Sparrows not so much. The most remarkable thing about sparrows is probably how unimpressive they are. Although you may have seen thirty of them today, you may not have noticed a single one. Sparrows are particularly unphotogenic birds with their dull brown coloring and unexceptional characteristics. If you want a good twitter image, we’d recommend you look at the eagle again.
Bible references to eagles are suitably impressive. Some two dozen verses speak of eagles, and the raptors are used as symbols of soaring, swooping and strength (Isaiah 40:31, etc.) – and by extension, of the strong nations used by God in punishing Israel (Deuteronomy 28:49, etc.).
Sparrows are only mentioned in the Bible a few times, and when they are mentioned in Scripture it is usually as symbols of insignificance. Sparrows were the smallest birds that were used in offerings (Leviticus 14:4) and in the time of Christ two sparrows were sold for an assarius (Greek assarion), which was the lowest valued coin regularly issued in the Roman Empire. 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)! That is why Jesus was able to use the humble sparrow to teach a great lesson regarding God’s view of those of no significance:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (Matthew 10:29).
If we turn back to the Old Testament, one of the names of God in the Hebrew Scriptures is el roi (pronounced el raw-EE) which means the God who sees. The name was used by Hagar, the servant girl who fled from the anger of Abraham’s wife Sarah. The story in Genesis 16 tells us that Hagar found herself alone and as good as lost in the desert, and that she sank down exhausted in her lonely helplessness. The young servant’s situation was, in fact, similar to one that the psalmist compared to a sparrow: “I lie awake, and am like a sparrow alone on the housetop” (Psalm 102:7).
But Hagar was not as alone as she thought – she was seen and helped by the “Angel of the Lord.” Many scriptures indicate that this “Angel” was in fact a theophany, an appearance of the pre-incarnate Christ (John 8:58, etc.), and it was then that Hagar pronounced the name of God as el roi – the God who sees.
The words of Jesus recorded in the New Testament make the same point courtesy of the humble sparrow. No matter how insignificant we may think we are compared to the universe in which we live, and no matter how alone we may feel, the God who sees the sparrow sees us and is not unmoved by our situation.
It’s a simple thought yet a profound one. The God of the whole universe sees the insignificant just as much as he sees the significant: the great, the powerful, the impressive – the eagles of the world. The God who sees the eagle soar also sees the sparrow fall – and while his inspired word confirms God’s awareness of the eagle’s strength, it speaks even more clearly of his care for the sparrow.