The dove is a bird that we closely identify with God’s Spirit. We associate Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit, and yet we find references to God’s spirit right from the first verses in Genesis. It depends on the version of the bible you use.
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.2 And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (21 Century King James)
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.2 And the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. ( Good News)
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
The first reference we have to a dove is in the story of Noah. “Then he sent out a dove, to see if the waters had lessened on the earth. But the dove could not find a place to alight and perch, and it returned to him, in the ark, for there was water all over the earth. Putting out his hand, he caught the dove and drew it back to him inside the ark.” After 7 days Noah released the bird again, and it returned with a plucked off olive twig. So after another 7 days he let it go again, while the water was going down, and the dove did not come back.
In ancient times sailors used to release birds in order to find out if land was near. So the dove has become a symbol of hope, and a symbol of peace.
The olive leaf in the mouth of the dove speaks to us that out of the crises and storms of life, the Holy Spirit will bring us an olive branch, today’s universal symbol of peace, in the midst of our conflict.
There are various references in the bible to turtledoves being the offering that people should make. Two turtledoves were offered at the time of a woman’s purification following the birth of a child. These were what Mary offered, when she visited the temple following the birth of Jesus. One dove was for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering; The burnt offering was Voluntary act of worship; or atonement for unintentional sin in general; expression of devotion, commitment and complete surrender to God, whereas a sin offering was for mandatory atonement for specific unintentional sin; confession of sin; forgiveness of sin; cleansing from defilement. A woman following childbirth would have been considered defiled and so the need for cleansing.
Dove imagery is also utilized in several of the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible. The low, cooing sound of a dove served as mournful imagery to evoke the suffering of the people of Judah. “”Like a swallow, like a crane, so I twitter; I moan like a dove; My eyes look wistfully to the heights; O Lord, I am oppressed, be my security.”
Hosea has this to say: “So Ephraim has become like a silly dove, without sense; They call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.” And “They will come trembling like birds from Egypt And like doves from the land of Assyria; And I will settle them in their houses, declares the LORD “
All four gospels refer to the dove descending on Jesus at the time of his baptism. “After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him.”
When Jesus commissions the twelve he say “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”
And of course we have Jesus turning over the tables of those who sold doves in the temple. The doves were given their freedom, no longer tied to restrictive rules and regulations. The Spirit of Christ gives us freedom too, not the anarchy kind of freedom, where anything goes, but a freedom to be what God intended for us to be, acknowledging the responsibility this involves.
Let us revel in the joy of your creation
and value the wealth of the earth
by sharing the gifts you
have showered upon us.
Let us reflect on the colour, size, characteristics and majestic nature of birds
Their feeding habits, how the build their nests,
How they know the season to migrate
Their capacity to learn and to change
The delight they give us as we watch their rituals.
We offer our joy and praise for the magnificent world of technology
Which brings Springwatch and other programmes to our screens,
enabling us to see close at hand
the breeding of chicks and the care their parents take.
We praise you for people in our own area
who keep us aware of the wonder of birds in our own localities.
We revel in your creation God.
Let us revel in the warmth of your love
like sun on our skin.
May we cherish what you have given us.
Janice Clark Area Trustee Yorkshire North & East, Yorkshire West and Sheffield