What can we learn about our relationship to God from the life of the eagle and how it raises its young?
The bald eagle has been the national bird of the United States since 1782, when it was placed with outspread wings on the Great Seal of the country. It appears in many government institutions and on official documents, making it the most pictured bird in America. The eagle appears on the president’s flag, military insignia and billions of one-dollar bills.
Like other eagles worldwide, the bald eagle is a symbol of strength, courage, freedom and immortality for generations.
The bald eagle can have a wingspan of up to eight feet and can weigh up to 15 pounds. It inhabits areas near large bodies of water where there are plenty of fish to eat and tall trees in which to nest. Bald eagles remain faithful to their mate until death.
An eagle’s eye is probably the sharpest of any animals, with four to eight times the resolving power of a person’s eye. It can spot a rabbit nearly a mile away, from an altitude of 1,000 feet. It can also sight fish swimming below the surface of the water.
When attacking prey, a bald eagle can reach speeds close to 190 miles per hour. And because they can only move their eyes slightly within the sockets, they are able to rotate their heads almost 270 degrees.
They are called the lions of the sky. Bald eagles carry some 7,000 feathers from head to tail. Their feathers are lightweight, hollow and flexible, yet very strong. The eagle’s feathers protect the bird from inclement weather, including excessive heat, cold winds and snow. Due to their sophisticated feather system, this bird is able to regulate its body temperature simply by changing the position of its feathers.
As an eagle
There are many instances in His Word when God uses the image of an eagle as an example of His care and concern and protection of His people. Notice one in Psalm:91:1, 4 where it says, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty… He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge.” Deuteronomy:32:11-13 also mentions that “as an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings,” God says He made His people “ride on the high places of earth” (KJV).
The Hebrew verb rachaph, translated in Deuteronomy as “hovers” (or “flutters” in the King James Version), appears only three times in the Bible and only twice in reference to the action of God: in this passage and in Genesis:1:2. When God created the world, the Spirit of God moved across the waters, and hovered over the deep. This possibly allows that the very first image in the Bible is of God as a mother eagle hovering, fluttering over the waters as she prepares the nest (earth) for the birth of mankind.
Eagles are noted in the Bible for their swiftness, endurance and power and for their loving care of the young. Think in terms of how God cares for us and how much we need Him.
When a pair of eagles builds a nest, it is high in a tree or cliff and away from danger. You could say it is built upon a rock. King David recognized the safety of building one’s foundation upon a rock. “For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in his pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me upon a rock. And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me; therefore I will offer sacrifices of joy in His tabernacle; …I will sing praises to the LORD” (Psalm 27: 5-6).
We learn from the Psalms that David throughout his life knew how vulnerable and weak he was, how much he needed and relied on God. (It is interesting to note that David’s major lapse was when he was older and supposedly wiser. Should we not consider the dangers of that older/wiser, self-sufficient attitude that is so easy to slip into? Do we get puffed up in our own eyes as we progress in this way of life and think we can do it on our own?)
In the eagle’s nest
The eagles start their nest with a lot of large sticks, thorns and odd and ends to build the base. Next, they get smaller sticks, twigs and grasses. Finally, just before they lay their eggs, they pull down and feathers from their own bodies to line the nest for a comfort to the newly hatched chicks. Feathers from their own bodies—what a wonderful analogy! It reminds one of a down comforter, and the Holy Spirit taken from God Himself is described as our Comforter and is given to His newly baptized sons and daughters.
When the eggs hatch, the babies look nothing like their parents. They are small, featherless and ugly. Golden eagles weigh only three ounces at birth (85 grams). That is how we should see ourselves as we begin our journey as a babe in Christ—small, featherless and ugly—and in our vulnerability, looking to the mother eagle (Jesus Christ, the Church, God’s Holy Spirit) for sustenance and comfort. We should continue in this humble, teachable attitude throughout our walk with God, as the apostle Paul learned well in his earthly sojourn. “My grace is sufficient for you: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities…for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians:12:9-10).
It doesn’t take long till baby eagles weigh 40 times their birth weight, only 45 days later. During this time the eaglets require that their parents feed and care for them. They are safe and comfortable in the bottom of their nest. It is their comfort zone. As they grow, they develop the majestic appearance of their parents. We, too, have the hope that we will look like the majestic Christ when our bodies are changed.
The babies gain strength and begin to move about the nest. Food brought into the nest is cut into very small pieces and gently fed into hungry little mouths. When we come into the Church, God looks after us like an eagle looking after its young. We, too, are fed God’s Word, the truth given in small amounts, first milk and then meat.
Soon, the eaglets will climb out to the top of the nest, stand upon the edge and look out over their parents’ domain. We, too, look over our Father’s domain, His heavens, the work of His fingers, the moon and the stars, which He ordained. We recognize that we are nothing in comparison. But we also realize God has made us a little lower than the angels, for a time. We know we are of little strength; but our weakness is temporary, and one day we will grow strong and our bodies will be changed and we will fly like the eagles.
Since their nest is up high, the baby eagles are exposed to severe winds and the eaglets quickly roll back into their nest where it is safe and comfortable. As the eaglets grow, their parents start throwing out the soft grasses and down lining of the nest, exposing the thorns and larger sticks. By doing this the parents are taking away their comfort zone. We find that as we grow in Christ, we, too, are exposed to more and more trials and sufferings of everyday life so we will grow in godly character. But we, too, can fall back on God’s Spirit to comfort and guide us.
Leaving the nest
The nest seems smaller as the young grow to become more like their parents. They find themselves out on the edge, surveying the landscape and they dream of soaring with their parents. When the winds blow now, they don’t have the nice soft place in which to hide. They stand with the wind in their faces and their wings spread, becoming stronger. They will soon be ready to take that leap, but they don’t yet have enough confidence.
We, too, learn to trust in God. The Psalmist wrote, “I will set him on high, because he has known My name. He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him” (Psalm:91:14-15).
From its high perch, the young eagle can see the animals of the field and the fish in the stream. He becomes hungry and determined; he climbs to the edge of the nest, faces into the wind and spreads his wings. Waiting for the proper moment, he leans forward. The winds lift him. His heart pounds. At first, our young eagle tumbles in the air falling towards the ground. He sees the green of the earth and the blue of the sky passing with each rotation.
“Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you… for He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways. In their hands, they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone” (Psalm:91:9-12).
Sometimes it is necessary for the parent eagle to rescue its young in flight. Maybe it does not spread its wings enough, but the mother is always watching, always aware of her young, just like God protects and lovingly watches over us, sending His angels to preserve and minister to us. When it’s time, the mother eagle takes the eaglets on her wings and swoops downward suddenly to force them into solo flight. They flap their wings, but it takes awhile to get the hang of it. They may get tired and go fluttering down, but the mother stays close to swoop under them again whenever they grow too weary to continue on their own.
What a beautiful metaphor for a loving God, caring for us when we are weak, yet always aiming at the goal of our maturity and internalized strength, rather than keeping the babies in the nest forever. The next morning as the sun rises, we see three young eagles standing on the edge of the nest with their wings outstretched, their faces into the wind. One by one, they step off into the wind to begin their intended journey through life.
It takes courage to leave our nest. It takes determination and commitment to make a difference in our life and in the lives of others. God says, “But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah:40:31).