The House Sparrow
Having looked at the many references to birds in the bible I thought I should move on to be a bit more specific. So I thought I would start off by thinking about Sparrows.
Around the world there are many different sorts of sparrow. In Britain there are two sparrow species the House Sparrow and the Tree Sparrow. The Hedge Sparrow has since been renamed the Dunnock because it is not a member of the Sparrow family. In Israel/Palestine you might find the House Sparrow, Spanish Sparrow, Dead Sea sparrow and possibly the Rock Sparrow. I suspect that when the Sparrow is mentioned in the bible it will be the House Sparrow that we should think about although it is worth mentioning that the Spanish Sparrow is very similar and often interbreeds with the House Sparrow.
There are four references to the Sparrow in the bible. The first come is found in Psalm 84:3
“Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. “
The Psalmist desires to be able to spend all his time in the dwelling place of the Lord i.e. the temple, close to God where even the sparrow is able to build it’s nest. The writer is almost jealous of the Sparrow because it can be so close to God. At this point I should note that Psalm 102 in some translations mentions sparrows but most modern translations just refer to a bird.
Also in the Old Testament we also find a reference to the Sparrow in Proverbs 26:2
“Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, an undeserved curse goes nowhere.”
As in the Psalm here we find that Sparrows and Swallows are linked. I find this a rather enigmatic verse. John Wesley suggested that the constant movement makes the bird hard to catch likewise a curse will not land on the innocent. Matthew Henry suggests that a curse will not hit the innocent just as birds will fly overhead!
The last references to Sparrows come in the gospels, in Luke 12:6-7 and Matthew 10:29-31
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
The passages are very similar although the context is different. The saying appears in Matthew’s gospel in a section where the disciples are being warned to expect persecution but they are told not to worry because if God is aware of what is going on in the lives of cheap, almost valueless sparrows how much more aware will God be of them. The Luken version is similar but the context is more general. The point being made is that if God is looking after the Sparrow God will surely look after us and so there is no need for us to be afraid.
There is of course a small difficulty here with the phrase “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” Some translations insert the word will or knowledge so that it means that not a bird falls to the ground with out the will of the the father or his knowledge. Does this mean that God decides when sparrows die? Or even when they land or take off? Does that mean that God will one day decide when we will die. Does God go around saying your numbers up today come home? Does God do it for Sparrows as well as humans? (and what about spiders.)