Have you ever seen an eagle fly?
I have seen an eagle at the zoo. The eagle was locked up in a cage. It was an outdoor cage, probably designed to elicit the feeling that the eagle was in its natural environment. The powerful eagle sat there in the sun, staring at us through the fence. Despite being encaged, the eagle still looked majestic. I couldn’t help but think that there is something special about the eagle.
Two times, I have seen an eagle fly in its real natural environment. Once, I was driving over the Hoover Dam and as soon as I crossed over, an eagle swooped down nearly twenty feet from my car only to soar back up. Impressive. It seems almost a disservice to verbalize the experience of seeing an eagle fly because words cannot quite capture the feeling. There is a sense of awe. There is an experience of beauty as if beauty is something tangible. As the eagle flew by, effortlessly, I couldn’t help but marvel at the sight.
Let’s change gears for a moment. God did amazing things to rescue the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land: The plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the miraculous sustenance of manna in the wilderness. He proclaimed to them, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:4 ESV).
I love the phrase “on eagles’ wings.” The power. The swiftness. The beauty. The ease. The concept is repeated in Isaiah’s book: “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31 ESV).
God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and had some expectations for them. “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6 ESV).
God desired for His people to obey His voice and keep His covenant. Being His people wasn’t something that automatically happened by a declaration from God. God did choose them, but the Israelites needed to respond with obedience and faithfulness. Oh, how we long to just be zapped with a magic wand that transforms us into God’s people, but we have a choice to make. Daily. Obedience to God or enslavement to the sins of the world. Keeping our end of God’s covenant or living selfishly. The choice is ours.
The Israelites had a choice too; they chose the zoo. They said that they didn’t want to experience God directly (Exodus 20:19). After just experiencing the great, majestic, life-changing power of God, the chosen people chose safety. Instead of flying free and experiencing the world as God intended, they chose separation between themselves and God. Instead of majesty and beauty, they chose the cage. It’s like they said, “We don’t want you, God. We want someone else to be between you and ourselves. We want a zookeeper to feed us. We want the safety and security of a cage.”
God wants His people to know Him. When we know Him, we will know His voice. We will be able to act during His timing, properly discerning when to move and how to move. We will serve and not grow weary. As we grow in our relationship with God, we begin to know Him so well that we can distinguish His voice through the siren calls of our culture.
But the Israelites chose to not know God. And because of that, they missed out. They missed the beauty. They missed the majesty. They missed His glory.
Sometimes we do likewise. And we miss His beauty, His majesty, and His glory.
Are you flying?
Or are you an eagle at a cage in the zoo? The cage is always left open. Just open your wings and fly like you were always intended to.