The crane is a special bird. In most instances, you will find it mentioned in reference to its famous dances and aerial leaps which can go as high as 5 meters. As opposed to other birds that are native to the Holy land, the crane is a migratory bird that crosses Israel several times in a year. It is said to be seen at the beginning of autumn and at the end of winter.
Henry B. Tristram, an English theologian observed at one point close to 2,000 cranes flying over a section of Israel, making stops in places like Acaba and Beersheba during their migration. In many religions around the world, the crane symbolizes a messenger of God or a communion with light beings. It signifies entrance into elevated states of consciousness.
In China, the crane is symbolic of long life, immortality, and happiness while in Greece and Rome, it heralded the spring season. The Ainu people, indigenous to areas of Japan around the Sea of Okhotsk, are known to perform a ritual dance adapted from the crane.
In the Bible, there are two verses that mention the crane. One of the verses is in Isaiah which talks of the piercing sound of the cranes. The other verse is in Jeremiah who focuses on the migratory habits of the cranes.
Symbol of A Distraught Soul
In the Book of Isaiah 38:14, the Bible says,
“Delirious, I chattered like a swallow or a crane, and then I moaned like a mourning dove. My eyes grew tired of looking to heaven for help. I am in trouble, Lord. Help me!”
This passage of scripture is part of the writings of Hezekiah, the King of Judah. It talks of the time in his life when he was ill and at the point of death.
The Bible says that the Prophet Isaiah went to him and delivered a message from the Lord that said he should put his house in order because he was going to die.
As part of his cry, Hezekiah prayed to the Lord reminding him of how faithful and wholehearted he had walked before him. He also mentioned the good things that he did for the Lord as he wept bitterly.
It is presumed that it is at this point that he let out a cry to the Lord similar to that of the crane. This prompted the Lord to send Isaiah back with a message of hope. The Lord added him 15 years in addition to a promise that he would deliver him and the city from the King of Assyria.
The Lord went ahead to give him a sign of the shadow that is cast by the sun to go back 10 steps. In remembrance of his experience, Hezekiah humbled himself before the Lord in as much as his soul was in anguish.
The cranes are known for this unique sound representing a lament that they make thanks to their internal anatomy. Research shows that their trachea can be as long as a meter and a half, coiled around the breastbone. This is what gives them the ability to produce such a powerful sound as if coming from a trombone.
Isaiah 38 is structured like a poem, the kind you see in Psalms of David. After crying to the Lord just like Hezekiah, all that humans can do is to hope in the Lord. Life is precarious and for the time that we have, we should live life intensely, rejoicing in the Lord.
While at it, we must also prepare for the chapter that follows after this life is extinguished. Just like the cranes that migrate from one place to another across territories and continents, we must be ready as humans when the Lord calls us to himself.
A Symbol of Discerning Seasons
Jeremiah the prophet was so intent in the migratory nature of cranes that he mentioned them in reference to the behavior of the people of Israel. In Jeremiah 8:7, the Bible says,
“Even the stork that flies across the sky knows the time of her migration, as do the turtle, dove, the swallow, and the crane. They all return at the proper time each year. But not my people! They do not know the LORD’s laws.”
Jeremiah is addressing the sin and impeding punishment for the people of Jerusalem. The Lord is angry at what his people are doing to the extent that he is planning on punishing them severely. He speaks of Jerusalem as an evil nation and he declares that when he punishes them, they will prefer death to life.
The nature of punishment will be such that the kings and officials of the land will have their bodies exhumed from their graves and scattered above ground, exposed to the moon, the sun, and the stars.
The crane in its migration goes through different places thanks to their excellent flying skills. They often cover a distance on the ground before finally taking off. As they fly in the air, cranes are quite a sight to behold.
Their star-like formations and V-shaped patterns are designed in a way as to allow the replacement of the lead bird from time to time. This ensures that they do not get tired easily and can maneuver through despite wind resistance. Cranes are known to fly to heights up to 4,000 meters above ground.
The emphasis of Jeremiah and by extension that of God is that the people of Judah refused to return. When they fall, they don’t get up. When they turn away, they do not return.
They had grown fond of deceit and had clang to it as if it were the truth. Instead of repenting their wickedness, they question authority and do not find anything wrong they have done.
Instead of flying together like cranes, making formations that ensure renewal in leadership, they pursue their own course each charging without second thought as horses going into battle.
For this reason, God uses the symbol of crane high up in the sky denoting the heights that the bird flies. It also mentions that the crane knows her appointed season when to migrate and when to return.
However, the people of God had no idea of what was required of them by the Lord.
The symbolism of the crane in both Isaiah and Jeremiah is prophetic to our own lives and times when the Lord expects that we shall commune with him. Even in times of distress like what Hezekiah went through, the Lord is still merciful and kind to give us a second chance.
Unlike the people of Judah, the Lord expects us to know his requirements and observe the times and seasons. When it is time to go, like the cranes, we take off and go. When it is time to return, we do not question or put the word of God into refute, but instead fly back into position.