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As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.


Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31 NIV)

Often by studying the original words that were used in the Bible, the time period they were written in and the people about whom they were written, we can receive an insight that we otherwise might miss in a casual reading of Scripture. For example, what does it mean, exactly, to soar on wings like EAGLES!?

Admittedly, translators of the Bible have a difficult job and a great responsibility. Translation, however, is not an exact science. The original Hebrew word that is translated as “eagle” here in Isaiah and other places in the Old Testament in nearly every English translation is the Hebrew “nesher.” Curiously, a nesher is not an eagle. A nesher is a griffon vulture. And so what Isaiah really is saying is “... those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will soar on wings like vultures …!”

Despite how we may perceive vultures as opposed to eagles, this translation is surprisingly much more accurate and is even more meaningful when we understand what a griffon vulture is and the time when the Old Testament was written. Griffon vultures are majestic creatures that share a biological family with eagles and other raptors. Our vultures of North and South America are related biologically more to storks than to eagles. Griffon vultures were common sights in Israel in Old Testament times and are still present, but currently listed as endangered.

Griffon vultures, like all vultures, eat only carrion – dead meat. This does not endear them to any of us. We consider vultures to be a symbol of death. In old cowboy movies, when vultures were circling it was not a good sign. By contrast, the Middle Eastern world of the Old Testament considered vultures to be a symbol of life itself. Because griffon vultures cleaned up the carcasses of cattle, sheep and even men killed in battle from the plains and valleys, they prevented widespread disease. This partially explains Isaiah’s comment that those who wait on the Lord will “renew their strength” like the griffon renews the earth. Pagan Egyptians even believed that reciting the “Vulture’s Prayer” would lead them safely into the next life. Griffon vultures were associated with goddesses and royalty in Egyptian and Middle Eastern cultures, and many images of them have been found in tombs and pyramids.


Griffon vultures, like our bald eagle, command respect and awe because of what they are and how they live. They were and still are the largest bird in the Middle East. They stand as tall as a bald eagle and have a similar wing span. A bald eagle can soar for maybe an hour or two and fly as high as 10,000 feet, but the griffon vulture can soar for six to eight hours at a time, riding higher currents of air in search of food. How high? A documented collision occurred on November 29, 1973, between a commercial airliner’s jet engine and an African Ruppell’s griffon vulture over the coast of western Africa at 37,000 feet! This is still the highest altitude recorded for any bird in the world. The plane landed, the vulture didn’t. Investigators were able to identify the species by the feathers they found.

Despite our image of a vulture, ancients considered it a wonderful mother figure. After laying her usual one egg, the mother griffon vulture will not leave her nest for the entire 48-52 days until the egg hatches. Her mate will bring her food, but she will incubate and protect her unhatched offspring at all cost. A griffon vulture chick remains in the nest for 16 weeks before flying and requires constant parental care – much longer than any eagle.

The griffon vulture nests much farther up in the highest mountain crags and clefts of the rocks than almost any other bird. Because of where they nest, first flights for griffon vultures should be more dangerous than for bald eagles, yet all indications are that the survival rate for griffon vultures flying for the first time is significantly greater than that of eagles. One or both griffon vulture parents fly in close formation with their fledgling on its first flights to protect it from the rocks, the wind currents, and to encourage them on the way. This may be the image portrayed in Exodus 19:4 of God bearing Israel up out of Egypt on vulture’s wings and again in Deuteronomy 32:10-11 of the vulture fluttering over her young and bearing them up on her wings.

Imagine a God who cares for us so deeply that he created something as wonderful as a nesher, the griffon vulture, to compare himself with and give us a snapshot of his care for us. The image of something that turns death into life. The comfort that, just like the fledgling, we aren’t alone in life. We belong to God and are under the shelter of his wing. He won’t get tired of helping us when we get weighed down by life or even when we just give up.

When we fly into unknown territory, face perils that scare us to death, stand between the rocks of life and the wind currents of doubt that can carry us away, he is right there with us to encourage and strengthen us. God gives us the image of this mighty bird to tell us that we can rise above the problems and cares of life. We can soar high in confidence and strength on the wings that God has given us so others will be able to see the reflection of God in the beauty of our flight. Isn’t the griffon vulture one of the greatest pictures we can have of God?

Sometimes a single word can make a difference and give us things to think about. God certainly didn’t make any mistake when he had the original words of the Bible written. Search for yourself the 27 places in the Old Testament that God used the image of the griffon vulture for his glory.

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