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What Do Pigeons Symbolize in the Bible?
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What Do Pigeons Symbolize in the Bible?

Pigeons and doves have great symbolic meaning in the Bible. These gentle birds are used to represent the Holy Spirit, deliverance, sacrifice, and peace. Understanding the spiritual significance of pigeons can help us better comprehend key events and teachings in Scripture. In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore the many meanings behind pigeons in the biblical text.

Introduction

Throughout the Bible, pigeons and doves are used to symbolize many concepts. These small birds were extremely common in ancient Israel, and they served as the most affordable sacrifice for those who could not afford a lamb. The cooing of doves spoke of grief and mourning. And in the New Testament, the dove becomes synonymous with the Holy Spirit.

Here are some key takeaways we’ll cover regarding pigeons in the Bible:

  • Pigeons represent the Holy Spirit due to their gentle nature.
  • They were used as sacrifices for purification and atonement of sin.
  • The dove announced the ending of God’s judgment in the Genesis flood.
  • Doves signify simplicity, purity, and peace.
  • Jesus commanded his disciples to exhibit the innocence of doves.
  • The mourning sound of doves expressed grief and lament.
  • Noah sent out a dove from the ark to find dry land.
  • Turtledoves are listed as acceptable sacrifices.
  • Doves appear at key moments in Jesus’ life and ministry.
  • The dove is a beloved symbol of the Holy Spirit and God’s abiding presence.

As we explore the symbolism of the pigeon throughout Scripture, we will examine relevant verses in depth while aiming to apply the key truths to our lives today. The pigeon’s rich biblical meaning can enrich our walk with God and understanding of His Word.

What do pigeons symbolize in the bible?

Pigeons Represent the Gentle Holy Spirit

One of the most prominent symbolic meanings of the dove in Scripture is to represent the Holy Spirit. Doves have long been considered a symbol for the Spirit of God because of their gentle, delicate nature. Several key verses connect the dove specifically with the manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove:

“When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him.” (Matthew 3:16, NKJV)

The dove perfectly captures the gentle, peaceful essence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit came upon Jesus in a visible and tangible way, indicating the start of Jesus’ ministry on earth.

Similarly, when John witnesses the Holy Spirit appearing as seven lamps before God’s throne in Revelation, he says:

“And from the throne proceeded lightnings, thunderings, and voices. Seven lamps of fire were burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.” (Revelation 4:5)

Through the dove and flaming lamp imagery, we get a vivid picture of the Holy Spirit in both His gentleness and powerful glory. The dove symbol has become synonymous with the Spirit’s abiding presence with believers.

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As Christians, we are blessed to have the very presence of God dwelling within us through the Holy Spirit. The dove reminds us of the Spirit’s quiet guidance, comfort, and conviction.

Pigeons as Sacrifices for Sin

One of the primary uses of pigeons in the Bible was as sacrifices for atonement and purification from sin. In the Old Testament, pigeons or turtledoves were used as sin or burnt offerings by those who could not afford a traditional lamb sacrifice:

“‘If he is bringing a lamb as his offering, then he shall offer it before the Lord. And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it before the tabernacle of meeting; and Aaron’s sons shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar. But if his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the Lord. Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.'” (Leviticus 1:10-13)

“And if he brings a lamb as his sin offering, he shall bring a female without blemish. Then he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering, and kill it as a sin offering at the place where they kill the burnt offering.” (Leviticus 4:32-33)

“‘But if he is unable to bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons, then he who sinned shall bring for his offering one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a sin offering.'” (Leviticus 5:7)

These verses show how pigeons and doves were used for purification and atonement, especially by poorer Israelites who could not afford sacrificial lambs. The pigeon served as a blood sacrifice to cover over sins before God. This foreshadows how Christ’s sacrifice provides atonement for the sins of the world.

The pigeon’s symbolism as an offering for sin continues in the New Testament when Joseph and Mary sacrifice two turtledoves after Jesus’ birth:

“Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD’), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.'” (Luke 2:22-24)

Though Jesus was sinless, He submitted to the Law’s requirements. The humble pigeon sacrifice reminds us of the high cost of atonement of sin.

The Dove Signals God’s Mercy After the Flood

After God had flooded the entire earth to purge it of humanity’s wickedness, He wanted to communicate to Noah that it was safe to exit the ark and repopulate the earth. God sent a dove to deliver this message in a beautiful symbol of mercy and hope after judgment:

“Then he waited yet another seven days and again he sent the dove out from the ark. And the dove came to him in the evening, and behold, a freshly plucked olive leaf was in her mouth; so Noah knew that the waters had receded from the earth.” (Genesis 8:10-11)

The olive leaf in the dove’s mouth signaled that plant life wasrenewing, and the floodwaters were receding from the earth. Noah could look forward to a fresh start for humanity by God’s grace.

The dove carries the promise of redemption after the consequences of sin. Just as God showed mercy on Noah, He extends mercy and salvation to all who trust in Christ today. The dove brings us comfort, knowing we are forgiven and have an opportunity to start anew in God’s promises.

Doves Represent Simplicity, Purity, and Peace

Beyond their specific symbolism in biblical stories, doves more generally represent qualities like purity, innocence, and peace. Their gentle nature and white color lend themselves to these associations.

Jesus tells His disciples:

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

Doves embody the type of blameless character Jesus calls His followers to exhibit. We are to practice wisdom and remain above reproach as we walk through life and serve God’s purposes.

The Psalmist also utilizes the dove as a symbol for deliverance and peace:

“Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” (Psalm 55:6)

In the midst of turmoil and threats from enemies, the psalmist longs for the freedom and peace represented by a dove set loose in the sky. The dove speaks to our hope for God’s protection and tranquility in anxious times.

As Christians, we can reflect on the dove’s quintessential purity and harmlessness. Though we will never achieve sinless perfection on earth, we can model meekness, innocence, and sincerity as we point others to Jesus Christ.

Doves Soothe Grief and Lament

The Bible writers also utilized the mournful sound of doves to express grief and lament. The cooing of doves speaks to deep wells of sadness and loss. Isaiah writes:

“For this is a people robbed and plundered; All of them are snared in holes, And they are hidden in prison houses; They are for prey, and no one delivers; For plunder, and no one says, ‘Restore!'” (Isaiah 42:22)

“Therefore I will wail for Moab, And I will cry out for all Moab; I will mourn for the men of Kir Heres. O vine of Sibmah! I will weep for you with the weeping of Jazer. Your plants have gone over the sea, They reach to the sea of Jazer. The plunderer has fallen on your summer fruit and your vintage.” (Isaiah 16:7,9)

The prophetic pronouncements indicate coming judgment on the enemies of God. The mourning image of the dove gives a weightiness to the prophecy, representing the devastation that is imminent. The cooing dove voices the anguish over loss and death.

In a similar vein, Ezekiel prophesies:

“In Rabbah of the Ammonites they will make a bed for her, and she will be bathed in water by those who excel in this art; for her lovers will exhaust themselves. Because you went out unashamed and exposed yourself, your nakedness was uncovered, even your shame. I will take away My peace from you and My favor, and kings will be nothing to you …They will seek your life but will by no means kill you. I have heard your wicked words and your shameful conduct. Therefore, behold, I will bring strangers against you, the most ruthless of the nations. They will draw their swords against the beauty of your wisdom and defile your splendor.” (Ezekiel 23:41-47)

The prophecy against unfaithful Jerusalem is framed by the image of mourning doves, representing the grief God experiences over His people’s rejection. The dove echoes the ache in God’s heart over sin and its consequences.

As we reflect on the dove’s lament, we’re reminded that God feels sorrow over those who turn from Him. It stirs in us compassion for the lost and motivation to represent Christ faithfully to our world.

Noah’s Dove Finds Life After the Flood

We’ve already explored how Noah sent out a dove at the end of the worldwide flood in Genesis 8. This famous story gives greater meaning to the dove as a symbol of salvation and the Holy Spirit.

Noah first sent out a raven from the ark, which flew back and forth until the waters dried up (Genesis 8:6-7). But the raven did not help Noah in determining if plant life had returned to the earth.

Next, Noah sent out the dove. It returned at first since the earth was still flooded. But when he sent it out a second time, the dove came back with an olive leaf in its beak, signalling to Noah that dry land had appeared and vegetation was growing again. Noah waited seven days and sent out the dove a third time, and it did not return because it could find a new home in the recovering earth (Genesis 8:10-12).

This story echoes the dove’s symbolism for the Holy Spirit providing help, guidance, and deliverance to God’s people at the appropriate time. The dove brought Noah hope of new life and blessing after God’s purifying judgment on the corrupt world. The dove signals the Spirit’s gentle presence with us even after we experience the storms and floods of life.

The Value of Common Pigeons and Doves

Besides their symbolic importance, pigeons and doves also served a very practical function in Israel as allowed sacrifices. The Law of Moses permitted common birds like turtledoves and young pigeons to be presented as burnt, sin, or purification offerings by those who could not afford livestock:

“But if the person is too poor to afford an animal from the flock, whether a sheep or goat, the payment will be two turtledoves or two young pigeons. One of these will be for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering.” (Leviticus 5:7)

“And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD’), and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, ‘A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.'” (Luke 2:22-24)

These verses reveal the mercy of God in providing an affordable option for sacrifices to atone for sins. Poor and humble believers could present pigeons to be received by the priests. Though simple, the pigeon allowed the poorest in society to worship Yahweh through obedience and sacrifice.

As Christians today, we can reflect on God’s compassion and inclusiveness. He made a way for everyone – regardless of wealth – to approach Him in worship through sacrifice. We serve a God who welcomes the meekest in spirit into His presence.

Appearances of Doves in Jesus’ Life and Ministry

Besides the Holy Spirit descending at Jesus’ baptism, doves appear at key moments in Christ’s life and ministry:

Jesus at the temple as a child – When Jesus was brought to the temple as a baby for Mary’s purification, Joseph and Mary offered the customary sacrifice of two turtledoves (Luke 2:24). This identifies Jesus with lowly Israelites who could only afford a common pigeon.

Jesus drives out money-changers – When driving out those selling sacrificial pigeons at high prices in the temple courts, Jesus referenced the scripture, “My house will be a house of prayer,” but they had made it “a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:12-13). The dove sellers were exploiting the poor who sought pigeons to worship.

Sellers seated when Jesus enters the temple – The synoptic gospels describe those selling doves sitting in the temple when Jesus forcefully overturns their tables (Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, Luke 19:45). Jesus was angry at the apathy toward enabling worship.

Jesus observes a poor widow’s offering – In the famous story of the widow’s mite, Jesus honors a vulnerable woman giving her last two small coins in the temple, contrasting her sincere offering with the proud religious leaders (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4). Like her humble pigeon sacrifice, the poor widow in her devotion gave all she had while the influential gave only out of excess.

Throughout Christ’s ministry, the pigeon points to His identification and compassion for the lowly. The sacrificial dove reminds us He came to liberate the meek and needy through His atonement for all.

The Dove Representing the Spirit and God’s Presence

In review, the dove vividly symbolizes the Holy Spirit based on key Scripture passages:

  • The dove descending on Jesus at His baptism (Matthew 3:16)
  • The flames representing the sevenfold Spirit before God’s throne (Revelation 4:5)
  • The dove bringing the olive leaf of deliverance after the flood (Genesis 8:11)
  • The innocence Jesus tells His disciples to emulate (Matthew 10:16)

Beyond specific stories, the dove represents the comfort, hope, and presence of God’s Spirit with His people. The dove signals the Spirit’s work to purify our hearts, guide us into truth, and empower us to serve Christ through frail earthen vessels.

The psalmist celebrated this ever-present help from the Lord:

“How excellent is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.” (Psalm 36:7)

And David found refuge under the feathers of divine wings:

“Because you have made the LORD, who is my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place, No evil shall befall you, Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling; For He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you in all your ways.” (Psalm 91:9-11)

In times of hardship, we too can find solace and strength under the shadow of the Almighty’s wings. The soft feathers and enveloping wings express the comfort and protection of God’s Spirit.

The biblical writers grasp this dove symbolism to assure us – God is always near. His gentle Spirit hovers over us, guiding us in the way of hope, renewal, and peace.

Conclusion

In the Scriptures, pigeons and doves symbolize the Holy Spirit, sacrifice for sin, deliverance, peace, purity, grief, and God’s presence. These birds played important practical and symbolic roles in the history of God’s people.

By understanding the meaning behind pigeons in the Bible, we can grasp key teachings and events on a deeper spiritual level. The pigeon’s rich symbolism continues to inform our walk with Christ today. Though praise and worship have changed since biblical times, the Holy Spirit remains as the dove – gentle, compassionate, and ever-present.

As Christians, we must remember three key lessons on pigeons:

  1. Value the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit, represented by the dove. Open your heart to the Spirit’s guidance each day.
  2. Reflect Christ’s humility and care for the poor and vulnerable. Provide opportunity for the lowliest to worship and serve God.
  3. Rely on God’s mercy and salvation through Christ, echoing the dove’s olive leaf after the flood. Trust in the finished work of the cross that makes us clean.

The pigeon’s symbolism weaves an inspiring tapestry throughout Scripture that draws us closer to God. Let us meditate on the spiritual message of the dove, being filled with the Holy Spirit and cultivating the fruits of purity, peace and compassion.

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Pastor duke taber
Pastor Duke Taber

Pastor Duke Taber

All articles have been written or reviewed by Pastor Duke Taber.
Pastor Duke Taber is an alumnus of Life Pacific University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary.
He has been in pastoral ministry since 1988.
Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world.
He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center, a Non-Denominational Spirit Filled Christian church in Mesquite Nevada.