Rock Partridges: Lessons about Hunting and Hatching ~ James J. S. Johnson
Now therefore, let not my blood fall to the earth before the face of the LORD: for the king of Israel is come out to seek a flea, as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountains. (1 Samuel 26:20 KJV)
Rock Partridges – like other partridges – prefer to hide from people, yet their voices are quite detectable. “Rock partridges are masters of concealment and are best spotted when perched on a boulder sending out a challenge; however, when we were [in Israel] we probably heard ten for every one of which we had a glimpse” [quoting George Cansdale, All the Animals of the Bible Lands (Zondervan, 1970), pages 165-166]. Yet if we look for partridges carefully, in Scripture, we will find them mentioned twice, providing us with two lessons for our own lives (and “callings”, pardon the pun). But, before looking at those two Bible passages, first let us consider what a “partridge” is.
So what is a partridge?
Partridges are chicken-sized ground-dwelling birds, classified together with other “pheasant family” birds like pheasant, grouse, bobwhite, quail, junglefowl, chicken, peafowl, and ptarmigan. Specifically, partridges are categorized as fowl belonging to the order Galliformes, family Phasianidae, subfamily Perdicinae).
Partridges don’t migrate. Partridges — such as the Rock Partridges of the Holy Land — often nest in hilly or montane areas, in fairly dry climate zones, laying more than a dozen eggs in a minimally lined ground scrape – quite a humble nest! This habit leaves partridge eggs quite vulnerable, for many ovivorous predators (including hungry humans – see Deuteronomy 22:6-7) hunt around the nesting grounds of partridges. Resourceful foragers themselves, partridges routinely eat accessible ants, seeds, berries, lichen, and other low-to-the-ground vegetation. Like other land-fowl partridges spend most of their time on the ground, hidden in ground cover, so don’t expect to see them flying around much, or perching in tree branches.
Partridges are mentioned only twice in the Old Testament (noted below), as translations of the Hebrew word qoré’ – a noun derived from the verb qara’ (meaning “to call”, “to cry”). The Hebrew root verb qara’ is used to describe calling out someone’s name, when you wish to speak to that person, and it is used to describe God’s actions when He “called” the light Day, the dark Night, the dry land Earth, etc. (in Genesis chapter 1). Partridges, therefore, are “criers”, famous for their calls. The Rock Partridge (Alectoris graeca), which seems to have been common during Bible times, is known for its “cok-cok-cokrr” call, in the arid piedmonts of Israel.
The Rock Partridge ranges “from the mountains of Lebanon in the north across the coastal plains to the dry hills of Judaea, but its range also extends westwards through Greece and all over Italy” [quoting George Cansdale, All the Animals of the Bible Lands (Zondervan, 1970), page 165]. Its Holy Land cousin, the Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa), resembles the Rock Partridge from a distance, so the Bible could refer to either or both, as well as any hybrids. Another partridge found in Israel’s desert lands is Hey’s Partridge (Ammoperdrix heyi), by the Dead Sea.
“Partridges” ae mentioned once in 1st Samuel 26:20 and once in Jeremiah 17:11. Both verses illustrate important life lessons.
Living life on the run
As a fugitive trying to escape King Saul, David compares himself (in 1st Samuel 26:20, quoted above) to a partridge being hunted in the mountains. Because partridges don’t fly far away, as chased ducks or geese may, hunters chase partridges in the hilly scrublands, causing the partridges to run this way and that, often wearying the partridges to the point that they became targets for whatever weapons (even sticks used for clubbing) the hunters have available. Surely David saw such partridges in the arid wilderness scrublands he hid in, and likely David himself hunted, caught, and ate such partridges. Because David was daily fleeing Saul’s soldiers, in the hilly wilderness of Israel, David knew what partridges felt like, being pursued by hunters. Yet God protected David from Saul’s evil efforts, and in God’s providence it was David, when the dust settled, who survived and reigned over Israel, not Saul.
What can we learn from David’s fugitive plight?
First, there is no good reason to surrender to one’s enemies! When persecutors aim at innocent victims, as has been the plight of believers ever since Cain murdered Abel (Genesis 4:8-9; Matthew 23:35; Luke 11:51), we are counseled to evade persecutions when possible (Matthew 7:6 & 10:14 & 10:23; Luke 9:5 & 10:11 & 21:21; Acts 9:25 & 13:51).
Second, David’s example reminds us that God is sovereign – He will not let us die until it is the proper time for dying. So long as God has earthly work for us to do, He will sustain us (James 4:13-15).
Don’t count your chickens (or partridges) before they hatch
Another lesson from the partridge comes from Jeremiah 17:11. It seems that partridges have a bad reputation for being less than fully successful in hatching their eggs! This parental deficiency is compared to the tentative gains of those who acquire wealth by unrighteous means – they will, in the end, be seen as the fools they are! Why? Because the wealth of this world, even if kept until death, is only transitory wealth. It is like eggs laid in a slipshod nest, never to be successfully hatched.
Don’t invest the best of your life in the transitory things of this world — because the investment will be a disappointment, when life is over. Rather, invest your time and treasure in what God values. It is truly foolish to lay up temporal treasures, “where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matthew 6:19). Materialistic treasures are a long-term waste of investment, to be displayed as folly in eternity (and often earlier, on earth), as “gains” wrongly gotten – because we are only stewards of the assets God entrusts to us.
Therefore, let us rather, on a daily basis, accrue (by God’s grace) “treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal” (Matthew 6:20). It’s really a matter of the heart: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).
(Dr. James J. S. Johnson, an apologetics professor for ICR, previously taught ornithology at Dallas Christian College.)
Rock Partridges belong to:
- Phasianidae – Pheasants, Fowl & Allies Family
- Birds of the Bible
- Birds of the Bible – Partridge
P.S. – As of this post, James J. S. Johnson is now one of our regular contributors to the blog. An introduction will be given soon.