The dove is often used as an image representing the Holy Spirit in Christian art. The dove and the olive branch are symbolic of peace and deliverance in the Bible. In 21st century politics, a person who advocates peaceful policies in foreign affairs is often called a Dove.
So what's with the Dove?
A Dove by definition is a graceful, slender-tailed, small-headed bird that’s common across many areas. Doves perch on telephone wires and forage for seeds on the ground; their flight is fast and bullet straight. Their soft, drawn-out calls sound like laments. When taking off, their wings make a sharp whistling or whinnying. (AllAboutBirds.org)
In the Bible, there are several references to doves. Doves are usually in abundance wherever there are seeds to eat; so it is no wonder that they were used as symbols in the Bible, as they would have been easily recognized by all readers. They are also very shy birds which do no harm. In fact, Matthew 10:16 states that Christians should be sheep that are as harmless as doves amongst wolves. You can see why it was easily understood, if you ever compared a wolf with a dove.
The birds are skittish. The Bible refers to other lands such as Syria as trembling like a dove (Hosea 11:11). In Hosea 7:11 it says, “Ephraim also is like a silly dove, without sense — they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.” This refers to Israel's lack of commitment to God and their indecisiveness. Like the nervous dove that flies to and fro as if disoriented or indecisive.
They are also predictable. Noah sent one out twice, and twice it returned. This told Noah it had found nothing more than tree branches sticking up from the water. But the third time, when the dove did not return, Noah knew it had found dry land upon which to land and look for seeds. (Genesis 8:9-12)
Doves are also fast flyers; they can reach speeds up to 40-50 miles per hour and travel 600 miles in a day. They have powerful wings, sometimes making sudden descents, ascents and dodges, with their pointed tails stretched behind them. Speed is of the essence in certain situations. We see the psalmist speak of escaping ones enemies in just such a way when he writes, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest" (Psalm 55:6)
The gentle nature of the Dove
Doves are quieter birds, they gently coo and in Isaiah 38:14 and Isaiah 59:11, referring to the suffering of the people of Judah, it says, “I mourned like a dove” and “… mourn sadly like doves”. (See also Ezekiel 7:16). Because of their big round eyes and dainty ways they were also used as examples in the book Song of Solomon to express the beauty and docile nature of a woman.
A dove is enemy to none. This bird just wants to go about life eating, sleeping and generally hanging out. Like a dove, we too should be innocent and an enemy to no one. Going about our life focusing on what is important and necessary.
When you think about marriage and love, you probably don't think of the Dove, but the Dove is a very good example of a strong marriage. The males and females have a lifespan of 15-33 years and usually mate for life. They work together to feed their new babies a substance called “crop milk” for the first few days of their life. Rich in protein and fat, it is secreted by both adults’ for the little ones. A great example of devotion and good parenting.
In addition, doves are a source of food. They are declared one of the clean animals that can be eaten by humans and are often hunted for their meat around the world. They were also offered by the Israelites as atonement sacrifices to God. Dorthy Resig in her article, The Enduring Symbolism of Doves states, "Several columbaria, or dovecotes, have been excavated in the City of David and the Jerusalem environs. These towers were undoubtedly used to raise doves for sacrificial offerings, as well as for the meat and fertilizer they provided—a popular practice in the Hellenistic and Roman periods that continued into the modern period." (biblicalarchaeology.org)
In one scripture it says, “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him.” (Matthew 3:16; see also Luke 3:22 and John 1:32). What descending like a dove really means is unclear, but we see that the dove is referenced in a godly way.
Doves in some areas are also known to linger with their bigger cousins the pigeon. Pigeons serve as a sort of guard for the dove. They can perch near the larger pigeon and feel like less of a target, with the added bonus of being alerted when danger is near, giving the dove a more relaxed lifestyle.
Doves and Christian Living
The question we should ask is, "How can we apply the lessons of the biblical representations of the dove in our lives today?" We see that the Dove is recognizable by almost all people. We should be recognizable as Christians. It is a peaceful bird, bringing no harm to any. We should be peacemakers and learn to get along with others. It is accepted by God and used symbolically in the Bible. God works with us so that we may be acceptable to Him. The dove is also quiet and devoted. We as Christians should avoid the conflicts of the world and stay devoted to God.
Overall, the dove is a wonderful example for use in both the Bible and for us.
For other examples of God's way read the free Bible study guide, Making Life Work.