“O Tell Me Where the Dove Has Gone?”


“And he stayed yet other seven days; and sent forth the dove; which returned not again unto him any more” (Gen. 8:12)

     INTRO.:  A hymn which uses the dove as a symbol of peace in the heart is “O Tell Me Where the Dove Has Flown.”  The anonymous text, along with the tune (Dove of Peace), which is considered an American folk melody, first appeared in the 1835 Southern Harmony compiled by William Walker (1809-1875).  Sometimes either the words or the music, or both, are attributed to a William G. Houser who lived in the mid-1800s.  The modern arrangement of the melody was made by Austin Cole Lovelace (b. 1919 in Rutherfordton, NC) and is an adaptation from a 1973 anthem.  Today, the tune is most often associated with the 1971/1995 communion hymn “I Come with Joy” by Brian A. Wren.  Among hymnbooks published by members of the Lord’s church during the twentieth century for use in churches of Christ, the tune, arranged in 1996 by Michael Greene, with Wren’s hymn may be found in the 1997 supplement of the 1992 Praise for the Lord edited by John P. Wiegand.

     The song pictures seeking peace, symbolized by a dove, which has flown from him.

I. In stanza 1, an individual wonders where the dove has flown when it left him

“O tell me where the Dove has flown

To build her downy nest,

And I will rove this world all o’er,

To win her to my breast.”

 A. Even though the word “Dove” is capitalized, I would not understand the dove in the song to refer specifically to the Holy Spirit (of which the scriptures NEVER say that He came down with the appearance of a dove but simply in the manner or fashion as a dove would alight) but rather as a symbol or figure of the peace that one has lost due to sin: Lk. 19:42

 B. Before one can have such peace, he must seek and pursue it: 1 Pet. 1:10-11

 C. Winning her to one’s breast would refer to having the peace of God ruling the heart: Col. 3:15

II. In stanza 2, he seeks her in groves of love

“I sought her in the groves of love,

I knew her tender heart;

But she had flown–the Dove of Peace

Had felt a traitor’s dart.”

 A. While true love as defined in God’s word is a wonderful thing, the world has misunderstood what true love is and seeks solace in what is falsely called love: Prov. 7:18

 B. Yes, we are to be tenderhearted toward others: Eph. 4:32

 C. However, just being kind and good toward others, in and of itself, will not save us if our hearts have been hit with the traitor’s dart of sin: Tit. 3:5

III. In stanza 3, he seeks her on the flowery lawn of pleasure

“I sought her on the flowery lawn,

Where pleasure holds her train;

But fancy flies from flower to flower,

So there I sought in vain.”

 A. Solomon sought the wisdom of God which brings peace by seeking the flowery lawn of pleasure: Eccl. 2:10

 B. However, he found, like Moses, that the pleasures of sin are, like a butterfly that flits from flower to flower, very fleeting: Heb. 11:25

 C. Therefore, Solomon came to recognize that finding peace in pleasure is vain, like a grasping for the wind: Eccl. 2:11

IV. In stanza 4, he seeks her on ambition’s craggy hill

“’Twas on Ambition’s craggy hill,

The Bird of Peace might stray;

I sought her there, though vainly still,

She never flew that way.”

 A. Some people try to find peace by following their ambitions, but the Bible tells us to do nothing through selfish ambition (KJV, strife): Phil. 2:1-3

 B. The Bird of Peace will not stray onto ambition’s hill, even though people there often cry peace, peace, when there is no peace: Jer. 6:14

 C. Those who seek peace by looking to all the works under the sun done by human ambition will find it vanity: Eccl. 1:14

V. In stanza 5, he finally listens to the voice of faith in his search

“Faith smiled, and shed a silent tear,

To see my search around,

Then whispered ‘I will tell you where

The Dove may yet be found.”

 A. The faith by we can hear God’s speaking to us comes from His word: Rom. 10:17

 B. God knows that many are searching, and He wants them to search in the right place: Acts 17:11

 C. Only by going to God may the Dove be found as we find grace to help us in time of need: Heb. 4:16

VI. In stanza 6, he learns that the dove may be found only in true religion

“’By meek Religion’s humble cot,

She builds her downy nest;

Go, seek that sweet secluded spot,

And win her to your breast.’”

 A. Many rail against “religion,” but while there is much false religion to reject, there is “pure and undefiled religion”: Jas. 1:27

 B. This pure religion is that which seeks after the one true God, and we are promised that if we seek, we shall find: Matt. 7:7-8

 C. Only in this way can we win to our breast the peace of God that surpasses all understanding to keep our hearts: Phil. 4:6-7

     CONCL.:  The traditional tune requires that the last line of each stanza must be repeated.  Some might question whether this is truly a “hymn” or not.  However, when understood rightly it may indeed be considered a “spiritual song” which instructs us in the true way of seeking the peace of God to dwell in my soul, as I ask the Lord, “O Tell Me Where the Dove Has Gone.”


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