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Do eagles actually carry their young on their wings (Exodus 19:4)?

19:3-4. As the Israelites were camped by Sinai, Moses went on the mountain and there God spoke to him about the pact He would ratify with the people (Jacob and Israel were synonyms for the nation). God compared His delivering the people out of Egypt, across the Red (Reed) Sea, and to Sinai to His carrying them on eagles’ wings (cf. Deut. 32:10-11). When young eagles are learning to fly, the mother eagle flies under them with her wings spread out to catch them. Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985.

This comment is by Matthew Henry:

I bore you on eagles’ wings, a high expression of the wonderful tenderness God had shown for them. It is explained, Deu. 32:11, 12. It denotes great speed. God not only came upon the wing for their deliverance (when the set time was come, he rode on a cherub, and did fly), but he hastened them out, as it were, upon the wing. He did it also with great ease, with the strength as well as with the swiftness of an eagle: those that faint not, nor are weary, are said to mount up with wings as eagles, Isa. 40:31. Especially, it denotes God’s particular care of them and affection to them. Even Egypt, that iron furnace, was the nest in which these young ones were hatched, where they were first formed as the embryo of a nation; when, by the increase of their numbers, they grew to some maturity, they were carried out of that nest. Other birds carry their young in their talons, but the eagle (they say) upon her wings, so that even those archers who shoot flying cannot hurt the young ones, unless they first shoot through the old one. Thus, in the Red Sea, the pillar of cloud and fire, the token of God’s presence, interposed itself between the Israelites and their pursuers (lines of defence which could not be forced, a wall which could not be penetrated): yet this was not all; their way so paved, so guarded, was glorious, but their end much more so: I brought you unto myself. They were brought not only into a state of liberty and honour, but into covenant and communion with God. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997.

The last article is from the older version of ISBE, the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:

The first Biblical reference to the eagle referred to the right bird. Ex 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 Lev 11:13 and repeated in Dt 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 Dt 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.

Dt 32:11 says: “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 least. 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 Sam 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).

As you can see, there are disagreements over exactly what this means.

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