The Kindness of Ravens (For the Birds part 1)

“Blessed be the Lord: for He hath shewed me His marvellous kindness…” (Psalm 31:21)

Ravens have it tough. The official name for a flock of ravens is an “unkindness” (unless they’re grouped together guarding something, then it’s called a “constable”). It’s understandable when you consider that they are primarily scavengers, make horrible parents as they will up and arbitrarily abandon their young on occassion, and also difficult pets, due to their high intelligence coupled with a lack of patience and teachability. Sounds a lot like any garden-variety human being to me.

Identified the world over with trickery, evil omens and gluttonous behavior, the common raven, or Corvus corax, is certainly not the bird you might look to were you to expect something from God. But, then again, God can (and often does) upset our expectations just to show that he can take the profane, and make it sacred.

It’s sort of a sliding scale. As many ancient cultures hold ravens in esteem, it would seem that the mythical and cultural consideration granted is inversely proportionate to the importance of truth and honesty within said culture (that’s my opinion). If one values the hard work of deceit and duplicity in interpersonal interaction, the raven—with his jet-black plumage and ornery temperament—would necessarily stand out as a totem or symbolic representation of those qualities. But:

“With Him is strength and wisdom: the deceived and the deceiver are His.” (Job 12:16, emphasis mine)

The raven was protected, so to speak, under the list of “abominable” or unclean animals in Leviticus (see 11:15). Moses and Aaron were commanded not to eat them for reasons more than symbolic, I’m sure. As they are scavengers, cleaning up what other predators leave behind, they were then free to practice their craft with impugnity. But God used them to feed Elijah, so there’s that. They’re also smarter and larger than their crow cousins, with a wider vocabulary and more intricate flight pattern.

Now, in no way am I advocating lying to get ahead, nor duplicity and cunning as life skills. I’m merely stating that God works His way through the muddled-ness of the world as it is, in order to acheive His ends. He “commanded the ravens” to feed Elijah by the river Cherith near Jordan (see 1 Kings 17). Which they did, morning and evening. The raven also, was the first bird to be released from Noah’s care after the ark settled on Ararat. Unlike the dove, it never returned, but “went forth to and fro, until the waters dried up from off the earth.” (Genesis 8:7) I respect the dedication and singleness of mind evident in that statement.

But all this aside, they appeal to me on another, deeper level also.

The Norse definition of my last name (Ingram) is “raven”. And along with that, I have certainly felt the crippling sting of abandonment by a parent and also had to battle the easy temptation of lying and tricking my way through life—just to stay ahead. This is why the verse from Job resonates with me. “The deceived and the deceiver are His.” When God shows you His love and both lets you know that He will protect you from the liars at large and also that He sees everything going on in your heart, you’re able to lay down that construct of craftiness. There’s no other way, by the way. A main reason to continue on in deceit and manipulation is because you realize that there’s always going to be someone out to trick and take advantage of you. If you continue to hone your craft and exercise your particular “way of lying” (Psalm 119:29), you’ll see to it that you get yours, even if it’s merely scraps on a carcass. But when God receives you, He cleans you up and makes you new.

“Who is like unto the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high, Who humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in Heaven, and in the earth! He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; That He may set him with princes, even the princes of His people.” (Psalm 113:5-8)

He’ll do it for anyone, regardless of symbolism, myth, cultural connotation or biological imperative.

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