Doves and Eagles

The Holy Spirit is pictured in the Bible as descending like a dove, in the accounts of Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32).

But there is nowhere in the Bible where human believers are pictured as flying like doves. Well, there is Psalm 55:6, but this is an unfulfilled wish rather than a God-given picture. Humans are likened to doves in a few other places in the Old Testament, especially in the Song of Songs, and in Matthew 10:16, but the point of comparison is never flight – except possibly in Hosea 11:11. That is to say, it is nowhere suggested in the Bible that humans will or should fly like doves.

But what we do find several times in the Bible is a promise that believers will fly or soar like eagles. See for example Exodus 19:4 (the Exodus compared with the flight of an eagle); Deuteronomy 32:11 (Israel as a young eagle being taught to fly); Isaiah 40:31 (“those who hope in the LORD … will soar on wings like eagles”); and Revelation 12:13 (the woman, symbolising Israel or the church, is given the wings of an eagle).

There are of course other comparisons with eagles in the Bible. They are not all good ones: for example, the enemies of Israel are as swift as eagles and swoop down like eagles. But the comparisons relating to flight are all good ones, it seems.

So, what is the difference here? Why do believers fly like eagles, and not like doves, whereas the Holy Spirit flies like a dove?

There is in fact surprisingly obvious answer when you compare how eagles and doves fly. I regularly see doves fly off from their perches, and they do this by flapping their wings very hard until they get well off the ground. Even to continue their flight they flap their wings continuously. By contrast, although I don’t see this so often, eagles fly almost without flapping their wings. They simply stretch them out and catch the wind under them. Without a wind they can barely fly. In fact, I understand, albatrosses, which fly in a similar way to eagles, cannot take off or land when there is no wind – as I discovered to my disadvantage when I visited the albatross sanctuary at Dunedin, New Zealand on a calm day, which meant that there were no albatrosses to be seen.

So, the Holy Spirit flies like a dove because he moves by his own effort, in his own strength which is part of his divine nature. But how human believers are to act is compared with the flight of an eagle because it should not be by their own effort or in their own strength, but should be effortless motion, with wings spread to catch every wind of the Holy Spirit. As we catch this wind and as we learn to let it carry us away, not always where we want to go but where the Spirit leads us, we will be able to soar like eagles high in the sky, and to swoop down low to do God’s work in the world.

Too many of us, in our Christian work, try to fly like doves, in our own strength, and wonder why our efforts never get off the ground. Instead we should learn to soar like eagles on the wind of the Holy Spirit.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

(Isaiah 40:30-31, TNIV)

9 thoughts on “Doves and Eagles

  1. Peter, this was the first thing I read on a Monday morning. A great way to start the week. Especially this week where I need the Spirit’s power to motivate me in the activities ahead of me.

    One thing I wonder is about the perception of eagles in the Bible. In our culture they are seen as majestic, beautiful, fierce, strong, even regal. I wonder if they were perceived as predators/scavengers in Bible times. The Habakkuk reference would seem to support this position.

  2. Lingamish, thanks for your encouraging comment. You are right that eagles were perceived in both positive and negative ways in the Bible. Indeed in modern translations the same Hebrew word, nesher, is translated “eagle” when the context is positive and “vulture” when the context is negative. For this reason I missed the Habakkuk reference and a few others. I did mention that Israel’s enemies were often portrayed as swift and swooping eagles, and the Habakkuk example fits there. But what I wanted to focus on was the places where the flight of the eagle is given as a positive example.

  3. How inspiring! “Human believers are to act … not be by their own effort or in their own strength, but should be effortless motion, with wings spread to catch every wind of the Holy Spirit.”
    Doesn’t it make you envision flying in many ways
    besides through the air with Holy Spirit inspiration?
    How about taking off and excelling in personal development and help someone else learn, too?
    Or, taking some steps into a new area and learning to achieve a 6-figure income and be empowered to offer it to the Lord’s service?
    Learn about these concepts and more at this link —

  4. Peter,
    Thanks for this! I had never thought of the contrast between believers as eagles and the Holy Spirit as a dove, in flight. That is a helpful observation, showing our additional and appropriate dependency on God’s Breathing.

    (What do you make of Jesus’s instruction to believers to be Wise as serpents but innocent as doves? Is the metonymy to be extended, in this context to the Holy Spirit? And is there perhaps allusion to the unholy spirits crawling around where they can’t as easily be seen? ??)

  5. Thanks, Kurk. Yes, indeed we are called to be as innocent as doves, probably a reference to them being pure white. But this does not suggest that we should fly like them. Or there may be something more to this rather surprising comparison.

  6. Isaiah 40:31 – The Lamsa Bible says “grow wings as a dove”. The rest are eagles. Eagles are used when God is emphasizing strength and safety, whereas the dove is used when God is emphasizing peace, patience and wisdom”. Our growth and His protection.

  7. helo, i just want to ask permission to copy and paste this to my information on facebook to help other people to inspire if it is okay to you. kindly message me in my email for your answer.

    thank you. your words inspired me.


  8. Cary, I have no objection to people like you reusing my material on Facebook or elsewhere, provided that you do not distort or misrepresent it. I would prefer you to include a link back to the blog post you have taken it from, and for you to send me a link to wherever you have put it.

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