The sparrow finds home a while the swallow finds a nest. Both birds find homes and nests on the LORD'S Altars (plural), not altar.


Even the sparrow has found a home, And the swallow a nest for herself, Where she may lay her young -- Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts, My King and my God.

According to the law this is not possible due to the ordinance of the morning and evening sacrifice. Therefore both altars, golden and brazen are not available as a nesting place for birds.

For the Brazen altar

a) A fire burns on this altar perpetually:


'A fire shall always be burning on the altar; it shall never go out.

b) There is a perpetual morning and evening sacrifice.


"Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs of the first year, day by day continually. "One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight.

For the golden altar- Altar of Incense:

c) Incense burns on this altar perpetually.

"Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps, he shall burn incense on it.
8) "And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations

d) It is close to the holiest of holies and therefore the poop and urine of birds would defile it. The law considers excrement as an unclean thing.


"...you shall dig with it and turn and cover your refuse. "For the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp... therefore your camp shall be holy, that He may see no unclean thing among you, and turn away from you.

e) Swallows build their nests on vertical surfaces. The altar is not a vertical surface.


Today, barn swallows almost always build nests on...structures that have a ledge that can support the nest, a vertical wall to which it can be attached.

From thewonderofbirds.com


Literally or contextually, how can I make sense of this verse in light of the ordinances of the altar and the vertical surfaces that Swallows require for their nests.

  • I have listed five points that make this verse problematic for me. Four are from the scripture and the fifth point is based on the ledges and vertical surfaces that Swallows need to build their nests.
    – user20490
    Commented Nov 22, 2017 at 23:40
  • As far as I am able to understand, the latter half of verse 3 refers to the Psalmist, mentioned in verse 2, not to the birds. The former feels at home in God's House, just as the latter in their own nests.
    – Lucian
    Commented Nov 24, 2017 at 4:59

6 Answers 6


Poetry is rarely intended to be read literally. This psalm is written in three 4-line verses. As with anything in threes, there are hints of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

In the first, it is the Father's house. In the second, Jesus was the man of sorrows (Baca) and the living water. In the third, the oil and gifts are associated with the Spirit.

Hidden in the bland introduction is a picture of Christ. Musician נצח is also the word for perpetual and blood. Since 'Life is in the blood' could this be a veiled reference to eternal life?
Gittith means winetrough a common symbol of tribulation. Korah means bald, and is the same reference to Elisha who was taunted for not having authority, the leper who shaves his head, and the departure of the Father from the Son on the cross.

The tone of the verse is that of comfort and friendliness. The soul that is crying out does not desire the physical courts of the Lord, but for his heart to be the dwelling place of the Lord. He desired to be the living tabernacle of God, as we in the church now are. The sparrow (depart early) and the swallow (set free) represent those who die early and those who are set free from sin who find a dwelling place, a rest in the altars.

How can the birds find rest if there is a fire burning in the altars? Fire is the symbol of the Spirit in whom we find rest.

It's prophetic poetry fulfilled in Christ.

  • Wow Bob Jones. You brought a lot of insight with your answer. I never read meaning into the words "Gittith" or in the way the sentences are arranged. Thank you. I'm not satisfied with your answer though. Because you didn't address the prophetic element which is very important in the Psalms.
    – user20490
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 23:53
  • This answer deserves an upvote.
    – user20490
    Commented Nov 25, 2017 at 23:55
  • How is a picture of Christ not prophetic? It is a prophecy fulfilled in Christ.
    – Bob Jones
    Commented Nov 26, 2017 at 23:01

It has been suggested by some that the Psalm was written at a time when the altars were neglected and unused and therefore safe for birds to nest in. Thus, they say, the psalmist is distressed about this state and cries out to the Lord for remedy.

However, this is the Young's literal rendering of the relevant verses :

2 My soul desired, yea, it hath also been consumed, For the courts of Jehovah, My heart and my flesh cry aloud unto the living God,

3 (Even a sparrow hath found a house, And a swallow a nest for herself, Where she hath placed her brood,) Thine altars, O Jehovah of Hosts, My king and my God.

4 O the happiness of those inhabiting Thy house, Yet do they praise Thee. Selah.

The way this reads to me, is that the interpolation does not connect the bird nesting with the altars but rather it is connected to the courts. It is an outburst - even the sparrow has found a house !

The first interpretation, in my view, is more likely but I am not clear as to when it is thought that the psalm was written in order for the neglect to have occurred.

The psalm cannot refer to the captivity of Judah because David collated the psalms in his own lifetime.

But these are the two possibilities of which I am aware.

  • Thanks for your response. But this doesn't adequately answer the question because you didn't even cite references for your views about the psalm and when it was written.
    – user20490
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 10:36
  • @user20490 Well, I do not know when the psalm was written. And the view I have reported was privately conveyed to me. I am not aware that it has been documented anywhere.Psalm 84 is an ongoing project. Regards.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 11:59

David's longing is not to dwell in the altars but to abide in the courtyard. The NIV renders the passage as "near your altar":

NIV Psalm 84: 1How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! 2My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. 3Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. 4Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. 5Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. 6As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. 7They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. 8Hear my prayer, Lord God Almighty; listen to me, God of Jacob. 9Look on our shield,e O God; look with favor on your anointed one. 10Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. 11For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. 12Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you. http://biblehub.com/niv/psalms/84.htm

In this scenario the altar seems to stand in for the whole of the temple complex in the same way that "sword" might stand in for "war":


  • I used Deut 23:13 to show that YHVH considers excrement as a defiling agent. Excrement alone was enough to compromise the holiness of Israel's camp and to cause him to withdraw his help from them in battle.
    – user20490
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 10:42
  • So even if i am to take the NIV translation, the courts of the tabernacle are more sacred than the camp. The courts are central to the covenant and ordinances of divine worship. Going by that, the excrement of a bird and it's young would still be enough to defile tabernacle.
    – user20490
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 10:44
  • David is neither the swallow nor the sparrow because both birds have already found nests in the altar, while David still years or longs to dwell there.
    – user20490
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 10:45
  • I was hoping to see an answer that points to this verse as a prophecy concerning the end of the sacrifices. The end of the sacrifices at the altar and the ushering in of a new covenant.
    – user20490
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 10:49
  • The Psalm seems rather reverent and loving toward the courts rather than despising them, no?
    – Ruminator
    Commented Nov 23, 2017 at 13:11

Pastor John Engstrom,my pastor in Logan, Utah,cited this verse as having found favor with God when a swallow made a nest just above the door leading into the church sanctuary. He longed for a sign of God's approval as King David desired to be in the courts of the Lord,

and that this swallow felt safe just above the door where congregants enter and leave the church helped him (and us) know that our nearness to God was our safe haven. i would suggest that the scripture actually says "near your altars" if on your altars gives you a problem.

  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I also recommend going through the Help Center's sections on both asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Commented Apr 12 at 2:36

The sparrow did dwell on the Altar, God is Love. His creations are loved. Our Heavenly Father knows when a bird passes. You look to the law and you miss the point.I believe God love HIs creation and it stands sinless before him. Our Heavenly FAther’s laws are not towards the sinless that a gentle sparrow was. The mystical union that birds have with God is throughout the Bible

  • Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics! and thank you for your contribution. When you get a chance, please take the tour to understand how the site works and how it is different than others. I also recommend going through the Help Center's sections on both asking and answering questions.
    – agarza
    Commented Apr 14 at 12:57
  • As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Apr 14 at 12:58

David expressed his longing to the courts, Gods altars in the amiable tabernacles. Where he feels most at home and most close to the Lord his God and King. Between the mention of the courts and altars he interjects examples of the sparrow and swallow who found a home and nest for themselves and wants the same for himself in a spiritual and literal way being present in the tabernacles of God where those who dwell there are blessed and praise God. It is a figure of speech.

  • 1
    I think that what you have put is absolutely true, but the question is about the exact location [vertical surfaces etc:] of the nests, and the problems of birds defiling the "altars". Are "altars" metonymic? So despite your putting a beautiful truth re: David's longing, I consider your answer to be missing the point of the question and feel duty bound to vote to delete it.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Apr 17 at 11:51
  • I was not clear enough? David does not refer to a real situation. He makes a comparison between himself and the phenomenon of birds finding a nest. There is no real location or birds defiling an altar. The reference to the birds is nothing but figure of speech.
    – S.A.
    Commented Apr 18 at 12:21
  • If you google Peregrin Falcons at Salisbury Cathedral one sees actual birds on this tall building. These birds have made God's house [could be called "altars"] a literal home. In the past people have put poison to reduce their [not figurative] mess.
    – C. Stroud
    Commented Apr 18 at 13:27
  • I have edited my answer to better address the question in order to prevent deletion of this beautiful truth.
    – S.A.
    Commented Apr 18 at 14:04

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.