The following article is a guest post from Jessica Britt.
The imagery captured my attention.
“He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the LORD alone guided him, no foreign god was with him.” Deut. 32:10–12
Moses penned these words at the end of his life. In his final song, his parting words, Moses likens God to an eagle stirring up its nest.
An eagle stirring up its nest. There must be something significant about eagles for this imagery to be included in Moses’s final address to the Israelites.
After all, it echoes from God’s words about himself when the Israelites had fled Egypt and camped at Mount Sinai. There, God said to them, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Exod. 19:4).
Repetition is often God’s way of underlining, so why the image of an eagle stirring the nest? My curiosity was piqued.
What I discovered fascinated me.
Strength, tenacity, a keen sense of vision, swiftness of flight, intelligence, loyalty, and many other celebrated attributes characterize eagles. Less commonly known, but equally notable, is the tenderness they show their young—a surprising characteristic for such fierce birds of prey.
Parent eagles invest in, nurture, and vigilantly watch over their young. During incubation, one parent remains in the nest at all times to provide warmth and protection for the developing eaglet. The other parent hunts, supplies provision, and keeps a watchful eye from nearby, a pattern that continues even after the eaglet hatches.
Like a parent eagle tenderly meeting every need, so the Lord of hosts hovers over his people, protects us (Isaiah 31:5), provides for our every need (Phil. 4:19), and never, ever leaves or forsakes us (Deut. 31:6).
Indeed, we are “the apple of his eye.”
As a young eagle grows, it learns from its parents by imprinting—a process in which an animal gains its sense of species identification. During a critical stage of development, eaglets will imprint to their parents, an object, or some other animal, and will identify with that species for life. Protection aside, this is another compelling reason eagle parents remain close: to faithfully demonstrate essential life skills and impart an appropriate sense of identity to their young.
God knew we would be inclined to imprint to this world and its broken ways (Eph. 2:1-10). He knew we needed a Savior, someone to show the way for those who are his. And so he sent Jesus, who is the “radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3). Jesus perfectly demonstrated how to live and imparted to us an appropriate sense of identity as children of the living God.
Early on the parent eagles cater to their eaglets’ every need. Food is provided and shredded by the parents in the nest. This act not only provides sustenance, but also demonstrates how to use their beak and talons. As eaglets grow, parents gradually wean the eaglet from their aid to encourage the eaglet to develop essential survival skills.
Soon, food is no longer shredded and brought to the eaglet’s beak, but instead is dropped farther away, encouraging the eaglet to move about the nest and develop its shredding skills. For short periods of time the eaglet is left alone, though a parent eagle is never far off. As the eaglets move around the empty nest, exploring or gathering food, the process of strengthening their wings begins.
Parent eagles then flutter over the nest, often with food just out of reach. Doing so not only demonstrates to the eaglets what their side appendages can do, but also compels the eaglets to flap those side appendages to grasp the food.
The awkward flapping of the wings and foraging strengthens the eaglet’s wings, preparing her for flight. Similarly, God uses our struggles as a means to strengthen us. Our suffering produces endurance, character, and hope (Rom. 5:3). In his faithfulness to us, God prepares us to take flight.
Stirring the Nest
Eventually, parent eagles return to the nest less frequently and with less food. When parents do return they may thrash about removing the comforts lining the nest. Bewildered, frustrated, and confused the eaglet moves, branches out of the nest, and begins to test out her wings out of desperation.
Frustration, hunger, and discomfort are her parents’ intention.
The parents wisely know that without this disruptive environment their young will not grow, learn, and develop the essential skills for survival.
Though the eaglet does not understand this at the time, the lack of food and removal of comfort is an act of tender care and love, a gift of provision by her parents who know that without the ability to fly, she cannot survive and thrive. Unbeknownst to the eaglet, the parents are giving her the gift of flight . . . the gift of life.
Faith for the Christian is like flight for an eagle: essential to survive and thrive.
Often times we feel like an eaglet: striving, flapping, fledgling. Yet as we flap, forage, and fledge our strength is given.
Much like the eaglet bewildered by her parents, we may be bewildered by our Father’s actions (or lack thereof). We may even feel our Father has forgotten us, abandoned us, or withheld good from us.
Yet, as the Lord did for the Israelites in the desert, so he encircles us, he cares for us, he keeps us as the apple of his eye. Though it may feel painful, and confusing, in stirring our nest our heavenly Father is actually giving us the gift of life . . . the gift of faith . . . the gift of flight.
“But they who wait for 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
Jessica Britt lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she attends Uptown Church (PCA) with her husband, Forde, and their three sons. She is the author of From His Heart, Through Mine, to Yours and occasionally blogs at jessicasullivanbritt.blogspot.com about how the Lord and Scripture affect her in life’s mundane and monumental moments.