When Jesus sent the seventy ( or 72 ) disciples out through the 'cities of Israel', He told them to be 'wise as serpents and harmless as doves'.
We've already looked at why Christ might have told those first-century disciples to be 'wise as serpents', but why did he tell them to be 'harmless as doves'?
When I first thought of doing this paper; I immediately looked for usages of the word 'dove' throughout all of Scripture, but particularly the Hebrew Scriptures. The Hebrew 'yownah' and the Greek 'peristera', both meaning literally, 'dove or pigeon', are used solely throughout the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. The first usage of 'yownah', of course, that we find in the Hebrew Scriptures; is in the 8th chapter of Genesis, where Noah employs a dove to see if the earth, or land, had dried up enough to embark from the ark. Next we see, throughout the books of Leviticus and Numbers, that doves, or pigeons, were often used as sacrificial offerings to the Lord; but it is in the Psalms and onwards, throughout the Prophets, I think; where we really begin to notice that there is a bit more, typologically and symbolically speaking; behind the mere usage of the word 'yownah'. When David uses this word in his Psalms; he almost seems to have a vision of salvation in mind, when he envisions himself with 'wings like a dove', that he might escape and find rest. In his 68th Psalm, and throughout his son's Song of Songs, we see that the word 'yownah' is used in more of a sense of perfection ( through God's salvation ), and as 'the apple of my eye', in a sense of intimacy and love. One is almost reminded too; of Leah's 'delicate eyes', in Genesis 29:17.
Once we get into the Prophets; the usage seems to change, yet again, into more of a mournful aspect. Isaiah likens his mournful prayers for his people to the cries of a dove, while Jeremiah and Ezekiel 'see' those who have escaped righteous and earned tribulations, yet mourning from their 'holes in the rocks' for the 'woes' that have come upon them. The so-called Minor Prophets use 'yownah' as more of a silly, useless sort of creature, 'who cannot discern between their right hand and their left'.
As we come to look at the Greek Scriptures, also known as the New Testament; we see the word 'peristera' used pretty much solely in the famous passages where the Holy Spirit of God descended upon the Son of Man, and where this Son of Man, Jesus Christ drove out those who sold doves ( and other things ) as sacrificial items, in the temple. Luke also records the sacrifice that Jesus' 'natural' parents offered for Him.
So, what did Jesus mean, that they were to be 'harmless as doves'?
I think that Jesus was telling them, as I said in my last article 'Wise as Serpents'; to be zealous for His 'law', as the Pharisees were ( outwardly ) for the Law ( of Moses), but to be kind and loving in their presentation of the Gospel, with which He was sending them.
In his epistle to the church at Philippi; Paul uses the Greek 'akeriaios', the same word used in Matthew's gospel, to describe how the disciples of Christ must present themselves to the 'world'; as 'unmixed and pure', as regarding the conscience, 'without a mixture of evil, free from guile, innocent, simple'. In the epistle to the Hebrews; the author uses the word 'akokos', which is almost indistinguishable in meaning from 'akerios', but with a more active tense, I think; to describe the 'attitude' of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, in His function as our high priest.
Now; Jesus spoke these words primarily, I think, for the sake of His first-century disciples; so in that sense, they are fulfilled, but I think too, that as 21st century disciples of Jesus Christ: these words apply to us today, as Christians, just not with the same sense of urgency which Jesus meant for His original disciples.
As I listened this morning, to another sermon ( Nov. 18 ) by a friend of mine; I was 'struck' by the fact that when Jesus tells His listeners in Matthew 5 that 'The meek shall inherit the earth'; He was not saying that 'pushovers' shall inherit the earth, but rather that those who trust in God's strength and Righteousness, rather than their own ( think of the popular phrases 'every knee shall bow', and 'throw your crowns at the feet of Jesus' ), not to pacifistically 'turn the other cheek' in a 'woodenly' literal, physical sense, but to realize that these things are happening to us for our good and that our heavenly Father has 'ordained' these circumstances for our instruction and discipline.
Although the Greek 'praÿs', translated 'meek', and the Greek 'akeraios', translated 'harmless', have different meanings, the concept of a simple trust in God for strength, instead of oneself, I think, is at the basis of both words.
So, I believe that when Jesus told His followers to be 'harmless as doves', I think that He meant that, not that they were to be 'pacifistic' ( in the sense that Jesus' words are often thought of ), but in the sense that they were to 'turn the other cheek' , and do as Jesus did, who 'did not revile in turn', but when He was persecuted, even to the death, prayed for His persecutors.
in the name of Christ;
and for His Kingdom,