the Fifth Week of Lent
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
"I watch, and am become like a sparrow
That is alone upon the housetop."
The feeling that this is not characteristic of the sparrow arises from the fact that it is such a friendly bird that if it were on the housetop it would be surrounded by half a dozen of its kind; so it has been suggested that a solitary thrush was intended. There is little force in the change. Thrushes of today are shy, timid birds of thickets and deep undergrowth. Occasionally a stray one comes around a house at migration, but once settled to the business of living they are the last and most infrequent bird to appear near the haunts of man. And bird habits do not change in one or two thousand years. In an overwhelmed hour the Psalmist poured out his heart before the Almighty. The reason he said he was like a "sparrow that is alone upon the housetop" was because it is the most unusual thing in the world for a sparrow to sit mourning alone, and therefore it attracted attention and made a forceful comparison. It only happens when the bird's mate has been killed or its nest and young destroyed, and this most cheerful of birds sitting solitary and dejected made a deep impression on the Psalmist who, when his hour of trouble came, said he was like the mourning sparrow - alone on the housetop. Another exquisite song describes the bird in its secure and happy hour:
"Yea, the sparrow hath found her a house,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young,
Even thine altars,
My King, and my God" (Psalm 84:3 ).
When the mind of man was young and he looked on the commonest acts of creatures around him as filled with mystery, miracle and sign - he held in superstitious reverence any bird that built on a temple, because he thought it meant that the bird thus building claimed the protection of God in so doing. For these reasons all temple builders were so reverenced that authentic instances are given of people being put to death, if they disturbed temple nests or builders. Because he noticed the sparrow in joyful conditions is good reason why the Psalmist should have been attracted by its mourning. There is a reference to the widespread distribution of these birds in Proverbs 26:2 :
"As the sparrow in her wandering, as the swallow in her flying,
So the curse that is causeless alighteth not."
Once settled in a location, no bird clings more faithfully to its nest and young, so this "wandering" could only mean that they scatter widely in choosing locations. Matthew 10:29 : "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father." This is a reference to the common custom in the East of catching small birds, and selling them to be skinned, roasted and sold as tid-bits - a bird to a mouthful. These lines no doubt are the origin of the oft-quoted phrase, "He marks the fall of the sparrow." Then in Matthew 10:31 comes this comforting assurance: "Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows." Luke 12:6 : "Are not five sparrows sold for two pence? and not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God." This affirms the implication of Mark that these tiny birds were an article of commerce in the days of Jesus, just as they are now in the Far East.
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Sparrow'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​isb/​s/sparrow.html. 1915.