Mounting Up With Wings Like Eagles
HOW does a man feel after enduring five years in Nazi concentration camps? Disheartened? Bitter? Vengeful?
Strange as it may seem, one such man wrote: “My life was enriched more than I could ever have hoped for.” Why did he feel that way? He explained: “I found refuge under the wings of the Most High, and I experienced the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Isaiah, when he said: ‘Those who are hoping in Jehovah will regain power. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will . . . walk and not tire out.’”—Isaiah 40:31.
This Christian man, whose body was beaten down by the most horrendous treatment imaginable, had a spirit that figuratively soared upward, a spirit that Nazi brutality could not conquer. Like David he found refuge in the shadow of God’s “wings.” (Psalm 57:1) This Christian drew on a simile used by the prophet Isaiah, comparing his spiritual strength with that of an eagle that soars higher and higher in the sky.
Do you ever feel bowed down by problems? Doubtless you too would like to find refuge under the wings of the Most High, to “mount up with wings like eagles.” To understand how this is possible, it is helpful to know something about the eagle, which is frequently used figuratively in the Scriptures.
Under the Banner of the Eagle
Of all the birds the ancient people observed, the eagle was perhaps the one most admired because of its power and majestic flight. Many ancient armies, including those of Babylon, Persia, and Rome, marched under the banner of the eagle. The army of Cyrus the Great was one of these. The Bible prophesied that this Persian king would be like a bird of prey coming from the east to devour the Babylonian Empire. (Isaiah 45:1; 46:11) Two hundred years after this prophecy was penned, Cyrus’ troops, who had eagles on their battle standards, swooped down on the city of Babylon like an eagle pouncing on its prey.
More recently, warriors like Charlemagne and Napoleon and countries such as the United States and Germany have also chosen the eagle as their symbol. The Israelites were commanded not to venerate images of eagles or any other creature. (Exodus 20:4, 5) Yet, Bible writers alluded to characteristics of the eagle in order to illustrate their message. Thus the eagle, the bird most frequently mentioned in the Scriptures, is employed to symbolize such things as wisdom, divine protection, and swiftness.
The Eye of an Eagle
The keen eyesight of the eagle has always been proverbial. Although the golden eagle rarely weighs more than ten pounds [5 kg], its eye is actually bigger than a man’s, and its eyesight is much keener. Jehovah himself, describing to Job the eagle’s ability to search out its food, said: “Far into the distance its eyes keep looking.” (Job 39:27, 29) Alice Parmelee, in her book All the Birds of the Bible, reports that “an eagle once spotted a dead fish floating in a lake three miles [5 km] away and made a diagonal dive to the exact place. Not only was the eagle able to see a small object at a far greater distance than a man could, but the bird kept the fish in constant focus through its three-mile dive.”
Because of its keen eyesight, the eagle is a fitting symbol of wisdom, one of Jehovah’s principal qualities. (Compare Ezekiel 1:10; Revelation 4:7.) Why is that? Wisdom involves foreseeing the consequences of any action we may take. (Proverbs 22:3) The eagle, with its ability to see far into the distance, can spot danger a long way off and take precautions, just like the discreet man in Jesus’ illustration, who foresaw the possibility of a storm and built his house upon a rock-mass. (Matthew 7:24, 25) Interestingly, in the Spanish language, describing someone as an eagle means that he has insight or discernment.
If you ever have a chance to see an eagle close up, notice the way it uses its eyes. It does not eye you with a cursory glance; rather, it seems to scrutinize every detail of your appearance. Likewise, the wise man analyzes a matter carefully before making a decision instead of trusting his instinct or his feelings. (Proverbs 28:26) While the eagle’s keen eyesight makes it an apt symbol of the divine quality of wisdom, its magnificent flight is also used figuratively by Bible writers.
“The Way of an Eagle in the Heavens”
“The way of an eagle in the heavens” is striking for both its speed and the way it seems to fly so effortlessly, following no prescribed path and leaving no trail. (Proverbs 30:19) The eagle’s swiftness is alluded to at Lamentations 4:19, where the Babylonian soldiers are described: “Swifter than the eagles of the heavens our pursuers have proved to be. Upon the mountains they have hotly pursued us.” When an eagle circling overhead spots its prey, it angles its wings and goes into a steep dive, during which it can attain speeds of up to 80 miles [130 km/hr] an hour, according to some reports. Not surprisingly, the Scriptures use the eagle as a synonym for speed, especially in connection with a military force.—2 Samuel 1:23; Jeremiah 4:13; 49:22.
Isaiah, on the other hand, refers to the effortless flight of an eagle. “Those who are hoping in Jehovah will regain power. They will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not tire out.” (Isaiah 40:31) What is the secret of the eagle’s buoyant flight? Mounting up requires little effort since the eagle uses thermals, or columns of rising warm air. Thermals are invisible, but the eagle is adept at finding them. Once a thermal is located, the eagle spreads out its wings and tail and circles within the column of warm air, which carries the eagle higher and higher. When sufficient height is gained, it glides to the next thermal, where the process is repeated. In this way the eagle can stay aloft for hours with a minimum expenditure of energy.
In Israel, especially in the Rift Valley that stretches from Ezion-geber on the shores of the Red Sea up to Dan in the north, eagles are a familiar sight. They are particularly numerous during spring and autumn when they migrate. In some years nearly 100,000 eagles have been counted. When the morning sun warms the air, hundreds of raptors can be seen flying over the cliffs that border the Rift Valley.
The eagle’s effortless flight is a beautiful illustration of how Jehovah’s strength can lift us up spiritually and emotionally so that we can carry on with our work. Just as an eagle cannot soar to such heights using its own strength, we cannot cope if we rely on our own abilities. “For all things I have the strength by virtue of him who imparts power to me,” explained the apostle Paul. (Philippians 4:13) Like an eagle that constantly searches for invisible thermals, we “keep on asking” for Jehovah’s invisible active force by means of our fervent prayers.—Luke 11:9, 13.
Migrating eagles often find the thermals by observing other birds of prey. Naturalist D. R. Mackintosh reported that on one occasion 250 eagles and vultures were seen circling upward in the same thermal. Christians today can likewise learn to rely on Jehovah’s strength by imitating the faithful examples of other godly servants.—Compare 1 Corinthians 11:1.
In the Shadow of an Eagle’s Wings
One of the most dangerous periods of an eagle’s life is when it learns to fly. Not a few eagles die in the attempt. The fledgling Israelite nation was also in danger when it departed from Egypt. Thus the words of Jehovah to the Israelites were most fitting: “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, that I might carry you on wings of eagles and bring you to myself.” (Exodus 19:4) There are reports of eagles briefly carrying a young bird on its back so that the young one would not crash in its initial attempts to fly. G. R. Driver, commenting in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly on such reports, said: “The [Biblical] picture then is not a mere flight of fancy but is based on actual fact.”
Eagles are exemplary parents in other ways too. Not only do they provide the nestling with regular meals but the mother bird also carefully chops up the meat the male eagle brings to the nest so that the eaglet can swallow it. As their nests are usually built on cliffs or in tall trees, the young birds are exposed to the elements. (Job 39:27, 28) The scorching sun, common to Bible lands, could cause the death of the young bird were it not for the care of its parents. The adult eagle spreads out its wings, sometimes for hours at a time, in order to shade its tender nestling.
Thus it is very appropriate that the wings of an eagle are used in the Scriptures as a symbol of divine protection. Deuteronomy 32:9-12 describes how Jehovah protected the Israelites during their wilderness trek: “For Jehovah’s share is his people; Jacob is the allotment that he inherits. He came to find him in a wilderness land, and in an empty, howling desert. He began to encircle him, to take care of him, to safeguard him as the pupil of his eye. Just as an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its fledglings, spreads out its wings, takes them, carries them on its pinions, Jehovah alone kept leading him.” Jehovah will give us the same loving protection if we trust in him.
The Way of Escape
Sometimes when we are faced with problems, we may find ourselves wishing to fly away from all our difficulties. That was exactly how David felt. (Compare Psalm 55:6, 7.) But although Jehovah has promised to assist us as we face trials and sufferings in this system, he does not offer a complete escape. We have the Bible’s assurance: “No temptation has taken you except what is common to men. But God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear, but along with the temptation he will also make the way out in order for you to be able to endure it.”—1 Corinthians 10:13.
“The way out” or “a way to escape” (King James Version) involves learning to trust in Jehovah. This is what Max Liebster, whose comments were quoted at the beginning of this article, discovered. During his years in the concentration camps, he came to know and to rely on Jehovah. As Max discovered, Jehovah strengthens us through his Word, his spirit, and his organization. Even in the camps, the Witnesses sought out fellow believers and offered them spiritual help, sharing Scriptural thoughts and whatever Bible literature was available. And as faithful survivors have testified time and again, Jehovah did fortify them. “I continually asked Jehovah to help,” Max explains, “and his spirit sustained me.”
Whatever trial we face, we can likewise count on God’s holy spirit, provided we keep asking for it. (Matthew 7:7-11) Vitalized by this “power beyond what is normal,” we will soar rather than get bogged down by our problems. We will keep walking in Jehovah’s way, and we will not tire out. We will mount up with wings like eagles.—2 Corinthians 4:7; Isaiah 40:31.
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It does not eye you with a cursory glance
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Foto: Cortesía de GREFA
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Foto: Cortesía de Zoo de Madrid