Easton’s Bible Dictionary says this about the verse: “Their (birds) timidity is alluded to in (Hosea 11:11)”
they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the LORD. (Hosea 11:11 ESV)
Do birds tremble? Why? Interesting questions. Let’s see what we can find out about this passage and about “timid birds.
Instincts of: “Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird. (Proverbs 1:17 KJV)”
Nave’s Topical Bible says:
Man’s dominion over –
“Gen 1:26-28 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. (Genesis 9:2-3 NKJV)
For You have made him a little lower than the angels, And You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen— Even the beasts of the field, The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea That pass through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth! (Psalms 8:5-9 NKJV)
and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all—you are this head of gold. (Daniel 2:38 NKJV)
For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. (James 3:7 NKJV)
Torrey’s New Topical Textbook also alludes to those verses quoted above:
Power over given to man – Genesis 1:26; Psalm 8:8;
Instinctively fear man – Genesis 9:2;
Can all be tamed – James 3:7;
Given as food to man – Genesis 9:2-3;
Taken in snares or nets – Proverbs 1:17;
Confinement of, in cages alluded to – “As a cage is full of birds, So their houses are full of deceit. Therefore they have become great and grown rich.” (Jeremiah 5:27 NKJV)
There are many more commentary notes that could be quoted, but I think you get the idea that birds do have a reason to be timid. Just because man was given dominion over the birds doesn’t mean that he has to be cruel to them. Many birds are tamed, not by torture, but by love and patience. Forcing the birds definitely will cause them to be timid. Out in nature, many birds are shy or timid because of other birds attacking them and so they are cautious, and rightly so.
Reading some of the internet articles about timid birds, they even do research to find out about this timidity. Animal Planet produced an interesting article about research on 22 Goldfinches.
Back to our original passage of Scripture. For now we are concentrating on the timid or frightened bird, not necessarily about the dove.
Barnes says, “Hosea 11:11
They shall tremble as a bird out of Egypt – The West denoted Europe; Egypt and Assyria stand, each for all the lands beyond them, and so for Africa and Asia; all together comprise the three quarters of the world, from where converts have chiefly come to Christ. These are likened to birds, chiefly for the swiftness with which they shall then haste to the call of God, who now turned away the more, the more they were called. The dove, especially, was a bird of Palestine, proverbial for the swiftness of its flight, easily aftrighted, and flying the more rapidly, the more it was frightened, and returning to its cot from any distance where it might be carried; from where Isaiah also says of the converts, “Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?” Isa_60:8. “The Hebrews,” says Jerome, “refer this to the coming of the Christ, who, they hope, will come; we shew that it hath taken place already. For both from Egypt and Aasyria, i. e., from East and West, from North and South, have they come, and daily do they come, who sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Clarke says, “They shall tremble as a bird – Those of them that are in Egypt shall also be called thence, and shall speed hither as a bird. Those in Assyria shall also be called to return, and they shall flee as doves to their windows. All shall, in the fullness of time, return to their own land.”
(A hard bird to capture on camera. They are very timid and evasive.)
Gill says, “Hosea 11:11 They shall tremble as a bird out of Egypt,…. They shall come from thence with fear and trembling; which may allude to the trembling of birds at the roaring of a lion, or to the trembling motion of their wings in flying; and denotes the swiftness of the motion of the Israelites and Jews to Christ, and to his church and people, and to their own land, under divine influence and direction: or “shall come with honour” (k); with all readiness and cheerfulness, in the obedience of faith: ”
“and as a dove out of the land of Assyria; which is expressive of the same things, the dove being both a timorous and swift creature. Birds in common are very timorous, and tremble at any noise, and fearful of everything that disturbs them, and therefore make all the haste and speed they can to get out of the way, and to do which they are naturally provided; and more especially the dove is always represented as very fearful and trembling, especially when pursued by the hawk, as the poet (l) observes. Though, it may be, these figures may only signify, as the weak and impotent state of the Jews, considered in themselves at this time, so the quick speed and haste they shall make to their own land.”
(So much for not concentrating on the dove.)
The next quote seems to wrap up what is being said here in Hosea 11. God is calling His trembling people home to Him because of His mercy, “Christ has purchased the pardon” for them.
Matthew Henry says, “Hosea 11:8-12
God is slow to anger, and is loth to abandon a people to utter ruin, who have been called by his name. When God was to give a sacrifice for sin, and a Saviour for sinners, he spared not his own Son, that he might spare us. This is the language of the day of his patience; but when men sin that away, then the great day of his wrath comes. Man’s compassions are nothing in comparison with the tender mercies of our God, whose thoughts and ways, in receiving returning sinners, are as much above ours as heaven is above the earth. God knows how to pardon poor sinners. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and therein declares his righteousness, now Christ has purchased the pardon, and he has promised it. Holy trembling at the word of Christ will draw us to him, not drive us from him, the children tremble, and flee to him. And all that come at the gospel call, shall have a place and a name in the gospel church. The religious service of Israel were mere hypocrisy, but in Judah regard was had to God’s laws, and the people followed their pious forefathers. Let us be faithful: those who thus honour God, he will honour, but such us despise Him shall be lightly esteemed.”
More Birds of the Bible
(Commentary notes from e-Sword Bible program.)