Lessons of the Turtledove

Sermon by Dean Read https://youtu.be/ZAsCCNBoxy4

Scripture: Psalm 74:19 (Pericope Psalm 74)

“Oh, do not deliver the life of Your turtledove to the wild beast! Do not forget the life of Your poor forever.”

Have you ever wondered why there were so many different kinds of sacrifices at the Israelite Sanctuary of the Old Testament? And why the focus and carefulness involved in the different rituals for worship of God and for offering the various sacrifices? In fact, the sacrificial system was the central part of worship in Israel. This was certainly in the time of Moses. It is in the book of Leviticus where we find the core parts of the sacrificial system, and how God created an earthly priesthood. The priests were taught how to properly administer and teach the various rituals and to conduct the many animal sacrifices… for what?

The “for what?” is answered I believe by what I am calling “Lessons of the Turtledove.” 

What is a turtledove?

The dove is an emblem of purity (Psa 68:13) “Though you lie down among the sheepfolds, You will be like the wings of a dove covered with silver, And her feathers with yellow gold.”

It is a symbol of the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:16). When Jesus was baptized the Bible says that the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove. 

They are the most graceful birds in flight. I have watched them descending with the sun filtering through their wings, looking silvery with a gleaming radiance.

Turtledoves, like pigeons are birds that were considered ceremonially clean and usable for sacrifice, particularly by those who were too poor to afford a larger sacrificial animal. 

The title of my sermon today is “Lessons of the Turtledove.” I was impressed with what I read in Psalm 74, and especially in verse 19. Let me read it to you:

“Oh, do not deliver the life of Your turtledove to the wild beast! Do not forget the life of Your poor forever.”

Here in this precious verse, the Psalmist is calling God’s people a turtledove. And he also refers to God’s people as poor. And the Psalmist is praying that God will not deliver Him to be trampled by wild beasts. There’s a lot to unpack…

Now the turtledove was the least of the animal sacrifices. It was the least expensive and it was for the poorer people who could not afford a more expensive animal like a lamb, or a ram, or a bull, or a goat.

When Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to have Him circumcised, He was just eight days old. Luke then says (2:24), “when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.” 

It is in the book of Leviticus (chapter 12) where we find more meaning to that. Most Christians don’t bother with trying to understand the Old Testament sacrifices, probably because Christ has already died on the cross, rose again on the third day, and ascended to heaven in glory, where He now ministers as our High Priest…  and intercedes on behalf of those who believe in Him…

Since Christ is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, what more do I need to understand? 

Well, from a New Testament perspective, a basic truth is this: “Differences between animal sacrifices emphasized various aspects of Christ’s sacrifice.” (Roy Gane, “Altar Call,” p.59) And, reading a book like “Altar Call” written by a Seventh-day Adventist theologian, Dr. Roy Gane, helps to make things much more understandable. 

And, if I can understand more about God’s people in the Old Testament, and the rituals they used to worship God, and the sacrifices they offered, wouldn’t that be helpful to better understand more about Jesus and His sacrifice? 

Yes, I believe that is true, and I do want to be drawn closer to Christ. He draws us to Him through His mercy and His grace. His love is powerful and yet tender and draws me to Him. To want to know more about Him. And to better understand myself. And to better understand other people. For, we are all in need of a Savior. We are all in need of His sacrifice. And the Bible calls me to present myself to Him as a “Living Sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” 

What does that mean? How can you be a living sacrifice unless you die? 

Between the New Testament book of Luke and the Old Testament book of Leviticus… we discover that after Jesus was circumcised, God allowed Mary 33 more days to recover and refresh, before they brought Jesus to the Temple. It was called, “Continuing in the blood of her purification.”  And if a woman had a female baby, she was allowed 66 more days to rest and refresh. How about that?

Now Luke also tells us what kind of animal sacrifice Mary and Joseph brought. “A Pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” (Luke 2:24; Leviticus 12:2, 8). 

But, when you check the book of Leviticus, you can quickly discern that Mary and Joseph were poor, because the normal sacrifice for when a mother gives birth for a male or a female child to present Him before the Lord, the regular sacrifice is to be: A one year old lamb as a burnt offering. It was to be without blemish of course. 

And the mother was also to bring a turtledove as a sin offering. So that is a burnt offering, a lamb, and a sin offering, a turtledove. 

But if she is poor and unable to afford a lamb, then she may bring two turtledoves instead. One for the burnt offering and one for the sin offering!

What does that say about God? It says that He has made provision even for the poor, because these sacrificial animals were costly. A ram was very expensive. And so was a bullock. Female sheep were less expensive, and goats too. But turtledoves and pigeons were the least expensive. 

And you know what? There was a sacrifice called a trespass, or guilt offering. It was similar to the sin offering, because it involved sin, but it also involved a trespass, either a trespass against God, or a trespass against another person. So when you brought your lamb or your turtledove… to make amends for your trespass, you also had to pay a cost for restitution. You had to make it better. As much as was within your power to do so. 

Think of all the kinds of trespasses one could commit against the Lord. Breaking His Sabbath! Withholding tithe. Taking His name in vain by living the kind of life that represents Him poorly. 

I was reading in the magazine, “Christianity Today,” about the prevalence of abuse in Christian homes. Apparently, even in home school groups that were created by many different church groups in the last couple of decades, there apparently exists less accountability, and where there is less accountability there is a greater risk for abuse. 

If you are familiar with the famous Duggar family, they were finally taken off the air at TLC because of the publicity stemming from the oldest son who had reportedly abused four of his younger sisters. And the account of the abuse dates back to 2001. But they became a famous Christian “Homeschool” family that was heralded as a Christian success story… 15 kids and counting, then later it grew to 19 and counting. 

Now, CT reports that homeschool mothers are much more wary about where they involve their children.

How do you make something right when you have done wrong?  Especially when it comes to abuse within a family? The problem Christian groups have faced is lack of accountability, and a seeming need to ignore past transgressions once someone has said they are sorry, and asks for forgiveness. 

Yes, we Christians are to forgive. Most certainly! But we should not wear blinders about the dangers that some kinds of people pose to our most vulnerable children. 

You see, the lessons of the turtledove teaches us, that anyone can receive forgiveness. Certainly we all need forgiveness. But we also need accountability. And as I have read and observed, when new Christian churches and groups start up, there seems to be a lack of accountability and those kinds of protections. 

Everyone assumes, if they are with church people, their children should be safe. But, the many public failures and moral falls of “Christian leaders” in the past couple of decades should tell us all that moral and ethical accountability is needed… And that has been sorely lacking. 

And, restitution is also required by our God. But how can one payback what he or she has broken through acts of sin. 

You see, I have called this sermon, “Lessons of the Turtledove.” But it really means sacrifice. What do I need to sacrifice? And, how should I regard accountibility and whether or not restitution needs to be made?

Briefly let me mention the five kinds of sacrifice, and try to make them somewhat understandable:

1. The burnt offering is first. Leviticus chapter 1. It is the sacrifice for atonement. That means to make the people at-one-with God. It was to bring God and sinners into a right relationship. A person would bring an unblemished animal of his own freewill. The bull was the most expensive. When it was killed, its throat was slit, and it quickly lost consciousness, so that the animal would not suffer. The least expensive was the turtledove, and its head was quickly wrung, so that it would not suffer either, and its blood was drained, and then sprinkled or applied in the appropriate place of the altar and in the sanctuary. The blood of the sacrifice must be applied!

  • Compare this to what happen to Jesus. He was crucified and suffered greatly. The animal was a type to point to Jesus. But God made provision within the ritual  system, that though the animals had to die, they were not to suffer. Jesus, though, did suffer greatly for our sins. For the sins of the world!
  • The blood of the animal was caught in a basin, and the priest would apply it.  
  • Then the animal was completely consumed by burning. The priests were not given any of it to eat, like in the other offerings. The burnt offering was completely consumed. When Jesus suffered and died on the cross He was literally dying by being consumed from His very insides. The separation from His Father was unbearable. The guilt and weight of our sins upon Him, burned Him up inside. When the soldier pierced His side, a mixture of blood and water spilled out, revealing medically that His heart was broken into pieces that caused an abnormal drainage of fluid.
  • It took the blood to make atonement. The wages of sin is death, and sin is costly, for without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins. 
  • All this animal blood represented the blood of Jesus that was shed for us, once for all.
  • The remainder of the blood was poured out at the base of the altar. 
  • The blood of Jesus ran down His body and down the cross, and fell at the base of the cross. 
  1. Next comes the grain offering. Because the burnt offering brings the sinner into a right relationship with God, atonement… just as if he had not sinned, forgiven… well now he or she can bring a grain offering (Leviticus chapter 2).
    1. The best grain is carefully and thoroughly sieved. It is mixed with oil and incense and then a part of it is burned on the altar. The remaining grain and oil is given to the priests as a food gift. 
    2. This giving of the grain means the forgiven one is now giving his or her  wholehearted devotion to God.
    3. The burnt offering and the grain offering were both like food gifts to the Lord.
  2. The third offering to come is the Well Being or Peace offering (Lev. chapter 3). This one, only the flesh and the fat and entrails are burned, but the meat is eaten together by both the priests and the people. It is kind of like our modern communion supper in that respect. It symbolizes being at peace with God. Being in agreement with God’s plan of salvation. 
  3. The fourth kind is the sin offering.
  4. And the fifth kind is the trespass offering which I have already talked about.
    1. The sin offering covers unintentional type of sin, but helps the person maintain His relationship with God. Because, the burnt offering already did that. But, what if you commit a sin afterwards? Well, that is pretty serious and you had to bring an offering to restore your relationship. 
    2. Note, that you cannot restore your relationship with God on your own. He has provided for all these sacrifices. All the animals are His anyway, as the Bible says, the cattle on a thousand hills are His. 
    3. What the sinner is bringing to God is what God has already provided for the sinner. The animals and the ritual — to bring people into atonement with God.
    4. To save people from their sins. Not, in their sins. That’s why the Savior was named Jesus, as the angel told Jospeh and Mary, “For He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21)
      1. Who brings salvation? God does!
      2. The lesson of the turtledove is that God has provided a way that all may come to Him, and find repentance and forgiveness. Rich or poor, free or bond, red or yellow, black, brown or white, God shows no partiality, all are precious in His sight.
      3. All may find His grace. All may come to Him and be saved. 
      4. All may ask Him to even help them come to Him.

His grace is sufficient for you, for His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). 

We are so poor and weak that we may only be able to afford the smallest of offerings. That’s the lesson of the turtledove too. Everyone needs to bring an offering. Jesus commented about the widow for bringing all she had, which was only two mites, much less than a penny in our value system. 

If you have been withholding your tithe or your commitment from God, that is a trespass against God. Jesus taught us to forgive those who trespass against us. Yes, God will forgive you your trespasses, but the lesson of the turtledove is that our God requires restitution. 

Have you made restitution for your trespasses? 

What about the wild beast? What does that symbolize in the verse? Well when you read all of Psalm 74, you find that the Temple had been destroyed and burned with fire. Thus, the wild beasts symbolize those who would try to destroy God’s people. 

In this Psalm the enemy was Babylon. But, Egypt had also tried to destroy God’s people by trying to limit God’s power among them. 

These nations actually prohibited God’s people from following God’s commandments from time to time.

In our modern context, when the nations of the world forbid God’s people to worship Him on the Sabbath, when they demand that everyone worship Him on Sunday…. That will be the ultimate kind of trespass against God and against His people. 

But that day has not come yet. 

Though many of us can become overly worried about that. 

The lesson of the Turtledove is to commit your way to the Lord, and let Him fight your battles. The lesson of the turtledove tells us that God will not allow the enemy (wild beasts) to overcome us.

The first mention of the dove occurs in Gen. 8:8–12. Noah released a dove from the ark to determine if the floodwaters had subsided from the earth.The mourning of the dove is a metaphor for our mourning (Isa. 38:14).  And, because of the gentleness and beauty of the dove, because of the sweetness of its voice and its faithfulness to its mate, Solomon describes his Shulamite bride as his “dove, his perfect one.” (2:14; 5:2; 6:9). In Matthew 10:16, Jesus counsels His servants to “be as wise as serpents,” yet, “as innocent as doves.”

Turtledoves, like lambs are meek and innocent creatures. They are easily trained to fly long distances and return back again. When we go out to do God’s work in our communities, or across the Globe, we must remember always to turn to God every day for our daily needs. And we should give our offerings regularly.

The lesson of the turtledove is that You should make your life a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). 

And when you feel that the chips are down, when you think there is no real hope, remember God again. 

The God who is my king from of old.

The God who works salvation in the midst of the earth.

The God who divided the sea by His strength, and broke open the fountain and the flood.

The God who dried up mighty rivers and seas that His people might cross over.

The God who prepared the light and the sun.

The God who set the borders of the earth, and set the planets and stars in motion.

The God who made summer and winter.

The God who is mighty in power and who delivers His people from those stronger than them.

The God who was in Jesus when He was delivered up to the Romans and Pontius Pilate, He was delivered to the wild beasts to be crucified…

So that His precious people, His turtledove might not be trampled by the enemy.

The God who is soon to come back to redeem us from this earth, give us new, immortal bodies and take us to heaven. What a day that will be!

We may moan and mourn like the dove, but Psalm 126:5-6 says:

Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy.

He who continually goes forth weeping,

Bearing seed for sowing,

Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing,

Bringing his sheaves with him.      

Purpose: Lessons of the Turtledove is about how we, God’s children are to be. How we are to act and behave in life while opposed by the forces of evil. To be a living sacrifice. To be as wise as serpents yet as harmless as doves in all our actions towards others. The lesson of the turtledove is that God has provided a way that all may come to Him.


Published by Dean C. Read

I am a follower of Jesus Christ who seeks to make Him known to those who do not yet know Him, and to make Him better known to those who do. Thus, God has led me throughout my life of now over 6 decades. I have been married to and in love with the same woman for over 38 years and we have children and grandchildren whom I also love. That does not mean my family has not been through trials. We human beings certainly know how to test and even hurt those we love. But, God Himself also knows the challenges, the trials and even the fickleness of human love. Yet, Jesus has demonstrated that God's love is sure and secure, faithful to the very end. So, yes, I love because God is love. And, I seek to make the love of God known as it should be. I am a pastor, a preacher and a teacher of God's word, the Bible. Before I became a preacher, I was a public school teacher, and before that I worked at various jobs including, painting, construction, ambulance EMT, parts assembler, and even a paperboy back in the day. In school I played trumpet in the band, was a track and cross country runner, enjoyed most subjects including History, English and Science, and yet, after graduating from high school, I struggled to find my path. Perhaps you can identify? I did not graduate with my Bachelor's degree until I was 26 years old. And yet, from an early age I knew that God was a God of love, and that He had a plan for me, if I would just be open to His leading. God has brought me through many trials, and has always been there to pick me up when I had fallen or been discouraged. And now, I hope to write in such a way to attract others to this God of love. By the way, I also enjoy camping, reading and outdoor activities, especially strolls on the beach, or hiking a mountain trail. My favorite places on earth are Sequoia National Park because of the Giant Sequoia trees, Yosemite National Park, and the jewel of Georgia known as Jekyll Island. I could tell you more; but hopefully, as you read my posts you will learn more about the God whom I love.

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