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Eagles, Ravens and Unclean birds of the Bible
Eagles, ravens and unclean birds in the Bible are found throughout scripture. If you read my post on Birds of the Bible, I focused on sparrows in doves, but birds are used throughout Scripture to teach us about many Bible truths.
Today, let’s turn our focus to eagles, ravens and unclean birds in the Bible. We’ll also cover the difference between clean and unclean birds in the Bible.
Unclean Birds in the Bible:
So what is the difference between clean and unclean birds in the Bible?
The instruction God gave to Israel regarding those birds which can be eaten and those which should not be eaten is found in Deuteronomy chapter 14:
11 “All clean birds you may eat.
12 “But these you shall not eat: the eagle, the vulture, the buzzard,
13 “the red kite, the falcon, and the kite after their kinds;
14 “every raven after its kind;
15 “the ostrich, the short–eared owl, the seagull, and the hawk after their kinds;
16 “the little owl, the screech owl, the white owl,
17 “the jackdaw, the carrion vulture, the fisher owl,
18 “the stork, the heron after its kind, and the hoopoe and the bat.
(This is also addressed in Leviticus chapter 11.)
Clean birds may be eaten (verses 11) — but these are only indirectly defined by listing unclean birds that must not be eaten (verses 12-18).
From this list of unclean birds, six characteristics have been identified as separating the clean birds from the unclean birds:
- a clean bird has a craw or crop
a clean bird has a gizzard with a double lining which can be easily separated;
a clean bird is not a bird of prey
a clean bird does not devour food while flying
a clean bird’s hind toe and middle front toe are both elongated
when a clean bird stands on a perch, it spreads its toes so that three front ones are on one side of the perch and the hind toe on the opposite side.
All unclean birds lack at least one of these six characteristics.
Eagles in the Bible:
The image of God as an eagle is found throughout the Bible, but we see it most in the Old Testament. It is a sign of strength and able to bear and carry much weight, as Moses wrote, “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (Ex 19:4).
This is further symbolized when Moses said of God “Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions” (Duet 32:11). The eagle can carry it’s young on its outer wings (pinions) This is what God did when He brought Israel out of captivity from Egypt and continued to bear her and her people up in her wanderings in the wilderness.
Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
that flutters over its young,
spreading out its wings, catching them,
bearing them on its pinions, – Deuteronomy 32:11
The eagle signifies strength and we get our strength from God Most High. The psalmist often referred to God in the imagery or as having the attributes of an eagle and especially when he wrote that it was God “who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:5). Isaiah also saw the symbolic strength of God as depicted in an eagle when he wrote “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” (Isaiah 40:31).
Eagles in the BIble also symbolize protection. God refers to Himself as an eagle in many ways, but I love that He uses the eagle to signify His protective nature. In Psalm 91:1-4 “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
Eagles represent sovereignty and supremacy and God is the ruler over all kings and presidents. but also, when storms approach, eagles can fly far above the storms, indicating that God is never affected by conditions of weather or circumstance. He is sovereign over nature and everything of this world.
Ravens in the Bible:
Smith’s Bible Dictionary explains that “the Hebrew oreb is applied to the several species of the crow family, a number of which are found in Israel. The raven belongs to the order Insessores, family Corvidae. (It resembles the crow, but is larger weighing three pounds; its black color is more iridescent, and it is gifted with greater sagacity. “There is something weird and shrewd in the expression of the raven’s countenance, a union of cunning and malignity which may have contributed to give it among widely-revered nations a reputation for preternatural knowledge.”
The raven is mentioned throughout Scripture to illustrate several important truths:
- The ravens brought Elijah bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook.
- According to Job 38:40-41, God feeds the ravens and their young.
- Echoing this sentiment, Psalm 147:9 says that God gives the young ravens food when they call.
Nature Symbolism in the Bible
when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in their thicket?
Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God for help,
and wander about for lack of food? – Job 38:40-41 (ESV)
He gives to the beasts their food,
and to the young ravens that cry. – Psalm 147:9 (ESV)
All of these point to that God provides for all of our needs. He knows what we need – even when we don’t – and He will always provide for us.
I love reading that it was the raven that God used to bring food to Elijah (1 Kings 17:6). These are voracious, unclean birds that seem always to be hungry; and yet they kept the prophet alive during a famine while he was hiding from the wrath of Ahab. Unlovely or not, the ravens are under God’s care. He provides for them and their young (Job 38:41), and used them miraculously to provide for one of His servants.
It is interesting to note that, as mentioned above, ravens are among the unclean birds in the Bible that are not acceptable for Jews to eat. “And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: Every raven after his kind.” (Lev 11:13, 15; also Deut 14:12, 14) Some Bible scholars have suggested that they are considered unclean because they are scavengers and carrion eaters. However, other birds on the list, such as the eagle or the owl, eat live prey. Another suggestion is that they are meat eaters.
Although all the unclean birds in the Bible are carnivores not all insect eating birds are on the list. In fact, chickens are omnivores, eating grubs as readily as grain, and they are obviously not on the prohibited list, not being found in the Bible at all. (Source: Minutes with Messiah)
Other unclean birds in the Bible, forbidden for the Jews to eat are crows, great owl, hawk, heron, Osprey, Pelican, stork and vulture.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are no longer bound by Old Testament rules on clean and unclean meat, but, personally, I find this concept fascinating and plan to go deeper to study why these fowl (and other animals) were considered unclean.
Eagles, ravens and unclean birds are found throughout Scripture. What is your favorite verse about eagles, ravens and unclean birds?
How has God shown or given you strength? How has he provided for you? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below!
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Because of Him,