The Least of all the Commandments

Deuteronomy 22, verses 6 and 7

If you come across a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long.

According to Matthew Henry, this particular law in the book of Deuteronomy is considered by the Jewish faith to be the very least of all the commandments of the law of Moses. And from our modern day perspective, it might seem to be somewhat trivial. It’s likely this law pertains to those species of birds that God said were permissible to eat; game birds like pheasant, quail, or dove. In our time, a skilled hunter with a 12 gauge has no problem taking dove or quail. But back in those days, it wasn’t close to being that easy. If someone living during that time came across a bird’s nest full of eggs or young birds, it was like they’d won a prize. People in those days often had to scrounge for food just for daily survival. Eggs could be eaten, and I’m guessing that people were permitted to take young birds and raise them in a coup so they could either sell them or have them for dinner later on. Today we just go to the store and buy eggs and chicken and turkey meat and whatever else we need. It was much more difficult to procure food thousands of years ago.  

Regardless of how all that worked, that law was given for a reason. It makes sense that a mother bird was to be released back into the wild so she could lay eggs again. So I’m sure there’s a lesson there about the importance of being good stewards and managers of the resources God gives us. Also, as Matthew Henry wrote, it’s possible that law was given to remind us of our need to be merciful towards those who are weak and defenseless.

But I think there’s more to this law than a simple lesson in wildlife management. First, it shows that God cares about every living creature, no matter how small. Again, as Matthew Henry pointed out, Jesus may very well have been alluding to this particular law when He said in Matthew 10, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.” All life matters to God, and as Jesus went on to say in that passage in Matthew 10, we are worth more than many sparrows.

I think that commandment also shows how seriously we should take the law of God. James wrote in his epistle, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. Suddenly, that law in Deuteronomy 22 doesn’t seem so trivial and meaningless as some suppose it to be. I imagine more than one person broke this commandment thinking that it really wasn’t that big a deal. After all, what’s one little tiny mother bird? What’s one little tiny sin? It might seem trivial, but have you ever noticed how disobedience to God always seems to start with………little things?

Jesus said, Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. I believe that’s what’s really at the heart of this law in the book of Deuteronomy. If a person cannot be trusted to obey a law so small and simple as this, how can that person be trusted with something much more important? At its core, it’s about trust. Can such a person be trusted? While it may not be a bird’s nest full of eggs or small birds, we run into these types of situations every day. We encounter situations in which obedience to God may not seem to be such a big deal at the moment. It might seem trivial and unimportant. It might seem like………just one tiny little sin. But you can be sure of this, no matter how small it may seem to us, obedience is always a big deal to God. After all, if we cannot be trusted with the little things……………………………………..