Hebrew 'oph, "a flying thing," in general; including even winged insects, though mostly used of birds. Ravenous birds are expressed by the Hebrew 'ait; Greek aetos, one that pounces on prey; smaller birds, as the sparrow, are called in Hebrew tsippor, the "tsip" imitating its note. Snaring of birds by net and gin is the image used for the plots of bad men and Satan, to catch souls to their ruin (Psalm 91:3; Psalm 124:7; Jeremiah 5:26-27). The "cage full of birds" is the trap with decoy birds to lure others, upon whom then the trap door was dropped. It is also the image for the awfully sudden and unexpected surprise with which Christ's second coming shall overtake the worldly in the midst of carnal security (Luke 21:35). The lake of Galilee still abounds in wild duck. The swan and goose (supposed to be meant in 1 Kings 4:23) also are found.
Snaring and shooting with arrows were the usual modes of taking them. The youth seduced by the strange woman's fair speech, "till a dart strike through his liver," is like such a bird "hasting to the snare and not knowing that it is for his life" (Proverbs 7:23). The Lord commanded Israel (Deuteronomy 22:6), "If a bird's nest chance to be before thee, ... whether they be young ones or eggs, ... thou shalt not take the dam with the young." By this the extirpation of the species was prevented. God cares for even sparrows (Matthew 10:29), much more for His children. He would have us imitate His tenderness even toward the inarticulate brutes beneath us. Birds kept in cages for pleasure are not mentioned in Scripture; except there be an allusion to them in Job 41:5, "Wilt thou play with him as with a bird?" Singing birds were rarer in Israel than with us, still there were some (Psalm 104:12; Ecclesiastes 12:4).
Birds, as the turtle dove and pigeon, were allowed to be substituted in sacrifices for more costly animals by the poor (Leviticus 1:14-17; Leviticus 12:2; Leviticus 12:6; Leviticus 12:8), but they were not to be divided as other victims (Genesis 15:10). The Virgin Mary's poverty appears from her presenting the offering of the poor (Luke 2:24). The abundance of birds in Israel appears from their devouring the seed sown by the wayside in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:4). Psalm 84:3 is understood as if sparrows and swallows made their nests in the two "altars" (observe the plural) of the tabernacle. But such a position for a birds' nest would be neither enviable nor safe, indeed scarcely possible in the altar of incense in the holy place before the veil. Rather there is an abbreviated comparison: what the house is to the sparrow, and what her nest is to the swallow, that Thine altars, are to my soul, and therefore my soul longs for them.
Like a little bird, which after a long defenseless wandering has found a house (compare Matthew 8:20) in which it may dwell securely, a nest to which it may entrust confidently its dearest possession, its young, thus have I a homeless wanderer found in Thy house the true nest for the soul; otherwise I should have been like the lonely bird on the housetop (compare Psalm 102:6; Psalm 74:19). Our two great needs are: (I) atonement for guilt, seas to be at peace with God; (II) access to God, and acceptance for our imperfect prayers. The altar of burnt offering outside (I) represented in type the former, namely, Christ's atonement for all guilt by His precious b1ood shedding; the altar of incense inside (II) typified the latter, our prayers being perfumed by our great Intercessor's merits, and so becoming a sweet-smelling savor before God (compare Psalm 141:2; Revelation 8:3-4).
The bird killed over running water, and the second bird dipped into the mixed water and blood and set free, for cleansing the leper, symbolize Christ slain to atone for our guilt, and living again and forever by His resurrection for our justification (Leviticus 14). As the "blood" represents our reconciliation to God by the atonement so the "water" our cleansing (John 19:34; 1 John 5:6). In Isaiah 31:5 Jehovah's solicitous, affectionate care for His people is illustrated. "As birds flying (i.e. parent birds hovering over their young to defend them from the vulture), so will the Lord of hosts defend Jerusalem." Compare the beautiful image of the parent eagle teaching the young the first flight (Deuteronomy 32:1; Psalm 91:4).
Men, like birds, are weak, soon ensnared, prone to wander from their true rest (Proverbs 7:23; Proverbs 27:8; Lamentations 3:52). Under Christ, in the gospel church. they find their rest lodging under the overshadowing branches of the true Vine (Ezekiel 17:23; Matthew 13:32) a better protection than that of the world power (Ezekiel 31:6; Daniel 2:38). Jeremiah 12:9; "Mine heritage is unto Me as a speckled bird," i.e., the Jewish nation had blended paganism with the altogether diverse Mosaic ritual; so the nations around, God's instruments of vengeance, as birds of prey like herself (through her assimilation to them) were ready to pounce upon her (compare Revelation 18:2).
The birds' instinctive observance of their seasons of migration, returning every spring from their winter abodes (Song of Solomon 2:12), is made a tacit reproof of God's people not returning to Him now that the winter of His judicial wrath is past, and the spring of His gracious favor set in (Jeremiah 8:7). Translate Proverbs 26:2, "as the sparrow (is prone to) wandering, as the swallow (is prone to) flying (yet never lights upon us), so the curse causeless shall not come" (Deuteronomy 23:5, Balaam and Israel; 2 Samuel 16:5-12, Shimei and David; Psalm 109:28). Ecclesiastes 10:20, "a bird of the air shall carry the matter." Proverbial: the fact will reach the king's knowledge in a marvelous way, as if a bird had carried it to him. The bird was regarded as the emblem of superhuman intelligence.