Like no other bird, the eagle soars high above the earth with grace and effortless ease. This majestic bird glides on top of the world, the very epitome of loftiness. The eye of the eagle is so sharp that he can spot a chipmunk from 2500 feet. The eagle swoops down at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour, snares his victim, then flaps away to a nearby treetop to devour his prey. Many analogies in Christian living have been drawn from the eagle. God likens himself to the eagle and teaches Christians a very special lesson in adversity. What is that lesson?
by Jerry Gentry
"As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings:
So the LORD alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him" (Deut. 32:11-12)
As the eagle (v. 11) . . . so the LORD (v. 12).
A chilly autumn breeze blows against the horseback rider's face as he makes his way through the rough, bushy, Montana scrub, and onto a plateau overlooking a deep gorge. This is high country. The rider, whom we will call Jim, searches for wandering strays, which he will bring down to join his cattle herd in the low pastures. Winter will be here soon and the cows and their calves must be protected from coming sub zero weather and nourished with hay stored up during summer.
Jim is a high school boy who has grown up on this cattle ranch, where a huge garden has provided vegetables and the cow herd has provided meat all his life. But today is destined to be different. Today young Jim will witness some rare and surprising secrets of the eagle.
As he rides, Jim hears a loud, flapping vibration which seems to be coming from close by. He scans the horizon, glances down to the bottom of the rock studded ravine below, then carefully looks up the opposite canyon wall for the source of this strange sound. "Whoa, boy!" Jim whispers quietly to his steed. Then, from the corner of one eye, he catches a slight movement from high up in a tall leafless dead tree standing on the edge of the cliff which rises above the canyon below.
Jim adjusts himself in the saddle slightly to get a better view from his hidden spot in the scrub. High in the tallest available tree is a large clump of sticks, perhaps 5-6 feet across. Jim recognizes this clump as the nest of an eagle.
Today some strange things will go on at that nest. As Jim watches through the branches which hide him from the eagles' view, a full grown adult eagle alights and sits for a few moments on one side of the bowl shaped nest. Soon the adult eagle springs into the air and hovers a few feet above the nest. She flaps her wings and makes a strange loud vibrating noise that Jim has been hearing off and on now for some time. As she hovers a few feet above her nest, then stretches out her wings, the heads of three young eaglets pop up above the nest rim. They scream and shriek and look upward toward their Mama and randomly stretch their wings also.
Soon the adult eagle perches on the side of the nest again, then launches upward and hovers, then flaps her wings wildly, then perches again, repeating these motions. At once the Mama eagle disappears over the edge of the nest. Suddenly there are sticks and moss and bits of fur that come flying over the edge of the nest and raining down to the earth beneath, as Mama eagle tears up the nest lining. "What is going on?" Jim now whispers to himself, with great curiosity. He settles quietly in his saddle and watches.
There are loud shrieks, and soon three heads of young eaglets again pop into view. Jim studies the birds carefully, as he watches this amazing process. Over the next hour, the Mama eagle will bring her fully feathered young out of the nest and into the air where they will learn to fly in a most unusual manner.
Many years later Jim will do a further study of the eagle, fill in some additional facts, and learn the connection between the eagle and God's work in the life of every Christian. In his later study, Jim will learn that eagles mate for life. They choose only the most secluded and highest places for building their nest. The same nest is rebuilt year after year, sometimes for 35 years running, by the same mated pair. They build their new nest annually on top of the old one, which over time becomes so thick and heavy&emdash;it can weigh tons&emdash;that it may break the tree, and force the pair to find a new location.
Jim will later learn more about the construction of the eagle's nest, usually high in a large tree, or on a rocky outcropping high above a canyon floor. It will be nearly inaccessible to humans. Jim learns that branches and twigs are piled up and interwoven to form the base of the nest. This base with its rough, knotty and uneven floor is then filled in with smaller twigs, moss and debris. On top of that the eagle lines the nest with bits and pieces of fur from rodents previously killed and eaten. Feathers, moss and any soft, fluffy material available are also used.
On top of this soft, furry lining the eagle lays 2-4 white eggs in late spring or early summer, when weather is warm. The eggs hatch in about 35-42 days, and the baby eaglets grow for 10-12 weeks, at which time they become fully feathered and ready for their first flight.
While Jim watches, the adult eagle tears out the soft, furry inner surface of the nest, that is, she "stirreth up her nest" and exposes the rough, prickly substructure below. Hereby the young eaglets lose their soft, comfort zone, their feather bed, so to speak, where they have grown up in comfort. Shrieks of protest come from the beaks of the eaglets, as they nervously watch Mama eagle tear all the lining of their nest apart, and fling it out and to the ground below. Has God ever stirred your nest, removed your comfort zone, and put you on alert? Has He ever allowed you to face adversity?
Once the nest lining is torn up and tossed out, Mama eagle perches again on the side of the open bowl shaped nest, then launches into flight, hovers above the eaglets' heads and makes a loud, vibrating noise. She "fluttereth over her young" to get their attention. Then she "spreadeth abroad her wings" to full span, just as the Bible says, as if to tell her chicks, "Look up! Listen! Pay attention!" She again alights on the nest's rim. In every Christian's life, there comes a time when we must do business with God, and give Him our full, undivided attention. Christ commands every Christian to ". . . look up, and lift up your heads. . ." (Luke 21:28).
Mama eagle then dips one half-folded wing into the nest and scoops up one of the eaglets into the bend of her wing. Clearly, she "taketh them," in the language of scripture, and flings the eaglet over the side and into open air. This action happens so quickly that the little eaglet&emdash;we'll call him Johnny&emdash;hardly knows what has happened. Johnny flaps and squawks as he swirls and tumbles and falls down the sheer canyon wall and toward the rocky crags hundreds of feet below. Little Johnny falls, flopping and flailing his wings in the rushing wind, toward sure death. It appears that little Johnny will not be able to fly. He is doing terribly. Down, down, down he falls, shrieking and squawking with loud protests all the way. Then, as suddenly as he was taken and tossed from the nest, Mama eagle, who has been carefully watching from her perched position on the side of the nest, drops like an arrow shot from a bow toward the canyon floor.
With perfect timing, just before little Johnny eaglet crashes into the canyon floor and sure death, Mama eagle falls past little Johnny, spreads her wings under his flailing body, and catches him, then she "beareth them on her wings," in the language scripture. She nudges little Johnny up behind her neck and glides away while little Johnny clutches onto her back for dear life. She begins to make a circling spiral back up the wide open canyon wall. She circles up, up, and up. As she circles past the nest, two other eaglets watch with discomfort and seeming amazement. On their vertical ascent, as Mama eagle and little Johnny pass the other two eaglets, little Johnny continues to screech, as if to say, "You're next! You're next!"
In Jim's later study of the eagle, he reads of a time when Israel had fallen into Egyptian bondage, and without a saviour, would never have risen out of the pit of slavery and national destruction. Jim reads how the God of Israel likens himself to an eagle: "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians," God states, "and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself" (Exod. 19:4).
"As the eagle. . . so the LORD."
With little Johnny still hanging onto her back, Mama eagle continues to circle up and up, hundreds of feet above the nest. Then, as suddenly as she had dove to the canyon floor and caught little Johnny eaglet, she folds her wings and drops like an arrow again, this time with little Johnny clinging precariously to her feathery back. Down, down, down, she drops, like an arrow shooting through the sky. Johnny shrieks and protests with sheer terror, but clutches tenaciously the faster Mama eagle falls. Just as they drop to the height of the nest, Mama eagle suddenly spreads her 7-foot wings, and puts on her incredible brakes. Little Johnny is instantly flung forward and thrown off her back. He begins his second airy tumble down the sheer cliff wall toward sure death below. Again, he tumbles and flails and squawks and flaps. His motions again lack coordination for flight. He is falling, not quite like a rock, but more like a wad of uncoordinated limbs and flailing feathers.
Again, Mama Eagle watches carefully from above. Instantly, she dives to the rescue and catches little Johnny on her back just before he crashes on the rocks beneath, and "beareth [him] on her wings," just as God brings us to Himself and carries us through humanly impossible situations. Once again, Mama eagle proceeds to make long, climbing circles, up, up and up. She passes the top of the canyon wall, passes the nest with the other two squawking eaglets, and ascends again a few hundred feet above the nest before dropping a second time like an arrow. Falling to nest height, she again stretches out her wings and puts on the brakes, whereby little Johnny eaglet is again flung loose. This time he flaps and flutters, but manages to make his first attempt at coordinated flight. Again, before little Johnny eaglet hits the rocky canyon floor, Mama eagle dives and catches him and repeats the process 4 or 5 times. By the last time, little Johnny stretches out his wings and soars with near perfect coordination, just like Mama eagle. She has taught him to fly by pushing him carefully beyond his natural juvenile limits and into the much larger world of mature eagles.
As Jim watches, Mama eagle once again returns to her nest and alights on the bowl shaped nest's edge. After a few minutes she again hovers and vibrates her wings above the nest, then alights and scoops her wing into the nest and literally tosses another of the eagles over the side and down the canyon wall. Again she dives and catches the young bird, soars and ascends in a spiral up and up, high above the nest. Then she drops like an arrow with the second eaglet on her back, spreads her wings and off flies the eaglet in an uncoordinated bundle of falling feathers flailing in the wind. The process is repeated and repeated, until all three eaglets have been taught to fly on their own.
Jim watches for over an hour and witnesses the rare spectacle of just how a Mama eagle teaches her young to remove from the comforts of the nest and out into the real world. Jim watches as Mama eagle now soars off into the distance, with all three young eaglets following. Now that they have learned to fly, they will begin their first hunt. They have bridged the once impossible gulf from comfortable nest to coordinated flight high in the big sky country of Montana.
Jim has thought of this experience often through his life. Now that Jim is a Christian minister he tells this story with special emphasis every Christian should heed. Christians often live amidst great comforts and blessings of the provisions of our Father in heaven, just like the eaglets who have grown up in the lap of soft, furry and comfortable luxury. We take God for granted and fail to look up and see his wings of provision and protection above us. Then something happens; our comforts are taken away; we feel like we have been cast out. Amidst heartbreak, trial and tears, we seem to be falling into the unknown abyss toward sure destruction, we think. We squawk and shriek our protests, just as the little eaglets protested. But how else would the eaglets ever learn to fly? How else will a Christian come to spiritual maturity?
"As the eagle. . . so the LORD"
Then, sometimes at the last minute, just as the Mama eagle would dive like an arrow and take up the falling eaglet's life right before sure destruction, God instantly intervenes and miraculously takes up our life, even fights our battles for us. We learn, through trial and tribulation time and again, how to spread our wings and soar above life's old sinful habits, lusts and worldliness, through accountability. When we are chastened for our inconsistencies, we learn obedience, a lesson even Jesus Christ learned, though without personal sin himself. "Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered" (Hebr. 5:8). We learn "if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Rom. 8:17).
We learn constancy by putting the sufferings of this life into Godly perspective: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18). After all, there is little glory in a grown eagle, still sitting on his comfortable nest, having never entered the tribulation of first flight and learned how to soar in the world of mature eagles. There is little glory to God for Christians to sit passively for years, without growth in grace and knowledge, as a mere "babes in Christ" (1Cor. 3:1).
"As the eagle. . . so the LORD"
We learn that God is not only a God far away, but God is a God close up too, just like Mama eagle to her eaglet. Amidst trial, uncertainty and the winds of great tribulation, Job found God, and figuratively saw him up close. At the end of Job's trial, he admits: "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee" (Job 42:5). In the end, God took up Job's righteous cause, forgave and vindicated Job, restored, increased and protected him.
"As the eagle. . . so the LORD."
Jim teaches that no matter how the winds of adversity are blowing against us, we must learn to open our wings and coordinate our lives directly from God's word through obedience and praise. Only then are we lifted up and made to soar above the very trials that would otherwise be our destruction.
Our Father in heaven simply wants us to please Him through obedience. He wants to say of us, "Satan, look at old so-and-so down there. He fears Me and eschews evil. Look at him. He turns the other cheek. He even returns good for evil. He patiently endures. He lives in my Will. Though I have let you buffet him and take away some of his comforts, you get your hands off him now! You want him, but he is not yours. You cannot have him. He belongs to me!"
Just as Mama eagle provides for and protects her own eaglets. God miraculously provides for and protects His very own children. Christian, when adversity strikes, hear and heed the lesson: "As the eagle. . . so the LORD."