William M. Thomson writes of the pesky sparrows in Syria.
No traveler in Syria will need an introduction to the sparrow on the house-top. They are a tame, troublesome, vivacious, and impertinent generation, and nestle just where they are not wanted. They stop up the stoves-pipes and water-gutters with their rubbish, build nests in the windows and under the beams in the roof, and would stuff your hat full of stubble if they found it hanging in a place to suit them. They are extremely pertinacious in asserting their right of possession, and have not the least reverence for any place or thing. David alludes to these characteristics of the sparrow in the eighty-fourth Psalm, when he complains that they had appropriated even the altars of God for their nests [Psalm 84:3]. Concerning himself, he says, “I watch, and am as a sparrow alone upon the house-top” [Psalm 102:7]. When one of them has lost its mate—a matter of every-day occurrence—he will sit on the house-top alone, and lament by the hour his sad bereavement. As these birds are not much relished for food, five sparrows may still be sold for “two farthings;” and when we see the eagerness with which they are destroyed as a worthless nuisance, we can appreciate the assurance that our heavenly Father, who takes care of them, so that not one can fall to the ground without his notice, will surely take care of us, who “are of more value than many sparrows.” [Matthew 10:29, 31; Luke 12:6-7] (Thomson, William M. The Land and the Book. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1886. Vol. 2, p.59.
The photo below shows one of the many varieties of sparrows found in the Middle East.
The first verse mentioned by Thomson illustrates the nuisance of the sparrow, making a nest even at the altars of the LORD.
Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God. (Psalm 84:3 ESV)
The next speaks of the lonely sparrow.
I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop. (Psalm 102:7 ESV)
The last reference speaks of the custom of buying sparrows.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31 ESV)
The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Keener, Craig S.) explains this custom.
Sparrows were one of the cheapest items sold for poor people’s food in the marketplace, the cheapest of all birds. Two were here purchased for an assarion, a small copper coin of little value (less than an hour’s work); Luke 12:6 seems to indicate that they were even cheaper if purchased in larger quantities. This is a standard Jewish “how much more” argument: If God cares for something as cheap as sparrows, how much more does he care for people!
The Lord’s use of simple examples from nature and everyday life to illustrate great truths provides an example for all who teach.