A pearl is a hard glistening object that is produced in the soft tissue of another living organism (mostly oysters). Pearls can fetch a hefty price with some going for hundreds of thousands of dollars. They are therefore considered gems that are mostly used in jewelry. Pearls are mentioned in the Bible severally wth different connotations.
The English word pearl is adapted from a Sanskrit word that means pure. As such, pearls are often mentioned in reference to purity. From a biblical standpoint, holiness and purity are intertwined. Because pearls are considered pure, they are also very precious which gives them their second Biblical symbolism.
Pearls as a symbol for precious things
The symbolism of pearls with precious things can be seen in the parable where someone sold everything because he had found the pearls he was looking for.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, Who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. Mathew 13:45
Pearls may be classified together with other gemstones but they are in a class of their own. Unlike other gemstones that naturally occur on the earth, pearls are typically produced by a living organism, the oyster. Pearls usually form around a grain of sand or around an egg of a parasite that might have invaded the oyster. The pearl is, therefore, secreted as a defense mechanism to protect the oyster from injury or from parasitic attack. The oyster produces nacre (also known as the mother of pearl) and lays it on the injured area until what started as an injury turns into an object of beauty. It literally turns the offending particle of sand or egg into a gem of great worth.
Pearls as a symbol of God’s love
The pearl symbolizes our spiritual work with God. From the very onset, God created a perfect creation. According to the Genesis account of creation, God would look back on what he had created at the end of each day of creation and he would see that “it was good. ” On day six, he looks at all the creation and he notes that “it was very good.” But after God took the perfect man he had created and set him in the perfect garden of Eden, man allows sin to enter the picture and this becomes like a grain of sand or an egg from a parasite on the oyster. By allowing sin, man becomes a scab, botch, or irritant in God’s otherwise perfect creation.
However, because of his immense love for mankind, he covers sin with the blood of Jesus and gradually transforms the sinful man into new creations that are clothed with the righteousness of Christ who died on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. The love of God towards mankind baffled even the angles. In Psalms 8, they are openly wondering;
What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? Psalms 8:4
The angels must have thought that God would do away with man when he sinned. However, God did the opposite by turning the bad situation around for the good of humanity. In the words of scripture;
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
The pearl as a symbol of patience
The pearl starts as an embedded mass in an oyster but it eventually gets separated into a precious stone. The same can be said of the church – it is surrounded by and even embedded in a deeply corruptible world. However, God calls the church a place of separation and purity.
Wherefore Come ye out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, And touch no unclean thing; And I will receive you, And will be to you a Father, And ye shall be to me sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. 2 Corinthians 6:17-18.
Just like most precious stones, the pearl doesn’t grow overnight – it is produced slowly. Gradually, the oyster keeps adding a thin layer of nacre. The same can be said of the Church. Christ, the head of the church, has been slowly but progressively growing the church for centuries. When all is said and done, he will come for his pearl. As the Bible records;
so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without. Ephesians 5:27
Pearls as a symbol of a church hidden in Christ
Essentially, the formation of pearls happens in secret. This is the same case with our spiritual walk with God. As Paul notes, our life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). In another scripture, the Bible says;
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. 2 Corinthians 4:7
The world may not comprehend God’s work in the church and that is why Jesus taught his disciples not to be too concerned at how the world views them. He explained that because they are not of the world, they should not expect the world to love them (John 15:19). But like the pearls, the beauty will one day be revealed
Oysters live in the depths of the sea where they scavenge on the garbage that sinks to the sea bed. The sea is often used in the Bible as a metaphor for multitudes of people. God revealed this to John in the book of Revelation in the following verse:
And he said to me, ‘The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues’.Revelation 17:15
But the sea is also used as a metaphor for the enemy. In Revelation 13 as well as Daniel 7, the beast is depicted as coming from the sea. Additionally, Isaiah 59:19 describes how the enemy can come in like a flood.
God juxtaposes his people with the enemy as a way of demonstrating the pearl symbolism. Even though they live amidst evil, He would still make them his precious pearls. This is why Apostle Peter refers to the church as a Royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people belonging to God.
Pearls are mentioned in quite a number of places in the scriptures. In most of these places, the pearls are used as a symbol of purity and holiness. It is often in reference to God’s people, whom he intends to transform into a pure and holy nation, or in the words of Peter, a royal priesthood.