I found a dead bird in the backyard yesterday. It was only a bird, but there is a sadness in that lifeless form. I didn’t feel good about this small event in a big world.
Oddly enough, this morning my devotional guide leads me to a verse about a bird. A man called Agur writes in Proverbs 30:18-19, “There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yes, four which I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the air. . . .”
My study Bible links this verse to the passage that follows. It is about an adulterous woman. The notes say that the eagle is an analogy of hypocrisy and concealment in that no one can see its trail left in the air, just like the way an adulterous woman hides the evidence of her shame. (These notes include the other three things of verse 19, a serpent on a rock, a ship in the sea, and a man courting a virgin, in that analogy.)
Another commentary tells me that some say the ways of these four are mysterious; others say their ways are not traceable; others suggest that they each easily master an element that is seemingly difficult. Another suggestion is that they each go where there are no paths.
After all that, I’ve still no clue what Agur was thinking when he wrote these verses. It seems to me that Proverbs doesn’t often fit into the idea of “interpret in context” because the topics run one after another without apparent connection. While some connect this to the next passage about adultery, but it could just as easily connect to the previous one about greed, or it simply could stand alone.
It could also connect to earlier statements Agur makes in this chapter. He says, “Surely I am more stupid than any man, and do not have the understanding of a man. I neither learned wisdom nor have knowledge of the Holy One.”
He goes on then about the marvel of God and His works and the purity of His words. By starting out in awe of God and in admission of his own lack of comprehension, verses 18 and 19, and other parts of this chapter, could very well be a poetic continuation of those thoughts.
So, what do I know about eagles? They eat carrion and are magnificent in flight, soaring without getting weary. The Bible talks about them in both capacities.
In Alaska we used to watch the bald eagles circling high above the mouth of the Kenai river. Once I saw one of them being harassed by two crows. As they flew at him, he closed his wings and I thought he had been hit. Not so. One crow flew away and the other one dropped like a stone. The eagle used its powerful claws and killed it in mid-flight. I understand Agur’s awe at the way of an eagle in the air.
The writer of my devotional, Watchman Nee, says this verse reminds him that eagles fly without being overcome by the law of gravity. The law is real, just like the law of sin and death, but for an eagle, flying in the air illustrates how we who believe overcome that law through the spirit of life in Jesus Christ. His life in us takes us above the law of sin and death just as an eagle can defy gravity.
That brings me back to the dead bird in my yard. My first thought was that this little body is just a body. The life is gone from it, and without that life, it might as well be a leaf or twig or stone. It cannot overcome anything without life.
Earlier in the day, and in sharp contrast to that deadness, I heard another bird singing very close to me. Slowly moving to my open window (second floor), I spotted a robin on the small roof ledge about three feet from me. It was expressing its life in music.
An eagle expresses life in flight, a robin in song. With the thoughts Nee gave me, I am thinking how shall I express the life of Christ today? Maybe, for me, this is why I’m reading this odd verse in Proverbs. The life of Christ in me is just as mysterious and wonderful and beyond understanding as the “way of an eagle in the air,” yet God gives me that life to joyfully and without effort express. Maybe someone will see me soar and be filled with the same sense of wonder and delight that I have at the memories of eagles in flight or of a little robin singing at my window.