Psalm 102:6
I am like a pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.
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(6) Pelican.—See Leviticus 11:18. “It has been objected that the pelican is a water-bird, and cannot, therefore, be the kâath of the Scriptures—“the pelican of the wilderness”—as it must of necessity starve in the desert; but a midbar (wilderness) is often used to denote a wide open space, cultivated or uncultivated, and is not to be restricted to barren spots destitute of water; moreover, as a matter of fact, the pelican after filling its capacious pouch with fish, molluscs, &c, often does. retire to places far inland, where it consumes what it has captured. Thus, too, it breeds on the great sandy wastes near the mouths of the Danube. The expression ‘pelican in the wilderness,’ in the psalmist’s pitiable complaint, is a true picture of the bird as it sits in apparently melancholy mood with its bill resting on its breast (Bible Educator, iv. 8).

Owl.—Heb., khôs. (See Leviticus 11:17.) The bird is identified with the “owl” by the Hebrew in this passage, which should be rendered, “owl of the ruins.” Some, however, would identify this bird with the pelican, since khôs means “cup,” rendering “the pelican, even the pouch-bird.” (See Bible Educator, ii. 346.) LXX., Aquila, Theodotion, all have “screech-owl;” Symmachus, the “hoopoe.”

102:1-11 The whole word of God is of use to direct us in prayer; but here, is often elsewhere, the Holy Ghost has put words into our mouths. Here is a prayer put into the hands of the afflicted; let them present it to God. Even good men may be almost overwhelmed with afflictions. It is our duty and interest to pray; and it is comfort to an afflicted spirit to unburden itself, by a humble representation of its griefs. We must say, Blessed be the name of the Lord, who both gives and takes away. The psalmist looked upon himself as a dying man; My days are like a shadow.I am like a pelican of the wilderness - A bird in the midst of desolation becomes a striking image of loneliness and distress. The word rendered "pelican" - קאת qâ'ath - is supposed to have been a name given to the pelican from the idea of vomiting, as it "vomits the shells and other substances which it has too voraciously swallowed." The word occurs in the following places, where it is rendered as here "pelican:" Leviticus 11:18; Deuteronomy 14:17; and in Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14, where it is rendered "cormorant." The following description, taken from the "Land and the Book," vol. i. p. 403, by Dr. Thomson, will illustrate this passage. Speaking of the outlet of the Huleh, and the region of the exit of the Jordan from that lake in its course toward the sea of Tiberias, he says, "Here only have I seen the pelican of the wilderness, as David calls it. I once had one of them shot just below this place, and, as it was merely wounded in the wing, I had a good opportunity to study its character. It was certainly the most sombre, austere bird I ever saw. It gave one the blues merely to look at it. David could find no more expressive type of solitude and melancholy by which to illustrate his own sad state. It seemed as large as a half-grown donkey, and when fairly settled on its stout legs, it looked like one. The pelican is never seen but in these unfrequented solitudes, and to this agree all the references to it in the Bible."

I am like an owl of the desert - The owl is a well-known bird which dwells in solitudes and old ruins, and which becomes, alike by its seeking such places of abode, by its appearance, and by its doleful cry, the very emblem of desolation.

6, 7. The figures express extreme loneliness. Pelican; or, bittern, as the same word is translated, Isaiah 34:11 Zephaniah 2:14. It is a solitary and mournful bird, as also the owl here following is.

I am like a pelican of the wilderness,.... It may be so called, to distinguish it from another of the same name that lives upon the waters; which has the name of "pelican" in the Greek tongue, as is said, from its smiting and piercing its breast, and letting out blood for the reviving of its young; and in the Hebrew language, from its vomiting shell fish it has swallowed down; See Gill on Leviticus 11:18 where the word is rendered a "pelican" as here, and in Deuteronomy 14:17, the same we call the "shovelard"; but a "cormorant" in Isaiah 34:11, however, it seems to be a bird of solitude, and therefore the psalmist compares himself to it. According to Isidore (g), it is an Egyptian bird, that inhabits the desert of the river Nile, from whence it has the name of Canopus Aegyptus:

I am like an owl of the desert; or "of desert places"; so the Tigurine version; it is translated "the little owl" in Leviticus 11:17. It delights to be on old walls, and in ruined houses, and cares not to consort with other birds, and it makes a hideous sorrowful noise (h). Jarchi renders it the hawk, but that, as Kimchi (i) observes, is found in habitable places. Bochart (k) thinks the "onocrotalos" is meant, a bird so much of the same kind with the pelican, that they are promiscuously used by learned men; and which is a creature, as Jerom (l) says, that is used to dwell in desert places; and Isidore (m) observes, that there are two sorts of them, one that lives in the water, and another in the desert; it has its name from its braying like an ass; and Aelianus (n) speaks of a bird of this sort in India, which has a large crop like a sack; and the Hebrew word "cos" here used signifies a cup or vessel, from whence it may have its name; and which he says makes a very disagreeable noise, to which the psalmist may compare the voice of his groaning, Psalm 102:5.

(g) Origin. l. 12. c. 7. (h) "Solaque culminibus ferali carmine Bubo, saepe queri----", Virgil. Aeneid. 4. (i) Sepher Shorash. rad. (k) Hierozoic. par. 2. l. 2. c. 20. col. 275, 276. (l) Comment. in Esaiam, c. 34. fol. 64. A. (m) Ut supra. (Origin. l. 12. c. 7.) (n) De Animal. l. 16. c. 4.

I am like a {e} pelican of the wilderness: I am like an owl of the desert.

(e) Always mourning in solitude and casting out fearful cries.

6. He compares himself to solitude-loving birds which haunt desolate places and ruins, uttering weird and mournful cries. Cp. Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14 (A.V. cormorant). Render the second line, I am become as an owl in desolate places. The owl is called by the Arabs “mother of ruins,” and “in the tombs or on the ruins, among the desolate heaps which mark the sites of ancient Judah, on the sandy mounds of Beersheba, or on the spray-beaten fragments of Tyre, his low wailing note is sure to be heard at sunset.” Tristram’s Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 194.

Verse 6. - I am like a pelican in the wilderness. The Hebrew word here rendered "pelican" is elsewhere in our version translated by "cormorant" (Leviticus 11:7; Deuteronomy 14:17; Isaiah 34:11; Zephaniah 2:14); but it is now generally believed that the pelican is intended (compare the Septuagint πελεκᾶνι, and see Mr. Houghton's letter in the Academy, April 5, 1884, and the versions of Hengstenberg, Kay, Cheyne, and our Revisers). The pelican is a bird which haunts marshy and desolate places. It abounds in the Lake Huleh in Northern Galilee (Thomson, 'The Land and the Book,' p. 260). I am like an owl of the desert; or, "of the ruins." The owl haunts ruins in the East no less than in our own country (Layard, 'Nineveh and Babylon,' p. 484, note). Psalm 102:6קאת (construct of קאת or קאת from קאה, vid., Isaiah, at Isaiah 34:11-12), according to the lxx, is the pelican, and כּוס is the night-raven or the little horned-owl.

(Note: The lxx renders it: I am like a pelican of the desert, I am become as a night-raven upon a ruined place (οἰκοπέδῳ). In harmony with the lxx, Saadia (as also the Arabic version edited by Erpenius, the Samaritan Arabic, and Abulwald) renders קאת by Arab. qûq (here and in Leviticus 11:18; Deuteronomy 14:17; Isaiah 34:17), and כוס by Arab. bûm; the latter (bum) is an onomatopoetic name of the owl, and the former (k[uk[) does not even signify the owl or horned-owl (although the small horned-owl is called um kuéik in Egypt, and in Africa abu kuéik; vid., the dictionaries of Bocthor and Marcel s.v. chouette), but the pelican, the "long-necked water-bird" (Damiri after the lexicon el-‛Obâb of Hasan ben-Mohammed el-Saghani). The Graeco-Veneta also renders קאת with πελεκάν, - the Peshito, however, with Syr. qāqā'. What Ephrem on Deuteronomy 14:17 and the Physiologus Syrus (ed. Tychsen, p. 13, cf. pp. 110 f). say of Syr. qāqā', viz., that it is a marsh-bird, is very fond of its young ones, dwells in desolate places, and is incessantly noisy, likewise points to the pelican, although the Syrian lexicographers vary. Cf. also Oedmann, Vermischte Sammlungen, Heft 3, Cap. 6. (Fleischer after a communication from Rodiger.))

דּמה obtains the signification to be like, equal (aequalem esse), from the radical signification to be flat, even, and to spread out flat (as the Dutch have already recognised). They are both unclean creatures, which are fond of the loneliness of the desert and ruined places. To such a wilderness, that of the exile, is the poet unwillingly transported. He passes the nights without sleep (שׁקד, to watch during the time for sleep), and is therefore like a bird sitting lonesome (בּודד, Syriac erroneously נודד) upon the roof whilst all in the house beneath are sleeping. The Athnach in Psalm 102:8 separates that which is come to be from the ground of the "becoming" and the "becoming" itself. His grief is that his enemies reproach him as one forsaken of God. מהולל, part. Poal, is one made or become mad, Ecclesiastes 2:2 : my mad ones equals those who are mad against me. These swear by him, inasmuch as they say when they want to curse: "God do unto thee as unto this man," which is to be explained according to Isaiah 65:15; Jeremiah 29:22.

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