Stirring the Eagle’s Nest
June 21st, 1959 @ 8:15 AM
STIRRING THE EAGLE’S NEST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-21-59 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message from the song of Moses. This message this morning closes our long series following the life of the man of God. The song of Moses is found in the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy. It is one of the sublimest odes ever written by the pen of man. I have not opportunity even to begin to take all of it in detail, so I have chosen a very famous and a very beautiful passage. And the sermon this morning will be built upon that passage. Deuteronomy 32:7:
Remember the days of old, consider the years of many generations: ask thy father, and he will show thee; thy elders, and they will tell thee.
When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when He separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.
For the Lord’s portion is His people; Jacob is the lot of His inheritance.
He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; He led him about, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye.
As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings:
So the Lord also did lead him.
And that last is the part of the song that comprises the sermon this morning: "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her pinions: So the Lord also did lead him" [Deuteronomy 32:11-12].
To the man who has an eye to see, all of the world around us speaks of God and the merciful providential care of the Almighty. "The heavens declare His glory; and the chalice of the firmament showeth His handiwork" [Psalm 19:1]. The lilies of the field, the birds that fly through the air, all speak to a sensitive discerning soul of the care and love of God. And out of this world of the naturalist, this keen, discerning, falcon-eyed Moses, took an incident from an eagle: "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: So the Lord did lead him" [Deuteronomy 32:11-12].
One time I went to Yellowstone Park; and after visiting in the park took the road down the canyon and stopped at a place called Inspiration Point. We got out of the car, walked over to that jutting rock, and saw one of the most inspiring vistas mind could imagine. High, high, high, overlooking that beautiful and colorful canyon, the steep precipitous walls so very colored, at the far end, the Yellowstone Falls pouring down into the canyon; and far below, the rushing turbulent waters; it was truly one of the most glorious sights to be seen in this world. While we were looking at it, one of our group who had a telescope, called, "Look, look!" And eagerly each one of us took the telescope to look. And there in the distance, on the right hand side, high, high among the crags of that canyon, an eagle had built a nest. And in the nest were little eaglets and the mother bird hovering near. That’s the way of the eagle: high, high, high up among the crags of the mountains, she builds her nest, she lays her eggs, she hatches her young, and in brooding care, she feeds them and watches over them. She keeps them from harm and danger, the mother eagle and her fledglings.
But the day must come when the little ones are to be taught to fly, to breast the storm, to soar into the sun. And the way the mother eagle teaches her young to fly is very instructive. "As an eagle stirreth up her nest"; first, she makes it uncomfortable for the young ones, she pulls the nest to pieces. Then she "fluttereth over her young, spreading abroad her wings," as if by force of example, by the power of illustration, she would teach her little eaglets to fly. Then she "taketh them, and beareth them on her wings." You’ll find a great difference of opinion about that, both its translation and its apparent meaning here in the King James Version, the translation out of which I always read and preach. For example, in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, it follows the translation of the Revised Version of 1901, and merely makes the text to say that "As an eagle is strong and powerful, so God bore up on His pinions the great destiny of Israel." But there are others – and I was very interested in reading in Fairbairn’s encyclopedia of the Bible – the author of the article in Fairbairn’s is a naturalist; and this man says, this naturalist says, that, "I have seen this with my own eyes," and he describes it. He describes a great eagle, that teaching her young to fly, she, when one of them would begin to fall, would dart like an arrow underneath and bear it up. Well, I’m not naturalist enough to enter into the controversy. I would say on the face of it that hardly any of us would be able to avow that we knew all the species of these great birds that lived fifteen hundred years before Christ. So, I am inclined to follow the beauty of the text here in the King James Version. This mother eagle, in teaching her young ones to fly, she tears apart the nest; then by her example, fluttering over them with her wings, she is seeking to encourage them to try; then finally, when the young ones leave the crag, and with their untried wings, they seek to support themselves in the air, but begin to fall, quick like an arrow the mother bird darts underneath and saves them from a precipitous and hurtful fall.
Then Moses applies it: "As an eagle . . . so the Lord" [Deuteronomy 32:11-12]. Now he means, of course, mostly, primarily, what God has done for Israel. They were in a cozy nest, under Joseph, in the best of the land, with the favor of Pharaoh, with a champion at court who had no equal [Genesis 47:6, 11]. Israel was prospering and multiplying, living off of the fat of the land, but what of the promises? [Genesis 13:14-15]. And what of their destiny, God called? [Genesis 12:2-3]. And what of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the fathers, buried in Canaan’s far away land? [Genesis :29-32]. So, the Lord God began to tear up the nest; God began to pull it apart. And the Lord raised up a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph [Exodus 1:8]. And the Lord led the people into great disciplinary affliction. They fell into servitude and into slavery [Exodus 1:9-14]. And in their misery and wretchedness, they cried unto God [Exodus 3:7]. But Moses is saying in his song that the afflictions that came to Israel in Egypt, and the sorrows of those days, and the sobs and tears by which they cried unto God, did not mean that God had forsaken them, or that the Lord had forgotten them, or that God was merciless and cruel toward them [Deuteronomy 32:7-10]. But Moses is saying in this illustration that as an eagle tears up the nest and shoves off of those mighty precipitous crags her young ones, it is not that the mother eagle has forsaken her young, or has come to despise her little ones, but the discipline of life is just beginning to teach those fledglings how to soar into the blue of the heavens. As an eagle, so the Lord [Deuteronomy 32:11-12]. Moses says the heartaches, and the tribulations, and the fiery trials that came upon Israel was of the Lord, that God might bring them to their true destiny: as an eagle, so the Lord.
And that is the scriptural interpretation of the disciplines, of the sorrows, of the trials of life; not only in Israel, but all through the revelation of the Word. May I pick out just one more out of the Scriptures? The church at Jerusalem, with James, the Lord’s brother, as its pastor, and with Simon Peter and John and the wonderful God sent, God ordained apostles, the church at Jerusalem was flourishing; God was adding to it on every hand [Acts 2:41, 47, 5:14, 6:1]. The priests even were becoming obedient to the faith [Acts 6:7]. It was a gloriously prospering and growing congregation. Then in the midst of their growth and of their glory, in the midst of it, there arose a terrible persecution. And the church was wasted, and it was torn asunder; and like an eagle’s nest, it was pulled in pieces. For what purpose? Because God had forgotten His people? God did not love His children anymore? Look at the Word: Acts 8:4, "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word." And the evangelist Philip, scattered abroad, went down to Samaria [Acts 8:5-8]. And the others went to other sections and other nations and other countries [Acts 8:3-4]. And finally, in the eleventh chapter and the nineteenth verse:
Now they which were scattered abroad upon the persecution that arose about Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word . . . And some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, when they came to Antioch, spake unto the heathen idolatrous Greeks, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord,And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
[Acts 11:19-21, 26]
It looked as if God had forsaken His people, God didn’t love them anymore, tearing apart the eagle’s nest, pulling apart that cozy home; but out of that persecution, that fiery trial, there was spread abroad the preaching of the word of the Son of God [Acts 8:3-8, 11:19-21].
So the Lord deals with His people. Here is a man, so affluent, with his friends, with his family, with his beautiful home, with every wish gratified, all of it; then suddenly there comes into his life a great sorrow, a heavy calamity. Does that mean God doesn’t love him? Does that mean God has turned His back on him? Could it mean that? It brings up once again that eternal and everlasting, age-old question of the purpose of human sorrow and affliction. Why does God, why? Job asked, "Why?" [Job 3:11]. Even Jesus on the cross asked, "Why? My God, My God, why?" [Mark 15:34]. Because I have been preaching at the noonday and the evening hour through the Book of Hebrews, in the answering of that question, I unconsciously turned to the answers found in the Book of the Hebrews. Why the tearing up of the eagle’s nest? Why the disciplines of life? Why the trials and the sorrows? And may I point out four answers that are so patently written here on the pages of the Book to the Hebrews?
One of the purposes of trial, of trouble, of sorrow, of tribulation, one of the purposes is to make us grow unto maturity. Somehow without trouble and without trial, somehow the soul never matures; you’re still an infant, you are still an adolescent, you never grow up unless you go through the disciplines of sorrow and trial. Hebrews 2:10, "For it became Him, God . . . to make the captain of our salvation perfect through sufferings." The word "perfect" does not mean in the Bible "freedom from sin," our Lord never sinned, He was never imperfect; but the word "perfect" in the Bible is used like you would use the word "maturity, grown up," it reached the goal for which it was intended. "It became God to make the captain of our salvation what He was supposed to be for us, perfect, mature, reaching that destiny and that goal, it became God to make the captain of our salvation perfect through suffering"; make Him the Savior that He ought to be, the Mediator that He ought to be, the Intercessor that He ought to be, the High Priest that He ought to be. It became God to make Jesus that for us through suffering [Hebrews 2:10]. And in the fifth chapter and the eighth verse, "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered" [Hebrews 5:8]. We do not grow up, we are still children, we are still adolescent, until we have gone through the trials of life. The disciplines of this pilgrimage are given us of God that we might mature unto the Lord. And without those disciplines and those trials, we are weak and anemic.
I remember one time when I was a boy, I read a western novel. I used to read those things by the dozens when I was a youngster. Out there on those high western plains, didn’t have anything to do, so I read. And for the most part, at a certain period in my life, I read everything Zane Grey wrote, I read everything Arabelle Wright wrote, oh listen! I was the most romantic little creature that you ever saw in your life. What these kids do today in watching these western pictures on TV, I did with a novel in my hand. Now, one of those novels – and I can’t remember which one it was – but one of those novels was like this: back here in the East somewhere was a rich, affluent family, and in that home was a little, weak, anemic boy. He was asthmatic; and his mother doted over him, and cared for him, and spoiled him. The little fellow was never able to get outside in the sunshine because he might get sunburned. The little fellow was never able to go swimming because he might drown. The little boy was never able to go hunting, he might get shot. The little boy was never able to mix with other companions, he might get hurt. And the little boy was inside of that rich family, cared for, doted over, brooded over by a mother. Consequently, the little fellow went bad and worse and down, and in his asthma, he was not going to live. So somehow, in the course of the story, there was an uncle out in Arizona, who had a big ranch, and the little boy was going to die anyway, so in the story, that part I have forgotten, in the story somehow, that uncle got a hold of that little boy. And he took him out of that fair and sumptuous home, and away from that doting and brooding mother; and he took the little fellow out there in his big ranch, put him on a horse, and let him go. He was going to die anyway. Well, out there under the burning sun, and in the blistering wind, out there on a horse that stumbled, and fell, and went fast and furious, and out there with the cowpokes, where he had to take care of his own, out there he grew into a great strong, stalwart, red-blooded cowboy, and a girl fell in love with him, and they lived happily ever after. You know how the thing goes. That is exactly what God does with us. Sheltered in a cozy nest, with every indulgent wish gratified, we get anemic, and we get sick, and we become bloodless. So God pulls apart our nest; and these disciplines of life are to make us strong unto the Lord. "Though He were a Son, yet learned He by the things which He suffered,It became God to make the author of our salvation what He was destined to be through suffering" [Hebrews 5:8-9]. So that’s one reason why God lets us fall into trial: the disciplines of life make us grow up unto God.
There’s a second thing here in the Book of Hebrews, as I’ve been preaching through it, why God stirs up the eagle’s nest [Deuteronomy 32:11-12]. In two of the most glorious passages in the Bible, it says here that our Lord went through these trials in order that He might be a compassionate and sympathetic High Priest:
He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham.
Wherefore in all things it behooved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God.
For in that He Himself hath suffered being tried, He is able to succor them that are tried.
– and then again, in the fourth chapter –
We have not an High Priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tried like we are, though He without sin. Therefore, therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that ye may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
One who has gone through the disciplines of life and the trials of life and the sorrows of life becomes sympathetic and compassionate. "I know why you cry, I cried too. I know how your heart is broken, My heart was broken too." That’s a part of why God leads us into these trials: because of the compassionate, sympathetic spirit He would have in our souls.
Now, I just briefly name the other two. In the twelfth chapter and the tenth verse, speaking of the disciplines of the Lord, the author says that God lets us fall into these trials "that we might be partakers of His holiness" [Hebrews 12:10]. There is a purpose in the fire, the sorrow, the trial, the discipline. I can easily think of a piece of gold in the crucible: "Why do they treat me thus?" And you would answer, "In order to purify thy gold." So God with us: when we fall into the crucible and the fire, the purpose is to burn out the dross. Like that wonderful old song, "How Firm a Foundation":
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply
The flame shall not hurt thee, I only design
Thy dross to remove and thy gold to refine
["How Firm a Foundation"; John Rippon]
The purpose of sorrow.
Then there’s another one here. In the next verse he says, "It yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness" [Hebrews 12:11]. God to make us fruitful is like a husbandman with a pruning knife: and he prunes the vine that it might bear. So God does with us. One time a man went to a preacher and said to him, "Sir, God must be getting you ready for some great work." The minister had just gone through a deep sorrow. And so it was, God was preparing him for a great work. "It yieldeth the fruit of righteousness"; it’s God’s way of making us fruitful unto Him: the use of the pruning knife.
Now, I have so much else to say, but I haven’t time to say it. I now close this last message in the life of Moses. The thirty-second chapter of Deuteronomy closes:
And the Lord spake unto Moses that selfsame day, saying, Get thee up into this mountain Abarim, unto Mount Nebo, in the land of Moab; behold the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel for a possession: And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people . . . Yet shalt thou see the land before thee; but thou shalt not go thither.
Then of course, Deuteronomy closes,
And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan,
And all Naphtali, and the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and the land of Judah, unto the utmost sea,
And the South, and the plain of the Valley of Jericho, and the city of palm trees . . .
And the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed . . . but thou shalt not go over thither.
So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord.
And God buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Beth Peor: but no man knoweth of his sepulcher unto this day.
Will you listen to one of the most moving poems I ever read in my life, entitled, "The Burial of Moses":
By Nebo’s lonely mountain,
On this side Jordan’s wave,
In a vale in the land of Moab,
There lies a lonely grave:
But no man dug that sepulcher,
And no man saw it e’er;
For the angels of God upturned the sod,
And laid the dead man there.
Thus was the grandest funeral
That ever passed on earth;
But no man heard the tramping,
Or saw the train go forth.
Noiselessly as the daylight
Comes when the night is done,
And the crimson streak on ocean’s cheek
Grows into the great sun;
Noiselessly as the springtime
Her crown of verdure waves,
And all the trees on all the hills
Open their thousand leaves, –
So, without sound of music,
Or voice of them that wept,
Silently down from the mountain’s crown
The great procession swept.
Perchance the bald old eagle,
On gray Beth-peor’s height,
Out of his rocky eyrie,
Looked on the wondrous sight;
Perchance the lion stalking
Still shuns that hallowed spot:
For beast and bird have seen and heard
That which man knoweth not.
But when the warrior dieth,
His comrades in the war,
With arms reversed, and muffled drum,
Follow the funeral car;
They show the banners taken,
They tell his battles won,
And after him lead his masterless steed,
While peals the minute gun.
Amid the nobles of the land
Men lay the sage to rest,
And give the bard an honored place,
With costly marble drest,
In the great minster transept,
Where lights like glories fall,
And the choir sings, and the organ rings,
Along the emblazoned wall.
This was the truest warrior
That ever buckled sword;
This the most gifted poet
That ever breathed a word;
And never earth’s philosopher
Traced with his golden pen
On the deathless page, truths half so sage
As he wrote down for men.
And had he not high honor?
The hillside for his pall;
To lie in state while angels wait
With stars for tapers tall;
And the dark rock pines, like tossing plumes,
Over his bier to wave;
And God’s own Hand, in that lonely land,
To lay him in the grave, –
In that strange grave, without a name,
Whence his uncoffined clay
Shall break again – O wondrous thought! –
Before the Judgment Day,
And stand with glory wrapped around,
On the hills he never trod,
And speak of the strife, that won our life,
With the incarnate Son of God.
O lonely grave in Moab’s land!
O dark Beth-peor’s hill!
Speak to these curious hearts of ours,
And teach them to be still.
God hath His mysterious of grace, –
Ways that we cannot tell:
He hides them deep, like the hidden sleep
Of him He loved so well.
["The Burial of Moses," Cecil Frances Alexander]
"As an eagle . . . so the Lord" [Deuteronomy 32:11-12].
Now while we sing our song, its first stanza, somebody you this morning, to give his heart to Jesus, or to come into the fellowship of His church, while we sing this song, while we make this appeal, would you come, give the pastor your hand, tell him, "This morning I give my heart to God," or, "I’m putting my life in the fellowship of this precious church," on the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and sing.
Stirring the Eagle’s Nest
I. Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land
1. Kicked out of the comfort of Egypt (nest)
2. Getting to the Promised Land with faith
3. Under God’s care and provision
1. For growth and character
2. For sympathy understanding
3. Make us holy, burn out dross