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Creation’s Story (21)

R W Cargill, St Monans

Nature Study

To study nature is to study from one of God’s textbooks written in glorious colour and full animation before our wondering eyes and minds! It is an ever changing but consistent display of God’s handiwork, a divine art gallery, a living museum, an interactive hands-on experience which transcends any other we might encounter. It is all around us to learn from, as Scripture reminds us (1 Cor 11.14). Long ago Job gave this advice, "Ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee" (12.7-8).

Some Lessons from Nature

Our Lord Jesus exhorted us, "Consider the ravens…God feedeth them…Consider the lilies how they grow…Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these" (Lk 12.24-27). Consider them, not simply notice them in passing! Look at them and think about them for they teach us about God’s ceaseless care for all His creation; and, said He, "how much more" is our heavenly Father’s care for us! Why are we anxious so often? Why have we not more faith in Him? In the same context He called attention to the nearly worthless sparrow to remind us how detailed is this care – "even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows" (vv.6-7).

The book of Proverbs draws our attention many times to insects, animals, and birds. For example, "Go to the ant…consider her ways, and be wise" (6.6-8). This is a call for our diligence and forethought, because trusting God to provide and care for us, as He does for ravens and lilies, does not eliminate the need for us to be involved in the process of that provision! 2 Thessalonians 3.10 makes that point strongly!

In Proverbs 30, creatures as different as the horseleach, the eagle, the serpent, the lion, the greyhound have important lessons to teach. But probably best known of all in that chapter is the group of four little but "exceeding wise" things. The ants (again) teach the secret of survival – preparation at the right time. The conies teach the secret of safety – fortification in the right place. The locusts teach the secret of strength – congregation in the right company. The spider teaches the secret of success – connection for the right destination! Have we learned these four secrets?

Isaiah 40.31 is an often quoted verse, for good reasons. There we read how waiting upon the Lord can have such amazing results! - to be able to "mount up with wings as eagles", how we can keep on going without fainting. Whatever the subspecies of eagle, its power in flight is its hallmark. With no apparent effort, huge wings spread out, shaped to rise on the air currents, it can climb "far far above the restless world that wars below", overcoming the force of gravity by the greater power of aerodynamics built into those magnificent wings. So we by the greater power of the indwelling Spirit of God can rise and overcome the forces of nature or circumstance which would tend to pull us down – see Romans 8.2.

Variety in Nature

Beauty, variety, and harmony mark all the works of God. For all the millions of species in the vegetable and animal kingdoms, each has its own characteristics to enable us to recognise it. Each has its own place in the ecological system, from the invisibly small to the amazingly large - from the tiniest insects to the great quadrupeds of Africa, from the minute plankton to the great sea mammals of the Southern Ocean, from the miniature lichens and mosses to the giant redwood trees of North America. How beautifully everything blends together! No clashing, jarring colours, no awkward shapes, no grotesque features. It is one harmonious whole, individual parts of it breathtakingly beautiful! God made it "pleasant to the sight" (Gen 2.9) and so we find it. The God who delights in beauty has given this sense to us also. That is why we can really enjoy and appreciate beauty and harmony as nothing else can.

Knowing the characteristics of different creatures is important to us for another reason. Nature study helps our Bible study! We will not grasp the full meaning of Scripture references to different birds, beasts, flowers, insects and so on, unless we know something about them. For example, if we did not know about certain animals we would miss the full significance of those titles of our Lord Jesus: "Lamb of God" and "Lion of the tribe of Juda" (Rev 5). If we do not know something about the different beauties of flowers we will not grasp the difference between "the rose of Sharon" and the "the lily of the valleys" (Song 2.1), and might miss something about the beauty of the Lord Jesus. We can see the depth of His concern for Jerusalem when we watch the hen gathering her brood under her wings, and similarly understand better His assessment of Herod as "that fox" (Lk 13.34,32) when we know what kind of animal that is. Lessons about clean and unclean creatures will be easier to apply to ourselves if we know something about all the different animals, birds, fishes, and insects which are listed in Leviticus 11.

Nature Poems

If nature is a subject worth studying, it must also be one worth writing about, and writing poetry about. Of all the thousands of "nature poems" two of the most beautiful are found in the Bible. Like most good poems, they are there to stir emotions and admiration.

Take Psalm 104 to begin with. It exhorts us, beginning and end, to "Bless the Lord". Its partner Psalm 103 does the same. In that Psalm we bless His holy name as our Redeemer for His mercy and grace towards us. In this one we bless Him as our Creator for His work and wisdom all around us. Survey again His "very great" skill laying the foundations (vv.1-9); admire the provision of essential water to nourish beast and bird, to produce food and beauty (vv.10-15); take the tour through the trees, the seasons, and the seas (vv.16-26); note the cycle of life and death at the command of God (vv.27-33); say with the poet, "O Lord, how manifold are thy works…My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord" (vv.24,34).

Or go now to Job 38-41. This is God’s own poem, stirring, awe-inspiring words spoken to His suffering servant Job after many chapters of "words without knowledge" (38.2). This is now pointed, precise, meaningful. God asks Job a total of eighty questions about the natural world in its great variety. He moves in a gigantic panorama from the skill and power which created everything on to His control of the sea, the snow, the stars, to the life cycles of beasts and birds, on to mighty behemoth on the land and invincible leviathan in the sea.1 It is a revelation of a God who creates and a LORD who cares. What a poem it is! The sheer magnificence of it all leaves Job speechless, bowed in humility before God. He can no more comprehend all of this than he can comprehend how the God He served so well had tested him to the limit. He could not see behind his circumstances, nor can we, but God is always in control! That is one of nature’s great lessons.

To be continued.

1 Behemoth and leviathan may well be different dinosaurs – the descriptions fit them better than any other known creatures.


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