Do you know how a mother eagle teaches her eaglets to fly? The golden eagle (the one the Israelites would have seen in their day) weaves thorny branches and brambles into her nest, which is built very high above the ground. When the young birds are immature and still, they are comfortable; but as they grow bigger and more wiggly, the nest becomes uncomfortable.
When the mother eagle observes that her eaglets are ready for flying lessons, she nudges them out of the nest. She doesn't wait for them to go (they might choose to stay for Mom's good food), but actively pushes them out, one by one, watching each one descend with maternal concern, ready to swoop to their rescue as needed.
And how does she rescue the immature eagle who isn’t yet flapping effectively? She flies beneath the baby, and he gently falls onto her outstretched wing. Then, she returns him to the safety of the nest, until he is ready for another gentle push toward independence.
The Lord compared Himself to just such an eagle mother when He spoke to the Israelites in the desert, reminding them of how He saved them out of slavery and carried them to freedom “on eagles’ wings” (see Exodus 19:4). In other passages, His glorious wings guard and shelter: “He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge” (Psalm 91:3-4; see also Psalm 36:7 and Malachi 4:2). Our God is the one who both challenges us to greater heights, and rescues us from falling.
Some of us may have full, even thorny, nests at the moment. Still, we encourage our children every day to step out on their own: get themselves dressed for the first time, test out their bike without training wheels, cook dinner for the family, apply for a first job, get a driver's license. Each of these is a loving nudge out of the nest as they awkwardly move toward maturity. Yet, if a child fails — falls off the bike, burns the casserole, blows the driving test — we move in to rescue and to comfort, as he regroups for another try at learning to soar.
And as we guide our children toward increased independence, no matter how many test flights it takes, we can confidently hold fast to the One who guards, shelters and rescues His children with mighty, outstretched wings.
“The Lord found [Israel] in a desert land
And in the wasteland, a howling wilderness;
He encircled him, He instructed him,
He kept him as the apple of His eye.
As an eagle stirs up His nest,
Hovers over its young,
Spreading out its wings, taking them up,
Carrying them on its wings,
So the Lord alone led his people . . ."
But those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength;
They shall soar on wings like eagles;
They shall run and not grow weary;
They shall walk and not be faint.