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Meaning of the Dove in the Bible


What is the meaning of the dove in the Bible? All of the Gospels record an instance in which the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove.

Luke 3:22 says: “And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.”

It was not actually a dove that descended upon Jesus at the moment of his water baptism, but the Holy Spirit “in a bodily shape like a dove”. The Spirit, in other words, transformed into the shape or form of a dove. What does this mean? Why a dove?

Meaning of the Dove in the Bible

The dove has much symbolic and spiritual meaning in the Bible. As depicted during Jesus’ baptism, the dove first and foremost represents the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity: the Holy Spirit. These verses reveal that while invisible, the Spirit of God can manifest in various forms and shapes, although the only shape that we have a recorded witness of in the scriptures is that of a dove.

The Dove As a Symbol of Grace

Doves are by nature beautiful and graceful. This simple attribute of the dove is revealing in that Jesus came to save sinners, not by their works, but by grace. The dove itself is representative then of Jesus’ means of securing eternal salvation for those who believe and receive Him.

It is significant that the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon Jesus during his water baptism. The ordinance of water baptism itself symbolizes Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection—which again points to the work of the Holy Spirit in raising Jesus from the dead. Romans 8:11 says: “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

In other words, the Holy Spirit would be active in Jesus’ bodily resurrection and securing the gift of salvation for mankind.

The Dove as a Symbol of Peace

The first time that a dove appears in the Bible is when Noah sends a dove into the world to see if the waters of the flood had abated from off the face of the earth. Genesis 8:8 says: “Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground;”

The dove at first did not find rest for its feet on the ground and return to the Ark. After seven days, Noah sends the dove out again. This time, Genesis 8:11 says: “And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth.”

The olive leaf that the dove brought back revealed that the waters had abated from the earth because the olive leaf was present and growing.

The olive in the Bible represents peace. There would now be peace with God, after the destruction of man from off the face of the earth.

Psalm 55:6 says: “And I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.” Again, the dove is mentioned in the Bible as a sign of peace and rest.

The Dove as a Symbol of Prosperity

In the Psalms, the dove is depicted as a symbol of blessing, prosperity and plenty from God.

Psalm 68:9-10 describes God’s provision for His people when they are weary and downtrodden: “Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain, whereby thou didst confirm thine inheritance, when it was weary.Thy congregation hath dwelt therein: thou, O God, hast prepared of thy goodness for the poor.”

And then following this statement, God mentions a dove decorated in gold and silver: “Though ye have lien among the pots, yet shall ye be as the wings of a dove covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.”

The dove here is immediately mentioned in association with God’s provision and blessing as personified by a dove whose wings are made of silver and its feathers of pure gold. This speaks of prosperity and provision for God’s own people, even when God is judging evil in the world.

The Dove as a Symbol of Love

The most romantic and amorous book in the Bible, the Song of Solomon, depicts feelings of love for one’s lover in association with a dove.

In the Song of Solomon 1:2, Solomon calls his lover his beloved and his dove: “I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.”

The Dove as the Holy Spirit

There are numerous symbolic and spiritual meanings associated with the dove in the Bible. The prophet Isaiah said in Isaiah 38:14: “… I did mourn as a dove …” The prophet Hosea called Ephraim “a silly dove without heart” in Hosea 7:11. The prophet Jeremiah warned the Moabites in Jeremiah 48:28 to flee the cities and to dwell in the rock (a reference to Christ) and to “be like the dove that maketh her nest in the sides of the hole’s mouth”.

But more than any other symbol or spiritual truth in the Bible, the dove points to the Holy Spirit, who descended upon Jesus in the shape of a dove during his water baptism. The symbolism is rich and deep. It tells us that Holy Spirit is full of grace and truth and embodies most of if not all of the characteristics attributed to doves in the Bible.

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