Sometimes when you prepare a delicious meal, you can’t eat it all at once. Sometimes everything a passage teaches can’t fit into one sermon. I enjoy leftovers. A good meal is worth eating twice. I hope you enjoy a couple of leftovers from last Sunday’s sermon:
Sometimes I can’t help myself. I have an idea for an illustration and then go do some research to make sure my memory has all the facts straight. Sometimes all that research and time get wasted. Sometimes the “facts” were just in my imagination. Sometimes explaining the takes too much time and the main point will be lost. Sometimes it just doesn’t fit the theme of the sermon doesn’t fit with the illustration and after trying to jam a square peg into a round hole for about an hour, I give up and use something else.
This was not one of those times. This time the illustration was right there in the text: Moses sings, “11As an eagle* rises from its nest and hovers over its young, then spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on the edge of its wings, 12so the Lord alone led Israel” (Dt. 32:11-12). But what does that mean? This Independence Day we think of the majestic Bald Eagle. It is a symbol of power. It is a symbol of freedom. You picture them soaring free, nothing holds them back. You can imagine them diving down on their prey, nothing escapes their claws. A few months ago, I got to see two eagles fighting in midair; it was mesmerizing seeing them dive and clash and tumble and fall and recover and go again. Despite the fact that Benjamin Franklin desired the national bird to be the wild turkey, we can see why the image of an eagle is one which attracts most Americans.
But what does Moses mean with this picture? Some commentators tell long stories about how eagles will stir up their young and push them out of the nest and then swoop down to catch them so that they learn how to fly. Others how the eagle parent hovers over the nest showing the eaglets how wings work and how to soar. The imagery is great. You can apply it to how God trains us in following him, how he guides us in our daily lives, and how he is always there to catch us when we fall. The problem is: eagles don’t do this. Eagles don’t push their young from nests. Eagles don’t have to teach their children how to fly. And it is nearly impossible for an eagle to catch and carry a fledgling, even in its powerful talons, let alone on its back or with its wings.
So what is Moses trying to say? After all my research about eagles* and their habits with their young, I came no closer to a deeper meaning than the plain words. God is always with his people. He always cares for them. He always watches over them. You can picture a glorious eagle hovering over its nest, no tree climbing or flying animal can come close. Nothing can snatch those eaglets out from under it. You can imagine one of those great birds spreading its wings over them, shading them from the elements, shielding them from the wind and the cold. They are helpless, defenseless and without any means of feeding themselves. Without their parents they would never survive, but those eagles care for them unceasingly; they never leave the eaglets alone. They always watch and always care. “So the LORD alone led Israel.”
*Although we Americans probably prefer the image of eagles, the Hebrew word can just as likely mean vulture (the old world Eurasian Griffon Vulture is native to that region), since it describes a large raptor. So not only did I research the nesting habits of eagles but also vultures, finding that they were even less likely and able to catch and carry their young.