3. For my days are consumed like smoke 1 and my bones are burnt up as a hearth. 24. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass, because I have forgotten to eat my bread. 5. By reason of the voice of my groaning, my bones cleave to my flesh. 36. I have become like a pelican 4 of the wilderness; I have become like an owl 5 of the deserts. 7. I have watched, and have been like a sparrow which is alone upon the house-top. 6
1 Hammond reads, "My days are consumed in the smoke." "The Syriac," says he, "read, in smoke, and so the sense will best bear, either my days or time of my life,
2 Hammond reads, "are burnt up as dry wood." "As for
4 The pelican is a bird of the desert, to which frequent allusion is made by the sacred writers. Its Hebrew name
5 The owl, it is highly probable, is the bird here intended. The original word
"Save that from yonder ivy mantled tower,
The moping owl does to the night complain," etc.
The habit of the owl in shunning the light of day, and delighting in solitude, well describes the sensitiveness with which the Psalmist, through the greatness of his grief, shrunk from society, and courted seclusion. Bochart contends that
6 There is here a reference to the flat roof of the eastern houses, a usual place of retirement, in ancient times, and even at this day, to the inhabitants of these countries.
7 "La translation Grecque ha Nicticorax qui est Chauvesouris." -- Fr.
8 Although Calvin expresses himself as having no doubt that the sparrow is here intended, the most eminent expositors are of a different opinion, contending that it is difficult to reconcile with the nature of the sparrow the ideas of wakefulness and solitude which the Psalmist represents as characteristic of the bird to which he compares himself. The sparrow is not a solitary moping bird which sits mournfully on the housetop, nor so timid as to betake itself to the darkest corners for concealment, and to spend the live long night in sleepless anxiety. It is gregarious, is commonly found chirping and fluttering about in the crowd, a pert, loquacious, and bustling creature, and builds its nest in the habitations of men. Every part of the description leads to the supposition that some nocturnal bird is to be understood, which from instinct hates the light, and comes forth from its hiding-place only when the shadows of the evening fall to hunt its prey, and from amidst the fragments, of some mouldering ruin to attract the attention of mankind by its mournful voice. Accordingly, it has been thought that the Psalmist refers to some species of the owl, distinguished for its plaintive cry and solitary disposition. -- Paxton's Illustrations of Scripture, volume 2, pages 355-357. "But," says Merrick, "as chos, mentioned in the preceding verse, seems also to signify an owl, we are perhaps to suppose two sorts of owls intended, one of which confines itself to deserts or ruinous places, and the other sometimes approaches cities or villages, and according to Virgil's description, (which Bochart quotes as conformable to that of the Psalmist,) sits alone on the house-top.
'Solaque culminibus ferali carmine bubo Visa queri, et longas in fletum ducere voces.' Æneid, lib. 4. 50. 462.
I doubt whether the Psalmist would in two verses together compare his situation to that of the very same bird, with no other difference than that of its sitting in the desert in one verse, and on the house-top in the other." Bochart thinks that the screech-owl is intended. The reason which Calvin assigns for the sparrow being called solitary, namely, because of the extreme sorrow which she feels when deprived of her mate, does not agree with the natural history of that bird; for, unlike the turtle, who, on losing her spouse, remains in a state of inconsolable widowhood, she accepts without reluctance the first companion that solicits her affections.
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