3. For my days are consumed like smoke and my bones are burnt up as a hearth. 4. My heart is smitten, and withered like grass, because I have forgotten to eat my bread.5. By reason of the voice of my groaning, my bones cleave to my flesh. 6. I have become like a pelican of the wilderness; I have become like an owl of the deserts.7. I have watched, and have been like a sparrow which is alone upon the house-top.
3 For my days are consumed like smoke These expressions are hyperbolical, but still they show how deeply the desolation of the Church ought to wound the hearts of the people of God. Let every man, therefore, carefully examine himself on this head. If we do not prefer the Church to all the other objects of our solicitude, we are unworthy of being accounted among her members. Whenever we meet with such forms of expression as these, let us remember that they reproach our slothfulness in not being affected with the afflictions of the Church as we ought. The Psalmist compares his days to smoke, and his bones to the stones of the hearth, which, in the course of time, are consumed by the fire. By bones he means the strength of man. And, were not men devoid of feeling, such a melancholy spectacle of the wrath of God would assuredly have the effect of drying up their bones, and wasting away their whole rigor.
4 My heart is smitten, and dried up like grass Here he employs a third similitude, declaring that his heart is withered, and wholly dried up like mown grass. But he intends to express something more than that his heart was withered, and his bones reduced to a state of dryness. His language implies, that as the grass, when it is cut down, can no longer receive juice from the earth, nor retain the life and rigor which it derived from the root, so his heart being, as it were, torn and cut off from its root, was deprived of its natural nourishment. The meaning of the last clause, I have forgotten to eat my bread, is, My sorrow has been so great, that I have neglected my ordinary food. The Jews, it is true, during their captivity in Babylon, did eat their food; and it would have been an evidence of their having fallen into sinful despair, had they starved themselves to death. But what he means to say is, that he was so afflicted with sorrow as to refuse all delights, and to deprive himself even of food and drink. True believers may cease for a time to partake of their ordinary food, when, by voluntary fasting, they humbly beseech God to turn away his wrath, but the prophet does not here speak of that kind of abstinence from bodily sustenance. He speaks of such as is the effect of extreme mental distress, which is accompanied with a loathing of food, and a weariness of all things. In the close of the verse, he adds, that his body was, as it were, consuming or wasting away, so that his bones clave to his skin.
6 I have become like a pelican of the wilderness Instead of rendering the original word by pelican, some translate it bittern, and others the cuckoo. The Hebrew word here used for owl is rendered by the Septuagint nuktikorax, which signifies a bat. But as even the Jews are doubtful as to the kind of birds here intended, let it suffice us simply to know, that in this verse there are pointed out certain melancholy birds, whose place of abode is in the holes of mountains and in deserts, and whose note, instead of being delightful and sweet to the ear, inspires those who hear it with terror. I am removed, as if he had said, from the society of men, and am become almost like a wild beast of the forest. Although the people of God dwelt in a well cultivated and fertile region, yet the whole country of Chaldea and Assyria was to them like a wilderness, since their hearts were bound by the strongest ties of affection to the temple, and to their native country from which they had been expelled. The third similitude, which is taken from the sparrow, denotes such grief as produces the greatest uneasiness. The word tsphvr, tsippor, signifies in general any kind of bird; but I have no doubt that it is here to be understood of the sparrow. It is described as solitary or alone, because it has been bereaved of its mate; and so deeply affected are these little birds when separated from their mates, that their distress exceeds almost all sorrow.