The Sparrow

The Hebrew word is tsippor, which is rendered “fowl” seven times, “bird” 64 times and “sparrow” twice (Psa 84:3; 102:7). It is used of any small “clean” bird, but in the LXX the Greek word strouthion refers specifically to the sparrow.

The sparrow belongs to the formal scientific order Passeriformes – perching birds – a classification that covers 60% of all bird species! Passerines are abundant in Israel and in most cases their plumage is an unremarkable colour, which demonstrates how unimpressive they are. They were easily caught, too, and sold in the markets for virtually nothing.

In the time of Christ, two sparrows were sold for an assarius, which was the lowest valued coin regularly issued in the Roman Empire (Matt 10:29). The small birds were considered so insignificant that if you bought four sparrows, the seller would often throw in one more for free (Luke 12:4-7)!

The lesson of the humble sparrow is brought home in the following quotes:

Isaiah 31:5 – “As birds (tsippor) flying, so will Yahweh of hosts defend Jerusalem”. The rapidity with which these small birds fly to defend their young represents the speed with which God will come to the rescue of His people.

Matthew 10:29-31 – If God is fully aware of the fall of one of these insignificant creatures, how much more is He cognisant of the life of His beloved people? Don’t be afraid, then, to confess Him before men.

Luke 12:6-7 – Not one single inconsequential sparrow is forgotten by God. Fear not, then, what man can do to you.

The mention of “two sparrows” is a link back to the law of the cleansing of the leper (Lev 14:4-7). Here was something outside the normal course of acceptable offerings. One bird was killed in an earthen vessel – a symbol of the lowliness of the one who was to save mankind from sin and death (Zech 9:9). The other was set free into the open field – a symbol of release from death and freedom in Christ (Gal 5:13). When the Lord spoke about the Father caring for those who see themselves as inconsequential, he was also talking about his own relationship with the Father as the humble sparrow that was to be offered to release mankind from sin and death. May we all have that same sense of humility.