‘The heron after her kind’, Lev. 11. 19; Deut. 14. 18.
In the list of birds that were regarded as unclean and therefore not to be consumed by Israelites, it is relatively easy to appreciate why birds of prey should be included. As they feed upon carrion or rotting flesh, their ability to transmit disease is understandable. It is also suggested that what they ate affected their flesh and rendered them unpleasant to others that might eat them. However, when we come to the heron, it might be asked why this elegant and largely aquatic bird is included.
There are several different species of heron in Israel, the most common of which is the grey heron. But, as ‘after her kind’ indicates, all the different species of heron are designated unclean. Anyone who has observed the bird will know that it is noted for its ability to stand motionless in pools and rivers awaiting its prey of fish, frogs, and other water-based creatures. Perhaps this supplies the answer to the bird being labelled unclean - the heron is ultimately carnivorous. Constable suggests, ‘The unclean birds ate flesh with the blood in it, something that God also forbade among His people’ (Expository Notes).
Having birds designated clean and unclean was God’s way of protecting, as well as distinguishing, His people from other nations around, and also from the environment in which they lived. Apart from a manifestation of His care, God is also teaching Israel the need for discernment - they could not just feed upon anything.
There is a lesson in this for us as Christians. As we have access to a multitude of resources at the touch of a button, are we exercising similar care over what we consume? Are we discerning in our choices, using spiritual judgement to determine that which is of profit? Peter states, ‘as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby’, 1 Pet. 2. 2.