Carried on Eagles’ Wings

Three months after leaving Egypt, the Israelites had been through a lot—all of which was aimed at deepening their faith.  He led them through the desert by a cloud that went ahead of them.  When they came to bitter waters at Marah, they cried out to God for help, and God made the water drinkable.  They became hungry and complained, and God sent them manna from heaven.  They grew thirsty again, and Moses cried out to God, and God brought forth water from a rock. 

After all of this—and before giving the people the Ten Commandments—God swore His love to the people of Israel.  God instructed Moses to tell the people, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself” (Exodus 19:4).

This verse presents a fascinating image of God’s care for Israel.  In the 1937 edition of the Smithsonian Institution Bulletin, Arthur Cleveland Bent reports that when a baby eagle is hatched, its eyes are too young to distinguish objects by sight, but it chirps incessantly, expressing it needs and longings.  By the end of a week, the chick can see well, move its head about, and bite at things.  By two weeks it can crawl.  At even at seven weeks of age it can barely maintain its balance when placed on a limb.  Not until it is about three months old does it gain the strength it needs to fly.  During the early months of its life, the eaglet’s parents bring food to the young chick and watch over their child until the young eagle is able to hunt for itself. 

For the first three months away from Egypt, the Israelites have been like that baby eagle, incessantly chattering to God about their needs and longings.  God has patiently provided for them and protected them.  It is as though God has been carrying them on his wings.

In his article in the Smithsonian Bulletin, Arthur Bent shares a story Dr. Loye Miller published in 1918 from one of his students: “Last summer while my father and I were extracting honey at the apiary about a mile southeast of Thatcher School, Ojai, California, we noticed a golden eagle teaching its young to fly.  It was about ten o’clock.  The mother started from the nest in the crags, and roughly handling the young one, she allowed him to drop, I should say, about ninety feet, then she would swoop down under him, wings spread, and he would alight on her back.” 

W.B. Thomas shared a similar story in Yeoman’s England in 1934: “Our guide was one of the small company who have seen the golden eagle teaching the young to fly.  He could support the belief that the parent birds, after urging and sometimes shoving the youngster into the air, will swoop underneath and rest the struggler for a moment on their wings and back.”

Modern ornithologists argue that eagles do not actually carry their young in this way, but the spiritual reality remains: God lovingly carried and provided for and protected and cared for the people of Israel.

One of the most wonderful aspects of an eagle’s wings is how those wings can lift the bird up to the great heights of the sky.  In his article in the Smithsonian Bulletin, Bent quotes the account of Seton Gordon from the Scottish Highlands in 1915: “Then one day the north wind crossed the sea, and arrived at the eagle’s home.  And the eagle felt the cool arctic breeze and sailed out from his giant rocks…. With his pinions wide outstretched he leaned on the refreshing wind, which bore him strongly upward, without a single stroke of his wings to help him on his way.  So he mounted higher and higher till he had risen far above his native hill-top, and was outlined, a mere speck, against the dark blue of the sky.  Still upwards he sailed, and for some time longer the watching stalker kept him in view, in the field of his glass.  But at length he reached a point at which he was invisible, even by the aid of a telescope.  From that point what a gorgeous panorama must have been laid out before his sight in the light of the summer sun.  Even the highest tops were now far, far below him, and the river in its windings down the great glen must have appeared as a thin silvery streak.”

Truly in this way God carries us on eagles’ wings, for God lifts us up to the heights to behold God for who He is so that we can discover the wonder of His love and grace and peace and strength. 

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