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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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נשר , Exodus 19:4 ; Leviticus 11:13 . The name is derived from a verb which signifies to lacerate, or tear in pieces. The eagle has always been considered as the king of birds, on account of its great strength, rapidity and elevation of flight, natural ferocity, and the terror it inspires into its fellows of the air. Its voracity is so great that a large extent of territory is requisite for the supply of proper sustenance; and Providence has therefore constituted it a solitary animal: two pair of eagles are never found in the same neighbourhood, though the genus is dispersed through every quarter of the world. Its sight is quick, strong, and piercing, to a proverb. In Job 39:27 , the natural history of the eagle is finely drawn up:—

Is it at thy voice that the eagle soars? And therefore maketh his nest on high The rock is the place of his habitation.

He abides on the crag, the place of strength.

Thence he pounces upon his prey.

His eyes discern afar off.

Even his young ones drink down blood; And wherever is slaughter, there is he.

Alluding to the popular opinion that the eagle assists its feeble young in their flight, by bearing them up on its own pinions, Moses represents Jehovah as saying, "Ye have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself," Exodus 19:4 . Scheuchzer has quoted from an ancient poet, the following beautiful paraphrase on this passage:—

Ac velut alituum princeps, fulvusque tonantis Armiger, implumes, et adhuc sine robore natos Sollicita refovet cura, pinguisque ferinae Indulget pastus: mox ut cum viribus aloe Vesticipes crevere, vocat se blandior aura, Expansa invitat pluma, dorsoque morantes Excipit, attollitque humeris, plausuque secundo

Fertur in arva, timens oneri, et tamen impete presso

Remigium tentans alarum, incurvaque pinnis

Vela legens, humiles tranat sub nubibus oras.

Hinc sensim supra alta petit, jam jamque sub astra Erigitur, cursusque leves citus urget in auras, Omnia pervolitans late loca, et agmine foetus Fertque refertque suos vario, moremque volandi Addocet: illi autem, longa assuetudine docti, Paulatim incipiunt pennis se credere coelo Impavidi: tantum a teneris valet addere curam .

[And as the king of birds, and tawny, armour-bearer of the Thunderer, cherishes with anxious care his unfledged, and as yet feeble young, and gratifies their appetite with rich prey: presently, when their downy wings have increased in strength, a milder air calls them forth, with expanded plumage he invites them, and receives them hesitating on his back, and sustains them on his shoulders, and with easy flight is borne over the fields, fearing for his burden, and yet with a moderated effort trying the rowing of their wings, and furling with his pinions his curved sails, he glides through the low regions beneath the clouds. Hence by degrees he soars aloft, and now he mourns to the starry heaven, and swiftly urges his rapid flight through the air, sweeping widely over space, and in his gyrations bearing his offspring to and fro, teaches them

the art of flying:—but they, taught by long practice, gradually begin to trust themselves fearlessly on their wings: So much does it avail to train the young with care.]

2. When Balaam delivered his predictions respecting the fate that awaited the nations which he then particularized, he said of the Kenites, "Strong is thy dwelling, and thou puttest thy nest in a rock," Numbers 24:21 ; alluding to that princely bird, the eagle, which not only delights in soaring to the loftiest heights, but chooses the highest rocks, and most elevated mountains, as desirable situations for erecting its nest, Habakkuk 2:9 ; Obadiah 1:4 . What Job says concerning the eagle, which is to be understood in a literal sense, "Where the slain are, there is he," our Saviour turns into a fine parable: "Wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered together," Matthew 24:28 ; that is, Wherever the Jews are, who have corruptly fallen from God, there will be the Romans, who bore the eagle as their standard, to execute vengeance upon them, Luke 17:37 .

3. The swiftness of the flight of the eagle is alluded to in several passages of Scripture; as, "The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from afar, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth," Deuteronomy 28:49 .

In the affecting lamentation of David over Saul and Jonathan, their impetuous and rapid career is described in forcible terms: "They were swifter than eagles; they were stronger than lions," 2 Samuel 1:23 . Jeremiah when he beheld in vision the march of Nebuchadnezzar cried, "Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind. His horses are swifter than eagles. Wo unto us, for we are spoiled," Jeremiah 4:13 . To the wide-expanded wings of the eagle, and the rapidity of his flight, the same prophet beautifully alludes in a subsequent chapter, where he describes the subversion of Moab by the same ruthless conqueror: "Behold, he shall fly as an eagle, and spread his wings over Moab," Jeremiah 48:40 . In the same manner he describes the sudden desolations of Ammon in the next chapter; but, when he turns his eye to the ruins of his own country, he exclaims, in still more energetic language, "Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heavens,"

Lamentations 4:19 . Under the same comparison the patriarch Job describes the rapid flight of time: "My days are passed away, as the eagle that hasteth to the prey," Job 9:26 . The surprising rapidity with which the blessings of common providence sometimes vanish from the grasp of the possessor is thus described by Solomon: "Riches certainly make themselves wings: they fly away as an eagle toward heaven," Proverbs 23:5 . The flight of this bird is as sublime as it is rapid and impetuous. None of the feathered race soar so high. In his daring excursions he is said to leave the clouds of heaven, and regions of thunder, and lightning, and tempest, far beneath him, and to approach the very limits of ether. There is an allusion to this lofty soaring in the prophecy of Obadiah, concerning the pride of Moab: "Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord,"

Obadiah 1:4 . The prophet Jeremiah pronounces the doom of Edom in similar terms: "O thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, that holdest the height of the hill; though thou shouldest make thy nest high as the eagle, I will bring thee down from thence, saith the Lord," Jeremiah 49:16 . The eagle lives and retains its vigour to a great age; and, after moulting, renews its vigour so surprisingly, as to be said, hyperbolically, to become young again, Psalms 103:5 , and Isaiah 40:31 . It is remarkable that Cyrus, compared, in Isaiah 46:11 , to an eagle, (so the word translated "ravenous bird" should be rendered,) had an eagle for his ensign according to Xenophon, who uses, without knowing it, the identical word of the prophet, with only a Greek termination to it: so exact is the correspondence between the prophet and the historian, the prediction and the event. Xenophon and other ancient historians inform us that the golden eagle with extended wings was the ensign of the Persian monarchs long before it was adopted by the Romans: and it is very probable that the Persians borrowed the symbol from the ancient Assyrians, in whose banners it waved, till imperial Babylon bowed her head to the yoke of Cyrus. If this conjecture be well founded, it discovers the reason why the sacred writers, in describing the victorious march of the Assyrian armies, allude so frequently to the expanded eagle. Referring to the Babylonian monarch, the prophet Hosea proclaimed in the ears of all Israel, the measure of whose iniquities was nearly full, "He shall come as an eagle against the house of the Lord,"

Hosea 8:1 . Jeremiah predicted a similar calamity: "Thus saith the Lord, Behold, he shall fly as an eagle, and spread his wings over Moab," Jeremiah 48:40 ; and the same figure was employed to denote the destruction that overtook the house of Esau: "Behold, he shall come up and fly as the eagle, and spread his wings over Bozrah," Jeremiah 49:22 . The words of these prophets received a full accomplishment in the irresistible impetuosity, and complete success with which the Babylonian monarchs, and particularly Nebuchadnezzar, pursued their plans of conquest. Ezekiel denominates him, with great propriety, "a great eagle with great wings," because he was the most powerful monarch of his time, and led into the field more numerous and better appointed armies, (which the prophet calls, by a beautiful figure, "his wings," the wings of his army,) than perhaps the world had ever seen. The Prophet Isaiah, referring to the same monarch, predicted the subjugation of Judea in these terms; "He shall pass through Judah. He shall overflow, and go over. He shall reach even to the neck; and the stretching out of his wings" (the array of his army) "shall fill the breadth of thy land, O Immanuel,"

Isaiah 8:8 . The king of Egypt is also styled by Ezekiel, "a great eagle, with great wings, and many feathers;" but he manifestly gives the preference to the king of Babylon, by adding, that he had "long wings, full of feathers, which had divers colours;" that is, greater wealth, and a more numerous army.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Eagle'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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