When was the last time you heard the gentle coo of a mourning dove? Depending on where you live you may or may not see doves frequently. For me, they are daily visitors to my neighborhood. I see them in abundance when I go for a walk. They quickly fly from tree to tree, lovely and agile.
I never really thought much about doves until I started studying the symbolism of the Bible. One day I was reading in Matthew and came upon this verse, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment, heaven was opened, and then he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” One specific part of the verse stood out to me- the part about the spirit descending like a dove. I wondered, “Why a dove?”
I decided to explore further. I researched other places in the Bible, to find out where doves are mentioned. I discovered that in the book of Genesis, the dove is seen in a very dramatic, earth-changing event. You probably know what it is don’t you? That’s right- it’s the FLOOD. The one and only FLOOD that covered the entire Earth! Noah and his family were spared by God and stayed inside the Ark during the whole event. But, at some point, Noah and his family would have to leave. That’s when Noah sent out the dove. He sent it out a total of three times. The first time he sent it, the dove couldn’t find a place to perch because water still covered the Earth. The second time he sent the dove out, it returned with an olive leaf in its beak. When it returned, Noah knew this meant the water had receded. Seven days after this, Noah sent the dove out once more, and this time the dove did not return. Noah knew it was safe to go onto dry land. God had brought peace back to the Earth again.
There are other examples of doves in the Bible. They were used as an acceptable sacrifice to the Lord. In Leviticus 14, it is stated that doves and pigeons could be used as a sacrifice to God, if this were all a person could afford. In the humblest of circumstances, a person could still honor God with a holy sacrifice. In Leviticus 1, it actually says the only kind of bird that can be offered to the Lord is a dove, or a young pigeon.
When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem to be consecrated to God, they sacrificed two doves or young pigeons. This was an important, yet humble sacrifice before God, as they were dedicating the son of God at his holy dwelling.
Researching even further I found out the story of Jonah is associated with a dove. You are probably thinking, “He was swallowed by a whale, not a dove.” Don’t worry, there were no giant doves eating Jonah! However, the name JONAH is where we find the dove. How you ask? Because the Hebrew name for Jonah is Yonah, which means dove. Yonah also means peace.
Another part of the Bible which mentions doves occurs in John, chapter 2. It is time for the Jewish Passover to begin, so Jesus goes to Jerusalem. Eventually, he makes his way to the temple courts and there he finds people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and still others who are exchanging money. Rarely do we see Jesus become angry, but in this instance he is very upset. He overturns the tables of the money changers. Specifically to the ones selling doves he says, “Get these out of here. Stop turning my Father’s House into a market!”. The Jews within the temple asked, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority over all this?” Jesus answered, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews were confused by his answer and replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple and you are going to raise it in three days?” They did not understand that Jesus was not talking about the physical temple standing before them. He was talking about his body, which is the holy temple of God. Jesus knew his body would be destroyed (crucified), yet it would be “raised up” in three days. Jesus would be resurrected. His body (holy temple), would be alive again- the temple would stand again.
I suppose you are realizing there are many places where doves are mentioned in the Bible. What does it all mean? Well, let’s look into these things.
Firstly, we see in Genesis that the dove returned to Noah when the flood waters had receded. In this case, the dove is a symbol for peace since the dove carried the olive leaf back to Noah. This meant the flood had ended and the Earth would once again be habitable for man. Thus, it was God’s sign for peace to Noah, and the Earth.
Now let’s look at the fact that doves were an acceptable and pure sacrifice to God. This is significant as it shows they were clean unto the Lord. That, in itself, shows the dove is a good sign. Most notable is the fact that doves were often sacrificed to the Lord by those who could not afford a lamb. This means the dove was a sacrifice of humility. Even Mary and Joseph offered doves as sacrifices when Jesus was consecrated at the Temple.
Of course, we know Jesus was a humble servant who came to Earth to become our lamb- our sacrifice. Jesus preached the gospel to people of all social classes, but he had a special heart for the poor, lost and broken-hearted. He preached humility and kindness. He cared not for wealth and stature. He praised the poor widow who placed but a small widow’s mite (coin) into the offering plate. This coin was the least valuable coin in all of Judea. Yet, Jesus felt great love for this woman, and her sacrifice, though it was very small in terms of earthly treasures.
We see Jesus becoming angry when he sees money being exchanged, and doves being sold at the holy temple. Perhaps this is reminder to us all that money can never bring peace and it can never be a sacrifice. Jesus says we must give up all we have to follow him. Money is temporary and earthly, yet Jesus is holy and eternal. Peace and money do not go hand in hand.
Perhaps most telling of all is when Jesus is being baptized in the River Jordan. As soon as Jesus was baptized, the Spirit of God descended on him like a dove. This reveals an important clue about God, and the Holy Spirit. Doves are peaceful, holy birds that are used as humble sacrifices in the word of God. Here we have the very spirit of God descending like a dove. Jesus became the humble sacrifice on the cross for us. When we receive Jesus, we receive his spirit. What is that spirit likened to? A dove.
God gave peace to the world once again with the sign of the dove after the flood. He gave it again when he sent his son, the true dove, the true peacemaker, to be a sacrifice for all of us. In fact, isn’t it interesting that Jesus was consecrated with doves at the temple? He is a King after all- why small, peaceful doves? Doves don’t even have talons. Shouldn’t a king deserve something much larger and more grand? Yet, in Matthew 25, verse 40 it says, “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers, you did for me.” This means Jesus calls us to be humble- to be like doves. We are to show people where true peace comes from. It comes from the humble King- Jesus. We are to sacrifice for others, and be servants as Jesus was.
I almost forgot about Jonah. We can’t forget him can we? His name means DOVE. Let’s remember Jonah was swallowed by a whale (or great fish) and he was in the belly of the whale for 3 days and 3 nights. Jonah had disobeyed God’s order to preach to the city of Nineveh. He was to tell them to repent and turn to God. Jonah refused because he didn’t think the Ninevites deserved forgiveness. After spending some one on one time with God in the belly of the whale Jonah repented, and decided to follow God’s plan. Now here’s where it gets very symbolic. If we go to the book of Matthew, we find that Jesus says something very interesting to the Pharisees and non-believers. The Pharisees did not believe Jesus was the son of God,so they asked for him to perform a sign. Jesus answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of earth. The men of of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:38-41)
Now, let’s keep in mind Jesus is our peace- He is our dove. Here in the book of Matthew, we have the “dove” telling the Pharisees and naysayers that the only sign they will get is from the story of Jonah, whose name means dove. He’s trying to tell the Pharisees that peace and hope is before their very eyes. Very soon, this man of peace, gentleness and innocence would hang on the cross for them. That would be their sign from God.
Back in 2014, when I was researching my book What Are the Chances, I went to New York City to check out what new developments had been made in the building of One World Trade Center. This is the building that replaced the old twin towers that were destroyed during the 9-11 terror attacks. In the midst of my journey I came upon something I wasn’t looking for. When I first saw it, I didn’t even know what it was! It had giant, rib-like spokes jutting out everywhere. It looked like a mixed up Stegosaurus! I asked my husband what it was and he said, “That’s going to be the new Transportation Hub for the World Trade Center Complex.” I thought, “That’s going to be a building?” It sure didn’t look like one. I decided to look up what the architectural plans were for this crazy looking building. I pulled up the finalized plans for this future Transportation Hub. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out what the building/hub would look like when it was done. The designer of the Transportation Hub was trying to create a building that would mimic a DOVE. Yes, a DOVE! The spoke-like ribs would eventually resemble a dove’s wings. The building itself would mimic a dove being released for flight. The whole building/hub would be painted white like a beautiful white dove. The inspiration here was one of peace. Since the 9-11 attacks were an act of war, this building/hub would exude the opposite. It would exemplify peace. The dove has always been a symbol of peace, not only in the Bible, but even in other cultures.
As I stood and looked at the building/hub, I wondered about the design- the dove being released in flight. I couldn’t help but wonder if our dove- Jesus Christ- was calling out to our nation. 9-11 is an event that shook the core of our nation. A foreign invader attacked our nation’s first capital. For a time, many turned back to God. Like ancient Nineveh, who Jonah warned, we turned back for a time. Just for a time. But, the turning didn’t quite last. Many decided to go their own way. It seems many have told the dove to fly back home. But perhaps God is reminding us that his dove- Jesus– is the only one who can save us. He is the only one who can give us peace.
And what about Jerusalem? Yes, Jerusalem. This is the land of our dove, Jesus. Jerusalem continues to be “a cup of trembling.” Everyone keeps saying we must bring peace to the Middle East and to Jerusalem. First of all, it is not US who will bring peace. A pastor won’t bring peace, a treaty won’t bring peace and neither will the Pope. A land deal will not bring peace either. There is only ONE way for peace to come- Jesus.
Jerusalem can be broken down into two words. Yeru (Hebrew) means city, while salem means peace. It means city of peace. But the truth is, there will be no peace in Jerusalem, or in Israel until the Prince of peace brings peace. He is their Shalom. He is the dove.
When we pray for lost loved ones, or for the Jewish people, we should be praying for ONE THING. We should be praying for PEACE to fill their hearts. That peace is the dove who gave his life on the cross- Jesus. In this world, we will have trouble. The Bible says this clearly. Jerusalem will have great trouble and there’s no land negotiation on Earth or interfaith treaty that will end that. Only Jesus can bring peace to the entire world.
Did you ever see doves being released at a wedding? Isn’t it beautiful? One day Jesus, our pure holy dove, will come to whisk us away to the grandest wedding you can imagine. Will you be ready? One day Jerusalem will be at peace. But only when the Prince of Peace sits on his throne and rules with a mighty scepter.
Revelation 22:17-“ The Spirit and the Bride say ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come’. Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” This verse is from the last book and chapter of the Bible. It is reminding us that those who have the Holy Spirit (the dove) will go to be with Jesus one day. We are his Bride. The doves will surely be released on that day.
Note: Did you know that doves can find their way home, even if it’s thousands of miles away? They, along with pigeons, have been used to deliver messages to military leaders, royalty and people of great importance. The greatest message we can receive is from our Savior- Jesus- our dove.