Dove: yonah (feminine noun). (Strong’s 3123)
Sounds like: yo-naw
Why does the world connect “doves” with “peace”? Nowhere in the Bible do the words peace and dove show up in the same verse. Yet the iconic picture of a dove with a branch in its beak is deeply rooted in our minds as a symbol of peace.
The Dove of Salvation
This symbol harkens back to the first time a dove shows up in the Tanakh. Noah had been floating on the waters of the flooded earth and when the time was right he took action:
After forty days Noah opened the window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven. It kept flying back and forth until the waters had dried up from the earth.
Then Noah sent out a dove [ha-yonah] to see if the waters had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove [ha-yonah] found no place to rest her foot, and she returned to him in the ark, because water still covered the surface of the whole earth. So he reached out his hand and brought her back inside the ark.
Noah waited seven more days and again sent out the dove [ha-yonah] from the ark. And behold, the dove [ha-yonah] returned to him in the evening with a freshly plucked olive leaf in her beak. So Noah knew that the waters had receded from the earth.
And Noah waited seven more days and sent out the dove [ha-yonah] again, but this time she did not return to him.
This dove brought Good News… the news that they were saved. She is an emblem of Salvation because humans could live on the earth once again, as they were meant to. This was a sign of completion, a sign of peace. God had restored and redeemed His people.
Doves, not surprisingly get the royal poetic treatment in the Psalms… they continue to be emblems of salvation, a means of escape from enemies:
Fear and trembling grip me, and horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove [ka-yonah]! I would fly away and find rest.
How far away I would flee; in the wilderness I would remain.
These romantic wings that give you flight to escape harm are beautifully described in Psalm 68:
My Lord [Adonai] gives the command; a great company of women proclaim it:
“Kings and their armies flee in haste; she who waits at home will divide the plunder.
Though you lie down among the sheepfolds,
you will be like the wings of a dove [yonah], covered with silver,
and her feathers, shimmering with gold.”
When the Almighty scattered the kings in the land it was like the snow falling on Zalmon.
Moaning like a Dove
Although the Torah and the Psalmists saw the dove as a sign of salvation, the prophets looked at doves from a completely different angle. Instead of their glistening wings of escape, it was the sound of a moaning dove that captured their attention.
In chapter 38 of Isaiah, King Hezekiah gave a heart-felt prayer, which included these lines:
I chirp like a swallow or crane; I moan like a dove [ka-yonah].
My eyes grow weak as I look upward. O Lord, I am oppressed; be my security.
Interestingly there is one prophetic book that never mentions a dove at all but the prophet, himself, is named “Dove”. Yonah is translated in English as Jonah. Although doves are never mentioned, the moaning of Jonah, like a dove, is very evident!
Jonah is most fondly remembered for his time in the belly of a whale, but that is only a small part of his story. Jonah ran away from God’s command to go to Ninevah. Instead Jonah headed in the complete opposite direction, to Tarshish. Originally we tend to think Jonah is afraid to go to Ninevah, but we learn later in the text that Jonah does not want to go there because he thinks that YHWH’s compassion will favour the Ninevites, and he doesn’t believe they deserve it. He doesn’t want them to repent and change their ways. Jonah wants the people of Ninevah destroyed!
When God does have compassion on the Ninevites Jonah moaned terribly about it:
Jonah, however, was greatly displeased, and became angry. So he prayed to YHWH, saying, “O YHWH, is this not what I said while I was still in my own country? This is why I was so quick to flee toward Tarshish. I knew that You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in loving devotion—One who relents from sending disaster. And now, O YHWH, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
But YHWH replied, “Have you any right to be angry?”
Jonah continued to moan like the dove he was named after. YHWH sent a plant to shade Jonah while he sat on the mountain side waiting to see what would happen to Ninevah (hoping, most likely, that God would change His mind and reign destruction upon the people):
Then Jonah left the city and sat down east of it, where he made himself a shelter and sat in its shade to see what would happen to the city. So YHWH God appointed a vine, and it grew up to provide shade over Jonah’s head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was greatly pleased with the plant.
When dawn came the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant so that it withered.
As the sun was rising, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint and wished to die, saying, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
Then God asked Jonah, “Have you any right to be angry about the plant?”
“I do,” he replied. “I am angry enough to die!”
But YHWH said, “You cared about the plant, which you neither tended nor made grow. It sprang up in a night and perished in a night. So should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well?”
And that’s where the book of Jonah ends… with God’s concern about the cattle of Ninevah… a very strange and abrupt ending. We never hear if Jonah had more to whine about or if he conceded to God’s point. Did this dove, Jonah, continue to moan or did he become a dove of peace, with an olive branch in his mouth?
Before we get too critical of Jonah, we need to face up to the fact that we are more similar to Jonah than we would want to admit. How often have we wished that our oppressors, (or what we consider the evil in this world), were annihilated or destroyed? If God forgave our enemies would we be happy about it? Are we moaning doves, or doves that support salvation for everyone?
The Sacrificial Dove
Doves show up in Leviticus and Numbers quite frequently in sacrificial laws. For some inexplicable reason English translations usually substitute the word pigeon for dove… and although these birds come from the same family, making them quite similar, there are difference… most notably press. Doves are often considered beautiful, peaceful and demure with their warm coos. Pigeons, on the other hand, are usually considered pests, some people even to go so far as calling them “rats with wings”. Interesting, therefore, that translators take the word yonah and translate it as pigeon when discussing sacrifices, even though the same word in other texts gets translated as dove. At first glance one might think that pigeon is chosen because it’s easier to accept the sacrifice of flying rats over peaceful cooing doves. However, that’s not what’s going on here. Here’s what Leviticus has to say regarding the purification laws for a woman who had just given birth:
When the days of her purification are complete, whether for a son or daughter, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon [yonah] or a turtledove for a sin offering. And the priest will present them before YHWH and make atonement for her; and she shall be cleansed from her flow of blood. This is the law for a woman giving birth, whether to a male or female.
But if she cannot afford a lamb, she shall bring two turtledoves [tor’im] or two young pigeons [yonah], one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. Then the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.’”
Turtledove is translated from the Hebrew word tor (torim in plural), while yonah is dove. Perhaps translators are merely trying to show variety and sound less repetitive by using pigeon alongside turtledove. This pairing of turtledoves and pigeons show up ten times (Leviticus 1:14, 5:7, 5:11, 12:6, 12:8, 14:22, 14:30, 15:14, 15:29, Numbers 6:10) in the Torah. What is really significant with the above passage (also found in Leviticus 5:7) is that the dove can be a substitute sacrifice for those who cannot afford a lamb.
Interesting that Yeshua (Jesus), the Messiah and the metaphorical sacrificial lamb, did not have a lamb sacrificed on his behalf, as an infant, in connection to the purification laws, but rather the dove, designated for the poor.
When the eight days until His circumcision had passed, He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before He had been conceived.
And when the time of purification according to the Law of Moses was complete, His parents brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord: “Every firstborn male shall be consecrated to YHWH” [Exodus 13:2,12] ), and to offer the sacrifice specified in the Law of the Lord: “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
You may recall the time when Yeshua got very angry in the Temple, because of commercialism and profiteering, and he overturned the tables in the marketplace. The one animal mentioned in connection with the Temple market was the dove:
When they arrived in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began to drive out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves. And He would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.Then He began to teach them and declare, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’ ”
Not only was Jesus angry because they turned the Temple into a corrupt marketplace, but he’s particularly angry because of the selling of doves. Doves should not have been for profit, they were the sacrificial animals for the poor. Doves were a basic Jewish necessity to keep the purification laws. Profiting off the poor was pure greed and went against everything Yeshua stood for.
Also, his own parents were “the poor” and he would have connected deeply with his own family experience. Seeing people taking advantage of the disadvantaged would have tapped into raw and passionate emotions for Jesus.
This story tells us that having these emotions and acting on them, in defence of others, is absolutely justified. We should get angry at the injustices of this world… in particular, injustices that target the poor, the weak, the widowed, orphaned and the refugee. (See Zechariah 7:9-10).
Dove: The bearer of Good News
Jesus would also feel closely connected to a dove for another reason. He would have remembered the most significant moment of his early ministry… his baptism:
At that time Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?”
“Let it be so now,” Jesus replied. “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness in this way.” Then John permitted Him.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. Suddenly the heavens were opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and resting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased!”
God announces, out loud, to the world that Yeshua is His Son, His promised Messiah. And He sends His Spirit to rest on Jesus in the form of a dove.
Just like in Genesis, this dove brings Good News… the news that they will be saved. Yeshua is the sacrificial dove that will bring Salvation. Humans can live on the earth once again, as they were meant to. This is a sign of completion; it’s a sign of peace. Jesus is the dove with the olive branch in his mouth, proclaiming the Good News of YHWH. Through him God will restore and redeem His people.
In the book of John we get a more personalized account from John the Baptist:
John 1:29, 32-34
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!…
…Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove and resting on Him. I myself did not know Him, but the One who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is He who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
Next week: Light