The raven is one of the most mentioned birds in the Bible. This bird is known to always take advantage of any opportunity they get to feed. They will just as easily steal a piece of steak from your plate but they also scavenge for food in the wild. They are not as good at hunting as eagles – but they are ferocious and greedy birds. Modern society thinks of ravens as symbols of evil things but the Bible may have a totally different picture of this bird.
So what do ravens represent in the Bible?
There are three main symbolisms of ravens in the Bible. First, they symbolize our sinful nature, secondly, they symbolize the grace of God and lastly, they symbolize God’s divine provision. The raven has been mentioned at least 11 times in the Bible and most of these mentions symbolize either of the three things.
Biblical symbolisms of the raven
Symbol of sinful nature
The first time the raven is mentioned in the Bible is during the flood. After it had stopped raining, Noah let out the raven to go and investigate if the waters had rescinded. As the scripture records, the Raven just kept playing to and fro until the waters had dried. He did not return to the ark.
And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro until the waters were dried up from off the earth. Genesis 8:7
Even though the scripture doesn’t say why the Raven didn’t return, we can safely infer from understanding how ravens are, that he was preoccupied with all the carcasses he found on the ground. He probably gorged himself on meat and either forgot or was too full to fly back to the ark.
The raven in this instance is a symbol of man’s sinful nature. Just as the raven is driven by its greed, humans are often driven by their flesh. The scripture demonstrates in several passages how the flesh is always contrary to the spirit. For instance, in Romans 7, Paul says documents his struggle with the flesh where he kept doing what he didn’t want to do but struggled to do what he wanted to. He later wrote to the galatians that the flesh and the spirit are always at loggerheads (Galatians 5:17)
Symbol of God’s grace
As we have established, the Raven is a greedy bird. Not only that, he is also a dirty bird in the sense that he readily feeds on carcasses. In fact, the Raven is listed in Leviticus 11 as one of the unclean birds which Israel was forbidden to eat.
Interestingly, God used the raven in several instances. For starters, the raven was given the first priority to exit the ark. When the dove was released next, the dove flew for a while and then came back – unlike the raven. The raven can therefore be seen as a remarkable expression of God’s grace.
An even more interesting illustration of this is when the Raven was used to feed the prophet Elijah during one of the worst droughts in Israel (1 Kings 17:4-6). There were lots of birds that God could use but he chose the most unlikely of them – as a demonstration of his grace. This symbolism should remind us that God doesn’t save us because we are good or because we deserve his salvation – no one does. In the words of scripture, all have sinned and fallen short of his glory (Romans 3:23). The grace of God is however revealed to all men (Titus 2:11) irrespective of how bad they may be.
Jesus, who the Bible says was full of grace and truth (John 1:14), often made the religious leaders mad because of how he would mingle with sinners. Unlike the preachers of the day, he demonstrated the grace of God by being a friend of the sinners.
The symbolism of divine provision
Ravens also symbolize God’s divine provision. We have already seen how God used a raven to feed the prophet Elijah while he was in the wilderness. Interestingly, God picked a bird which is known to be greedy to deliver the food to his servant. The message God was sending him was he could take care of his needs from the most unlikely of places. This truth is echoed by the prophet Isaiah in the following scripture:
calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it. Isaiah 46:10.
God, through the prophet Isaiah, was using the metaphor of the bird of prey (most likely a Raven) to show that he could meet the needs of his children through sources they may never imagine. As such, God’s children should not worry about their needs. Jesus even uses the Raven as a contrast of How the raven doesn’t do any work and yet God makes sure they are fed (Luke 12:24). He then poses the challenge that God considers his children more valuable than ravens and other birds and they should rest assured that all their needs will be taken care of.
The symbolism of divine provision is meant to remind God’s children to walk by faith as opposed to walking by sight. When the Raven wakes up each morning, they do not have any doubt that they will find something to eat – and they always do. This is the same attitude that will get God’s children to enjoy divine provision.
So in summary, the Raven may have a bad in modern culture but it has some noteworthy symbolism in the Bible. The bird can symbolise our sinful nature which then leads to the grace of God. it can also symbolize God’s provision which he wants his children to enjoy. In the words of Scripture, it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us his kingdom.