Biblical tools: Puns and wordplay in dreams

I believe that dreams can contain communications from God, and therefore I treat them as coded messages that He wants me to unravel and understand. This has been borne out over many years of putting this theory to the test.

I have discovered that many of the tools that I use to understand the bible can also help with dream interpretation. This article covers the theme of wordplay in the bible, and includes some real dream examples.

Get ready for some fun!

My Grandpa used to do cryptic crosswords, and I can remember him sitting me on his knee and explaining to that the word ‘flower’ in a clue could also mean a river: i.e. 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 too.

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!

What is wordplay?

Richard Nordquist, in an article at ThoughtCo.com, 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 an essential component of jokes. 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! 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 pop up in our dreams, so we need to keep our eyes and ears open to such possibilities.

A fun example

My favourite example is our local pub 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 that is hard to give up. The monks on this journey would have arrived at the inn with dirty habits. But a dirty habit is also an expression for a dishonourable practice.

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 Hebrew writers of the bible may have been 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 translation doesn’t make sense! It sometimes feels like we are missing something as we read – and we probably are! Fortunately in dreams God speaks in a language we understand (He speaks English to me), so we can appreciate the puns that He uses!

Since we are considering how God speaks to us in dreams, I am going to focus on two fairly well-known examples where God is speaking in visual language, similar to dream language.

Example 1: Jeremiah and the almond branch

Jeremiah 1:11-12

The word of the LORD came to me saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And I said, “I see a rod of an almond tree.” Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it.”

Do you read that and think, ‘What on earth does an almond branch have to do with God watching over His word?’ You would be right to wonder, because it is a pun. Consider these two words:

Almond branch = shâqêd
Watching over = shâqad

The almond tree is always the first to bloom in spring, and God is making a wordplay to link this picture with the sense that the things He was speaking to Jeremiah about were going to happen very soon!

Example 2: Amos and the basket of summer fruits

Amos 8:1-2

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.”

Again, we might wonder what a basket of fruit has to do with the rest of the passage! Let’s look at the words:

Summer fruit = qayits
End = qêts

This is also a wordplay. In this instance, the basket of fruit that Amos saw represented the end of the summer and harvest time. But the word was also similar to the word that meant ‘end’. 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 the time had come. They had run out of time.

In both of these examples, God showed the person an image of a physical object, but they had to consider the ‘sound’ of the word, rather than the actual object, to understand the message.

This is really helpful for dream interpretation. Usually we see something in our dream which appears to be a normal object, but then we realise that it represents something totally different – because God is using a wordplay!

A 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

Recently I had a dream that Donald Trump 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 play on the word ’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 is Pinterest.

The interpretation

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 strategy 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!

Conclusion

The main way that the bible can help us with puns and wordplay is by giving us permission to embrace them! 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.

Discovering that there are puns in the bible gives us the confidence to appreciate the ones God uses to speak to us.

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.

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.

So next time you are wondering over the meaning of a symbol in your dream, try listening to the sound of the word. Maybe say it out loud. Does it sound similar to another word? Could it be a play-on-words?

This is another tool in our kit, which can help us understand dreams. Have fun!

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