The fourth seal is introduced by the fourth living creature, identified in Revelation 4:7 as "like a flying eagle." In the United States, we think of eagles as noble and majestic creatures, sharp-eyed and sharp-taloned, fierce and swift in striking their prey, mating for life, and caring tenderly for their young. The Bible's view includes these characteristics but adds one more: They are carrion eaters.
Leviticus 11:13 refers to eagles as being forbidden to the Israelites as food: "These you shall regard as an abomination among the birds" (see also Deuteronomy 14:12). Eagles are listed first and in the company of vultures and buzzards. Proverbs 30:17 speaks of "the young eagles" eating the eye of one who mocks and scorns his parents. Perhaps the best-known biblical reference to this aspect of eagles appears in Matthew 24:28 (also Luke 17:37), in which Jesus says, "For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together."
The flying eagle, then, needs to be seen in both lights: as a swift and deadly hunter, spying out its prey from afar, as well as a detestable eater of putrefying flesh. The first reflects God's position as the divine and sovereign Judge on high, and the second, the grisly and dreadful effects of His judgments for sin. It is a picture of a noble and righteous God obliged by His own holiness to execute the proscribed penalty for human transgression.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Four Horsemen (Part Five): The Pale Horse
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Revelation 4:7: