can reach up to nine feet in height, some weighing up to three-hundred pounds. Most of that bird is covered by soft feathers that are often sought to make luxurious items. God dressed the ostrich with beauty that is comparable to the peacock, but in a different way. As a peacock parades itself around proudly showing off its feathers, so too do the ostriches.
However, the manner in which an ostrich is dressed has little to do with its substance. It might appear beautiful on the outside, but there are some significant issues with this bird. It is the largest bird with beautiful feathers, but this bird cannot fly. For all the beauty that those feathers provide, they don’t do the job that feathers are intended to do. Therefore, ostriches are under constant threat from predators like lions, cheetahs, and hyenas. Though they can run up to forty miles-per-hour, it is often not fast enough to outrun some of the predators of the wilderness. Their feathers would help them survive better if they were helpful to fly. The beauty of their feathers is not sufficient to keep them from threats. What good is outward beauty if it doesn’t come with purpose that is helpful for life?
Also, God admitted that the ostrich lacks wisdom. For all the beauty and speed an ostrich might have, it is a vain creature that only thinks of self; not even caring for its own offspring. God pointed out that an ostrich will go through the labor of laying eggs, but then carelessly leave them on the ground everywhere. The ostrich doesn’t produce a nest. The ostrich doesn’t stay with her eggs to protect and hatch them. The ostrich instead just leaves the eggs out and about, making it easy for them to be crushed or consumed before hatching. Sadly, the mother ostrich doesn’t care. She goes about her own life leaving her young to figure it out for themselves if they can even survive hatching from their eggs. If they are able to hatch, it is because of the warmth of the sand and the sun, not the nurturing care of the mother.
The scriptures plainly state that the ostrich treats her young harshly as though they were not hers. She labors to produce eggs in vain because she doesn’t continue in the work to raise her young, which is what satisfies. The ostrich has no concern for offspring and the young. Once their eggs are laid, they go off on their own to do their own thing. They might be beautiful on the outside, but are wicked and selfish on the inside. God explained that the reason an ostrich lives this way is because He deprived the ostrich of wisdom, and restricted understanding. God did not give this creature the natural instinct most other birds seem to have in caring for their young. God didn’t provide the ostrich with compassion and concern. This means that the instincts that most animals seem to have in caring for their young are on account of the wisdom God provides. Like the ant, they do what they do because God programed them to do so. Since God is the source of wisdom, the ostrich is a clear example that God will restrict wisdom from some creatures.
An ostrich might not take good care of its young, but excels in taking care of self. The Bible explains that when an ostrich is threatened and needs to run to escape, that ostrich can get moving! They cannot lift their wings to fly, but when they lift their wings to run, they can sometimes outrun the horse and its rider that poses threats. Their stride can cover ground quickly, sometimes fifteen feet per step. When these animals get going, they get going in a hurry and don’t care about anything else but their own escape. Many other creatures will try to escape together, understanding that there is strength in numbers. The ostrich is very individual and will leverage its great speed, but only for self.
According to Job 39:13-18, God made this creature this way. God made this creature have awesome outward beauty, but with no inward substance or value. For all of the outward beauty the ostrich has, it is selfish, unable, and foolish. God, as the exclusive source and distributor of wisdom, kept wisdom from this bird to teach a couple important lessons. First, the foolish nature of the bird shows that God alone is the source of wisdom; and as the Creator of all things, He determines which creature will be wise and which will not. When you compare the Bible’s description of the ant to the ostrich, it would seem that the larger and more beautiful bird would warrant good wisdom to accompany its outward appearance. This is not how it works though. It is the ant that, while it is outwardly ugly and despised, is wise. The manner in which we appear to others doesn’t determine the quality of wisdom we have. Consider that in 1 Corinthians Chapter 1, God selected the foolish things of the world to be His, in order to make foolish the wisdom of the world.
God also teaches about His grace through the life of the ostrich. If mother ostriches are so careless with their young, how have they been able to survive for so long? By the grace of God! It is not the mother who protects and nurtures its young. It is not the family unit that ensures the strength and safety of the ostrich. The baby ostrich is left as an egg to die in the sands and heat of the wilderness. Yet, God is able to use the heat of the sands and the sun to hatch ostrich eggs and provide them life. The manner in which ostriches have been able to survive is a testament to God’s grace. What has the ostrich done to deserve God’s favor? The fact that God has restricted wisdom from the ostrich, yet continues to provide life to them, shows that God provides exceptional favor for all, without partiality. The quality of someone’s life isn’t an indication of God’s approval or disapproval. God brings rain on the just and the unjust. God gives life to the wise and the foolish. The outward appearance of the ant shows that their receipt of wisdom comes by God’s grace. The continuing life of the foolish ostrich shows that their lives are the result of God’s grace. In either case, God provides favor that is unmerited so that even the animals are unable to boast.
When we think about how an ostrich treats her young, it can almost be offensive, especially since there are many people who live the same way. There are many people who don’t care for their children and leave them on their own without protection, provision, or instruction. Still, God provides grace to both the parent and the child, enabling many to go on living, having the chance to respond to the receipt of His grace with faithful repentance unto eternal life. There are many leaders and pastors that neglect their congregations. Many of them get caught up in their own personal affairs, leaving the sheep to fend for themselves, causing them to be subject to spiritual threats that compromise the integrity of the body of Christ. Still, God provides grace to both the irresponsible leaders and the congregations. Though many poor leaders have led the people of God, the people of God are still preserved unto eternal life as God purposes. There are many people that treat their own souls like the ostrich treats their young. They leave their souls unattended, susceptible to threats of the environment, without care or concern. Still, God provided grace through Jesus Christ to open blind eyes and unstop deaf ears concerning spiritual things so that we might be saved from eternal condemnation.
The testimony of the ostrich might seem terrible because God restricted wisdom from this bird, but there are many people whose lives parallel the life of an ostrich. God has restricted wisdom from many people too. Why did God tell Job these things? Recall that Job felt he was qualified to chasten God because he didn’t like the way his life was going. Job complained as if he was entitled to a better life. Job cried out for death as if he was supposed to be exempt from a certain quality of suffering. The shame that Job had about his circumstances were evidence of his inward despise of God and His manner of working. God reminded Job about the ostrich to illustrate one simple point. If not for God, we would all be as foolish as the ostrich. It is not just that God restricted wisdom from the ostrich, but that He graciously gave wise instincts to other animals. The foolishness of the ostrich is only to provide a comparison to that which is wise in their nature. God is the gracious provider of wisdom of other creatures, not the oppressor of foolish ones. God restricts wisdom from some to prove that wisdom is not instinctive unless He causes it to be. Thus, without God’s gracious provision of wisdom (as little wisdom as we have), we would all be doomed in the vanity of our outward appearance, dying as selfish and foolish.
Job felt he had the right to speak to God with an attitude of self-entitlement. God brought up the ostrich to remind Job of his true nature without God. If God is the cause of our lives and survival, even to the extent of eternal life according to God’s grace, how can we make demands for more when life seems to stray from our selfish ambitions?