The Pecking Order

Watching chickens establish a pecking order is fascinating and somewhat disturbing. In the beginning, we acquired two of three roosters – choosing the more gentle ones, of course, because who would choose a dominating chicken? It only took a day or two before the roosters decided who would be the next alpha. The previous owners were still looking to rehome their dominant rooster and a few more strong-willed hens. After a week or so, we decided to adopt them as well. As soon as they rejoined their flock, the dominant rooster quickly reminded them who was boss. The two other more gentle roosters had no choice but to acquiesce their position. To us, the returning alpha appeared cruel and ruthless. Whenever a rooster of a lower rank tried to breed with one of the hens, the alpha would chase him down and jealously attack until the hen was set free. Yet he would service whichever hen he chose as often as he pleased. When he did so, he would grab her by the neck, pin her down, and give her no other choice but to comply. At one point we were certain the beta rooster would end up dead as he billowed cowardly in the corner of the hen house with missing feathers and an exposed, bloody back. The hierarchical society of birds can appear harsh and cruel. But is it?

The other day my kids and I brought some eggs down to our neighbors. They told us that as they were driving home, they had to stop the car because our chickens, who had wandered to the other side of the road, were crossing the street and they didn’t want to run them over. As they watched the chickens returning home, they noticed the alpha rooster had stopped in front of the car and had waited until all the other chickens had made it back safely before he finished crossing the road. Why did this rooster so forcefully move himself to the top of the pecking order? Because he wanted to be the one to sacrifice his life for the flock. He is the one who is up early crowing and leading the hens to food and water. He is the one who scares away the hawks and eagles flying overhead. He is the one guiding them to the treats we leave in their chicken run. He is the rooster that the hens trust and follow. His authority is for their protection. He dominated the flock so he could dominate in love.

In our culture, we tend to shun this idea of authority, and perhaps for a legitimate cause. In our not-to-distant history, we have seen abuse, pride, and greed drive those in authority to dominate mankind for selfish reasons rather than for the protection of their flock. When this is the case, our natural tendency is to flee and remove ourselves not just from their authority but from ALL authority. We have swung the pendulum to the other side where authority is now viewed as bad and to submit to anyone or any established institute is to subject yourself to abuse. Aquiscence to authority is now viewed as a sign of weakness and we are now gods unto ourselves establishing individually what is right and wrong. We are free to interpret and translate scripture and morality according to our paradigm, which is often based on how we feel. What it says to me, may not be what it says to you, so don’t judge me or tell me how to think.

I find it interesting and quite challenging that Saint Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes to the church commending them to submit to authority – even during the time of the harsh emperor Nero. He says in I Peter 2:11-25,

Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Wait! Is this passage really telling us to submit to authority even when that authority is corrupt? How could God ask us to do such a thing? Isn’t this a harsh thing to demand? Yet maybe when we realize that by submitting to earthly authority IS submission to God, we will find a deeper purpose than just the comforts and pleasures of this world.

Consider Jesus, who subjected Himself to the harsh rulers of this world. He submitted to them as unto the Father, knowing that the Father was good and had a better plan: a better protection plan. It wasn’t protection from abuse and harm. It wasn’t to make His life easier and more comfortable. In fact, submitting to this plan led to ridicule, torment, and even death. How could His Father ask Him to do such a thing? Isn’t this ruthless? Isn’t this cruel? Or is it?

Jesus’ death led to the greatest protection plan of all. It’s protection from eternal ridicule, eternal torment, and eternal death. He stepped in front of the car so we could all cross over into eternal safety. He dominated as King of kings and Lord of lords so He could dominate in love. HE is the Alpha and He is the One we can trust to lead us to living water because He is the Living Water. We can trust Him to lead us to nourishment because He is the Bread of Life. We can put ourselves under His authority because even though there will be troubles in this world, we can take heart because He has overcome the world. His authority is trustworthy. It may not make earthly sense, but it is trustworthy.

When we subject ourselves to the authorities that God has established, we are actually putting ourselves under GOD’s authority. Romans 13:1 says,

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

It would have been a lot easier for the hens and two low-ranking roosters to carry on without the former alpha. It would have saved us some concern in the beginning if we had decided not to adopt the more dominating, seemingly cruel rooster. Yet after the pecking order was established, peace quickly followed. It’s been six months since we acquired our flock and not one hen has died at the hand of a predator or by being hit by a car. I’m certain this would not be the case had our hens not submitted to their ruthless authority.

Unlike chickens, God does not grab our necks, pin us down, and force us into compliance. Though He is the dominating King, He gently presents His flock with the choice to follow Him. Will we trust Him enough to place ourselves under the established fallible authorities of this world? Authorities such as our flawed parents? Authorities such as our imperfect husbands? Authorities such as our broken church leaders? Authorities such as our corrupt government? How could we do such a thing? What if it leads to abuse, ridicule, torment, or even death? I don’t know what submitting to your authorities could lead to. But I do know this. If we share in Jesus’ suffering, we will also share in His glory. (Romans 8:17-18) And if Jesus’ submission, which led to death, resulted in a greater good, will not also our sufferings produce a greater good as well?

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Christine Rohr
Christine Rohr
3 months ago

I loved reading this! So fascinating and such added truth to watching God’s Creation thrive under His guidance and grace! The timing of this devotional is impeccable! Get it? Peck? Pun intended.,