In this article, we will continue our study of animals and look at ravens in the Bible. We will explore their references, symbolic meaning, and more. So, grab your Bible and let’s dig in…
How we view things around us depends largely on or day to day influences.
What one may view as a tragedy, another may view as a blessing. The same is true of animals and their symbology. How you view an animal greatly depends on the cultural associations with it.
Let’s take ravens as an example.
A field guide will give you insights into the physical attributes of a raven. They will tell you a raven can measure between twenty-four and twenty-seven inches from head to tail, and the wingspan can be as much as four feet.
You could learn that ravens build nests on mountainous cliffs in the desert and lay between three and seven eggs.
An encyclopedia will explain that eggs take around twenty to twenty-five days to hatch and that young birds can start flying within four to seven weeks.
The parents may fly as much as forty miles a day to collect food for their young, and young ravens may stay with their parents for months after learning to fly.
These physical aspects are all very straightforward. The symbolic meaning of ravens is far more subjective and complex when looking at the Bible. More to the point, let’s find out what the Bible tells us about ravens and what lessons we can learn from them.
What Does The Bible Say About Ravens?
Ravens are mentioned for the first time in the account of Noah in Genesis 8 and it is the first type of bird mentioned. We usually focus on the story about the dove and not the raven.
Noah sent the raven as a scout. Knowing that ravens eat carrion, he realized if it found exposed land, it would find food after the flood.
When the raven did not return, Noah realized that the water had drained enough to expose enough land and food for the raven.
In some cultures, ravens and even crows are considered to be messengers of bad tidings or conveyors of bad news as they are black and are scavangers. This also may be because they are associated with death.
But we do not see this association in the Bible, though. It is true that ravens do eat from carcasses and carrion, but in the Genesis account, the raven helped provide important information to Noah.
Easton Bible Dictionary gives us a little more insight:
Raven: Heb. ꜥorebh, from a root meaning “to be black” (comp. Cant. 5:11); first mentioned as “sent forth” by Noah from the ark (Gen. 8:7). “Every raven after his kind” was forbidden as food (Lev. 11:15; Deut. 14:14). Ravens feed mostly on carrion, and hence their food is procured with difficulty (Job 38:41; Ps. 147:9). When they attack kids or lambs or weak animals, it is said that they first pick out the eyes of their victims (Prov. 30:17).
When Elijah was concealed by the brook Cherith, God commanded the ravens to bring him “bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening” (1 Kings 17:3-6). (See ELIJAH.) There are eight species of ravens in Palestine, and they are everywhere very numerous in that land.
The Raven Is An Unclean Creature
Calling something or someone unclean is not a term we are very familiar with today. Being unclean does not mean you are dirty in a physical sense. Being unclean means defiled or impure. The term is used in a religious or ritual sense. As an illustration, in Biblical times, you could not partake in the Passover feast if you had touched a dead body, as this made you unclean.
God also gave Moses strict guidelines regarding animals that could be eaten and sacrificed and those that were not suited. Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 provide details of clean and unclean animals. In these lists, we find that the Bible mentions the raven again. Ravens are on the list of unclean animals that should not be eaten.
God wanted to keep His people healthy, so He gave them guidelines regarding food that would be healthful to them.
Because of the raven’s diet of dead animals and reptiles, they are not suited to our diet. Being in contact with dead animals daily would also mean that ravens are defiled and, therefore, unsuitable for use as a sacrifice.
God Provides For Ravens
In Job 38, God speaks to Job about His many wonders and mysteries. The last verse of this chapter tells us how God provides for ravens when their parents need to search for food.
God was showing Job His might and power in this chapter. Is it not so beautiful that taking care of the helpless young of an unclean creature is part of God’s display of power?
The fan-tailed raven is very common in the region of Israel. The ravens live on cliffs in desert areas. This means that adult ravens need to fly long distances to find food.
During times of drought or famine, the task of finding food is made even more difficult. God cares so much for His entire creation that He even helps ravens find food for their young.
David marvels at the wonders of God and mentions God’s faithful provision for all creatures, great and small, in Psalm 147. In Psalm 147:6, David confirms God’s care of the ravens, just as God had told Job.
In the New Testament, Jesus furthers this same principle of God’s provision. Jesus teaches His followers to trust God for all their needs without worry or doubt. Jesus tells those around Him that just as God provides for ravens who cannot plant their own food, God will provide for His children. Jesus assures them they are worth even more to God than the ravens.
The Unassuming Beauty Of The Raven
Ravens are large and entirely black. Their plumage, beaks, eyes, and legs are all black. A raven may not be on your list of the most beautiful birds, but God wants us to look at the raven differently. A raven’s black covering is shiny and holds beauty one doesn’t expect despite a lack of other coloration.
In Song of Songs chapter 5, we read about the bride expounding on the beauty of her groom. In verse eleven, we read about the beauty of the groom’s black hair, likened to a raven. God reminds us to see the beauty around us as He does through comparison to the raven.
His head is like the finest gold;
His locks are wavy,
And black as a raven. -Song of Songs 5:11
The Raven Is Used As A Warning
The book of Proverbs is full of insight and wisdom. It is a guideline for living a long life and avoiding things that can cause us harm. We learn in Prov 22:6 to teach our children to follow God’s law while they are young, and they will follow His ways when they grow older.
By contrast, Prov 30:17 tells us what could happen if children do not listen to and honor their parents. Capital punishment was meted out for a number of transgressions, including murder and cursing one’s parents.
Often the bodies of those punished for such sins were displayed as a warning. Before the bodies were removed for burial, it would not have been uncommon to see ravens scavenge and peck at the deceased’s eyes.
This warning in Proverbs is to keep children living according to God’s statutes and keep them from harm.
God also uses ravens as a warning symbol in Isaiah 34:11. Here, the warning is for those who oppose Him, and God says that their land will become wastelands where owls and ravens will live.
Ravens prefer to build their nests in the desert, away from crowds. The warning means that inhabited lands will become as desolate as wastelands.
God Used Ravens To Provide For Elijah
This account must be the most well-known story about ravens in the Bible. This account holds many beautiful messages and insights. Elijah had just delivered a message from God to Ahab.
God was to bring drought over the land because of the idolatry of the king and his subjects. God ensured that Elijah would be taken care of, though. As God takes care of ravens, He would now use them to care for His servant.
This must have taken great faith on Elijah’s part. Hiding out in the wilderness with only ravens providing food. Think about the daily miracle of this seemingly simple act.
Ravens are unclean, scavenging birds, yet they delivered sanctified food to Elijah twice daily. As far as scholars can ascertain, this provision lasted a year or more.
Ravens are known to cache their excess food once they have eaten enough. Nonetheless, they didn’t eat the food themselves, and they did not go and hide it for another day.
Ravens faithfully provided Elijah’s food twice a day without fail. God truly is a miracle-working God who can use every creature to show His might and provide for others.
Symbolic Meaning Of Ravens In The Bible
Just as ravens are unclean birds, so we, as sinners, are unclean. Despite this sorry spiritual state we were born into, God loves and takes care of us. God was planning a way for us to be cleansed even before the flood.
Even though some animals were unclean, they were protected in the ark along with Noah and his family. God is willing to use us all for His glory, just like the ravens who helped Noah and Elijah.
We learn from the raven that God can take what is unclean and use it for good with His miracle-working power. Just as the ravens provided in a way contrary to their nature when God used them, we can do God’s work despite our sinful nature.
Jesus taught that God provides for us even more than for the birds. God did not stop there. He also provided a way for us to enjoy eternal life.
And as we have gone through this article I want to end summarizing a few more symbolic meaning of ravens.
- God’s Provision
- Beauty (dark features)
We can be reunited with God through Jesus’ victory on the cross. Our daily aim should be to do God’s work here on earth to provide for one another. We have received so much grace from God, just like the ravens. In return, we should be helping those who cannot care for themselves.
Animals In The Bible Series
Curious about other animals mentioned in scripture? I know I am and that’s why I have written on these animals. I hope you enjoy them.
Melissa is a passionate minister, speaker and an ongoing learner of the Bible. She has been involved in church and vocational ministry for over 18 years. And is the founder of Think About Such Things. She has the heart to equip the saints by helping them get into the Word of God and fall more in love with Jesus. She also enjoys family, cooking, and reading.
She has spoken in churches in California, Oregon, Texas, and Mexico and has been featured in Guidepost Magazine and All Recipes Magazine. Read More…