Biblically, a deer symbolizes the beauty, majesty, and mystery of nature. It also orients us to the world’s cycles of birth and death.
In scripture, we find sermons about the return of Christ; tales of hunters on hillsides chasing down prey; food that is sacrificed in worship by priests; and images from Revelation depicting God as the ultimate hunter.
Here are 7 key ways a deer symbolizes the living presence of God, and points us toward the greatest hunt of all.
1) Deer represents His beautiful creation
The deer was created to be in the very image of God. In Genesis 1, we find that God himself made every animal and creature: “God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky'” (1:20).
Later we are told that “God created the large sea creatures, and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm” (1:21).
The deer is a sign of God’s beauty manifest in His creation.
Psalm 104 says, “When you give it [the grass] its strength, the earth is filled with splendor… and the meadows are clothed with flocks and gladness” (verses 10, 12). Psalm 19 calls God a master artist who has created all things to be beautiful: “He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them.”
As a symbol of His creation, the deer is a beautiful creature to behold and is a welcome part of God’s plan.
2) Deer represents His majestic power
Deer are strong and capable of leaping over obstacles with ease. They are able to travel long distances and even jump into the water to escape danger.
The word deer comes from the Latin word “daurus,” which means “he-goat.” According to Greek mythology, a deer was seen as a symbol of strength; it was also a protector of sheep flocks against wolves.
The deer is one of the few animals that can outrun a human. The deer’s power reminds us of the strength and majesty of God.
In the Bible, the deer is found among creatures that are used to refer to God. In Hebrew, deer is the name of God’s people Israel (Num. 23:22); the king’s son Jonathan was called a “deer” (1 Sam. 14:48).
Psalm 21:5 says, “For the king trusts in the Lord, and through unshakable love he will not be shaken.” Psalm 144:1-2 says, “My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, my soul! Sing praises to God who is worthy to be praised.”
As a symbol of His strength and power, the deer is a welcome messenger of God’s majesty.
3) Deer represents His generous provision
Deer are herbivores whose diet consists primarily of grasses and other plants. They also eat fruits and berries when available.
Although deer cannot digest every plant, they dine on those that provide nutrients for their bodies – providing them with health and strength.
The deer relies on God for their very existence. Consider the book of Esther in the Bible, in which Esther and Mordecai are faced with an impossible situation: they have to save their people from certain extinction at the hands of a cruel king who is determined to take them captive and make them slaves.
Their only hope lies in saving their people through a miracle that God has ordained. We see this miracle unfold as King Ahasuerus sends for Esther and her cousin, Mordecai, for a royal banquet known as the “Feast of Esther”. When it is Esther’s turn to enter the King’s chambers, she refuses to bow down and reveal her nationality which could get her killed. When the time comes for Esther to reveal her people’s suffering, the king has a change of heart.
King Ahasuerus makes it unlawful to harm any Jew or destroy their livelihoods, and he even raises Mordecai up above all of his noblemen—a great reversal from earlier in the story when Mordecai was forced to hide because he was a Jew.
The story of Esther reveals that God can miraculously provide for His children when they have no other hope.
4) Deer represents His faithful care
Deer are creatures of habit who enjoy a simple life. They prefer to be in quiet, secluded places and are often found frolicking through the woods with their siblings and mothers.
When a deer feel safe, they will often graze for hours on grasses and brush that is readily available to them. According to the Old Testament, God watches over His people with great affection and care. He is also a faithful Father who provides for His children and guides them so that they walk in the right direction (Deut. 32:6).
Deer help us to see how we need not fear God’s presence because He is always watching over us, even when we are unaware of it (Psalm 91:3; Prov. 3:11).
God’s faithful care is revealed further in the way He provides for His people when they become lost in the wilderness.
In 1 Kings 3, we find that two of Israel’s best warriors, Rehoboam and Jeroboam, are on a mission to find survivors from Israel’s last attack on Judah.
Jeroboam’s men want to turn back to the south because they cannot find anything; however, Rehoboam thinks that God will make a way for them to follow His plan.
The deer in the Bible further illustrates God’s care for his people.
5) Deer represents His desire to lead us back to Him
Deer are creatures of the forest who have an innate desire to return to the same place each day. Not only does the deer avoid differentiating between dangerous and safe places, but it will also return to its favorite grazing spots again and again.
Deer will carefully study the forest and make sure that no predators are lurking about before venturing into new areas.
The deer’s habits help us to appreciate God’s desire to lead us back to Him. The deer will not venture into the unknown without first knowing what is ahead. They are also quick to flee from predators that could pose harm if they got too close (1 Cor. 10:12).
The Bible reveals that we also need to be aware of the dangers that may lie ahead. We can be led astray by sin and fall into danger if we don’t diligently guard against it.
Take this example in 1 Kings 2, King Solomon’s son becomes proud and dissatisfied with his father’s wisdom because he lacks understanding (1 Kings 2:28). He takes an evil wife and builds a temple to honor her in Jerusalem. He builds altars to strange gods and practices witchcraft.
When Solomon hears of his son’s actions, he laments that his son did not continue to walk in his ways (1 Kings 3:11). Because Adonijah does not heed the warning of Solomon, he does not realize that the Lord has been leading him back to himself.
6) Deer represents the thirst for a relationship with God
Deer are creatures of habit and tend to return to places or people that provide comfort and security.
The deer attributes its trust in God to His great goodness and faithful care, but it also trusts Him because He is their friend.
In the book of Ruth, we read an account of how a lonely widow named Naomi sets out on the road with her two daughters-in-law, Mahlon and Chilion, because Naomi believes she will die before she can return home to Judah. Naomi and her daughters-in-law become separated from the other women, who were traveling with the women’s husbands.
After Naomi and her daughters-in-law reach Bethlehem, Naomi hears news of her friend Boaz, who is from Judah and has been living in Bethlehem for some time. She decides to travel to Judah and finds Boaz in the fields. They talk for a long time together about their pasts and then each sets out on their separate ways again to reunite with their own people.
In this story, we have a glimpse of what God desires for us: to be drawn back to Him again and again. Naomi’s longing for a relationship with God is as strong as her love for her deceased husband.
The deer’s representation of thirst for a relationship with God is similar to the longing of the woman in Ruth for intimacy with Boaz. The two feelings are not merely desirable but also carry a deep yearning. Both at times cry out from their hearts (1 Sam. 1:11, 22). 7) Deer represents being part of a church family.
Deer are creatures that are part of a group or community because they have an innate desire to be one with others.
The Bible reveals that God is not an isolated being but wants us to be connected with each other and Him (John 17:21, 23; Col. 1:20). He would not want one member of the church to think that the church was about him or her (1 John 4:16). God takes us as a group to be His people (1 Peter 2:5).
Our desire to be one with others is similar to God’s desire for the church to be united. Before Christianity, religious followers tended to isolate themselves and separate from their communities.
7) Deer symbolizes cleanliness and holiness
Deer are creatures of habit, who tend to return to areas where they have a strong source of food. The deer will only graze in areas that are safe and have enough food available.
Deer are creatures who are not unclean out of necessity, but because it is their nature to be clean (Psalm 24:3).
Jesus tells us that we are God’s own possession, holy and set apart for His use (1 Peter 2:9).
The deer shows the hunger for spiritual intimacy is similar to the longing of Jesus’ disciples after their Master was gone, who desired to have Him with them (Mark 14:28).
Facts about the deer in the Bible
- Deer are associated with a few different colors in the Bible – black and white.
- Deer are also associated with two types of trees in the Bible – the cedar of Lebanon and the acacia tree.
- Deer were important to the Egyptians because they were considered the best of all animals to hunt. The Egyptians became so skilled at hunting deer that they would use it as their symbol for victory.
- The deer species of today still exists in its original land. It was spread to other areas during the period of Abraham, who was a descendent of Shem.
Deer symbolism in other religions
- In Buddhism, deer are sometimes seen as messengers that carry prayers to the divine. The Japanese Buddhist God Bishamon once appeared in a dream to a man named Gemba Kannoko (a former deer hunter) . Bishamon taught Kannoko the meaning of death, which is to reunite with his soul.
- In Hinduism, deer represent the sacrificial animal for the Brahmin caste. Brahmins are the highest caste in India, who are charged with performing sacrifices to God. They are also tasked with interpreting religious texts.
- In ancient Judaism, the deer was considered a lucky animal. Only Jews were permitted to hunt deer in Israel and they made sure to preserve the species.
- In ancient Egyptian cultures, deer were believed to be messengers of the gods. They were used as symbols of royalty and fertility.
- Deer symbolism is also seen in indigenous Japanese religions such as Shintoism and shamanism. In Shintoism, various deer are associated with kami (the Japanese term for gods).
Symbolisms in the Bible such as the deer can provide people with a deeper understanding of Scripture. People can learn how God talks to people in the Bible, and how He is still talking to people today.
Today, deer are commonly seen in wildlife parks or safari parks and are often seen as a novelty because of their beauty. Their presence is not just for the sake of being viewed, but for the sake of being understood.
Deers’ intelligence is an example of how God created us with a beautiful mind and heart to engage with Him emotionally. They allow us to know that we are precious in His eyes and that He desires to have a relationship with us.