Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 49. Mother Hen
Mt 23:37 how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.
Such a simple little analogy in stark contrast to all that has just been saying. Jesus, we might say today, has just torn a strip off the Pharisees in a major way with his seven ‘woe’s’. Everything he has just been saying comes as total condemnation and in that sense is most unusual from the mouth of Jesus, but he is not condemning the sinners, the riff-raff of society, they are what they are, but he condemns the spiritual and moral leadership of the nation of Israel that continues on in the same way their predecessors had done, rejecting God’s servants, the prophets, and are now rejecting His Son.
From the passages we read previously he continued on from, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (v.33) by saying that his Father would yet send more prophets etc. but he knew that they too will be rejected by Israel (v.34). Therefore, they will be held accountable for all the blood that has been shed of righteous men, all the way from Abel to Zechariah (see Gen 4:8 and 2 Chron 24:20-22), servants of God killed by unrighteous men who were part of this ‘chosen people’. (v.35,36) And it will happen soon! (It happened in AD70 when Jerusalem and its occupants were utterly destroyed by the Romans in response to a rebellion).
When we get angry we often get carried away in a self-centred anguish but Jesus’ anger is softened by his yearning – and the yearning of the Godhead – for Jerusalem’s salvation: “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.” (v.37) It is a cry from the heart of the Godhead who had brought Israel into being, watched over it through the centuries and watched over Jerusalem with anguish.
So look at the analogy: a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings. It is again a common picture for anyone in an agricultural community where chickens are kept. The eggs are hatched and the mother hen watches over her chicks and at night or at other times of threat she draws them close and covers them with her wings. It is an act of loving, caring, protection.
This is what Jesus felt about Jerusalem. God had been there for them throughout the centuries, yearning to bless them, care for them, provide for them and keep them secure, but time and time again they turned their back on Him and killed His prophets. He had longed to be a loving Father to them (or a mother hen) but they rejected him.
This analogy is one of pathos, that evokes sadness, sorrow and compassion. There is nothing hard hearted about Jesus at this point so, however strong the words had been of condemnation of the Pharisees, still the heart of God was one of sorrow and anguish and compassion for Jerusalem and its people, but they were too self-centred to see that and be moved by it, and so they would remain blind and hard-hearted and would be terminated as a city at the heart of a nation in AD70.
There is a remarkable ‘summary prophecy’ in Revelation 12 where a woman (Israel) has a son (Jesus) and there is a dragon (Satan) who seeks to destroy her and him and we read: “She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. The woman fled into the desert to a place prepared for her by God, where she might be taken care of for 1,260 days.” (Rev 12:5,6) That period of roughly three and a half years, corresponds to other such similar periods in prophecy and, as one commentator said, ‘became a conventional symbol for a limited period of unrestrained wickedness.’. But is it a set time (half of perfect 7) in God’s economy. There is nothing random about the length of Israel’s time ‘in the world’. Whether the formation of the new nation of Israel in the early part of last century was the end of that period or it is yet to come, remains to be seen.
Notice the words in that quote in respect of Israel, even after the destruction of Jerusalem and the nation in AD70, “a place prepared for her by God”. As with the Exile centuries before, God watched over this people, a people who so often brought anguish to His heart, and yet a people through whom He had chosen to reveal Himself to the world. Within it, there had been great men of God, within it there always had been a faithful remnant even though the majority may have turned away from Him. And so today, they continue to exist, still mostly rejecting their Messiah, but still within the purposes of God. Here, perhaps more than anywhere else on this planet, we might say, “Watch this space!”
What are the lessons that go with this little analogy? First, that God is patient and long-suffering and faithful to His word. Despite their ongoing rejection He still exhibits a yearning love for them. Second, the sin and folly of mankind is epitomized in this people who, despite the wonder of all that was happening at the hands of Jesus in their midst, remained blind to that wonder. Third, although he will feel compassion, He will nevertheless hold His people accountable – Jew or Christian – and bring discipline where it is needed. Yet, fourth, His plan continues and He is not deterred. He is the God of the big-picture, the God of the long-term and He will fulfil His plans and purposes despite our failures, indeed He takes them into account and weaves them into His will. Worship Him!