Eagles have always symbolized freedom, strength, and power. They are considered the kings of the sky and were adopted by several ancient cultures, including Rome, as a symbol of that country’s leadership and immortality. The United States declared the bald eagle its national bird in 1792, due to the eagle’s long lifespan and majestic presence.
The Bible’s first mention of the eagle is in Leviticus 11:13. Eagles, along with vultures and other unclean birds, were prohibited as food for the Israelites. God gave the newly formed nation of Israel dietary laws to help set them apart from the pagan nations around them. The dietary instructions were also given for health reasons as part of God’s promise to “put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians” (Exodus 15:26). Eagles are birds of prey that sometimes act as scavengers, eating dead flesh as vultures do. Eagles could carry diseases harmful to humans; God protected Israel at a time of limited medicines and inadequate sterilization procedures.
The next time an eagle is mentioned is in Deuteronomy 32:11 as part of the song God instructed Moses to teach the Israelites (Deuteronomy 31:19). In that song, God compares His care for His people to that of a mother eagle who spreads her wings to cover her young and carry them away from danger (cf. Exodus 19:4).
Throughout Scripture, eagles represent God’s handiwork, such as in Proverbs 30:19, which says that “the way of an eagle in the sky” is an example of God’s wondrous creation. Job 39:27 is another example. But eagles also symbolize power. God often used the imagery of an eagle in issuing warnings to Israel and other nations who did evil (e.g., Obadiah 1:4; Jeremiah 49:22). He chose the bird they considered powerful and unstoppable to demonstrate His sovereign control over everything.
Isaiah 40:31 is the most familiar biblical reference to eagles: “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (KJV). This verse is the conclusion of a chapter detailing the greatness of God. It reminds the reader that the strongest of men may stumble and fall, but those who trust in the Lord have a strength that this world cannot offer. When we see an eagle in flight, soaring on invisible air currents, we can be reminded that the Creator who supplies the eagle’s strength will also strengthen those who call upon His name (Psalm 50:15; Isaiah 55:6–7).