Biblical examples of puns and wordplay – and how they can help you interpret the symbols in your dreams.
Did you know that God has a sense of humour and uses it in our dreams?
I have discovered that many of the tools we use to understand the bible can also help with the meaning of dreams and dream symbols. Puns and wordplay are one such tool.
This article introduces puns and wordplay in the bible, plus some real dream examples.
I approach dream interpretation from a biblical perspective. My belief is that our dreams can come from God, and understanding them is best understood within the context of an ongoing relationship with Him.
If you have just come across this post and are new to dream interpretation, it is worth mentioning that dreams are symbolic in nature. You might find it helpful to read Understand your dreams: A bible-based introduction to dream language and my 3 step dream interpretation method to give you a foundation.
Introducing puns, riddles and wordplay
My Grandpa used to do cryptic crosswords, and I can remember him sitting me on his knee one day and explaining to that the word ‘flower’ in a clue could also mean a river, i.e., something that flows along: a ‘flow – er’.
At that moment I was captivated by the concept of double meanings of words, and since then I have taken pleasure from doing that type of crossword puzzle. I wrote about that – with a more detailed example – in 4 reasons why dream interpretation can be fun.
I enjoy interpreting dreams for the same reason. Dreams can contain puns, riddles, wordplay – and even jokes! In order to appreciate the wordplay in dreams, we need to throw off our serious clothes, and get ready for some fun!
In order to appreciate the wordplay in dreams we need to get ready for some fun!
To capture the sense of humour in wordplay, here is an example of comedian Tim Vine using puns in his jokes:
What is wordplay?
Richard Nordquist describes wordplay as ‘Having fun with the sounds and meaning of words’. I love this definition! Fun is the operative word here, because plays-on-words are often a vital component of jokes.
Word Play: Having Fun With the Sounds and Meanings of WordsRichard Nordquist at ThoughtCo.com
In the article he also describes a number of different types of wordplay. Those of you interested in the literary types of wordplay can check out his post at the link above! But for the rest of us, here are some basic types of wordplay:
- Homophones sound the same but have different spellings and meanings: e.g. where and wear.
- Homographs are spelled the same but are pronounced differently to give different meanings: e.g. bass (fish) and bass (low sound).
- Homonyms have exactly the same sound and spelling, but have different meanings: e.g. bark (the sound a dog makes) and bark (part of a tree).
Any of these could occur in our dreams, so we need to keep our eyes and ears open to such possibilities.
An example of wordplay
My favourite example of wordplay is at a nearby public house, which is called ‘The Dirty Habit’. This pub is on the Pilgrims’ Way route, and would have been a resting place for pilgrims travelling from London to Canterbury.
To understand this wordplay, you need to know that ‘habit’ can mean both a monk’s cloak, and a regular practice/activity that is hard to give up.
The monks on this journey would have arrived at the inn with dirty habits (cloaks). But a dirty habit is also an expression for a dishonourable activity, which is something you wouldn’t expect from monks – hence the joke!
Puns and wordplay in the bible
The bible is full of wordplay.
The written Hebrew language only uses consonants, no vowels, so it is only when the word is spoken that the intended meaning becomes apparent. Therefore it is easy to see how wordplay could be used – when two words are written the same but pronounced slightly differently.
The writers of the Old Testament were masters in creating these clever plays-on-words, but unfortunately it rather gets lost in translation. Consequently, we can miss the joke and wonder why the passage doesn’t make sense!
It sometimes feels like we are missing something as we read – and we probably are!
Wordplay in the bible gets lost in translation.
Fortunately, in dreams, God speaks in a language we do understand (He speaks English to me), so we can appreciate the puns that He uses!
Since we are using these examples to consider how God speaks to us in dreams, I am going to focus on two fairly well-known biblical examples where God is speaking in visual language, similar to dream language.
Jeremiah and the almond branch
The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you see, Jeremiah?”
“I see the branch of an almond tree,” I replied.
The Lord said to me, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.”Jeremiah 1:11-12, NIV
When we read that, it is easy to think, ‘What on earth does an almond branch have to do with God watching over His word?’
You would be right to wonder, because the meaning is lost in translation: It is a wordplay. Consider these two words:
- Almond branch = shâqêd
- Watching over = shâqad
Remember that the vowels are not written down in Hebrew, so the two words would appear the same in the text; and they do also sound similar when spoken. Therefore, God is making a wordplay to emphasize that He is watching over what He has said – to make sure it happens!
Moreover, the almond tree is always the first to bloom in spring. So, in combination with the wordplay, the illustration carries the sense that these things were going to happen very soon!
Amos and the basket of summer fruits
Thus the Lord GOD a showed me, and behold, there was a basket of summer fruit.
He said, “What do you see, Amos?”
And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.”
Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer.”Amos 8:1-2, NASB
Again, we might wonder what a basket of fruit has to do with the rest of the passage. In this instance, the basket of fruit that Amos saw represented the end of the summer and harvest time.
But this is also a wordplay. The word for summer fruit was similar to the word that meant end. Let’s look at the words:
- Summer fruit = qayits
- End = qêts
The NIV translates it this way: “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.”
God had been telling Israel for hundreds of years what would happen if they did not change their ways, and now He was saying to Amos – through both the picture and the wordplay – that they had run out of time.
Puns and wordplay in dreams
Discovering that God has always used humour to get His messages across – and that they can be found in the bible – gives us the confidence to appreciate the ones He uses to speak to us.
In both of the above examples, God showed the person an image of a physical object, but they had to consider the sound or spelling of the word, rather than the actual object, to understand the message. This is really helpful for dream interpretation – and for identifying dream symbols which use wordplay.
We need to consider the SOUND or SPELLING of the word, rather than the actual object.
Typically, we see something in our dream which appears to be a normal object, but when we think about the sound or spelling of the word, we realise that it represents something totally different – because God is using a wordplay!
The easiest way to spot these in dreams is to write the dream down, and then try to detach yourself from the actual object in the dream. Rather, listen to what the word sounds like when you say it out loud, and then consider whether it sounds like a similar word.
Here are a few examples from my own dreams so you can see what I mean:
- I saw a bee. It turned out to be a word play on the word ‘be’, as in ‘be still and know that I am God’. God was telling me just to ‘be’ and rest in Him at that moment.
- I stuck a post-it note on a wall. It turned out to represent ‘posting’ something on Facebook (my social media ‘wall’).
- My sons were playing on the grounds (site) of a school. It turned out to be about the time I was spending on my website – or ‘site’.
- There was a doctor called Dr Reigner. He represented God as someone who reigns, as in ‘reign-er’.
- A lady dreamed she was given a tea bag. This linked to a verse in Hebrews (as in ‘he brews tea’). This was a particularly corny one that seemed dubious, but this meaning was confirmed to the dreamer in a couple of ways as being the correct interpretation!
- I was doing the hokey cokey (a child’s game/song). This indicated that everything would be OK in the end (hokey cokey is slang language for OK because it sounds similar).
Real dream example
Here is an example from one of my own dreams, so you can see how this works:
DREAM: DONALD TRUMP COMES TO ENGLAND
During the time when Donald Trump was president, I dreamed he came to England. I was in a big stately room along with him and lots of other important people. I felt out of place.
Then he invited me into the boardroom with some other people. We sat around the table, and then he handed me a device with a video playing on it. I knew this was my assignment.
Let’s consider some of the dream elements:
- England: My life (I am English).
- Donald Trump: I have dreamt about him before, and it has represented a wordplay on ’trump’, meaning trumpet. In other words I have a message that the world needs to hear.
- Feeling out of place: I need encouragement to believe in myself!
- Boardroom: This is the funny part. Recently I have felt God prompting me to go on Pinterest. I have had no interest in this before, but God was speaking clearly about this. Recently I thought back to this dream, and thought, ‘I’m sure this dream was about going on Pinterest to get the message out, but why would it mean that?’ Then I realised that this was also a play-on-words. On Pinterest, you have ‘boards’ – it is a feature of that media platform. The ‘board’ room represented Pinterest.
- Video: My vision/assigment.
God was encouraging me to believe that I do have a voice and a message that needs to be heard. He was giving me a vision to use Pinterest.
By the way, I have followed this dream up with action! So if you use Pinterest, you can check out an example of one of my new ‘boards’ at the link below:
The main way that the bible can help us with puns and wordplay is by giving us permission to embrace them! Discovering that they can be found in the bible gives us the confidence to appreciate the ones He uses to speak to us in our dreams.
Discovering that there are puns in the bible gives us confidence to appreciate the ones in our dreams.
And what a lovely surprise to find that God has a sense of humour! I have discovered that He loves to make me laugh. Yes, dreams often do contain serious messages, but there is fun in the journey.
I have found that dreams are personal: Our God relates to us in a language we can understand, with illustrations that are relevant to our culture, with humour that we can appreciate, and with puzzles that we can solve.
God relates to us in a language we can understand, with illustrations that are relevant to our culture, with humour that we can appreciate, and with puzzles that we can solve.
So, next time you are wondering over the meaning of a symbol in your dream, try listening to the sound of the word: Say it out loud. Look at the spelling. Does it sound similar to another word? Could it be a play-on-words?
And finally… have fun looking for puns and wordplay in your dreams! And if this article has helped you with a dream, please leave a comment below!
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The purpose of this blog is to provide solid biblical foundations for interpreting dreams, change mindsets in the church, and encourage others to make their own dream journey. I am primarily a writer and bible teacher – who loves dreams, and I hope you will be inspired to learn to interpret your own dreams.
It is not currently my aim to routinely engage in dream interpretations or provide training, except through writing blog posts. You can read my most up to date position on interpreting dreams here: Requests for dream interpretations.
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A simple introduction to the dream interpretation process in 3 easy-to-remember steps.
5 foundational lifestyle habits that can help you receive and understand more dreams from God.
How to understand dream symbols: 10 questions to help identify their meaning, plus real dream examples.
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- Dream symbols: Teeth and what they mean
- Why January is a good time to review your dreams
- New year reflection: Do you see what I see?
- Why biblical dream interpretation is like solving a wordle puzzle