6 ¶ And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made: 7 And he sent forth a raven, which went forth to and fro, until the waters were dried up from off the earth. 8 Also he sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground; 9 But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot, and she returned unto him into the ark, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth: then he put forth his hand, and took her, and pulled her in unto him into the ark. 10 And he stayed yet other seven days; and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark; 11 And the dove came in to him in the evening; and, lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf pluckt off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth. 12 And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; which returned not again unto him any more.
Forty days is a period of testing and fasting in the Bible among other things but more importantly of waiting on God, as Noah must do here. See Moses, Elijah, and Jesus’ experiences.
Exodus 34:28 And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.
1Kings 19:8 And he arose, and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.
Matthew 4:2 And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred.
There is a symbolic significance to sending out a raven and a dove although the literal meaning is that Noah did just that. As mankind is about to embark on a new beginning on an earth that is being reborn the raven, a bird that is forbidden to be eaten under the Law given to Moses later, is sent out of the ark. Ravens are scavengers and predators so, presumably, this one would have found something to eat.
Ravens are given the task to feed Elijah in a time of drought in 1Kings 17:1-7. God is said to provide their food in Job 38:41 and Psalm 147:9 and Luke 12:24.
And yet, they, along with owls, bitterns, and cormorants are among the unclean birds that represent the desolation of Idumea in Isaiah 34.
The dove with the olive leaf in her mouth is a powerful motif in western civilization representing making peace and Christ uses the dove in contrast to the serpent in Matthew 10:16 with the serpent representing wisdom and the dove representing the harmless nature of the Jewish witnesses for Him to Israel so that no one could mistake Christ’s message to be rightly delivered by the sword. The Catholic Church and Spain and the Anglican Church and England did much abuse to the Scriptures by their evangelization of the world by conquest, murder, and slavery. In this, the dove represents the witness for Christ, the essence of which is peace with God, to a world that has been convulsed and destroyed by sin and an alienation from our Creator.
The Holy Spirit descends like a dove on Christ. The use of the words like or as in describing a relationship is called a simile so it does not follow in the verse I am going to quote that the Holy Spirit looks like a dove but that that it descended like a dove landing. Many Christian artists have represented the Holy Spirit, though, by the dove with the olive leaf, or usually branch, in its mouth.
Mark 1:10 And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him:
Christ is our peace with God, making of Jew and Gentile one new man, reconciling us both to God.
Ephesians 2:14 ¶ For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: 17 And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. 18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. 19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
Also, both good and evil, sacred and profane, proceeds from the ark onto the earth, represented by the dove and the raven. Mankind will visit his sinful nature and his desire to walk with God upon this earth throughout history, both sides of his character.
There are an enormous number of sermons that have been made and can be made regarding the significance of the raven and the dove but I’ll move on to keep from getting bogged down.