Summary: Micah’s symbol of the bald eagle, a sign of grief, applies to America. We are abandoning justice, kindness, and the humble walk with God. Our collapse is from within rather than from without. Yet God has sent a different kind of conqueror to redeem us.
What we see is more powerful than what we hear. The visual always trumps the audible. I learned a long time ago that what people see is more powerful than what they hear. I learned it when I sat through an education professor’s hour-long lecture about why lecturing was the least effective way to teach. He proved his point amply not by how he argued but by the fact that all I could see was a lecture about not lecturing. I learned that what people see is more powerful than what they hear.
And so we choose visible symbols by which we will be known. Schools, churches, governments, businesses – all have logos, symbols meant to suggest something about that organization. You recognize the Starbucks hairdo immediately. You know the Coca-Cola script right away. If you are a Marylander, the arms of the Calvert family on our flag are visible from afar. And if you are an American, the Stars and Stripes were in your field of vision this weekend. Symbols, visual signs, of the institutions we know. And they are important. If you don’t think visual symbols are important, just ask one of our presidential candidates about what happened when he did not wear a flag pin on his lapel!
Of all the symbols we use, the use of birds is the most intriguing. States and nations choose official birds. Some are obvious, like the Baltimore Oriole; it has those Calvert family colors on it. Some are very popular; it bothers me no end that Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia have all stolen what is properly the Kentucky cardinal! What are they, Kentucky wannabees?! All the states have bird symbols, and, above them all, the bird symbol of the United States is the bald eagle. This magnificent raptor, which almost became extinct, was selected to represent our nation because it was associated with ancient Rome, and our founding fathers patterned us to a degree after the Roman Republic. So from Rome we get the Senate, we get candidates, and we get the bald eagle.
I do like the story, however, about old Benjamin Franklin arguing that the wild turkey would be a more fitting symbol of America, because, Franklin said, the bald eagle is a “bird of bad moral character” who snatches prey from other birds and who is a coward that can be run off by far smaller creatures. Old Ben thought the bald eagle not a proper emblem for what this country should become.
How curious, then, that the prophet Micah also invokes the bald eagle as a symbol of a people! How fascinating that when Micah looked for something visible that would carry God’s message to Judah, he pointed to a bird, a large and powerful bird, but one that had no feathers in its cap. And since in the ancient world, a shaved head showed grief, the eagle’s baldness signaled a nation that would grieve, a people that would suffer loss. “Make yourselves bald and cut off your hair for your pampered children; make yourselves as bald as the eagle, for they have gone from you into exile.”
Look at the old bald eagle, said Micah; look at his uncovered head. He looks like you do when you are grieving the loss of a loved one. He looks like you will when you learn that your nation is in trouble. “Make yourselves as bald as the eagle.” What a picture of loss! Your very symbol becomes for you a portrait of pain and powerlessness. The nation is under judgment. Grieve for it. You will face severe trials. A conqueror will take you away. Grieve for all of that.