Psalms 102:7 AV
I watch, and am as a sparrow
alone upon the house top.
I watch, and am like a sparrow alone upon the house top
I keep a solitary vigil as the lone sentry of my nation; my fellows are too selfish, too careless to care for the beloved land, and so like a bird which sits alone on the housetop, I keep up a sad watch over my country.
The Psalmist compared himself to a bird, — a bird when it has lost its mate or its young, or is for some other reason made to mope alone in a solitary place.
Probably he did not refer to the cheerful sparrow of our own land, but if he did, the illustration would not be out of place, for the sparrow is happy in company, and if it were alone, the sole one of its species in the neighbourhood, there can be little doubt that it would become very miserable, and sit and pine away.
He who has felt himself to be so weak and inconsiderable as to have no more power over his times than a sparrow over a city, has also, when bowed down with despondency concerning the evils of the age, sat himself down in utter wretchedness to lament the ills which he could not heal.
Christians of an earnest, watchful kind often find themselves among those who have no sympathy with them; even in the church they look in vain for kindred spirits; then do they persevere in their prayers and labours, but feel themselves to be as lonely as the poor bird which looks from the ridge of the roof, and meets with no friendly greeting from any of its kind.
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Explanatory notes and quaint sayings
During the hours allotted to sleep “I wake,” like a little bird which sits solitary on the house-top, while all beneath enjoy the sleep which he giveth to his beloved.
— Alfred Edersheim.
A sparrow alone upon the house-top
When one of them has lost its mate — a matter of every-day occurrence — he will sit on the house-top alone, and lament by the hour his sad bereavement.
— W. M. Thomson.
I am as a sparrow alone, etc.
It is evident that the “sparrow alone and melancholy upon the house-tops” cannot be the lively, gregarious sparrow which assembles in such numbers on these favourite feeding-places the house-tops of the East.
We must therefore look for some other bird, and naturalists are now agreed that we may accept the Blue Thrush (Petrocossyphus cyaneus) as the particular tzippor, or small bird, which sits alone on the house-tops. The colour of this bird is a dark blue, whence it derives its popular name. Its habits exactly correspond with the idea of solitude and melancholy. The Blue Thrushes never assemble in flocks, and it is very rare to see more than a pair together. It is fond of sitting on the tops of houses, uttering its note, which, however agreeable to itself, is monotonous and melancholy to human ear.
— J.G. Wood, in “Bible Animals.”
Most readers are struck with the incongruity of the image, as it appears in our version, intended by the Psalmist to express a condition of distress and desolation.
The sparrow is found, indeed, all over the East, in connection with houses, as it is with ourselves; but it is everywhere one of the most social of birds, cheerful to impertinence; and mischievously disposed, instead of being retiring in its habits, and melancholy in its demeanour.
The word, in the original, is a general term for all the small birds, insectivorous and frugivirous, denominated clean, and that might be eaten according to the law, the thrushes, larks, wagtails, finches, as well as sparrows.
It seems to be, indeed, a mere imitation of their common note, like the one which we have in the word “chirrup.”
Most critics are, therefore, content with the rendering, “solitary bird,” or “solitary little bird.” But this is very unsatisfactory. It does not identify the species: and there is every probability that there must have been a particular bird which the Psalmist, writing at the close of the Babylonish captivity, had in his eye, corresponding to his representation of it, and illustrative of his isolated condition.
Such there is at the present day, of common occurrence in Southern Europe and Western Asia. Its history is very little known to the world, and its existence has hitherto escaped the notice of all biblical commentators.
Remarkably enough, the bird is commonly, but erroneously, called a sparrow, for it is a real thrush in size, in shape, in habits, and in song. It differs singularly from the rest of the tribe, throughout all the East, by a marked preference for sitting solitary upon the habitation of man.
It never associates with any other, and only at one season with its own mate; and even then it is often seen quite alone upon the house-top, where it warbles its sweet and plaintive strains, and continues its song, moving from roof to roof.
America has its solitary thrush, of another species, and of somewhat different habits. The dark solitary cane and myrtle swamps of the southern states are there the favourite haunts of the recluse bird; and the more dense and gloomy these are the more certainly is it to be found flitting in them.
— “The Biblical Treasury”.
But little do men perceive what solitude is, and how far it extendeth; for a crowd is not company, and faces are but a gallery of pictures, and talk but a tinkling cymbal where there is no love.
The Latin adage meeteth it a little: “magna civitas, magno solitudo;” because in a great town friends are scattered, so that there is not that fellowship, for the most part, which is in less neighbourhoods; but we may go further, and affirm most truly, that it is a mere and miserable solitude to want true friends, without which the world is but a wilderness; and even in this sense also of solitude, whosoever in the frame of his nature and affections is unfit for friendship, he taketh it of the beast, and not from humanity.
— Francis Bacon.
See the reason why people in trouble love solitariness.
They are full of sorrow; and sorrow, if it have taken deep root, is naturally reserved, and flies all conversation. Grief is a thing that is very silent and private. Those people that are very talkative and clamorous in their sorrows, are never very sorrowful. Some are apt to wonder, why melancholy people delight to be so much alone, and I will tell you the reason of it.
▪︎ Because the disordered humours of their bodies alter their temper, their humours, and their inclinations, that they are no more the same that they used to be; their very distemper is averse to what is joyous and diverting; and they that wonder at them may as wisely wonder why they will be diseased, which they would not be if the knew how to help it; but the Disease of Melancholy is so obstinate, and so unknown to all but those who have it, that nothing but the power of God can totally overthrow it, and I know no other cure for it.
▪︎ Another reason why they choose to be alone is, because people do not generally mind what they say, nor believe them, but rather deride them, which they do not use so cruelly to do with those that are in other distempers; and no man is to be blamed for avoiding society, when it does not afford the common credit to his words that is due to the rest of men.
▪︎ But, Another, and the principal reason why people in trouble and sadness choose to be alone is, because they generally apprehend themselves singled out to be the marks of God’s peculiar displeasure, and they are often by their sharp afflictions a terror to themselves, and a wonder to others. It even breaks their hearts to see how low they are fallen, how oppressed, that were once as easy, as pleasant, as full of hope as others are,
Job 6:21 : “Ye see my casting down, and are afraid.”
Psalms 71:7 . “I am as a wonder unto many.” And it is usually unpleasant to others to be with them.
Psalms 88:18 : “Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.”
And though it was not so with the friends of Job, to see a man whom they had once known happy, to be so miserable; one whom they had seen so very prosperous, to be so very poor, in such sorry, forlorn circumstances, did greatly affect them; he, poor man, was changed, they knew him not, Job 2:12-13 , “And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven. So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.”
As the prophet represents one under spiritual and great afflictions, “That he sitteth alone, and keepeth silence,” Lamentations 3:28 .
— Timothy Rogers (1660-1729), in “A Discourse on Trouble of Mind, and the Disease of Melancholy.”
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Night after night, and take no sleep; cannot get any by reason of thoughtfulness, care, and trouble:
and am as a sparrow alone upon the housetop;
or, “as a bird”; for there is no necessity of limiting it to a sparrow, to which the account does not seem so well to agree; for sparrows will not only perch on housetops and solitary places, but will make their nests in dwelling houses, and in places of public resort, as temples; hence David speaks of the sparrow finding an house near the altars of God, (Psalms 84:3) and Herodotus makes mention of sparrows and other birds making their nests in the temple at Branchides; which may serve to illustrate the text last mentioned: wherefore this may be understood of any solitary bird, and especially of the owl; the Jews had flat roofs upon their houses, and here birds of solitude would come and sit alone in the night season, to which the psalmist likens himself; being either forsaken by his friends and acquaintance; or, being in melancholy circumstances, he chose to be alone, mourning over his sorrowful state and condition.
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Hints for pastors and laypersons
The evils and benefits of solitude; when it may be sought, and when it becomes a folly.
Or, the mournful watcher — alone, outside the pale of communion, insignificant, wishful for fellowship, set apart to watch.
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