Sparrow
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Bird watchers are usually presented as people who don't have it all quite together and can't do anything other than what they are doing. In the light of that statement, I wonder how many of you would be willing to say that you are bird watchers since you are supposed to be a little bit different if you bird watch?

I am going to suggest that we learn about scriptural bird watching. Four years ago the Lord gave me a verse to rest on when I needed some special strengthening from Him. That verse was Isaiah, chapter 40, verse 31:

Isaiah 40

31But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

After He gave me that verse and I began to study what the Scriptures had to say about eagles, my appetite was whetted to see what the Bible had to say about birds. I was amazed at the number of men in the Bible who were bird watchers. The thing that amazed me as I examined this in the Word of God is the number of times birds are mentioned, not as factual information, but presented to us in the Word of God on the basis of lessons that these individuals learned from their bird watching.

For example, the eagle is mentioned twenty-eight times in the Bible. Twenty-six of those times, it is mentioned as teaching some lesson. To me, that is significant, and that is the reason I think we should do some bird watching.

To encourage you to do some bird watching in the Scripture, let me remind you that Job said we ought to do it. Turn in your Bibles to the book of Job, chapter 12. As you turn to that portion of the Word of God, you will keep in mind that Job had three friends who really loved him, but he felt that they knew more about his situation than he did himself. When I read the book of Job, I am impressed with the fact that Job's friends were much harder to endure than his boils. His friends were much harder to endure than his suffering because they thought they had the solution to his problem, and he had to listen to them spout off when he knew very well that they didn't know what they were talking about.

Job answered one of his friends in chapter 12, and I have always appreciated the contempt or the disgust that was in these words:

Job 12

2No doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you.

That was about the most withering thing I think he could say after his friends produced the eloquent speeches they presented. In verse 3, Job says:

Job 12

3But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you: yea, who knoweth not such things as these?
4I am as one mocked of his neighbour, who calleth upon God, and he answereth him: the just upright man is laughed to scorn.
5He that is ready to slip with his feet is as a lamp despised in the thought of him that is at ease.
6The tabernacles of robbers prosper, and they that provoke God are secure; into whose hand God bringeth abundantly.

All of these men are wise in their own conceit is what Job is saying, and then he said:

Job 12

7But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee:
8Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.
9Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the LORD hath wrought this?

The chapter goes on to say what you will be taught if you observe these creatures of nature; namely, God is in control of everything. He knows what is going on.

Reason for Spiritual Bird Watching

For the purposes of our discussion, the reason we can do some scriptural bird watching, glance again at the last part of verse 7:

Job 12

7…and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee:

The word tell here is a translation of a Hebrew word that involves the idea of an explanation by way of illustration. He is saying, “Study the birds. They can tell you a lot of things that you can't be told any other way,” obviously spiritual lessons in the light of how the Word of God deals with birds.

Job, in the Old Testament, said that we ought to be bird watchers. The Lord Jesus Christ, in the New Testament, said that we ought to be bird watchers. Turn to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6, and notice a portion of the Word that I am sure you have noticed many, many times; you probably have quoted a portion of the paragraph at some time or other, but in doing so, missed the real suggestion that the Lord made. I know I did. For any number of years, I have quoted some portion of this paragraph and yet have missed how the paragraph opened. Notice, Matthew, chapter 6, verse 26:

Matthew 6

26Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

The rest of the paragraph is what we usually think about, but I would like for us to zero in on the statement of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Behold the fowls of the air.” This word behold is from a Greek word that speaks of doing more than taking a passing glance. It involves the idea of studying the fowls of the air.

Because men in the Word of God were bird watchers, we wrote down a number of lessons just in relation to fowls or birds in general, and I would like for us to notice a few of those general lessons. Turn to Psalm 11, and as we look at these passages of Scripture, let me emphasize what I have suggested any number of times when I am teaching the Word—that I believe you need to learn to read the Word of God with what I call a sanctified imagination . You need to be able to look behind the word and see actually what was said.

The Lord is In Charge

Notice what David said in Psalm 11:

Psalm 11

1In the LORD put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?
2For, lo, the wicked bend their bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string, that they may privily shoot at the upright in heart.

What is David talking about? He said, “One day I was out watching the birds. I saw some men with their bows and their arrows aimed at a little bird, and that little bird flew away to the mountain and escaped being killed by the archers.”

No, it is not there just like I said it, but it is there if you read the words with a sanctified imagination. What lesson did David give us from that? You don't need to flee like a helpless little bird to a mountain retreat to escape the arrow of the enemy because you have the Lord. “Don't tell me to flee like the little bird to the mountain. I have put my trust in the Lord. True, people are shooting at me and making it difficult for me, but even if the foundations of the earth are destroyed, the Lord is in His holy temple. He is still in charge of things. I don't have to run.”

Turn, please, to Psalm 124, and these are just a few of the illustrations that David has recorded in the Word concerning his bird watching experiences. In Psalm 124, you will notice he is talking about the difficult times he had with his enemies. The Psalm begins:

Psalm 124

1If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, now may Israel say;
2If it had not been the LORD who was on our side, when men rose up against us:
3Then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us:
4Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul:
5Then the proud waters had gone over our soul.
6Blessed be the LORD, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth.

Then he remembered one time when he was watching the birds and he saw a bird caught in a snare. He watched that bird flutter around, trying to get loose from the snare, and he realized the bird was not going to get loose, so he went and let the bird out of the snare and then he broke the snare. As he thought back on that experience, he said, “You know, that is exactly what has happened in our lives.” Look at verse 7:

Psalm 124

7Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped.

Nobody could like that if they had not seen a bird ensnared, helpless, fluttering, trying to get loose and then released, soaring off up into the sky; and because he was a lover of birds and it was unfair to snare them, he broke the snare. He said, “You know, that is what has happened to us.”

Do you realize that is what has happened to every one of us who has been redeemed? Every one of us who has found Jesus Christ as our Savior has escaped from the snare of the fowler. To me, the wonderful thing about it is that the snare is broken. I am glad that the Scriptures say that sin shall not have dominion over us. Of course, if you know the Word, you know that that is not teaching us that you will never sin after you are born again; but it does teach you that the snare is broken. You do not have to be a slave to sin. You do not have to let Satan direct your life.

It would be a sad thing, indeed, if we had escaped only to fall prey to the enemy again. I am grateful that the Word of God teaches us that the wicked one cannot touch us because He Who is begotten of God keeps us. The One Who is begotten of God is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Solomon's Observation

David must have passed on to his son his interest in bird watching, because he did it, too. If you will turn to Proverbs, chapter 27, you will notice an observation that Solomon made concerning lessons he had learned in relation to bird watching. Notice verse 8:

Proverbs 27

8As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.

You will want to compare that with what you find in Isaiah, chapter 16. The best way to understand the Word of God is to compare Scripture with Scripture, and in Isaiah, chapter 16, the prophet is speaking of the trouble that is going to come upon Moab because she dared to oppose the people of God. He said in Isaiah, chapter 16, verse 2:

Isaiah 16

2For it shall be, that, as a wandering bird…

You see, Solomon saw a wandering bird. Isaiah saw a wandering bird. The reason that I wanted you to turn to this passage of Scripture is that Isaiah tells us why that bird was wandering: “…a wandering bird cast out of the nest.” Literally, it was a wandering bird which had fallen out of the nest. There is nothing quite so helpless as a little bird that has fallen out of the nest. Perhaps the mother bird knew nothing about it, and there it was, on the ground, absolutely helpless.

One day Solomon was thinking about men who did not keep their place, about men who did not remember their high and their holy calling, and he said, “Do you know what that reminds me of? A little bird that has fallen out of its nest and is absolutely helpless.” When he saw the bird that had fallen out of its nest and was helpless, he was reminded of men who forget God and leave the place that God has given them and are wandering helplessly about.

The Speckled Bird

Turn with me, please, to the book of Jeremiah, chapter 12, and notice another man. We have notice several of them, but even this is only a sampling, actually. We see several of them who were bird watchers and profited from their watching of birds and wrote down the lessons that they learned. In Jeremiah, chapter 12, verse 9:

Jeremiah 12

9Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, the birds round about are against her; come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field, come to devour.

We don't have time for an exposition of this chapter, but put very briefly, the nation of Israel had been in such constant disobedience to God that the enemies all around were turned against them at the hand of God. “Mine heritage” here refers to the nation of Israel. This is God speaking. God says: “Mine heritage is as a speckled bird.”

Jeremiah had been bird watching, and he noticed how often when a speckled bird was hatched and eventually the feathers came so they knew that it was a speckled bird, all the other birds in the nest, even the mother, refused to accept it. They all pounced upon that bird from every corner and pecked it to death. Jeremiah says that is the way the nation of Israel is. Because of Israel's disobedience and willfulness, God has permitted all the nations of the world to come and peck at her as a speckled bird.

Let's take that out of the national level and put it down to a personal level and let me ask you, “Has there been a time in your life when you felt like a speckled bird, and you felt like everything and everyone was against you? Have you felt like nobody cared anything about you, when you felt like every turn that you made there was someone there to oppose you? That is a speckled bird, and God is interested in speckled birds.”

Do you know what God said in the book of Deuteronomy? He said that if you were walking down the road and you saw a bird's nest, you shouldn't disturb it. If you need to plow around it, plow around it, but don't disturb it. Why do you suppose He said that? Because He is interested in birds and because if He is interested in birds, He is interested in you.

The Sparrow and the Swallow

I would like for us to think specifically about a particular kind of bird. I want us to think about the sparrow and the swallow. The reason that I am putting these two together is that the Scripture often combines them and Scripture often uses the two words interchangeably.

The sparrow is not the sparrow that we know about, though it could be included in that. The Hebrew word for sparrow simply means “a very small bird.” That is the main thrust of this particular lesson in bird watching. We are going to talk about those small birds and the lessons that can be learned from them.

Let me begin by saying that the sparrow, the kind in the Word of God, is a lonely bird. You never see the sparrow in groups; you see him alone. One day David noticed that. Turn in your Bibles to Psalm 102. David is speaking here about the difficult situation in which he was. He began the Psalm by saying:

Psalm 102

1Hear my prayer, O LORD, and let my cry come unto thee.
2Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble…

The Sparrow is Lonely

That indicates the theme of the Psalm. David was in trouble, and he felt like even God had turned His back on him. He felt utterly alone. In verse 7, he said:

Psalm 102

7I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house top.

How often had he seen a lonely sparrow sitting on the top of the house and had said to himself, “My what a lonely looking bird that is.” Then he had this deep, spiritual exercise of soul when he felt utterly alone, and he said, “I am like that sparrow—alone on the house top.”

Have you ever been lonely? Notice what I say: Have you ever been lonely—not alone, but lonely? You know, you can be in the midst of a whole crowd of people and be lonely because you can be impressed with the fact that nobody really cares about you; nobody is really interested in you, and you are alone. Some of us have been, in the wisdom of God, called upon to live alone. I have been living alone for four years. My wife went to be with the Lord four years ago, in the wisdom of God, because God never makes a mistake. I know what David is talking about here when he said, “I feel like a sparrow alone upon a house top.” Not because I am not around people all of the time. I am doing this sort of thing all of the time. I am around people, and I love to be around people; but there is a loneliness that some people are called upon to go through that makes you think about this sparrow upon the house top, and I have felt that way many, many times.

We must recognize that sometimes when we feel alone, we don't need to. Turn in your Bibles to Romans, chapter 11. Sometimes we feel like that sparrow—alone upon the house top because we are more interested in ourselves and in our own sorrows than we are in fact. In chapter 11 of the book of Romans, Paul is emphasizing the fact that God is not through with the nation of Israel, that He still has another plan; but he says, “Sometimes you people feel that way.” Notice in verse 2:

Romans 11

2God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias [that is Elijah] ? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel saying,
3Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.

Sometimes, because we are lopsided in our view of things, we can feel that we are alone, that nobody else is interested in the things of God or living for Him. Of course, you know the rest of the story. Look at verse 4:

Romans 11

4But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.

Let's recognize that it is possible for us to feel like we are alone when we are not; but having stated that and eliminated that possibility, let me remind you of a passage of Scripture found in Hebrews, chapter 13. Just as certainly as I am sharing the Word of God with you at this moment, I can say that there will come a time in your life when you will be like a sparrow—alone upon the house top. This is not to discourage any one and it is not to frighten anyone; it is simply to prepare you for that time that is going to come, because it will come. You do not need to become pessimistic like Elijah and say, “I would rather die than live.” Rather, as Hebrews, chapter 13, verse 5, says, “Let your life be without covetousness.”

Covetousness is usually related to money and things, but in the light of the text that is before us, I think it is referring here to a life situation that you would like to be different. You covet what some other person has as far as life situations are concerned. Notice the verse again:

Hebrews 13

5Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

If he had been talking about the accumulation of goods, it seems to me it would have been better for the Scripture to have read, “…for he hath said I will supply all of your needs,” but that isn't what it says, is it? It says, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” Notice verse 6:

Hebrews 13

6So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.

If God has permitted you to be in a situation that is comparable to that sparrow alone on the house top, don't complain; rest on the Word of God. Sometimes when you have time, read verse 6 in the original text and notice grammatically how the emphasis is placed. We do not have time to go into it in detail, but let me paraphrase it for you rather roughly. It reads, “I will never, never, never leave you nor let you down.” Did you ever have someone let you down, somebody you trusted, somebody that you counted on? I think that we have all had an experience similar to that, and God has said in the Word of God, “You can count on Me. I am never going to let you down.”

The Sparrow is Wise

Let me suggest something else to you about the sparrow. The sparrow is not only a lonely bird, but the sparrow is a wise bird. Turn, please, to Psalm 84. In this Psalm, David is describing his longing to be with the people of God. At the particular time that he wrote this, he was a wanderer; he was a fugitive. He was not able to be in a place where he could have fellowship with God or other people, and he wrote Psalm 84. Notice verse 1:

Psalm 84

1How amiable are thy tabernacles, O LORD of hosts!
2My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.

Have you ever felt that way for fellowship with the Lord? That is what it meant to David. Then, he remembered one of his bird watching experiences. He remembered how, at one time when he was in the house of God, he looked up toward the altar and he noticed some movement. When he looked closer, he found a sparrow building her nest, so he wrote in verse 3:

Psalm 84

3Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.

He said, “I wish I could be like that sparrow. I wish I could be like that swallow that is able to build its nest at the very altar of God.”

What David is saying here is, “Can you think of anything better than to have your home in the altar of God in the sanctuary?”

Here is something, because I am always so vitally interested in the family, that I cannot pass over. Did you notice this swallow chose the altar of God to build a nest for her family? She could have chosen any place to build a nest, but she chose the altar of God.

Build Your Nest In the Sanctuary

I believe that things are put here for application and for instructions, so I am going to suggest to you if you want your family to be all that God wants it to be, build your nest, figuratively speaking, at the altar. Build your nest in the sanctuary because in the sanctuary is the answer to every question that you have. Surely you understand that I am not talking about a church building. Surely you understand that I am talking about your fellowship with God.

Let's go back to Psalm 77 for just a moment to see why I say that the sparrow is such a wise bird. In Psalm 77, we have the story of Asaph. Asaph is very much like us. He was in trouble, and he describes his trouble. He couldn't sleep at night because of his trouble, and when he thought about God, he didn't get any comfort; he felt more miserable. He reached the place where he said, in verse 7:

Psalm 77

7Will the Lord cast off for ever? and will he be favourable no more?
8Is his mercy clean gone for ever? doth his promise fail for evermore?

I hope you haven't had to go through experiences like this, but if you live very long and live very deep, you will. There is nothing wrong with you when you go through that phase of your life, when you wonder if God has forgotten to be gracious. That is what Asaph was saying. If you haven't reached a place like that, you just haven't been tried enough. When you are tried enough, you will say, “I wonder if God has forgotten to be gracious.”

He answers his own question in verse 10:

Psalm 77

10And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High.
11I will remember the works of the LORD: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.
12I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.

He is saying, “No, of course God has not forgotten to be gracious. God hasn't passed off forevermore. That is my weakness. That is my lack of faith. I will remember all of these answers to prayer that I have had in times past.” Then notice verse 13. This is the reason for my drawing your attention to this passage of Scripture:

Psalm 77

13Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary…

It is when you are in unbroken communion with Him that you understand His ways. Did you notice what he said? As soon as he said, “Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary,” he said, “…who is a great God like unto Thee?” A little bit before he thought God didn't care; now he says, “God is great. God is good.” Where did he learn that? The same place the sparrow built her nest. It might be wise to learn a lesson from the sparrow.

A Sparrow is Valuable

One last thing about the sparrow. The sparrow is a valuable bird. As I make that statement, you have every right to question it. A valuable bird, yes, but [listen closely] not to man, but to God. Turn, please, to Matthew, chapter 10, and notice what the Lord Jesus Christ has to say about sparrows. I am sure the Lord Jesus Christ did bird watching out in the open, but this particular incident that He records is in the temple. As He went into the temple one day, He saw a whole pile of sparrows (keep in mind we are talking about a small bird. It could have been turtledoves, pigeons, or whatever) with their legs tied together, and they were being sold for a sacrifice in the temple. As He looked at those sparrows, He said, in verse 29: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?” That was the least expensive offering that anybody could make.

If we were to stop there, we would say what we ordinarily say, “What is a sparrow? They are not worth anything at all,” but the Lord Jesus Christ said, in the last part of verse 29:

Matthew 10

29…and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.

That is how valuable they are. Not one sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing about it.

What do you think when you see a dead sparrow? Do you just kick it out of the way and go on? That would be a fairly normal reaction, but evidently when the Lord Jesus Christ saw the sparrow, He said, “My Father knows about that sparrow, and My Father cares about it.” Then notice what He says:

Matthew 10

30But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
31Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.

A sparrow is so important to God that it doesn't fall to the ground without God's knowing about it, and you are of more value than many sparrows.

Go back to Matthew, chapter 6. We glanced at it a bit earlier, and we suggested to you that the Lord Jesus Christ suggested that we do some bird watching in the sense that in verse 26, He said:

Matthew 6

26Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

The word fowls here is the Greek word for “sparrow.” Notice verse 27:

Matthew 6

27Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more [notice the emphasis there] clothe you, O ye of little faith?
31Therefore take no thought [no anxious thought] , saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
32(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
33But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
34Take therefore no thought [no anxious thought] for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

The next time that you see a sparrow, remember God is interested in that sparrow. An eloquent preacher said one time that there is never a sparrow dies but that God goes to its funeral. I am not that eloquent, so I don't usually talk like that, but it impressed me—not a sparrow dies, but that God goes to its funeral.

God is interested in you. The next time you see a sparrow, remember God cares about you so much more than about that sparrow.


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