Biblical tools: Examples of dreams (includes a list of dreams in the bible)

In this series we are looking at biblical tools which can help us with the dream interpretation process. This article addresses one of the most obvious ways that the bible can help us: By providing examples!

If you’re interested in dreams but not sure about the bible … read on anyway, because you might find a few surprises in store!

I have included a list of dreams in the bible and some of the key features that I noticed in each one. You can jump straight to the list if you prefer:

A word for every occasion 

One of the fabulous things about knowing the bible is that you have a wealth of pictures, illustrations and wisdom to hand that can be applied to every life situation.  There are positive examples and negative examples. There are people to emulate and people who show us what NOT to do! There are heroes of faith, unlikely champions, and normal people who do extraordinary things. And there are also many people who make silly mistakes but still God works around those weaknesses to bring them through.

Knowing the bible is like a communication tool that God can use to bring to mind the right course of action at any given time. The right example just ‘pops’ into our head when we need to know what to do. This has happened to me so many times that I believe these occurrences are a ‘God’ thing, and as such are invaluable.

So for me, having some good examples in the bible is most certainly an advantage when we come to dream interpretation. 

You might be surprised…

There are more than twenty examples of dreams in the bible, each with different characteristics and purposes. Many of these are recorded in the historical books, going back even to the time of Abraham. They provide fascinating insights into the culture and beliefs of the time.  

Even if you don’t normally read the bible, I think you will be fascinated by the dreams that are recorded in its pages. Some are well known, but many are not.

If you are a Christian and/or familiar with the bible, you might yet uncover some surprises. When we look through the lens of ‘dreams in the bible’, you might find some stories that you have never really noticed before. I am confident that there are some treats in store for you!

To prove this point, I actually discovered a dream that I was previously unaware of while researching this article, and I thought I knew all the dreams in the bible pretty well! See if you can spot which one that was in the list of dreams below.

A springboard to greater things

In the section below I have listed every mention of an actual dream that I could find in the bible, along with my current understanding and reflections for each one at the time of writing.

Please feel free to use these thoughts as a springboard for your own learning. If any of the examples catch your attention, go to the original reference and pray or ponder over it some more. Learn everything you can. Let God’s Spirit speak to your heart. Maybe you will have some ‘a-ha’ moments with your own dreams.

For each dream, I will give it a title, a brief description, and a suggested type/category. (Of course there are other equally valid ways of categorising them). I will consider whether it was metaphorical language or more literal, the purpose of the dream as I understand it, and the outcome. I will also record anything unusual that I think is worth noting about the dream.

The dreams

Old Testament

Reference Genesis 20:3-7
Dreamer ABIMELEK, KING OF GERAR
Title GOD SAYS, “DO NOT TOUCH SARAH!”
Type of Dream Warning / Word of knowledge
Symbolic / Literal Literal – God spoke clearly and directly to Abimelek 
Brief Description This dream was a conversation between God and Abimelek. Abraham had been pretending that Sarah was his sister. In the dream, God told Abimelek that Sarah was Abraham’s wife, and that it would go badly for him and his household if he touched her. He told him to return Sarah to Abraham.
The purpose To advise Abimelek of the deception so he could make the right decision about Sarah.
The outcome Sarah was restored to Abraham. Abraham was saved from his own stupidity. Abimelek and his household were restored and kept safe.
Anything of note This is the first mention of dreams in the bible. It is remarkable how ‘matter-of-fact’ this account is of God appearing and speaking clearly and directly to this king through a dream.
Further reading Blog post: Biblical tools: Dream Symbols and the Law of First Mention
Reference Genesis 28:10-16
Dreamer JACOB
Title GOD SPEAKS PROMISES TO JACOB FROM HEAVEN
Type of Dream Destiny / Prophecy
Symbolic or Literal Literal – The vision and message did not need interpreting
Brief Description Jacob was on his way to find a wife.  In the dream he saw a ladder reaching into heaven with God above it. God spoke and personally blessed him and his descendants with the same promise that Abraham was given (Genesis 12), and prophesied that He would bring Jacob back to this land safely.
The purpose This is an affirmation for Jacob, so that he could receive his destiny personally from God, not just second-hand from his father.  This would have been very timely as he was about to choose a wife to raise a family with!
The outcome Jacob made a personal commitment to God, with the understanding that God would be with him and protect him.
Anything of note Jacob seemed to actually see into heaven while he was asleep! Also I love how God personally encouraged Jacob at a key time of his life.
Further reading  
Reference Genesis 31:10-13
Dreamer JACOB
Title SPECKLED GOATS MATING / IT’S TIME TO GO HOME
Type of Dream Strategy / Direction
Symbolic or Literal Literal – it was clear and did not need interpreting
Brief Description Jacob had been living with his uncle in Haran, where Laban had taken advantage of Jacob’s help for many years.  Jacob described a dream he once had, where he saw the male speckled goats mating.  God then reminded Jacob that He had been blessing him, and told Jacob it was time to go back to the land of his birth.
The purpose To give Jacob a strategy for breeding abundant healthy speckled herds, and then to prompt Jacob to return to Canaan with God’s blessing and provision.
The outcome Read the previous chapter (Genesis 30:31-43) to see this God-given strategy outworked – Jacob implemented the plan and it made him extremely prosperous.  After this dream Jacob gathered his wives and livestock and left Haran as instructed.
Anything of note It is possible that what Jacob recounts here is a conglomerate of previous dreams – where God gave him strategy and supernatural knowledge about the breeding strategy, and the latest dream of God telling him it’s time to go home!
Further reading If you are intrigued by the science behind this supernatural strategy, I think this explanation is good at answersingenesis.org
Reference Genesis 31:24
Dreamer LABAN (JACOB’S UNCLE)
Title GOD SAYS, “BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY TO JACOB”
Type of Dream Warning
Symbolic or Literal Literal
Brief Description Laban was angrily chasing Jacob (who had fled after the previous dream). God spoke to him in a dream and warned him not to let his coming interaction with Jacob deteriorate into a bad outcome.
The purpose To protect Jacob from harm, and prevent Laban from acting in a way he might later regret.
The outcome Laban heeded the advice of the dream. Although he and Jacob had a heated discussion, they ended with making an agreement not to harm each other.
Anything of note Young’s Literal Translation says, “Take heed … lest thou speak with Jacob from good unto evil.” God wasn’t telling Laban not to talk to Jacob, just to show restraint when he did so.
Further reading  
Reference Genesis 37:5-8
Dreamer JOSEPH, SON OF JACOB
Title ‘YOUR SHEAVES BOWED DOWN TO MY SHEAF’
Type of Dream Destiny / Prophecy
Symbolic or Literal Symbolic
Brief Description Joseph dreamed that his brothers’ sheaves in the field all came and bowed down to his own sheaf.
The purpose Affirming an aspect of Joseph’s future calling and destiny. (He would need to hold on to this during the difficult years ahead).
The outcome At the time, it just annoyed his brothers when he told them.  But it was clearly fulfilled years later (See Genesis 42).
Anything of note It is helpful to see that the brothers understood the meaning and gave an interpretation, although they did not accept it at the time.  I also find it interesting that the dream used the symbol of grain. It was the issue of grain (which Joseph subsequently had plenty of but his brothers did not) which led them to come and bow down to him in due time.  
Further reading  
Reference Genesis 37:9-11
Dreamer JOSEPH, SON OF JACOB
Title THE SUN, MOON AND ELEVEN STARS BOW DOWN
Type of Dream Destiny / Prophecy
Symbolic or Literal Symbolic
Brief Description Joseph dreamed that the sun, moon and eleven stars bowed down to him.
The purpose To confirm the previous dream relating to his calling and destiny. This dream also added his parents into the equation (represented by the sun and moon)!
The outcome This was fulfilled as per the previous dream.
Anything of note It seems unwise for Joseph to have told his brothers about the dream, but this in itself was one of the factors leading to its fulfilment!
Further reading  
Reference Genesis 40:9-13
Dreamer PHARAOH’S CHIEF CUPBEARER
Title THE VINE AND THE GRAPES
Type of Dream Prophecy
Symbolic or Literal Symbolic
Brief Description He had this dream while in prison, and Joseph interpreted it. In the dream he saw a vine with three branches, bearing grapes.  He took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharoah’s cup.
The purpose This was prophetic about his coming reinstatement as cupbearer. It also served the purpose of highlighting Joseph’s dream interpretation accuracy, thus bringing him to Pharoah’s attention later on.
The outcome The dream was fulfilled exactly as per Joseph’s interpretation.
Anything of note This dream is helpful to us when learning about interpretation, as both the dream and the interpretation are documented.
Further reading  
Reference Genesis 40:16-19
Dreamer PHARAOH’S CHIEF BAKER
Title BASKETS OF BREAD EATEN BY BIRDS
Type of Dream Prophecy
Symbolic or Literal Symbolic
Brief Description This man was also in prison, and Joseph interpreted the dream.  In the dream he saw three baskets of bread. The birds were eating food out of the top basket on his head.
The purpose This was prophetic about his coming death. It also served the purpose of being a second confirmation of Joseph’s dream interpretation accuracy.
The outcome The chief baker was hanged three days later, and the dream was fulfilled exactly as per Joseph’s interpretation.
Anything of note The dream appears on the surface to be very similar to that of the cupbearer, but on closer examination the meaning was actually the opposite. 
Further reading  
Reference Genesis 41:1-4
Dreamer PHARAOH
Title SEVEN FAT COWS AND SEVEN THIN COWS
Type of Dream Prophecy – national level
Symbolic or Literal Symbolic
Brief Description He dreamed that seven healthy fat cows came out of the Nile and grazed in the grass, followed by seven gaunt cows which ate up the fat cows.
The purpose To warn Pharaoh (as leader of Egypt) of a severe famine that was coming and to advise him of the timing so he could prepare.
The outcome This was fulfilled exactly as per Joseph’s interpretation.  Due to this dream the whole of Egypt and surrounding lands were saved from starvation during this famine.
Anything of note We are subsequently given the interpretation and fulfillment, so this is a good dream to help us learn about dream symbols. 
Further reading  
Reference Genesis 41:5-7
Dreamer PHARAOH
Title SEVEN PLUMP AND SEVEN THIN EARS OF GRAIN
Type of Dream Prophecy -national level
Symbolic or Literal Symbolic 
Brief Description He dreamed that seven plump ears of grain came, followed by seven thin ears which swallowed up the plump ears,
The purpose The meaning is the same as per the previous dream.
The outcome The dream’s message was fulfilled and the nation was saved from starvation because Pharoah listened to Joseph’s advice.
Anything of note Where two dreams carry the same meaning, they are a witness/confirmation of the message.
Further reading  
Reference Judges 7:9-15
Dreamer A MAN IN THE MIDIANITE CAMP
Title A BARLEY LOAF FLATTENED THEIR TENT
Type of Dream Prophecy / Encouragement / Discouragement!
Symbolic or Literal Symbolic
Brief Description Gideon’s people (the Israelites) were preparing to attack the Midianites against all odds.  God told Gideon to go into the enemy camp, where he overheard a man telling this dream: A loaf of barley tumbled into the camp of Midian and flattened the tent.
The purpose This dream was mainly for Gideon’s benefit to encourage him, but it also served the purpose of striking fear into the Midianite camp.  
The outcome Gideon was emboldened and carried out the attack plan, and they gained the victory just as the dream had foretold.  The dream both prophesied and facilitated this outcome.
Anything of note The man who had the dream took it seriously and recognised that it was about Gideon. The Midianites had been oppressing the Israelites and stealing their grain, causing them to become poor farmers – thus the symbol of the barley loaf!
Further reading  
Reference 1 Kings 3:5-15
Dreamer KING SOLOMON
Title GOD SAYS, “ASK ME FOR WHAT YOU WANT”
Type of Dream Encounter / Impartation
Symbolic or Literal Literal – God speaks plainly to Solomon
Brief Description God appeared to Solomon in a dream and offered him whatever he wanted. Solomon asked for wisdom and discernment so he could rule Israel justly.  God was pleased and said he would grant his request, but also give him riches and honour.
The purpose To affirm Solomon’s position as king early on in his reign, and to equip him for the role.
The outcome Solomon was given everything that was promised in this dream (as evidenced in the rest of 1 Kings 3).
Anything of note This conversation happened in a dream, but it was recorded as being a real encounter  – God imparted wisdom to Solomon that he didn’t have before.
Further reading  
Reference Song of Solomon 3:1-4 and 5:2-8
Dreamer A BRIDE-TO-BE
Title LONGING FOR MY BELOVED
Type of Dream To be decided (see note at the end of this article).
Symbolic or Literal Symbolic
Brief Description In these chapters we find what appear to be confusing snippets of the bride-to-be recounting her dreams and nightmares, interspersed with real conversations and memories.  I find it hard to distinguish which is which at first glance.
The purpose I think this dream gives insight into what’s going on in the heart of the bride-to-be; it reveals the depth of love that she has for her betrothed, and her longing for the consummation of their marriage. It also reveals some of her fears.
The outcome From the rest of the book, it appears that at some point they did get married!
Anything of note The NASB gives this passage the title ‘The Bride’s Troubled Dream’. I have included my thoughts here, but I feel there is more to it that I have not yet discovered.
Further reading I enjoyed this explanation of the dream aspect at poemanalysis.com
kenny-luo-cMC_s7e150o-unsplash (1)

Reference Daniel 2
Dreamer NEBUCHADNEZZAR, KING OF BABYLON
Title A GREAT STATUE 
Type of Dream Prophecy
Symbolic or Literal Symbolic
Brief Description He dreamed of a great statue with a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron and clay. A stone struck the statue and became a mountain that filled the earth.
The purpose This was a prophetic dream relating to world history, and foretold the kingdoms that would rule over the earth from that time until the coming of Jesus and the kingdom of God.
The outcome The immediate effect was that the king fell on his face in awe, and promoted Daniel to ruler over the whole province.  (Later it went to his head and he made a gold statue!) We can also see from history that this dream was accurate and the events came to pass.
Anything of note This is a helpful dream because the interpretation is given, and we can see from hindsight how it was fulfilled. Also, Nebuchadnezzar did not actually tell anyone the dream, but God revealed it to Daniel in a night vision. 
Further reading For a simple picture and explanation of the kingdoms depicted in the dream, try this web page: ‘The Great Image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream‘. 
Reference Daniel 4
Dreamer NEBUCHADNEZZAR, KING OF BABYLON
Title THE GREAT TREE WHICH IS CUT DOWN
Type of Dream Warning / Prophecy
Symbolic or Literal Symbolic – but becomes more literal towards the end
Brief Description He dreamed of a great and beautiful tree that gave shelter to many creatures, which was then cut down to a stump.  It then seemed to be a man, who was given a decree about a period of time living like an animal.
The purpose To warn Nebuchadnezzar that if he did not change he would go through a period of humbling where he would eat grass like the cattle for seven years until he acknowledged God as Lord of all.
The outcome This came to pass exactly as per Daniel’s interpretation.
Anything of note The fantastic thing about this account is that it written in the words/testimony of King Nebuchadnezzar himself.  What an awesome document to have!
Further reading  
Reference Daniel 7
Dreamer DANIEL
Title THE FOUR BEASTS AND THE ANCIENT OF DAYS
Type of Dream Prophecy
Symbolic or Literal Symbolic and literal – the ‘beasts’ are symbolic, but then it becomes more of a vision within a dream, and Daniel actually appears to ‘see’ into the spiritual realm.
Brief Description Daniel dreamed of four beasts which arose from the sea in succession, followed by various horns. In the midst of this he saw a throne, the Ancient of Days, books being opened, and ‘One like a Son of Man’.  After that, someone in the dream gave him the interpretation.
The purpose This dream gave a prophetic timeline between that time period and the coming of Jesus, and forewarned them of what to expect.  This would have encouraged the Jews, and also the followers of Jesus during persecution, knowing it was all part of a bigger plan.
The outcome The dream and its interpretation were fulfilled in history so accurately that some people suggest it must have been written afterwards.   This dream (and Daniel 8) help bring clarity and additional details to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue dream.
Anything of note This is a good example of writing dreams down.  Also, in Daniel 7:1 he refers to these ‘night visions’ as being part of his dreams, making me wonder if  some of his other visions (e.g. chapter 8) might also have been received while he was asleep.
Further reading  

New Testament

Reference Matthew 1:18-21
Dreamer JOSEPH
Title “IT’S OK TO MARRY MARY!”
Type of Dream Destiny / Courage
Symbolic or Literal Literal
Brief Description Mary had become pregnant by the Holy Spirit, so Joseph wanted to call off their forthcoming marriage. An angel visited him in a dream to let him know that Mary was telling the truth and he should marry her.
The purpose To affirm Joseph’s calling to marry Mary and be the earthly father to Jesus.
The outcome He did marry her and he followed the angel’s instructions. He was able to protect and support Mary in raising Jesus, and take on the responsibility that was his destiny. 
Anything of note The angel called Joseph ‘son of David’ and gave him the responsibility of naming the child Jesus. How wonderful for Joseph to have this personal confirmation that raising the Messiah was his destiny too, not just Mary’s!
   
Reference Matthew 2:12
Dreamer THE MAGI
Title “DO NOT RETURN TO HEROD”
Type of Dream Guidance / warning
Symbolic or Literal Unknown
Brief Description Herod had asked the Magi to tell him where the ‘Messiah’ was if they found him.  All we know is that after finding Jesus, they were warned through a dream not to return to Herod.
The purpose To stop them inadvertently putting the baby Jesus in danger.
The outcome They went home a different way, as per the message of the dream.
Anything of note We don’t know what the dream was, or how they understood the message, just that they took it seriously and appreciated the importance of dreams.
Further reading  
Reference Matthew 2:13
Dreamer JOSEPH
Title “TAKE YOUR FAMILY TO EGYPT!”
Type of Dream Guidance / warning 
Symbolic or Literal Literal
Brief Description An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and informed him that Herod was going to try and kill the baby.  The angel gave him clear direction to urgently flee Bethlehem and take the family to Egypt.
The purpose To enable Joseph to save Mary and Jesus from being killed by Herod.
The outcome He was obedient and took the family to Egypt. It was so urgent that they actually left in the middle of the night!
Anything of note This is the second recorded time that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream.  This seems to be the primary way that God guided Joseph.
Further reading  
Reference Matthew 2:19-22
Dreamer JOSEPH
Title “TAKE YOUR FAMILY TO ISRAEL, THEN TO GALILEE”
Type of Dream Guidance / knowledge 
Symbolic or Literal Literal
Brief Description An angel appeared in a dream and told Joseph that it was safe to take his family back to Israel, then he received further warnings and specific direction to go to Galilee.
The purpose To enable Joseph to continue to keep the family safe, and to let him know when it was safe to return to Israel..
The outcome Joseph was obedient, they were able to return from Egypt, and the family was kept safe from harm.
Anything of note There are actually two dreams here, but we only know the details of the first one. I love how closely God guided Joseph through those difficult years.
Further reading  
Reference Matthew 27:19
Dreamer PILATE’S WIFE
Title “JESUS IS A RIGHTEOUS MAN”
Type of Dream Warning / Insight
Symbolic or Literal Unknown
Brief Description Jesus had come before Pilate for judgment.  The night before, Pilate’s wife had a troubled dream, convincing her that Jesus was innocent. She sent Pilate a message to tell him.
The purpose It’s interesting to wonder the purpose of this dream, as it didn’t seem to change the outcome – maybe just to give witness to Jesus’ innocence for the record?
The outcome Pilate did try to provide a way out for Jesus, but in the end chose to accommodate the people’s wishes for the sake of peace, rather than pursuing justice.
Anything of note The substance of her dream is unknown, we just know that it disturbed her, and she was convinced of the meaning.
Further reading  
Reference Acts 16:9
Dreamer PAUL
Title A MAN CALLING FROM MACEDONIA
Type of Dream Guidance
Symbolic or Literal Unknown – whether it was an actual person calling to him in a vision, or a symbolic picture of the call to go to Macedonia (modern day Greece).
Brief Description Paul was on a missionary journey and at a point of decision about where to go next (at the port of Troas). In the night he ‘saw’ a man calling from Macedonia.  He understood this to be guidance for him to go to there.
The purpose To direct Paul in his journey, to a place where people were hungry for the gospel.
The outcome Paul was obedient and went to Macedonia.  Many people responded to the gospel there, and he subsequently planted churches in places such as Thessalonica and Corinth.
Anything of note This episode is translated as a ‘night vision’ rather than a dream (the difference between them is not always clear!). I have included it because it was something that Paul had during the night.  The Message bible calls it a dream – I liked their translation of the whole verse.
Further reading  

An unexpected finding

God in His usual style has caught me out at my own game! I started off thinking I knew all the dreams in the bible well enough, and I encouraged you – the readers, to expect the unexpected. What I didn’t predict was that I would be surprised myself and discover a dream I didn’t know existed! Did you guess which one it was from my comments?

I used the search tool at BibleGateway.com to search for ‘dreams’. It threw up a title that the New American Standard Bible (NASB) had given to a passage – ‘The Bride’s Troubled Dream’ in Song of Solomon 3. I have never previously realised that some of the events described there were in a dream. This raised lots of questions in my mind:

  • Was it a soul dream (the woman dreaming her own desires)?
  • Was it a self-condition dream (God giving her insight into her own heart)?
  • Was it a fear dream?
  • Or was God speaking to her symbolically about her relationship with Him?

What do you think? I haven’t come to a conclusion yet – these are questions to mull over and meditate on with God’s help. I am definitely going to revisit it again soon when I have more time.

This illustrates nicely my original point: The bible holds more treasures than we sometimes think!

  • Did you notice anything that you have never seen before?
  • Which dreams are you going to revisit?

Final thoughts…

When I started compiling this list I half wished I hadn’t, because there were so many dreams to get through. But then, as always, I got drawn in and thoroughly enjoyed it. It made me read each account properly rather than just skimming through them. I might do a follow-up article soon, reflecting on what I discovered in the process.

Dreams come across as an accepted part of everyday life in biblical times – something that we seem to have lost in our modern western culture. I think there is much for us to learn from their examples – if we take the time! I encourage you to pursue a few of the above-mentioned dreams further, and see what you find.


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