Examples of Symbolism in the Bible

Symbolism is to convey the hidden meaning to the reader or listener. It tells us about artistic expression and represents abstract ideas.  However, it is not limited to poetry and art. Christianity is one of the major religions followed throughout the world. The Bible is the largest selling book of all time. Despite various denominations and divisions among Christianity, The Bible is an important book for Christians. While reading the Bible, we come across many people, objects, and events that have multiple meanings and significance. If we understand them, we can raise our faith and strengthen our relationship with God. They give deeper meaning to abstract notions. Most biblical symbols are easily recognizable to a familiar reader, but a few have cultural references that need the knowledge to understand.

Olive Leaf / Olive Branch

Nehemiah 8:15 “Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.”

Genesis 8:11 “And the dove came back to him in the evening, and behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.”

In the Bible, the olive tree, branch, or leaf is a symbol of peace, prosperity, beauty, and victory and, of course, a relationship between God and man. This symbol is mentioned frequently in the bible. In the first example, it is for hope. In the second one, it is used for the new beginning for humanity, reconciliation with God, and revival.

Rock

Deuteronomy 32:4 “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.

2 Samuel 22:3 My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence.

Rock is a very bold and blunt symbol of the Bible. Rock is a strong and stable foundation on which the whole empire can be built. It is related to God, who is an immovable force that anchors us. It also stands for firmness and faithfulness. The One who is genuine like a rock. It is also symbolic of strength and permanence.

Honey and Curd

2 Samuel 17:29 Honey and curds and sheep and cheese from the herd, for David and the people with him to eat, for they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”

Isaiah 7:15 “He will eat cheese and honey until he knows how to reject evil and  choose good.”

Honey means delight and joy, according to the Bible. It also symbolizes good health and prosperity. Both are also symbolic of refusing evil and selecting the sacred and right for life. Later in the Bible, these symbols change from delight to scarcity to judgment.

Rainbow

Genesis 9:13 I set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.

Ezekiel 1:28 Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

We can see references to the rainbow (bow in the sky) at several places in the Bible. It is the sign of promise and blessing from God. A rainbow is also a symbol of redeeming grace in the chapter of Noah. It is related to the glory of the Lord. It reminds us of the covenant-keeping God and His magnificent beauty.

Dove

Genesis 8:11 And the dove came back to him in the evening, and lo, in her mouth a freshly plucked olive leaf; so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth.

Luke 3:22 And the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee, I am well pleased.”

In the Bible, dove is a symbol of innocence and purity. The Holy Spirit revealed by a dove many times. It soothes our troubled thoughts and helps us to go about our lives calmly. The low cooing sound of dove served mournful imagery to evoke the suffering of the people of Judah.

Stairway

Genesis 28:11-12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants

John 1:51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

A stairway or stairs is actually the way to follow the path of God and enter into his kingdom. It’s a way of connection between two spaces – heaven and earth. We can think of Jesus waiting up at the staircase and paved the way for us. It is also symbolic of the life experiences and the stages we climb towards virtues. It is also the spiritual journey of mankind.

White Hair

Daniel 7:9 Thrones were placed and one that was ancient of days took his seat; his raiment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, its wheels were burning fire.

Revelation 1:14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire

White hair or greying hair is a symbol of the true blessing of life experience gained over time. Many figures in the Bible are discussed as old and experienced- Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. Their white hair stands for their wisdom and insightful judgment gained through years of struggles in their lives.

Lamb

Genesis 22:8 Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together.

Exodus 12:7 Then they shall take some of the blood, and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat them.

The sacrifice of the lamb is discussed several times in the Bible. It symbolizes the blood pouring from Jesus on the cross during the ultimate sacrifice of his crucifixion. This sacrifice is discussed as a sign of peace and love of Jesus. Lamb is considered as the most innocent creature. In the Bible, Jesus is compared to the lamb of sacrifice.

Color Purple

Mark 15:17 And they clothed him in purple and they twisted the crown of thorns, put it on His head.

Judge 8:26 Now the weight of the gold earrings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold, beside the crescent ornaments, pendants, and purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the chains that were around their camels’ necks.

In the Bible, the purple color is associated with royalty, richness, and authority. Roman emperors wore clothing colored purple, and Catholic Bishops have, for many years, worn it as well.

Ring

Genesis 41:42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring off his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand; …

Esther3: 10 So the king took his signet ring and gave it to Haman.

In the Bible, the ring stands for authority. The transfer of the ring from one finger to the others is actually the changing or declaration of authority. It also stands for the favor, withdrawal of favor and beauty.

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