From Bible Encyclopedia
ē´g'l (נשׁר, nesher; ἀετός, aetós; Latin aquila):
(Heb. nesher; properly the griffon vulture or great vulture, so called from its tearing its prey with its beak), referred to for its swiftness of flight (Deuteronomy 28:49; 2 Samuel 1:23), its mounting high in the air (Job 39:27), its strength (Psalm 103:5), its setting its nest in high places (Jeremiah 49:16), and its power of vision (Job 39:27-30).
A bird of the genus aquila of the family falconidae. The Hebrew nesher, meaning “to tear with the beak,” is almost invariably translated “eagle,” throughout the Bible; yet many of the most important references compel the admission that the bird to which they applied was a vulture. There were many large birds and carrion eaters flocking over Palestine, attracted by the offal from animals slaughtered for tribal feasts and continuous sacrifice. The eagle family could not be separated from the vultures by their habit of feeding, for they ate the offal from slaughter as well as the vultures. One distinction always holds good. Eagles never flock. They select the tallest trees of the forest, the topmost crag of the mountain, and pairs live in solitude, hunting and feeding singly, whenever possible carrying their prey to the nest so that the young may gain strength and experience by tearing at it and feeding themselves. The vultures are friendly, and collect and feed in flocks. So wherever it is recorded that a “flock came down on a carcass,” there may have been an eagle or two in it, but the body of it were vultures. Because they came in such close contact with birds of prey, the natives came nearer dividing them into families than any birds. Of perhaps a half-dozen, they recognized three eagles, they knew three vultures, four or five falcons, and several kites; but almost every Biblical reference is translated “eagle,” no matter how evident the text makes it that the bird was a vulture. For example, Micah 1:16 : “Make thee bald, and cut off thy hair for the children of thy delight: enlarge thy baldness as the eagle (m “vulture”); for they are gone into captivity from thee.” This is a reference to the custom of shaving the head when in mourning, but as Palestine knew no bald eagle, the text could refer only to the bare head and neck of the griffon vulture. The eagles were, when hunger-driven, birds of prey; the vultures, carrion feeders only. There was a golden eagle (the osprey of the King James Version), not very common, distinguished by its tan-colored head; the imperial eagle, more numerous and easily identified by a dark head and white shoulders; a spotted eagle; a tawny eagle, much more common and readily distinguished by its plumage; and the short-toed eagle, most common of all and especially a bird of prey, as also a small hooded eagle so similar to a vulture that it was easily mistaken for one, save that it was very bold about taking its own food.
The first Biblical reference to the eagle referred to the right bird. Exodus 19:4 : “Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.” This “bare you on eagles' wings” must not be interpreted to mean that an eagle ever carried anything on its back. It merely means that by strength of powerful wing it could carry quite a load with its feet and frequently was seen doing this. Vultures never carried anything; they feasted and regurgitated what they had eaten to their young. The second reference is found in Leviticus 11:13 and repeated in Deuteronomy 14:12, the lists of abominations. It would seem peculiar that Moses would find it necessary to include eagles in this list until it is known that Arab mountaineers were eating these birds at that time. The next falls in Deuteronomy 28:49 : “Yahweh will bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand.” This also refers to the true eagle and points out that its power of sustained flight, and the speed it could attain when hastening to its hunger-clamoring young, had been observed. The next reference is in Deuteronomy 32:11 :
“As an eagle that stirreth up her nest,
That fluttereth over her young,
He spread abroad his wings, he took them,
He bare them on his pinions.”
This is good natural history at last. Former versions made these lines read as if the eagle carried its young on its wings, a thing wholly incompatible with flight in any bird. Samuel's record of the lamentation of David over Saul and Jonathan is a wonderful poetic outburst and contains reference to this homing flight of the eagle (2 Samuel 1:23). In Job 9:26 the arrow-like downward plunge of the hunger-driven eagle is used in comparison with the flight of time. In Job 39, which contains more good natural history than any other chapter of the Bible, will be found everything concerning the eagle anyone need know:
“Is it at thy command that the eagle mounteth up,
And maketh her nest on high?
On the cliff she dwelleth, and maketh her home,
Upon the point of the cliff, and the stronghold.
From thence she spieth out the prey;
Her eyes behold it afar off.
Her young ones also suck up blood:
And where the slain are, there is she” (Job 39:27-30).
Psalm 103:5 is a reference to the long life of the eagle. The bird has been known to live to an astonishing age in captivity; under natural conditions, the age it attains can only be guessed.
“Who satisfieth thy desire with good things,
So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle.”
Proverbs 23:5 compares the flight of wealth with that of an eagle; Proverbs 30:17 touches on the fact that the eye of prey is the first place attacked in eating, probably because it is the most vulnerable point and so is frequently fed to the young. Proverbs 30:19 :
“The way of an eagle in the air;
The way of a serpent upon a rock:
The way of a ship in the midst of the sea;
And the way of a man with a maiden.”
This reference to the eagle is to that wonderful power of flight that enables a bird to hang as if frozen in the sky, for long periods appearing to our sight immovable, or to sail and soar directly into the eye of the sun, seeming to rejoice in its strength of flight and to exult in the security and freedom of the upper air.
The word “way” is here improperly translated. To the average mind it always means a road, a path. In this instance it should be translated:
The characteristics of an eagle in the air;
The habit of a serpent upon the rock;
The path of a ship in the midst of the sea;
And the manner of a man with a maid.
Isaiah 40:31 is another flight reference. Jeremiah 49:16 refers to the inaccessible heights at which the eagle loves to build and rear its young. Jeremiah 49:22 refers to the eagle's power of flight. Ezekiel 1:10 recounts a vision of the prophet in which strange living creatures had faces resembling eagles. The same book (Ezekiel 17:3) contains the parable of the eagle: “Thus saith the Lord Yahweh: A great eagle with great wings and long pinions, full of feathers, which had divers colors, came unto Lebanon, and took the top of the cedar.” Hosea 8:1 is another flight reference. Obadiah 1:4 is almost identical with Jeremiah 49:16. The next reference is that of Micah, and really refers to the griffon vulture (Micah 1:16). In Habakkuk 1:8 the reference is to swift flight. Matthew 24:28 undoubtedly refers to vultures. In Revelation 4:7 the eagle is used as a symbol of strength. In Revelation 8:13 the bird is represented as speaking: “And I saw, and I heard an eagle (the King James Version “angel”), flying in mid heaven, saying with a great voice, Woe, woe, woe, for them that dwell on the earth, by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, who are yet to sound.” The eagle makes its last appearance in the vision of the woman and the dragon (Revelation 12:14).
This “ravenous bird” is a symbol of those nations whom God employs and sends forth to do a work of destruction, sweeping away whatever is decaying and putrescent (Matthew 24:28; Isaiah 46:11; Ezekiel 39:4; Deuteronomy 28:49; Jeremiah 4:13; Jeremiah 48:40). It is said that the eagle sheds his feathers in the beginning of spring, and with fresh plumage assumes the appearance of youth. To this, allusion is made in Psalm 103:5 and Isaiah 40:31. God's care over his people is likened to that of the eagle in training its young to fly (Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11, Deuteronomy 32:12). An interesting illustration is thus recorded by Sir Humphry Davy: “I once saw a very interesting sight above the crags of Ben Nevis. Two parent eagles were teaching their offspring, two young birds, the maneuvers of flight. They began by rising from the top of the mountain in the eye of the sun. It was about mid-day, and bright for the climate. They at first made small circles, and the young birds imitated them. They paused on their wings, waiting till they had made their flight, and then took a second and larger gyration, always rising toward the sun, and enlarging their circle of flight so as to make a gradually ascending spiral. The young ones still and slowly followed, apparently flying better as they mounted; and they continued this sublime exercise, always rising till they became mere points in the air, and the young ones were lost, and afterwards their parents, to our aching sight.” (See Isaiah 40:31.)
There have been observed in Palestine four distinct species of eagles,
(1) the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos);
(2) the spotted eagle (Aquila naevia);
(3) the common species, the imperial eagle (Aquila heliaca); and
(4) the Circaetos gallicus, which preys on reptiles.