In Exodus 19.4 God says that he bore his people on eagles’ wings. What does that mean? It’s a picture he returns to in Deuteronomy 32.11, where he says he dealt with Israel Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions…
When an eagle judges that its young are ready to fly, it pushes them out of the nest, forcing them to flap their wings and try to fly. If the eaglet isn’t able to do this immediately, it will drop like a stone. But the eagle swoops down underneath and catches its young and bears it up to safety. Then the process is repeated until the young bird learns how to use its wings. It sounds cruel—but it’s for the eaglet’s good. It needs to learn to fly and that will never happen in the security of the nest. But the mother is watchful, strong and swift to come to the rescue if needed.
That’s the Lord’s own description of those two or three months Israel has spent in the wilderness since leaving Egypt. The Lord has been disciplining his people, testing them and training them to trust him. Perhaps at times his methods have seemed harsh, even cruel.
Think of how he led the Israelites in a circle until they were trapped, with the Red Sea behind them and the whole Egyptian army racing towards them. How distressing that must have been for them! How damaging for their mental health! Ex 14.10 says that they ‘feared greatly’. But the Lord swooped down to catch them, parting the Red Sea and bringing them safely through.
Think of how he led them for three days with no water—right on the brink of what the human body can endure. He brought them to Marah where there was water—only for them to find the water was bitter! The Lord is tossing them out of the nest. Will they flap their wings of faith and fly? Will they trust him? No—so he swoops down to catch them and makes the water sweet.
But Israel won’t learn to trust him if he gives them everything they need instantly, dropping food into their mouths like baby birds in a nest. So once again he pushes them out of the nest, letting them suffer the agony of hunger pangs for weeks. They suffer so much they wish they were dead. Will they trust him? No—they are in free fall, so again he swoops down to catch them in might and grace and rains down bread from heaven.
Again he pushes them out of the nest to teach them to trust him by leaving them without water. Will they flap their wings of faith and fly this time? Surely they know now that the Lord can be trusted? But no—again they grumble and complain. So Lord swoops down and gives them a mighty river of water from the rock.
Time and time again, with great patience, the Lord has caught his plummeting people on his mighty wings and borne them up and carried them to safety.
Can’t you testify to how the Lord has done the same for you, over and over again in your life? This is how he deals with all his people. Haven’t there been times when he has pushed you out of the nest—out of your comfort zone, out into a terrifying, bewildering, painful ordeal. You felt yourself plummeting—it seemed certain you would crash to the ground, that you couldn’t cope. But just in time he caught you and bore you up on his mighty wings.
Can’t you look back and see, at least in part, his wisdom in sending trials of various kinds into your life? Illness, failure, disappointment, setbacks, hardships, chronic pain, weakness, loneliness, grief. It may have seemed cruel at the time; it may have been a deeply traumatic experience; you may have questioned the Lord’s kindness and wisdom: ‘Why would a loving God do this to me?’ His purposes may have been completely hidden from you at the time. But later it became clear—or at least a little clearer—what the Lord was doing. He was teaching you to trust him—to flap the wings of faith, to learn to fly. We can’t stay in the nest all the time, where it’s safe and comfortable and easy, where everything is provided for us. It wouldn’t be good for us, nor would it be kind of the Lord to let us.
Maybe you feel like you’re in free fall today. Something or someone you depended on has been torn away. Everything you thought you knew has been turned upside-down. You feel like a great hand has plucked you out of your nest and thrown you into the air, so that you’re spinning around with no idea of which way is up, with the ground rushing up to meet you.
The Lord is teaching you to fly. To trust him. And if you fail, there is a gracious safety net. Look back and remember ‘what you yourselves have seen’—how the Lord has borne you up on eagles’ wings so many times before. Remember how he did it for Israel, not just here in the wilderness but countless times throughout their history. Talk to your brothers and sisters in your church and listen to their stories of how the Lord has borne them up on eagles’ wings again and again. By his grace, in his strength, flap your wings and learn to trust him more.