The Big Bird of the Bible

The Israelite people had a word they used to refer to the bird which is large, strong, and magnificent in flight. To ancient people, and even to us today, a soaring bird is a sight to see. Throughout the Old Testament, we see the eagle being talked about by way of illustration. God tells Moses to tell the people, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:4). Furthermore, God’s care for His people is compared to an eagle with its young. “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” (Deuteronomy 32:11-12).

On the other hand, God says that if the people are disobedient, destruction will come in a similar fashion. A foreign power will come like an eagle. “The LORD will bring a nation against you from far away, from the end of the earth, swooping down like the eagle, a nation whose language you do not understand” (Deuteronomy 28:49).

(Although most of our translations will render the big bird as eagle, the word is also used to refer to the vulture. However, translating it as vulture does not sound as pretty. Imagine Isaiah 40:31 as “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like vultures…” It just doesn’t look as good on a refrigerator magnet or embroidered pillow.)

We may not think of a vulture as a beautiful bird, but the vulture circling in the sky is something to behold as well. Even today, in our world of airplanes and spacecraft, we are still impressed with the big bird in the sky. It’s no wonder that the soaring creature is considered one of the things too wonderful for comprehension. “Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin” (Proverbs 30:18-19).

I say all of the above to bring us to the thing which I really want us to consider. That is, there is something else in the wisdom of Proverbs to which the bird is likened—riches. “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven” (Proverbs 23:4-5).

If you’ve ever been around eagles, you know that they are fast. In fact, there is evidence that the Hebrew word for eagle or vulture comes from words that mean something like “flash” or “rushing sound.” These birds aren’t slow. And neither is the vanishment of wealth. One day we have it, the next day we don’t. Because of this, Jesus encourages His disciples to “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

The next time you see one of those big birds soaring in the sky, remember the wisdom of Proverbs. Don’t put faith in things which can sprout wings and fly away. Instead, put faith in that which has lasting value.