The word turtle (in reference to the tortoise-like aquatic creature) does not appear in the Bible. In the couple of instances where the word Turtle is used, it is about a type of pigeon that was also called a turtledove. Even though this beautiful animal is not mentioned in the Bible, there are a lot of Biblical lessons we can learn from it.
Turtles and the Bible
The turtle may not have been mentioned in the Bible but it is still an incredible animal that can teach us lots of biblical truth. Its ability to live on land and in water should teach us the importance of flexibility. Its lack of teeth should remind us that no one is perfect but our imperfections should never be an excuse.
Turtles As Creations of God
The Story of creation is documented in Genesis 1. In verses 20-23, the Bible talks of how God created the aquatic animals. Turtles, like all other animals, should therefore be seen as part of God’s broader creation and they were therefore put on earth for a unique purpose. Right from the Genesis account of creation, we see God appreciating and delighting in his creation. The phrase “God saw what he had made was good” is repeated at least 5 times in Genesis (Genesis 1:10,12,18,21,25). Turtles should therefore be always considered God’s creation that God is pleased with.
Turtles In Jewish Tradition
The Talmud, which is an important text in Judaism, has some discussions and teachings on aspects of the natural world – including turtles and other animals. For instance, in the Talmudic tractate of Chullin, reference is made to the issue of eating turtle meat. Talmudic texts and discussions were largely based on the kashrut laws which gave a strict dietary code that the Jewish people were to observe. The mention of the Turtles in the Talmud may be related to the following kashrut law:
These also shall be unclean unto you among the creeping things that creep upon the earth; the weasel, and the mouse, and the tortoise after his kind. Leviticus 11:29
In the scripture above, the law talks of the tortoise after his kind. We may infer that since the turtle looks like the aquatic version of the tortoise, the “after his kind” may mean that turtles were also included in the list of prohibited animals for the Jewish people to eat.
Appearance of the Word Turtle In the Bible
The word turtle appears in a couple of verses in the Bible. These include:
And if she is not able to bring a lamb, then she shall bring two turtles or two young pigeons; the one for the burnt offering, and the other for a sin offering: and the priest shall make an atonement for her, and she shall be clean. Lev. 12:8
And on the eighth day, she shall take unto her two turtles, or two young pigeons, and bring them unto the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. Lev. 15:29
And on the eighth day, he shall bring two turtles, or two young pigeons, to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of the congregation: Numbers 6:10
Even though the word turtle is used in all of the scriptures above, the animal in question was not the turtle but the pigeon (turtle dove).
Turtle Symbolism In the Bible
There is no denying that turtles are some of the most incredible animals on the planet. Even though they are not in the Bible, turtles have some unique attributes that can teach us some important Biblical lessons. Let us consider some of these below:
Turtles don’t have teeth
Turtles do not have teeth. They rely on their beak-like mouths to grasp their food. Their mouths are made of a tough material known as keratin. In humans, keratin is the substance that makes the nails on our fingers and toes. But their lack of teeth does not prevent them from eating. If National Geographic is anything to go by, turtles can eat up to 73% of their body weight per day. This means they consume approximately 16,000 calories per day which is 3-7 times more than they need to survive.
There are a couple of lessons that we can learn from this. First, the lack of teeth does not limit turtles from feeding. They feed just as well – and perhaps even better than most other animals. This should inspire you to realize that your weaknesses should not be your limitations. The fact that you lack in some area of your life doesn’t mean you cannot excel in your field. Secondly, turtles eat way more than they need because they need the reserves. While eating too many calories may not be healthy for you, it is a good idea to think ahead. The turtle is not sure if he will get another meal tomorrow so he maximizes the chance he gets. Similarly, you should plan purposefully and maximize the opportunities that God brings your way.
Turtles can survive both on land and in water
Turtles are both terrestrial and aquatic. Even though some live all their life on land, the majority live in water and only come to the land to lay eggs. However, turtles cannot breathe underwater. As such, they need to keep coming up to the surface for air before diving back. When at rest, a turtle can remain underwater for up to two hours at a time. However, when they are active, they need to pop up for air more often.
Just like turtles, we need to be flexible and adaptable. Apostle Paul realized this and it was one of the secrets of his huge success in ministry. When he was with the Jews, he became like one of them and when he was with the Romans, he became like one of them. As long as he was not in violation of God’s word, he would be flexible and adapt to the different environments (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
Since turtles are not mentioned in the bible, their symbolism is mostly drawn from their attributes. As we have seen, the most important symbolism of turtles is overcoming weakness. Turtles face many challenges starting from lack of teeth to lots of predators but they still manage to lead a long and happy life. If turtles surmount all these challenges, then we are without excuse too.