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buildings near the altar, or in the courts of the temple; and piously longs to revisit a scene so dear to his heart. The altar is here by a synecdoche of a part for the whole, to be understood of the tabernacle, among the rafters of which, the sparrow and the swallow were allowed to nestle; or rather, for the buildings which surrounded the sacred edifice, where the priests and their assistants had their ordinary residence. Even these exterior buildings were extremely desirable to the exiled monarch, because of their vicinity to the splendid symbols of the divine presence, and the instruments of his worship. The holy Psalmist sometimes wished for the wings of a dove, to waft him into the desert from the cruel oppression of his enemies ; but on this occasion, when he is compelled to flee for his life into the wilderness, he longs for the enjoyment of a sparrow, which flew unobserved into the courts of the tabernacle, and flitted among the beams without interruption.
The sparrow has been considered by some interpreters as a solitary moping bird, which loves to dwell on the house top alone; and so timid, that she endeavours to conceal herself in the darkest corners, and passes the night in sleepless anxiety. Hence they translate the words of the Psalmist: I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top. But her character and manners by no means agree with their description. She is a pert, loquacious, bustling creature, which, instead of courting the dark and solitary corner, is commonly found chirping and fluttering about in the crowd." The term in this text, therefore, must be understood in its general sense, and probably refers to some variety of the owl. Jerome ren* Psa. cii, 7. " Buffon's Nat. Hist. vol. iii, p. 434.
ders it, I was as a solitary bird on the roof. The Hebrew text contains nothing which can with propriety suggest the sparrow, or any similar bird; and indeed, nothing seems to be more remote from the mind of David: all the circumstances seem to indicate some bird of the night; for the Psalmist, bending under a load of severe affliction, shuns the society of men, and mingles his unceasing groans and lamentations with the mournful hootings of those solitary birds, which disturb the lonely desert. By reason of the voice of my groaning, my bones cleave to my skin; I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am like an owl of the desert." He then proceeds with his comparison: "I watch, and am as a bird upon the house top alone:" I watch, that is, I have spent a sleepless night; or as it is paraphrased in the Chaldee, I have watched the whole night long, without once closing my eyes. Every part of this description directs our attention to some nocturnal bird, which hates the light, and comes forth from its hiding place when the shadows of evening fall, to hunt the prey, and from the top of some ruined tower, to tell its joys or its sorrows to a slumbering world." These characters are easily recognised in Virgil's beautiful description of the owl:
แ Solaque culminibus ferali carmine bubo
Visa queri et longas in fletum ducere voces. En. lib. iv, 1. 462. But, with what propriety can the sparrow be called a solitary bird, when it is gregarious, and, so far from loving solitude, builds her nest in the roofs of our dwellings? Natural historians mention two kinds of this bird-one domestic, and the other wild.
▾ Aristotel. Hist. lib. ix, cap. 34. 29. Varro de Lingua Latina, lib. iv.
But the wild sparrow does
Ælian de Nat. Animal. lib. i, cap.
not repair for shelter like her relative, mentioned by David, to the human dwelling; she never takes her station on the house top, but seeks a home in her native woods. If the allusion, therefore, be made to the sparrow, it must be to the domestic, not to the wild species. It is in vain to argue, that the domestic sparrow may be called solitary, when she is deprived of her mate; for she does not, like the turtle, when she loses her spouse, remain in a state of inconsolable widowhood, but accepts, without reluctance, the first companion that solicits her affections. Hence the Psalmist undoubtedly refers to some species of the owl, whose dreary note and solitary dispositions, are celebrated by almost every poet of antiquity."
The word is used by Solomon, in the general sense, in his affecting description of the wakeful debility of extreme old age: "He shall rise up at the voice of the bird." In the Greek version it is translated, the voice of the sparrow; but it is more natural to suppose, that the inspired writer alludes to the note of a larger bird; probably to the crowing of the cock, which the God of nature has appointed to announce the approach of day. It is not easy to determine, which of these opinions ought to be preferred; for the original term, as already noticed, signifies birds of any size. It must be confessed, that it gives us a much more striking idea of the lowest ebb of human weakness, to refer the phrase to the feeble note of the sparrow, or the chirping of other small birds at the dawn of day but the voice of the bird" may with equal, perhaps with greater propriety, denote the shrill and powerful clarion of the cock, which rouses the slumbering world to the cares and exertions of active life.
See Bochart. Hieroz, lib. i, cap. 23, p. 155.
Low in the scale of being as the sparrow has been placed by its creator, it is, according to the declaration of our Lord himself, the object of his unceasing carė: “ Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." In the gospel of Luke, the value of this little bird is represented as still less: "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God." It neither attracts our notice by the beauty of its plumage, nor conciliates our esteem by the amiableness of its dispositions and manners; nor commands our regard by the benefits it bestows; yet this insignificant animal cannot perish without the express permission of its Maker. This truth was taught by the Royal Psalmist, many ages before the coming of Christ: "These all wait upon thee, that thou mayst give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them, they gather; thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled; thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust." In these quotations, it is not meant, that God, who is infinitely wise, values a sparrow as highly as a man, who is formed after his own image, and for whose use the lower animals were created in the beginning of time. He cannot but love his creatures, according to the nature and the degree of excellence which they possess; to do otherwise, would argue a defect of wisdom and goodness in his nature and character. The care of divine Providence, therefore, admits of various degrees: the great Preserver does not take care of oxen in the same manner as he watches over the interests of men; but, according to Paul, makes a distinction in his providential management. • Psa. civ, 27.
- Matth. x, 29.
y Luke xii, 6.
"For it is written in the law of Moses, Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn. Doth God take care for oxen ?" It cannot, however, be doubted, that as well oxen as men, and even the meanest creatures, are equally subject to God, who disdains not to govern and preserve the works which he condescended to make. We must beware of setting bounds to his providence, which the greatest effects of his power cannot burthen, nor the smallest escape. Who, that deserves the name of Christian, can believe, that Jehovah knew not the number of the quails with which he supplied his people in the wilderness; or of the fishes which sported in the lake of Genesareth, when, by the command of Christ, the apostle Peter cast his net into the sea? Could he be ignorant how many frogs and locusts he would employ in executing his vengeance upon the oppressors of his people in Egypt? A general knows the number of the troops which he musters for the battle, and leads into the field; and can the omniscient God be ignorant of the numbers which swell the ranks of his army, and march under his banners? Such a supposition is not more repugnant to the uniform declaration of Scripture, than to the light of nature, which taught the ancient heathens, That God not only took care of oxen, but also extended his protection to animals of every species."
Elian de Nat. Animal. lib. xi, cap. 31.