Perhaps you have watched a movie or TV show depicting a man crawling in his last moments through a hot, lifeless desert. As he climbs over one sand dune he sees countless more in front of him and the hopelessness of his situation is clear. He is going to die.
The people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. They were rescued by God as he gave them exodus from slavery through the parting of the red sea and drowning their pursuers. He brought them through a desert wilderness where in any other circumstances they should have perished. Instead of perishing, they were able to move through the desert without their shoes wearing out. God guided them by cloud and fire and provided food for them to collect every day except for the day they could collect double for the Sabbath. After a long and arduous journey, they came before enemies who opposed their very existence. Without God, Israel would never have survived.
If you read the book of Exodus, all of the above information about Israel is presented as an historical event that was echoed for generations as God pronounced his faithfulness to his chosen people. Israel was carried by the Lord through the desert as God took his people out of exile through exodus and into the land of promise. In Exodus 19:4, God’s sovereign deliverance and protection is described using the imagery of an eagle. “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.” The imagery of the eagle’s wings is a beautiful explanation of God’s sovereignty and providence in a period of history that would become a picture for God’s people in future times.
In Isaiah 40, God gives a rebellious Judah hope in the midst of his judgment. Isaiah is writing to Judah to give them comfort about God’s faithfulness in the future exile that they are going to experience at the hands of Babylon. As Isaiah brings God’s comfort to exiles, he reminds them that God is the omnipotent Creator of all and that the most powerful of human nations are simply like withering grass. Babylon is no threat to God and Judah should trust that their God will faithfully fulfill the covenant that they could never keep. In verse 31 God uses imagery that this people have heard before in the writings of Moses. “But 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.” Those who trust God can know that he is a God who will bring them out of exile and sustain them again in a new exodus. The reason that the exiles can take comfort in this is because God is referring to something that he has previously accomplished in history as a real-life example. It is a reference that Judah remembers as an historical foundation of their very identity as God’s people.
In Revelation 12, John gives this image of an eagle once more. This time the book of Revelation is written to a church living in this evil world of persecution and problems and looking for hope awaiting the final consummation. The Apostle John talks of a woman who goes through the wilderness and gives birth to a boy who rules the nations with a rod of iron. This is the same statement we hear from Psalm 2:7-8 that is no doubt a reference to Jesus. Through God’s chosen people the promised child comes, and while the great dragon attempts to slay him, the child is caught up to God and to his throne (Rev 12:5). The woman is then is pursued by the dragon but is given the wings of an eagle to be sustained in the wilderness wandering of this world for an allotted period of time (Rev 12:14).
If we know our history, the imagery in Revelation 12 should give us great hope. We may feel like the persecution and problems in this world are too difficult to bear, but we should always remember that just like God had brought Israel out of Egypt and out of exile in Babylon, he will bring his people out of exile in this evil world and sustain us through the wilderness until he also brings us home. The reality of this imagery gives us hope not because these are beautiful pictures but because of the historical reality they depict. They depict God’s saving grace in choosing and protecting his children. Our exodus from this world comes through the cross of Christ, the Child born of a woman and hunted by the world. In Christ we have a faithful God who is bringing his people all the way home. The historical relevance of God’s saving grace and providence are the eagle’s wings that will carry us into his promise of a new creation. The historical reference of eagle’s wings tells us that when God saves, he faithfully saves to the uttermost.