For this week’s Word Nerd Wednesday post, Donna brings to light the biblical significance of another seemingly insignificant word–dove. Just as with the post on “Field,” you don’t want to miss how God elevates the seemingly common.
by Donna M.Z. Hoover
God has a way of exalting that which might be considered as small and insignificant. The unassuming dove, a representation of innocence and hope, has become one of the most recognized and honored symbols of Christianity. Mentions of dove: yonah, tor, and peristera, are used both literally and metaphorically throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments.
Doves at times are referenced interchangeably with pigeons, as they both are from the Columbidae bird family. They are faithful to their mates, being incredibly loyal and cooperative with one another. Doves work together to build their nest and are great parents who both contribute to raising their young. This has earned them notoriety as a symbol of love, faithfulness, and fertility, ushering in the wedding tradition of couples releasing doves at their ceremonies.
Doves in the Bible
In Song of Songs (set in the springtime when the cooing of doves is abundant) the purity and faithfulness of the dove is used to describe the covenantal love of Christ for his church in endearing terms.
“My dove in the clefts of the rock,Song of Songs 2:14 (NIV)
in the hiding places on the mountainside,
show me your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.”
”I slept but my heart was awake.Song of Songs 5:2 (NIV)
Listen! My beloved is knocking:
‘Open to me, my sister, my darling,
my dove, my flawless one.
My head is drenched with dew,
my hair with the dampness of the night.’”
”but my dove, my perfect one, is unique,Song of Songs 6:9 (NIV)
the only daughter of her mother,
the favorite of the one who bore her.
The young women saw her and called her blessed;
the queens and concubines praised her.”
Doves are also an emblem of new beginnings.
In the Bible, God first introduces us to the gentle creature after He had sent rains to destroy evil in the world, sparing only Noah and his family. After 40 days floating in the ark, Noah ventured to find dry ground by sending forth a dove.
“Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.”Genesis 8:8-12 (NIV)
The symbolism depicted by the peaceful dove returning with the olive leaf has remained to this day an image of tranquility and assurance that life can begin anew.
In the Old Testament a smaller variety of pigeon played an important role for those who could not afford a lamb as a sacrifice. Two turtledoves could be offered instead for purification after childbearing. “But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering.” Leviticus 12:8 (NIV)
Mary and Joseph brought their own sacrifice of doves to the priests in the temple 40 days after Jesus’ birth. “When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons.’”
The most notable appearance of a dove in the Bible is referenced in all four gospels in the description of Jesus’ baptism.
“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”Matthew 3:16-17 (NIV).
Again, in John 1:32-34 (NIV):
“Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
(References are also found in Mark 1:10, and Luke 3:22.)
This significant event signified God’s sanction at this pivotal moment in history, the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Subsequently, the symbol of a dove holding an olive branch in its beak was used by early Christians in the portrayal of the act of baptism. It is no wonder then that the dove is seen in early Christian art as a representation of peace of the soul.
Although centuries have passed since the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as a dove, the imagery of this humble creature sparks hope for new beginnings and God’s blessings for redemption still today.
Meet Donna M.Z. Hoover
Donna is just a girl taking notes, picking flowers, and pursuing Jesus. A freelance writer for Vacaville Magazine, she is currently writing her first book about the faithfulness and love of God in hopeless situations. She recently stepped into the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and started singing with a band – she still has to pinch herself to see if she is awake! Donna lives in Northern California with her husband, Steven and her two Ragdoll cats, Boodles and Tiki (AKA Princess Fluffypants).