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Have you ever wondered what the Bible says about birds?
Birds are mentioned numerous times in the Bible. There are many references to birds in the Bible – nearly 300 of them! In an archived article in Ministry magazine, the author, a professor from Emmanuel Missionary College, writes, “More than one hundred of these merely use the word “fowl” or “bird,” leaving the reader to guess at the species.
It is interesting to note that in the Old Testament, birds are written about much more frequently than in the New Testament.
For example, Moses, in Genesis, alone, refers to birds dozens of times, but, Paul mentions birds only twice in all of his writings.
Here’s a quick rundown:
Bird(s) – Mentioned 42 times in the Old Testament, 7 times in the New Testament.
Fowl(s) – Mentioned 74 times in the Old Testament, 11 times in the New Testament.
Turtledove(s) (Turtle, Pigeon(s)) – Mentioned 66 times in the Old Testament, 11 times in the New Testament.
*Note that all mentions of Turtle in the Bible are referring to the Turtledove, not the reptile.
Some of these mentions of birds in the bible, are simply referring to birds, themselves (fowl or bird) while others are used to teach us spiritual lessons.
In this post, we will focus on just two types of birds in the Bible: Doves and Sparrows. (You can read about Eagles, Ravens and unclean birds in this post). While I would love to include all of the birds in the Bible, we’ll start with these two on our study of birds in the Bible and their meanings.
Doves in the Bible
יונה (pronounced yo-nah)
*TIP: Yonah, dove, is the exact same Hebrew name of the prophet Jonah. ‘J’ sounds do not exist in Hebrew, and if you came across an English biblical name with this letter, you can convert the ‘J’ to a ‘Y’ and keep the vowels as they are.
The dove or ‘yonah’, written about in the Bible is much more than just a beautiful, common bird. References to the dove are full of symbolism.
Though most of us think of doves as pure and pigeons as dirty, bird experts will confirm that they are, indeed, the same bird.
In each of the gospels, a dove appears as the Spirit of God. Most of us envision a beautiful, pure white bird. However, the bird that appears at the baptism was most likely a “rock dove”, a common species in the geography and time period.
A rock dove is grey with an iridescent green and purple/violet neck. Basically, my friends, a pigeon. (you tube dove sounds)
You are probably thinking, “So, you are saying, that the beautiful symbol of the Holy Spirit and the symbol of city scavengers is one and the same”?
Yes. In fact, I think it is a fitting example, as Christianity can be messy. God did not promise us an easy road.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
Pigeons are often seen as dirty or disdained. Do you ever feel like that in your Christian walk? Looked down upon or judged because your beliefs don’t line up with mainstream society?
God makes us new when we are filled with the Holy Spirit. A trashy, garbage picking bird is also the symbol of peace and new life.
(The below image is downloadable and printable for you to keep as a reminder of just how much He loves you!)
Let’s take a look at some important Bible verses about doves:
Doves are mentioned frequently in the Bible – nearly fifty times!
The Dove as a Symbol of Peace
When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. – Genesis 8:11
The dove is the symbol of peace on earth. This dove brought back an olive branch to confirm that the floodwaters had receded and that it was safe to exit the ark. God’s punishment had ended and it was time to repopulate the earth.
The Dove as a Symbol of Love
The dove is also used as a metaphor for beauty and love as shown in the below verses in Song of Songs (Song of Solomon).
How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves. –
Song of Songs 1:15
I slept but my heart was awake.
Listen! My beloved is knocking:
“Open to me, my sister, my darling,
my dove, my flawless one.
My head is drenched with dew,
my hair with the dampness of the night.” –
Song of Songs 5:2
His eyes are like doves
by the water streams,
washed in milk,
mounted like jewels. –
Song of Songs 5:12
The most powerful symbolism of the Dove in the Bible, however, is in the Spirit of God appearing as a dove.
As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. – Matthew 3:16
and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” – Luke 3:22
The Holy Spirit is just that—a spirit—He is not visible to us in a physical way. In these accounts, however, the Spirit of God took on a visible appearance and could be seen by witnesses.
That symbol is just so powerful, so beautiful.
Purity, love, peace. All describing our Heavenly Father.
I also think this can be a metaphor for our faith. Faith cannot be seen, but how can you live in such a way that people can SEE your faith?
Sparrows in the Bible
Sparrows are next in the most referenced birds in the Bible. The Hebrew word for sparrow is צִפּוֹר “tzippor” , which not only means sparrow, but any small bird. This Hebrew word occurs more than forty times in the Old Testament and just two times in the New Testament.
Sparrows are small brown and gray birds that tend to always be in the company of others. They were abundant in Bible geography. Sparrows like to build nests in vineyards and bushes as well as the eaves of homes or other nooks and crannies. The sparrow’s diet consists of seeds, green buds and small insects and worms.
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Most are musical and sing sweet songs as they go about their bird business. (Listen to the beautiful sparrow call on this you tube video of sparrow sounds)
Sparrows, in biblical times, were held in contempt. They had little worth and were seen to be annoying.
The sparrow, however, what was Jesus referred to when illustrating our worth to God.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. – Matthew 10:29
If a lowly bird, with little worth receives the care of Our Heavenly Father, the love and attention He shows us is much greater.If a lowly bird, with little worth receives the care of Our Heavenly Father, the love and attention He shows us is much greater.
God’s heart, kindness and compassion is so deep and wide that it extends to the smallest of creatures and the haughtiest of the them (the human!).
Sparrows have also been referenced as symbols of freedom, in particular, the freedom for humans to have freewill and choose between good and evil.
A single sparrow on a roof represented sadness, depression and insignificance.
I lie awake; I have become
like a bird alone on a roof. –
Let’s look at some more Bible verses about sparrows that demonstrate just how important we are to God. They are all from the gospels. I find it so valuable to know that these verses were important enough for all of the gospel writers to include. You are so important to God. He loves you and cares for you, even more than a “lowly” sparrow.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. …
– Matthew 6:25-34
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. –
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. – Luke 12:6
In the above verses, the disciples are reminding us that we are so valuable to God.
To be transparent with you, I struggle with this. Although I believe and trust God when He tells us that our sins were wiped clean when Jesus died on the cross for us, I sometimes feel so unworthy of His unyielding love. I look at my sin and feel shame when I know that He has taught us that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:12. When I’m feeling this way, I like to refer to these scriptures that emphasize just how loved we are by our Heavenly Father.
What is your favorite Bible verse about birds? Do you, like me, sometimes struggle with feeling deserving of the value our Lord God places on us? I would love to hear your story.
I absolutely love studying signs and symbolism in the Bible and use the below resources frequently.
What is your favorite Bible verse about birds? Do you, like me, sometimes struggle with feeling deserving of the value our Lord God places on us? I’d love to hear your story.
In His Perfect and my imperfect Love,