A little bird told me
When we use the phrase it’s usually with a wry smile… ”Now what’s this I hear about you and a new lady love…” we tease. What lady? ”Oh a little bird told me you were out with so-and-so.”
It’s all a bit of fun in our modern usage. It’s a playful way of concealing our sources. But back in Ecclesiastes it sounds quite ominous…
“Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.” (Ecclesiastes 10:20)
This sounds more like a North Korean directive from the thought police. As with all of Ecclesiastes, it’s not meant to be wrenched from its context and pressed into service as a moral or religious pep-talk. Solomon is opening up his spiritual journal and it’s been written from a very particular viewpoint: it’s life “under the sun“. Here is the perspective of someone who’s refusing to deal with an inbreaking God or a life-beyond-death. It’s only about life in the here and now. And from that perspective, Solomon says some extremely unspiritual things. Take, for example, the immediately preceding verse:
A feast is made for laughter, and wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things. (Ecclesiastes 10:19)
There’s a verse for a Christian bumper sticker! It’s not great advice for the Christian life. But it’s precisely how to live if “life under the sun” is all there is.
Our birds-as-thought-police phrase falls into the same category. There aren’t any pithy moral fruits to be harvested, but it is interesting to see the categories of thought which Solomon takes for granted.
Firstly, the saying betrays a very deeply ingrained hierarchy. Honour for the king is lauded (as opposed to the derision in which we hold our own leaders).
Secondly, the worst thing imaginable is to curse the king. When Solomon ascended the throne, the people shouted “God save the King!” Ultimately our hope is in the Messiah, the true King to represent His people, fight their battles and win their victories. To spurn Him is to spurn all hope.
Finally, Solomon thinks of birds as messengers. That’s an important biblical connection in that the Spirit is represented by a dove. It is He who communicates our thoughts to God and His thoughts to us.
the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:10-11)
Now these truths could come together in a terrifyingly condemning way. We do not always hold King Jesus in the highest regard. Will the Spirit inform on us to the great Thought Policeman in the sky?
That’s not how Scripture speaks. Instead the Spirit is said to communicate the King to our understandings:
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God (Romans 8:16)
The Bird tells us good news! And rather than informing on us to God, He intercedes for us
he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:27)
In Jesus, the Bird brings not condemnation. But to God and to us He brings good news!