Yeshua knew that the disciples and the generations to come after them would face times of intense persecution. At those times, it might seem as if God had lost control of events or forgotten about them. At times, tribulation or tragedy would be so great that it might appear as if God’s protection had failed.
He encouraged His disciples by saying, “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent?” Yeshua probably had in mind the pigeons and turtledoves that the poor brought for offerings in the Temple. Archaeologists have uncovered numerous dovecotes (columbariums) from the Second Temple Era, evidence of a large pigeon and dove industry in the days of the apostles. The Jewish people raised the birds primarily for food—a poor man’s meat, but the Torah prescribes them as sacrifices that the poorest could afford.
No one regarded the small, inexpensive birds as valuable, “Yet not one of them is forgotten before God” (Luke 12:6); “Not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29). Rabbi Yeshua reasoned that if God remembers even an inexpensive bird and takes note of its fall to the ground, how much more so will he remember and take care of you who are more valuable than many small birds. His consolation sounds similar to His words about daily provision:
Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? (Matthew 6:26)
The bird-comparison does not guarantee invulnerability. He did not say that sparrows will not fall to the ground or that believers will not face tragedy and sorrow. If God allows the birds to fall to the ground, He may also allow the disciples to face mishap, ill circumstance, and death—but not apart from His concern, care, and wisdom. Yeshua’s words assure us that God is mindful of our suffering and His hand directs our course. Therefore, the Master’s disciples should be fearless and confident.
The Roman persecutions against Jews and believers came in several waves over several centuries. During one of those early waves, an informer reported Shimon ben Yochai to the Roman authorities. Shimon and his son went and hid in a cave somewhere near the Galilee for thirteen years. Illustrating the words Yeshua spoke to His disciples, ben Yochai found the confidence to leave his hiding spot when he realized that God cares even for the small birds:
After thirteen years Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai was sitting at the entrance of the cave. He saw a bird-catcher spread his net to catch birds. Sometimes he heard a heavenly voice say, “Mercy, Mercy,” and the bird escaped, and sometimes he heard it say, “The pain of death!” and it was caught. He mused, “Even a bird does not perish except by the decree of Heaven; how much more then we human beings!” (Esther Rabbah 3:7)
The Master assured the disciples that even “the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Luke 12:7). Though a man “cannot make one hair white or black” (Matthew 5:36), not a single hair falls from his head without God’s notice.