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Harmless As Doves

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 and pigeons belong to the same family of birds. They are often mentioned in the Bible as if they are the same. The rock doves found in Israel are the wild ancestors of our common street pigeons. Turtledoves are winter migrants, flying off to avoid the cold weather. They arrive each spring, spending the months of April through October in the Holy Land, filling the air with soft chattering (SOS 2:11-12).

Doves come in various colors, from pure white to the chestnut-colored palm turtledoves (Psalm 68:13). Even the plain gray pigeon has a silvery covering and brightness. David longed for wings like a dove so he could fly away and be at rest (Psalm 55:6). His son, Solomon was fascinated by the dove's eyes of his beloved Shulamite woman (SOS 1:15).

Pigeons were probably the first domesticated birds. When people found out that doves could travel long distances and were able to find their way home, they used them to carry messages. Homing pigeons have keen eyes that enable them to spot strategic landmarks, which keep them on the right flying routes.

The dove was symbolic of purity, faithfulness, and guilelessness. It was the only bird that could be offered as a sacrifice in the Old Testament. From the time of Abraham, pigeons were used as sacrifices (Genesis 15:9). Even a poor man could provide a pigeon or two for offerings unto the Lord, just as Joseph and Mary did at Jesus' circumcision when He was eight days old (Luke 2:21-24; Lev. 12:7-8).

Doves mate for life. They share nesting and parenting duties. They express their affection by stroking each other, whispering softly words of love. These gentle birds never resist attacks or retaliate against their enemies. Even when her young are attacked, the parent doves can only cry out in distress beating their breasts painfully (Nahum 2:7).

Because of its innocence and gentle nature, the dove is a common holy religious symbol. The Holy Spirit took the form of a dove at Jesus' baptism (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22). The dove also represents peace, love, forgiveness and the Church.

One unpardonable sin that Jesus shared in Mark 3:29 was speaking evil against the Sweet Gentle Holy Spirit. "He who blasphemes [speaks evil] against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation"

The context of Jesus' words about this sin against the Holy Spirit provides a clue to its nature. When a demon-possessed man came to Jesus, He healed him. The multitudes were amazed. But the scribes and Pharisees said He was healing through the power of Satan (Matthew 12:24). Jesus had cast out the demons by the power of the Holy Spirit but His enemies claimed that He had cast them out by the power of the devil.

Such cruel slander against the harmless Holy Spirit, as Jesus expounded, reveals a spiritual blindness, a twisting and perversion of the moral nature that puts one beyond the hope of redemption, repentance, faith and forgiveness. Those who call the Holy Spirit Satan reveal a spiritual cancer so advanced that they are beyond any hope of healing and forgiveness.

Gentleness is listed in the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It is having a kind consideration and a spirit of fairness and compassion towards others. The apostle Paul declared that Christians should have a spirit of gentleness toward all people (Phil. 4:5; 2 Cor. 10:1).

Serving Christ in a hostile and pagan world requires us to be "harmless as doves." The Greek word for "harmless" literally means "innocent, unmixed". Like pure gold or unmixed wine, it is figuratively for moral purity and integrity.

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain. Phil 2:14-16

To be blameless and harmless as doves express our need and responsibility as Christians to be above reproach in both conduct and speech. We must be wise in dealing with our cunning wolf-like adversaries without compromising and subjecting to their immoral principles and practices. We must be free from guile and evil. Any sin or reproach in our lives will give our foes an opening and target to discredit and neutralize our effective witness for Christ.

Jesus was pure and harmless as a dove (Hebrews 7:26). He could challenge His enemies, "Which of you convicts Me of sin?" (John 8:46). And they were speechless against Him. Those who hated Jesus could never find anything in His life to discredit Him. So the only way to attack Jesus was His teachings, or to make absurd charges that He broke the law by doing good on Sabbath, or that He performed miracles by the power of Satan. By making His enemies focus on His teachings, Jesus made His doctrines the focus of intense debate. And this was wisdom as it was exactly what He desired to achieve – drawing them to face the Truth, the Way and the Life!

The need of this hour is for a wise, blameless and harmless generation to arise and shine for Jesus in a crooked and perverse world, providing the godly solutions to today’s problems and seeing them being carried out faithfully. Like Joseph the dreamer, he was chosen to provide a practical plan to meet a certain crisis. Pharaoh appointed him to be governor over all the land, even though he was a Hebrew and a slave!

Why was Joseph chosen? Because there was no one as discerning and wise as him (Genesis 41:39). He was wise as serpents and harmless as doves.

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary