A Little Bird Told Me: Everyday Expressions from the Bible

A Little Bird Told Me: Everyday Expressions from the Bible (Available now, Christian Focus)

Publication date: January 2015

Try before you buy: Read a few pages from the book itself here.




1. The apple of my eye

2. No room at the inn

3. The writing’s on the wall

4. The powers that be

5. God forbid!

6. God willing

7. A scapegoat

8. Worthy of his hire

9. The patience of Job

10. He’s seen the light

11. Head and shoulders above the rest

12. A drop in the ocean

13. A thorn in the flesh

14. A wolf in sheep’s clothing

15. Be sure your sin will find you out

16. O ye of little faith

17. A man after my own heart

18. To give up the ghost

19. Don’t judge by appearances

20. The salt of the earth

21. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone

22. A labour of love

23. Fallen from grace

24. A fly in the ointment

25. The skin of my teeth

26. A good Samaritan

27. A lamb to the slaughter

28. Manna from heaven

29. The strait and narrow

30. A little bird told me

31. Safe and sound

32. Rise and shine!

33. He couldn’t lace his boots

34. Thus far and no further

35. Holding out an olive branch

36. A baptism of fire

37. Entering the lions’ den

38. A leopard does not change its spots

39. As old as the hills

40. Doubting Thomas

41. At my wits’ end

42. Going the second mile

43. Turning the other cheek

44. Going from strength to strength

45. A heart of stone

46. Judas

47. The twinkling of an eye

48. Fight the good fight

49. You reap what you sow

50. Crystal clear

51. Make hay while the sun shines

52. The half has not been told



9781781915530 A little bird told me smaller 72There is no book to compare with the sixty-six books which comprise the Bible. The Bible is in a category all of its own. Why is the Bible the God of all books? It is so because it is the Book of God. ‘All Scripture is God-breathed …’ (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV). The incomparability of the Bible stems from its being no less than the written Word of the living God Himself. The absolute authority of the Bible for all matters concerning belief and practice cannot be separated from the absolute authority of the supreme, sovereign God Himself, who, by His Holy Spirit, caused the Bible to be written.

The Bible is a vast book, yet the message of the Bible is simple. The message of Scripture is the message of salvation. It is centred on God’s own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning death on the cross to save sinners. The inspired Word points us to the incarnate Word. If the message of the Bible’s 31,173 verses were to be encapsulated in just one verse, the verse would be John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’

It is a sad fact that the message of the Bible today—especially here in my own land of the United Kingdom—is largely unknown. Christians are in the minority, and biblical illiteracy and ignorance, even among the educated, seems to be at an all-time high. Yet this being said, unbeknown to both speaker and hearer, expressions from the Bible are frequently quoted! Historically, the influence of the Bible has been so great that it has permeated the very fibre of the English language. People quote biblical expressions without knowing that they are doing so.

The following pages focus on some of the expressions from the Bible that have entered into our everyday life and conversation. The saying’s origins are revealed, and something of their meaning and application is explained. The author’s prayer is that this will be of interest to both Christians and non Christians alike. The author’s prayer and hope is also that it will cause some to think carefully about the main message of the Bible and ponder the divine purpose behind its writing—‘written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name’ (John 20:31).

History reveals that revivals of Christianity have always gone hand-in-hand with a revival of interest in the Bible. True Christians have an appetite for God’s Word. Surely, though, it is also true to say that a revival of interest in the Bible would also spark a revival of Christianity, for the Word of God is living and life-giving, and has power to transform lives and destinies. If the pages that follow catalyse an interest in the Bible, and cause a desire to know the One beyond and behind the sacred pages, the author’s labour of love will have been abundantly rewarded.

Timothy Cross

Cardiff, Wales


Sample chapter 1




The expression ‘You are the apple of my eye’ has entered into popular poetry and song. The term is used to describe someone who is very dear, precious and special to us. Think, for instance, of a couple on their wedding day, making their marriage vows. There are millions of women in the world, but out of them all, this one woman is uniquely special to this one man. He has chosen just her to be his special, lifelong companion, and has pledged his marital faithfulness to her alone. She is ‘the apple of his eye’.

The expression ‘The apple of my eye’ has a very ancient pedigree. It goes back to the time of Moses some 1600 years BC. Amazingly, it refers not to the love and affection which occurs between human beings, but to the love and tender care which Almighty God has burning in His heart for His people. In Deuteronomy 32:9,10, Moses wrote ‘For the LORD’s portion is His people, Jacob is the place of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land and in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; he encircled him, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye’ (emphasis mine). Then, many centuries later, after the exile of God’s people to Babylon and their subsequent return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, in spite of their sin bringing upon them God’s righteous chastisement, the covenant love of God for His people was still the same. They were His special people, for we read in Zechariah 2:8 ‘For thus says the LORD of hosts: “He sent me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye.”’(emphasis mine).

In Old Testament times, therefore, out of all the peoples and nations of the world, God had His special people—a people whom he had chosen and redeemed for Himself. They were ‘the apple of His eye’. This special relationship to Him was not because of any merit in themselves, but solely because of the electing love and sovereign grace of God. God Himself reminded them: ‘For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you …’ (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).

The love of God for His people is the greatest and most unfathomable mystery of all. That a holy God, all-sufficient in and of Himself, should love sinners and enter into a special relationship with them is beyond belief—but the Bible tells us it is so.

A literal translation of the original Hebrew expression ‘the apple of my eye’ would read ‘the little man of my eye’. It is a reference to the pupil—the delicate and sensitive part of the eye essential for sight and protected by the eyelid. The expression can only be figurative as, while the God of the Bible is all-seeing, He has no physical eyes as, essentially, ‘God is Spirit’ (John 4:24), that is, without a body. The term though, while figurative, speaks volumes about the reality of the divine sensitivity of God towards the people whom he loves. The eye is one of the most sensitive parts of the body. A tiny grain of sand in it produces an irritation out of all proportion to the size of the grain. But in the age to come, the Bible reveals that ‘God will wipe away every tear from their [that is, His redeemed peoples’] eyes’ (Revelation 7:17).

‘He who touches you touches the apple of His eye’ (Zechariah 2:8). We are dealing here with a term of endearment—with the love of God for His children. The Christian’s salvation is due solely to the love of God. The initiative in salvation is always with God and not with us. His love for us always precedes our love for Him. Our love for Him is always a response to His love for us. ‘In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins … We love him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:10,19). The Bible reveals that salvation is actually a result of the triune love of the triune God. If we rejoice in God’s salvation, it is because, in love, God the Father chose us to be saved before the foundation of the world and in His love sent His Son to die to procure our salvation—‘Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us’ (Ephesians 5:2). Then, in God’s providential timing, He sent His Holy Spirit upon us to apply the work of Christ’s salvation to our hearts, bestowing on us saving faith in the crucified Saviour. ‘The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us’ (Romans 5:5).

Christians, therefore, are most certainly ‘the apple of God’s eye’, because they are the recipients and beneficiaries of the triune love of the triune God—‘elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ’ (1 Peter 1:2).

Amidst the turmoil of his life, David prayed to God, ‘Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of Your wings’ (Psalm 17:8). This is a good prayer for us to make when we are aware of our weakness and vulnerability in this difficult and dangerous world. If we belong to Jesus, we may be assured and reassured that we are not mere pawns at the mercy of ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’.[1] We are loved by God. We are safe under His providential care. He regards us as ‘the apple of His eye’ (Zechariah 2:8). He Himself says ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love …’ (Jeremiah 31:3). On the authority of the Bible one may say: ‘He cares for you’ (1 Peter 5:7).


Loved with everlasting love

Led by grace that love to know,

Spirit breathing from above

Thou hast taught me it is so.

O this full and perfect peace,

O this transport all divine!

In a love that cannot cease

I am His and He is mine!


(George Wade Robinson, 1838-77)

[1]Shakespeare, Hamlet 3:1


Sample chapter 2



It was lunchtime when I was in college. A friend suggested that we go into town for a quick burger. Arriving at the fast-food outlet, the queue extended from the counter to the door. Had we joined it, we would have been late for our afternoon lecture. ‘No room at the inn’—said my friend. ‘We’ll try somewhere else.’

Most would know that the expression ‘No room at the inn’ is connected with the Christmas story—with the nativity of Christ—for Christmas is still widely celebrated in the west, even if it is celebrated in a non-Christian way, to use an oxymoron. The expression originates from Luke’s account of the birth of Christ. Luke 2:7 reads ‘And [Mary] brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn’ (emphasis mine).

Luke 2:7 is the only verse in the Bible indicating that the Lord Jesus was born in an animal shelter which contained feeding troughs. Early tradition says He was born in a cave—a cave used for sheltering animals. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built on the supposed site of Christ’s birth, contains a cave or grotto which marks the site of this momentous event.

Why was the Lord of glory born in an animal shelter? The Scripture clues are sparse. Bethlehem was crowded with visitors, for Caesar’s decree had ordered people to return to their place of ancestral origin for official government registration. Accommodation in Bethlehem was thus at a premium. The guest rooms at the town’s inn were either full, or perhaps the inn keeper—who is not actually mentioned in Scripture—had qualms about giving hospitality to a woman about to give birth. Either way, Mary and Joseph had no choice but to spend the night lodging in the covered shelter provided for animals. Amazingly it was there—amidst mute beasts and perhaps animal work-hands—that the very Son of God and longed-for Messiah was born. For Mary, this was no doubt both physically distressing and socially humiliating. It was no modern maternity ward, yet the Bible tells us that it was in that animal shelter that Christ was born. There, Mary ‘brought forth her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn’ (emphasis mine).


The Reality of Christ’s Birth


Who would ever have thought that the Son of God would have been born in the way that He was? Christ’s birth in an animal shelter just could not have been invented by human imagination. ‘Lo! Within a manger lies, He who built the starry skies.’[1] It shows that the Christian Faith is based on history, not mythology. Here we are dealing with reality, not fantasy. Our calendars prove the reality of Christ’s birth every day, for we are living in the twenty-first century AD—after the birth of Christ. As Peter wrote some years later, ‘We did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 1:16).


The Humility of Christ’s Birth


In 2 Corinthians 8:9 we read, ‘For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.’ Theologians divide Christ’s life into two states: His state of humiliation and His state of exaltation. His birth in the ‘cattle shed’ fits into the former category.


Christ’s humiliation consisted in His being born, and that in a low condition, made under the law, undergoing the miseries of this life, the wrath of God and the cursed death of the cross; in being buried and continuing under the power of death for a time.[2]


That there was ‘no room in the inn’ for Christ tallies with Isaiah’s ancient prophecy that ‘He is despised and rejected by men’ (Isaiah 53:3). Christ was rejected at His birth, and then throughout His life. His rejection culminated in His being nailed to a plank of wood and hung up to die and then for three hours He was even forsaken by God the Father Himself. His rejection, however, wrought our reconciliation. His forsakenness wrought our forgiveness. It was not accidental but providential. It was all part of God’s eternal plan to save a people for Himself and for His glory.


The Glory of Christ’s Birth


In Jesus, God became man—‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14). The Son of God became a son of man that the sons of men might become the sons of God. He was born that we might be born again. He was born to die, so that dying sinners might have eternal life. The incarnation of Christ is a vital link in the chain of salvation history. The gospel proclaims, ‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16).

The glory of Christ’s birth stems from the fact that He was born to be our Saviour. ‘There is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’ (Luke 2:11)—a Saviour from sin, a Saviour from the wrath of God, a Saviour from eternal hell.

No room at the inn! The glory of Christ’s birth is not immediately evident to the eye, but well known to the eye of faith. He was born in unusual circumstances and surroundings—an animal shelter. ‘laid … in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.’ It begs the evangelistic question; ‘Have you any room for Jesus?’


Thou didst leave Thy throne

And Thy kingly crown,

When Thou camest to earth for me;

But in Bethlehem’s home

Was found no room

For Thy holy nativity!


O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,

There is room in my heart for Thee.


(Emily Elliot, 1836-97)



[1] Edward Caswall, (1814-78)

[2] The Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 27