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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Identity of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Why Is the Holy Spirit Compared to a Dove?

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Why Is the Holy Spirit Compared to a Dove?

The Identity of the Holy Spirit – Question 23

When Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit came upon Him in the form of a dove. We read of this in the Gospel of Luke. It puts it this way.

And the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with you” (Luke 3:22 NLT).

All four gospels testify to this event. Consequently, we find the dove used as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. There are a number of reasons why the dove was chosen.

1. The Dove Symbolizes Peace and Rest

The dove is a symbol of peace and rest. When Noah wanted to see if the waters of the Flood had subsided he sent out a dove. The Book of Genesis says.

Then he sent out a dove to see whether the water on the earth’s surface had gone down, but the dove found no resting place for her foot. She returned to him in the ark because water covered the surface of the whole earth. He reached out and brought her into the ark to himself. So Noah waited seven more days and sent out the dove from the ark again. When the dove came to him at evening, there was a plucked olive leaf in her beak. So Noah knew that the water on the earth’s surface had gone down. After he had waited another seven days, he sent out the dove, but she did not return to him again (Genesis 8:8-12 HCSB).

Here the dove was used to symbolize the new world was ready to be re-inhabited. The violent and sinful people had been judged.

The psalmist wrote about how the dove brings rest.

Oh, how I wish I had wings like a dove; then I would fly away and rest! (Psalm 55:6 NLT).

This further illustrates what the dove meant to the people. It was a bird which could fly away and rest.

The cooing of doves is seen a symbol of peace and tranquility. We read about this in the Song of Solomon.

Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land (Song of Solomon 2:12 NIV).

Again, the cooing of the dove is a sign that a new season has arrived.

These illustrations are in keeping with what Scripture has to say about the Holy Spirit. For one thing, the fruit of the Holy Spirit is peace. Paul wrote to the Galatians.

But the fruit of the Spirit is... peace (Galatians 5:22 KJV)

As the dove is a symbol of peace, the Holy Spirit brings peace to heart of the believer.

2. The Dove Represents Love

We also discover that the dove represents love. In the Song of Solomon, the one who is loved is compared to a dove.

I was asleep, but dreaming: The one I love was at the door, knocking and saying, “My darling, my very own, my flawless dove, open the door for me! My head is drenched with evening dew” (Song of Solomon 5:2 CEV).

This gives further evidence of how the dove was viewed. It was a bird which was used to represent love between two people.

This is in keeping with what the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote to the Romans about the love of the Holy Spirit.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Romans 5:5 NRSV).

The love of God is poured out through the Holy Spirit.

Paul again wrote to the Romans about the love of the Spirit. He put it this way.

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf (Romans 15:30 NRSV).

To the Galatians Paul said that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is love.

But the fruit of the Spirit is... love (Galatians 5:22 KJV).

Love is one of the results of the work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the dove, which represented love to the people of ancient Israel, is a fitting analogy for the Holy Spirit.

3. The Dove Represents Purity and Perfection

Purity and perfection are other characteristics of a dove. Again, we read in Song of Solomon.

I was asleep, but dreaming: The one I love was at the door, knocking and saying, “My darling, my very own, my flawless dove, open the door for me! My head is drenched with evening dew” (Song of Solomon 5:2 CEV).

The lover is compared to a flawless dove.

We also read in Song of Solomon of how the dove symbolizes perfection.

But my dove, my perfect one, is unique, the only daughter of her mother, the favorite of the one who bore her. The maidens saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines praised her (Song of Solomon 6:9 NIV).

The Spirit of God is pure and He is perfect.

4. The Dove Represents Humility

The dove is symbolized as one who is humble, not proud. We read of this in the Song of Solomon. It says.

My dove in the clefts of the rock, 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 (Song of Solomon 2:14 NIV).

The dove does not seem to be a creature who boasts of itself.

In like manner, Isaiah the prophet wrote about the humility of the servant of the Lord – the Messiah.

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets (Isaiah 42:1, 2 NIV).

The Messiah was to be characterized by humility.

This is an accurate representation of the character of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus Himself said.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:29 TNIV).

In the same manner, we find that the Holy Spirit shows humility. In fact, He does not speak of Himself but rather of Jesus. Jesus said.

However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come (John 16:13 NKJV).

The Contemporary English Version puts it this way.

The Spirit shows what is true and will come and guide you into the full truth. The Spirit doesn’t speak on his own. He will tell you only what he has heard from me, and he will let you know what is going to happen (John 16:13 CEV)

The Holy Spirit humbly speaks of Jesus Christ, rather than Himself. This is genuine humility.

5. The Dove Is Harmless

The dove is also considered to be a harmless bird. Jesus illustrated this truth when He spoke of how His disciples were to behave. We read.

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16 TNIV).

The dove is seen to be an innocent bird.

The Bible says that the Holy Spirit can be grieved but never says that He can be angered.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30 TNIV).

The Holy Spirit has been given to help believers; not to harm them.

6. The Dove Moans When There Is Trouble

Isaiah the prophet wrote about how the dove moans when there is trouble.

Like a swallow or a crane I clamor, I moan like a dove. My eyes are weary with looking upward. O Lord, I am oppressed; be thou my security! (Isaiah 38:14 RSV).

This seems to give the idea that that the dove is not a fighting creature.

Isaiah also wrote.

We all growl like bears, we moan and moan like doves; we look for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us (Isaiah 59:11 RSV).

As the dove moans when there is trouble, the Holy Spirit works with the believer in our weakness. Paul wrote to the Romans how the Holy Spirit helps with our prayers through “wordless groans.”

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans (Romans 8:26 TNIV).

He helps us when we are weak.

7. The Dove Understands the Change of the Seasons

The dove also understands when the seasons change. The prophet Jeremiah noted.

Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration. But my people do not know the requirements of the LORD (Jeremiah 8:7 NIV).

The dove is aware of what is taking place.

In Song of Solomon we read.

Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land (Song of Solomon 2:12 NIV).

In the same manner, the Holy Spirit, as God, knows all things. Indeed, He is aware of everything which is taking place on the earth.

8. The Dove Is a Clean Bird

Since the dove was used for sacrifice, it is a ceremonially “clean” animal. We read of the offering f the dove in Leviticus.

And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the door of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering (Leviticus 12:6 RSV).

This is another example of the purity of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, from a search of the Scripture, we find that the comparison of the Holy Spirit to a dove has a number of different meanings.

Summary – Question 23
Why Is the Holy Spirit Compared to a Dove?

God chose the symbol of the dove to represent the Holy Spirit. As we search the Scripture we find that the dove represented a number of things to the people in the ancient world.

We find that the dove was a peace symbol. The Spirit of God brings peace and rest to the heart of those who know Jesus Christ as their Savior.

The Bible says that the dove also was a symbol of love. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is the love He produces in the life of the believer.

The dove was representative of purity and perfection. This is an apt description of the Spirit of God. He is pure and perfect in all of His ways.

We also find that the dove was viewed as a harmless bird. The Holy Spirit gently works in the hearts and lives of those who have trusted Christ.

Seemingly the dove represented humility to the people. This certainly fits with how the Bible describes the Holy Spirit. Indeed, He does not speak about Himself but rather speaks only of God the Son, Jesus Christ.

Scripture says the dove also understands when the seasons change. The Holy Spirit, as God, understands all things. Nothing escapes His knowledge.

It is a clean bird that can be used for sacrifice. In the same manner, the Holy Spirit has no faults or blemishes whatsoever. As God, the Holy Spirit is perfect in character.

Consequently the dove is an appropriate symbol for the Holy Spirit.

What Symbols Does the Bible Use to Describe the Holy Spirit? ← Prior Section
Why Is the Holy Spirit Compared to Water? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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