Psalm 102:7 ‘I watch, and am become like a sparrow that is alone upon the housetop.’

May 7, 2017 by David Farmer 0 comments

Posted in: Weekly Commentary

This Weeks Focus Passage: Psalm 102:7

‘I watch, and am become like a sparrow that is alone upon the housetop.’

              The verse cited above for our focus passage this week is found joined together with the previous verse which should probably be taken as a piece. We put them together for consideration in that way;

I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am become as an owl of the waste places. I watch, and am become like a sparrow that is alone upon the housetop.

We should settle for our understanding just what is intended by some of the primary nouns, or subjects. In other words, what has the author in mind when he speaks of a pelican? Indeed, of what is he thinking when he refers to a wilderness? In the very same vein, is his owl to be understood as the selfsame bird that we know as an owl? And of what does he speak when he has written ‘waste places’? Are sparrows in Palestine equal or similarly so to the sparrows in our neck of the woods? What is intended by this housetop upon which the sparrow finds itself alone? Let us attempt to settle these matters before dealing with the rest of the picture that our ‘artist’ has left to us in this 102nd psalm.

              The superscription—which is the first verse in the original— provides the reader with some important information about the human author of this psalm. What it does not provide us is the name of the author, nor the particular setting of its being written; we can only guess at these things. This is apparent in the great differences of thought among the commentators with regard to these questions. There is little consensus even about just which birds are being spoken of; whether pelicans, as we think of them in our time and place; whether owls as we may know them; and just which is intended by the sparrow. It demonstrates that they are, for the most part, only guessing themselves. This superscription is given, nonetheless, for the reader’s consideration and reflection:

A Prayer of the afflicted, when he is overwhelmed (or, fainteth), and poureth out his complaint before Jehovah.

 Whoever the author of Psalm 102 is, we are here informed that he feels afflicted to the point of being overwhelmed, perhaps even to the point of fainting. This leads him to issue his complaint unto the Lord his God. He is afflicted, overwhelmed, and he cries unto Jehovah to incline His ear unto him. Are we to gather from this that he is in doubt of receiving a hearing from God? He pleads, let my cry come unto thee…Hide not thy face from me…answer me speedily. And he embellishes his sad state of affairs with synonyms such as ‘the day of my distress,’ ‘that consume away like smoke,’ and, my ‘bones are burned,’ they ‘cleave to my flesh,’ ‘my heart is smitten and withered.’ His condition seems hopeless; where shall he turn?

              Where indeed he seems to know not. He compares his circumstances to that of ‘a pelican of the wilderness; ‘an owl of the waste places,’ or desert; he is ‘become like a sparrow that is alone upon the housetops.’ That sums it up. He is alone in his estimation. He watches, but for what? Is he lonely because he feels out of place? If the pelican of the wilderness is the same bird that we know as a pelican, it seems that the last place he would be found would be in a wilderness. Do we not, rather, expect to see them on the seacoast? Are they not perfectly at home, soaring about over the vast expanse of waters? Are they not in their own element floating upon the water, diving below it to fetch a morsel? How wonderful for them to be so equipped as to be comfortable, both over the water or in the water. But in the wilderness? Would that not be unnatural for such a creature? Is it the psalmist’s complaint that things are out of order? And the owl; do we expect to see owls in the desert, or waste places? Do we not look for them, rather, in the heights of the magnificent greenery of trees? Would they not be out of place in a desert? The ERV—I had thought that ERV was an acronym for English Revised Version, but it represents a paraphrase known as the Easy to Read Version—has rendered verse six as; ‘I am lonely, like an owl living in the desert, like an owl living among old ruined buildings.’ While it is not a very good translation, it does perhaps represent the thought in the psalmist’s mind of loneliness; and of feeling out of place; isolation. This isolation is further typified, and poignantly, under the form of a sparrow that is alone upon the housetop. I am not an ornithologist, but in my limited knowledge, I would think that a sparrow being alone is contrary to their nature.

              What about the Christian; is isolation normal for the believer? What? Christ an isolationist? Yes, He went apart frequently to pray; as should we, but His bent was gregarious; He was fond of being in the company of others. He had His disciples; He had His closest three in Peter, James, and John. He was no isolationist! We have in the Scriptures an example of one who isolated himself for a time, and He was rebuked and challenged by God for it. It is an astounding account found in 1 Kings 19, which follows upon the relating of what has been called by some as ‘The contest on Mount Carmel,’ between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. It is astounding from the fact of the intrepid prophet’s strong faith in his God, that He would answer his call to come down upon the sacrifice and show the people who is the True God. And yet, after this God-given victory, when Elijah receives word that Jezebel, Ahab’s queen, has promised death for the prophet, he fled for his life. Fearful now, Elijah finds himself in the wilderness, like the pelican of Psalm 102, isolated; out of place, subsequently enhancing his isolation in a cave—a waste place?—like the owl. He utters his complaint, as our psalmist, unto God. He complains, I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. After responding in wind, fire, and earthquake, the Lord spoke in a still, small voice to His prophet. He told Elijah, to paraphrase, ‘Get up and go, I have things for you to do!’ And He gave him his marching orders. 

We should not be surprised that when we stand, as Elijah did, for the truth, that we may be isolated; we may often feel like these pelicans, owls, and sparrows, but we are not isolated; we have the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are not alone.   

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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