Yes, the sparrow has found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even your altars, O LORD of hosts…
The swallow, like the robin and the wren, is one of the sacred birds of Christendom. Its own beauty throws a shield of protection over it; and by rude and gentle natures alike it is regarded with a feeling of veneration akin to that which pervades the quaint rhymes of the "Ancient Mariner." It makes its nest under the lowly cottage eaves, almost within reach of eager childish hands stretched forth from the dormer window; but it is as safe and unmolested there as under the porch of the rural sanctuary, whose profound quiet is disturbed only once a week by feet of reverent worshippers. Nor can we wonder at this beautiful feeling which extends to a few favoured birds and flowers an interest in that blessed religion which guards and hallows everything that God has made, as an earnest that it shall yet embrace all nature. It has more and other beauty than the mere grace of its form and the glossy sheen of its plumage. All the past summers of life have shed their halo around it. To the careworn mind there is childhood in every twitter of its little throat, and in every flash of its purple wing. It is full of our own human heart. Scarcely less wonderful than itself is the nest which it builds, in defiance of the laws of gravity, against the smooth masonry of the gable. It attaches its frail nest to the enduring structure of man that it may share in its endurance. It seeks, as the psalmist tells us, the vicinity of the altar of God, the safe sanctuary of holy places.
1. And is there not a profound lesson for us in this curious contrast? We are migratory like the swallow; and the land from whence we have come and to which we are hastening is fairer than any tropical dream of groves of palm and violet skies of unfading summer. We wear immortal wings within; and no small part of the sadness of human life arises from the incongruity between our capacities and attainments, our longings and enjoyments; between the infinite duration of our immortal spirits and the transitoriness of all things here.
2. The swallow, aerial as is its flight, transient as is its stay, graceful and ethereal as is its form, nevertheless builds its nest of the common clay of the ground; but compensates for the seeming degradation by attaching that nest to the home of man and the very altar of God. And so God has made our bodies of the dust of the earth, and closely connected our life with it. We must make our nest of clay. But while by our bodies we belong to one set of circumstances, we belong by our souls to another and higher. We are immortal guests dwelling within a transient house of clay that must one day crumble and fall and be resolved into the elements out of which it was built. And we, too, must build our clay-nest against the house of God, near the very altar of heaven, if its vanity and insignificance are to be redeemed, if we are to learn most richly the meaning of our discipline, and find strength to endure unto the end, and lay up provision in a storehouse which death cannot rifle.
3. The swallow's nest has a wise lesson for us in the building of many other structures, mental and moral, as well as material. To labour steadily and to wait patiently is the precept which it enforces. Only by slow and cautious degrees can any human effort reach perfection. Especially in the growth of the spiritual being, the formation of the Christian character, do we need to act upon the swallow's motto of "Haste is slow." We must not force our higher nature into premature or impatient development lest it become weak and unstable. Like all Nature's operations, which proceed by a wise and orderly progression from the seed to the blade, and from the blade to the ear, and from the ear to the full corn in the ear, never anticipating at any stage what belongs to a more advanced one, never exhibiting an abnormal precocity, the kingdom of heaven in us should develop its germinating fulness with the same ease and quietude and steady progress.
(H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.