Psalms 102:6 AV
I am like a pelican of the wilderness;
I am like an owl of the desert.
I am like a pelican of the wilderness
A mournful and even hideous object, the very image of desolation.
I am like an owl of the desert
Loving solitude, moping among ruins, hooting discordantly.
The Psalmist likens himself to two birds which were commonly used as emblems of gloom and wretchedness;
On other occasions he had been as the eagle, but the griefs of his people had pulled him down, the brightness was gone from his eye, and the beauty from his person; he seemed to himself to be as a melancholy bird sitting among the fallen palaces and prostrate temples of his native land.
Should not we also lament when the ways of Zion mourn and her strength languishes? Were there more of this holy sorrow we should soon see the Lord returning to build up his church.
It is ill for men to be playing the peacock with worldly pride when the ills of the times should make them as mournful as the pelican; and it is a terrible thing to see men flocking like vultures to devour the prey of a decaying church, when they ought rather to be lamenting among her ruins like the owl.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
I am like a pelican of the wilderness.
The Kaath was a bird of solitude that was to be found in the “wilderness,” i.e., far from the habitations of man.
This is one of the characteristics of the pelican, which does not love love the neighbourhood of human beings, and is fond of resulting to broad, uncultivated lands, where it will not be disturbed.
In them it makes its nest and hatches its young, and to them it retires after feeding, in order to digest in quiet the ample meal which it has made.
Mr. Tristram well suggests that the metaphor of the Psalmist may allude to the habit common to the pelican and its kin, of sitting motionless for hours after it has gorged itself with food, its head sunk on its shoulders, and its bill resting on its breast.
— J.G. Wood.
A pelican of the wilderness.
Here only at Hulet have I seen the pelican of the wilderness, as the psalmist calls it. I once had one of them shot just below this place, and, as it was merely wounded in the wing, I had a good opportunity to study its character. It was certainly the most sombre, austere bird I ever saw. It gave one the blues merely to look at it.
David could find no more expressive type of solitude and melancholy by which to illustrate his own sad state. It seemed as large as a half-grown donkey, and when fairly settled on its stout legs, it looked like one. The pelican is never seen but in these unfrequented solitudes.
— W.M. Thomson.
Consider that thou needest not complain, like Elijah, that thou art left alone, seeing the best of God’s saints in all ages have smarted in the same kind — instance in David: indeed sometimes he boasts how he “lay in green pastures, and was led by still waters;” but after he bemoans that he “sinks in deep mire, where there was no standing.”
What is become of those green pastures parched up with the drought?
Where are those still waters troubled with the tempest of affliction?
The same David compares himself to an “owl,” and in the next Psalm resembles himself to an “eagle.”
Do two fowls fly of more different kind?
▪︎ The one the scorn, the other the sovereign;
▪︎ the one the slowest, the other the swiftest;
▪︎ the one the most sharp-sighted, the other the most dim-eyed of all birds.
Wonder not, then, to find in thyself sudden and strange alterations. It fared thus with all God’s servants in their agonies of temptation; and be confident thereof, though now run aground with grief, in due time thou shalt be all afloat with comfort.
— Thomas Fuller.
Some kind of owl, it is thought, is intended by the Hebrew word cos, translated “little owl” in Leviticus 11:17 ; Deuteronomy 14:16 , where it is mentioned amongst the unclean birds.
It occurs also in Psalms 102:6 .
I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of ruined places (A. V., “desert”).
The Hebrew word cos means a “cup” in some passages of Scripture, from a root meaning to “receive,” to “hide,” or “bring together”; hence the pelican, “the cup,” or “pouch-bird,” has been suggested as the bird intended.
In this case the verse in the Psalm would be rendered thus: “I am become like a pelican in the wilderness, even as the pouch-bird in the desert places.” But the fact that both the pelican and the cos are enumerated in the list of birds to be avoided as food is against this theory, unless the word changed its meaning in the Psalmist’s time, which is improbable.
The expression cos “of ruined places” looks very much as if some owl were denoted.
The Arabic definitely applies a kindred expression as one of the names of an owl, viz., um elcharab, i.e. “mother of ruins.”
The Septuagint gives nukkktikorax as the meaning of cos; and we know from Aristotle that the Greek word was a synonym of wtoj, evidently, from his description of the bird, one of the cared owls.
Dr. Tristram is disposed to refer the cos to the little Athene Persica, the most common of all the owls in Psalestine, the representative of the A noetua of Southern Europe.
The Arabs call this bird “boomah,” from his note; he is described “as a grotesque and comical-looking little bird, familiar and yet cautious; never moving unnecessarily, but remaining glued to his perch, unless he has good reason for believing that he has been aetected, and twisting and turning his head instead of his eyes to watch what is going on.”
He is to be found amongst rocks in the wadys or trees by the water-side, in olive yards, in the tombs and on the ruins, on the sandy mounds of Beersheba, and on “the spray-beaten fragments of Tyre, where his low wailing noto is sure to be heard at sunset, and himself seen bowing and keeping time to his own music.”
— W. Houghton, in “Cassell’s Biblical Educator,” 1874,
Owl of the desert.
Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tower, The moping owl does to the moon complain Of such as, wandering near her secret bower, Molest her ancient solitary reign.
— Thomas Gray (1716-1771).
x O x
I am like a pelican of the wilderness
It may be so called, to distinguish it from another of the same name that lives upon the waters; which has the name of “pelican” in the Greek tongue, as is said, from its smiting and piercing its breast, and letting out blood for the reviving of its young; and in the Hebrew language, from its vomiting shell fish it has swallowed down; (See Gill on Leviticus 11:18) where the word is rendered a “pelican” as here, and in (Deuteronomy 14:17) , the same we call the “shovelard”; but a “cormorant” in (Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14) , however, it seems to be a bird of solitude, and therefore the psalmist compares himself to it.
According to Isidore, it is an Egyptian bird, that inhabits the desert of the river Nile, from whence it has the name of Canopus Aegyptus:
I am like an owl of the desert
or “of desert places”; so the Tigurine version; it is translated “the little owl” in (Leviticus 11:17; Deuteronomy 14:16) . It delights to be on old walls, and in ruined houses, and cares not to consort with other birds, and it makes a hideous sorrowful noise.
Jarchi renders it the hawk, but that, as Kimchi observes, is found in habitable places.
Bochart thinks the “onocrotalos” is meant, a bird so much of the same kind with the pelican, that they are promiscuously used by learned men; and which is a creature, as Jerom.
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