The Raven and the Eagle

“I am carrying on a great project, why should I leave this thing I am created and destined to do, in order to accomodate your threats?”

*eagleI’m sitting on my deck today, looking out at the view. If you have ever been to Homer, Alaska, you will understand it when I say that the view never gets old. But this time, as I am sitting in the stillness, the quiet is interrupted by the sound of a raven in the distance. With a constant cackling, and cawing, the raven is repeating a pattern of swooping down, then ascending again over the head of a bald eagle, perched in its nest. Sometimes the talons of the raven are bared as it descends in attempt to threaten the eagle away from its nest, and other times it uses its most frightening of noises in an attempt to appear more mighty than he is. The eagle flinches, returns a voice that tells the raven to back off, and perseveres through the seemingless endless taunting and threats. I watch in awe wondering how long the eagle will put up with the taunting, and I consider the  raven’s perseverence wondering when he will tire and finally give up.

As I watch this drama unfolding, my mind wanders to a passage in Nehemiah 6:1-9 and God begins speaking to me:

Nehemiah 6:1-9 (NIV)

1When word came to Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab and the rest of our enemies that I had rebuilt the wall and not a gap was left in it—though up to that time I had not set the doors in the gates— 2 Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.”

But they were scheming to harm me; 3 so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.

5 Then, the fifth time, Sanballat sent his aide to me with the same message, and in his hand was an unsealed letter 6 in which was written:

“It is reported among the nations—and Geshem says it is true—that you and the Jews are plotting to revolt, and therefore you are building the wall. Moreover, according to these reports you are about to become their king 7 and have even appointed prophets to make this proclamation about you in Jerusalem: ‘There is a king in Judah!’ Now this report will get back to the king; so come, let us meet together.”

8 I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.”

9 They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.”

But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”

If I were to characterize these people mentioned in the above story, Nehemiah would be the “Eagle” and Sanballat and his friends and aids would represent the “Raven”.

Nehemiah was a Jew who had been in the captivity of the Persian Empire as a result of when Babylon overthrew Jerusalem, burning its temple and city in 586 BC, and carrying off prisoners of war. That empire was then overtaken by the Persians in 539 BC and the Jewish people that remained in Babylon were now servants of Persia’s kingdoms and policies. Nehemiah was one of these men…serving the Persian King but longing for his homeland.

Nehemiah desires to return to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls and fortify the city again, as now many Jews have been given permission to return to their homeland. The King of Persia, Cyrus, agrees to let Nehemiah go and accomplish this dream. The King even helps fund the mission and provide materials for Nehemiah to rebuild the wall.

Even with the  King’s permission, the King’s resources and Nehemiah’s vision, discouragement and threats were in abundance. Sanballat, the governor of Samaria, and the other men of enemy nations of Israel, were hard at work to discourage Nehemiah from finishing what he started. They taunted, they threatened, they bared their talons as it were in order to remove Nehemiah from his assignment. I love Nehemiah’s response from verses 3 and 4:

“3 so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” 4 Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer.”

Like the eagle on its nest, carrying on a great work, the raven’s attempts at dissuading it were met with a profound reality: “I am carrying on a great project, why should I leave this thing I am created and destined to do, in order to accomodate your threats?”

Then again, the enemy sent a provocative rumor in hopes to engage Nehemiah in battle over the purported lie, to which Nehemiah responds in verses 8 and 9:

8 I sent him this reply: “Nothing like what you are saying is happening; you are just making it up out of your head.”

9 They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, “Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed.”

But I prayed, “Now strengthen my hands.”

Knowing the “Raven” was hoping to weaken his resolve and to wear him out with trouble, the “Eagle” considered his strength against the Raven, but did not rely on it to finish the task. Nehemiah prays, “Now strengthen my hands.”

Nehemiah knows he is on a God-sized assignment. That reality alone fuels his passion to finish, but he also knows that his dreams and desires are fires lit by God Himself, and God Himself would have to sustain them. Nehemiah had the strength of the eagle with the King’s resources, help, and permission, but his perseverance in the midst of persecution and threat, he credits to the presence of God in his life, and the purposes of God in his work.

Eventually the raven I am watching from my deck becomes tired of his threats not being taken seriously, and retires to a branch on a nearby tree. Squawking and cawing loudly as he perches, he takes a few more minutes to make noise, and eventually flies away unsuccessful.

Then another scripture comes to mind:

Isaiah 40:31(NIV)

31 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.

And I pray, “Lord strengthen my hands.”

 

*Photograph courtesy: Laural Sabin photography:Click here to see more of her work.