spar'-o (tsippor; strouthion; Latin passer): A small bird of the Fringillidae family. The Hebrew tsippor seems to have been a generic name under which were placed all small birds that frequented houses and gardens. The word occurs about 40 times in the Bible, and is indiscriminately translated "bird" "fowl" or "sparrow." Our translators have used the word "sparrow" where they felt that this bird best filled the requirements of the texts. Sparrows are small brown and gray birds of friendly habit that swarm over the northern part of Israel, and West of the Sea of Galilee, where the hills, plains and fertile fields are scattered over with villages. They build in the vineyards, orchards and bushes of the walled gardens surrounding houses, on the ground or in nooks and crannies of vine-covered walls. They live on seeds, small green buds and tiny insects and worms. Some members of the family sing musically; all are great chatterers when about the business of life. Repeatedly they are mentioned by Bible writers, but most of the references lose force as applying to the bird family, because they are translated "bird" or "fowl." In a few instances the word "sparrow" is used, and in some of these, painstaking commentators feel that what is said does not apply to the sparrow. For example see Ps 102:7:
"I watch, and am become like a sparrow
That is alone upon the housetop."
The feeling that this is not characteristic of the sparrow arises from the fact that it is such a friendly bird that if it were on the housetop it would be surrounded by half a dozen of its kind; so it has been suggested that a solitary thrush was intended. There is little force in the change. Thrushes of today are shy, timid birds of thickets and deep undergrowth. Occasionally a stray one comes around a house at migration, but once settled to the business of living they are the last and most infrequent bird to appear near the haunts of man. And bird habits do not change in one or two thousand years. In an overwhelmed hour the Psalmist poured out his heart before the Almighty. The reason he said he was like a "sparrow that is alone upon the housetop" was because it is the most unusual thing in the world for a sparrow to sit mourning alone, and therefore it attracted attention and made a forceful comparison. It only happens when the bird's mate has been killed or its nest and young destroyed, and this most cheerful of birds sitting solitary and dejected made a deep impression on the Psalmist who, when his hour of trouble came, said he was like the mourning sparrow--alone on the housetop. Another exquisite song describes the bird in its secure and happy hour:
"Yea, the sparrow hath found her a house,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young,
Even thine altars, O Yahweh of hosts,
My King, and my God" (Ps 84:3).
When the mind of man was young and he looked on the commonest acts of creatures around him as filled with mystery, miracle and sign--he held in superstitious reverence any bird that built on a temple, because he thought it meant that the bird thus building claimed the protection of God in so doing. For these reasons all temple builders were so reverenced that authentic instances are given of people being put to death, if they disturbed temple nests or builders. Because he noticed the sparrow in joyful conditions is good reason why the Psalmist should have been attracted by its mourning. There is a reference to the widespread distribution of these birds in Prov 26:2:
"As the sparrow in her wandering, as the swallow in her flying,
So the curse that is causeless alighteth not."
Once settled in a location, no bird clings more faithfully to its nest and young, so this "wandering" could only mean that they scatter widely in choosing locations. Mt 10:29: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father." This is a reference to the common custom in the East of catching small birds, and selling them to be skinned, roasted and sold as tid-bits--a bird to a mouthful. These lines no doubt are the origin of the oft-quoted phrase, "He marks the fall of the sparrow." Then in verse 31 comes this comforting assurance: "Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows." Lk 12:6: "Are not five sparrows sold for two pence? and not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God." This affirms the implication of Mark that these tiny birds were an article of commerce in the days of Jesus, just as they are now in the Far East.