Origin of Chickens Come Home to Roost

Whenever something bad happens to someone who has done bad things, we quite often hear the saying that their chickens have come home to roost. What a strange saying! On the surface wouldn’t you think that having your chickens, or any of your livestock coming home, is a good thing? Somewhere along the way, the idea of a curse returning back on the head of an evil doer became associated with chickens coming home to roost. Is this Biblical?

“Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.” – Susanna Moodie, Life in Canada, 1852

The origins and history of the quote “chickens coming home to roost” begins with Geoffrey Chaucer in The Parson’s Tale, written in 1390. It actually only refers to birds returning to their nest, and not chickens at all: “And ofte tyme swich cursynge wrongfully retorneth agayn to hym that curseth, as a bryd that retorneth agayn to his owene nest.”

Fast forward several hundred years and we find an adaptation of Chaucer’s quote by English poet Robert Southey. In his 1810 poem, The Curse of Kehama, he writes: “Curses are like young chicken: they always come home to roost.” We then see the more modern day version from English-born Canadian author Susanna Moodie who used the “home to roost” quote in two of her books. During the 19th century the saying started to become part of the American lexicon and during the 1900’s it became part of the pop culture showing up in the book “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell in 1936 (adapted for the classic movie Gone with the Wind in 1939).

Eventually, the “curses” portion was dropped and today we use the phrase “your chickens have come home to roost” as a way of telling a person that their bad deeds are now bringing retribution upon themselves.

In the Bible we see several verses that teach us that the deeds of our lives, whether good or bad, come back upon us.

He made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made.- Psalms 7:15

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. – Ecclesiastes 11:1

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. – Galatians 6:7

You can read more about the idea of God and karma in the article about how you reap what you sow, a concept we find in Galatians 6:7. From that, and the above verses,  we can surmise that good things will happen to good people, and bad things will happen to bad people. At the same time we read in the Bible that it rains on the just and the unjust. So which is it? Tell us what you think by leaving a comment.


Origin of Chickens Come Home to Roost — 2 Comments

  1. This is a very interesting topic. I often try to figure this out myself. So many people believe in Karma, but I know people that have wronged me and Karma doesn’t seem to catch up with them. I know that God is our judge and in the end he will decide what punishment, if any these people will receive. I also read in the bible about how, “it rains on the just and the unjust”. So does that mean that people that do evil can prosper and be happy in this life and people that do good can have hardships and suffer in this life? And in the end like the song writer David Archuleta puts it, “Be still, my soul the hour is hastening on when we shall be forever with the Lord. When disappointment grief and fear are gone, sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.” Why can’t the good hearted people prosper now? Why do some good people have to have hardships and some evil people prosper? Judgment’s not up to me, I know, but is it wrong to wish evil doers get a taste of their own medicine? Am I being ungodly? Can anyone give me some guidance.

  2. No guidance, Lilly. Only to know that it isn’t about this life, that all I know for sure. God doesn’t work for us, like an employee or a genie whom we can muster up by our best wishes; and certainly His ways are far from our ways. BUT, and it’s a big one, HE DOES LOVE US, and DOES SEE US THROUGH. Whether this or that bad thing is a test, or a this or that good thing is a reward, who knows? Cuz just when we think we’ve got it figured out, there’s someone in the news or in our lives who’s experience seems to support the opposite view. So why bother if our benefit is only to be found in heaven? In an old hymn I recite so many times lately, “You may ask me why I serve the Lord, is it just for heaven’s gain, or to walk those mighty streets of gold, or to hear the angels sing? Is it just to drink from the fountain that never shall run dry? Or just to live forever, ever and ever, in that sweet old by and by? But if Heaven Never was Promised to Me, neither God’s promise to live eternally, it’s been worth just having the Lord in my life… Living in a world of darkness, He brought me the light.” so live righteously and in the hope of eternal life; make Jesus the center of your joy and don’t let anybody take your crown.

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