Taking inspiration from the bible to understand the symbolic language of dreams, plus real dream examples.
Have you ever wondered what your dreams mean?
What about those crazy dreams that make no sense?
This article uses bible passages to introduce the language of dreams – plus there are plenty of real dream examples too!
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.
Does my dream mean anything?
Have you ever woken up from a dream and thought, ‘that’s just crazy’? Maybe it is so ridiculous that you’re sure there couldn’t be anything important in it?
I’ve been there too. Even though I had read about dreams in the bible, it had never occurred to me that my dreams might be from God – and even mean something!
So, I started off my dream-interpretation journey by putting dreams to the test – with surprising results! I discovered that God is sending heavenly messages to us in our dreams. Since then, I have spent many years learning to interpret them.
Our dreams, even ones that seem crazy, contain revelation from God that is vitally important for us to receive. I found that the reason dreams can seem so weird is that the meaning is not literal! In order to understand them, you need to learn to understand symbolic language.
To understand dreams, you need to learn to think symbolically.
Dreams are not literal
The biggest mistake I see when interpreting dreams is trying to understand them literally. Many times, I have initially taken something in a dream literally, only to realize later that I was wrong; it was about something different altogether. With dreams, I have learnt that the plain meaning is rarely the main meaning!
With dreams, the plain meaning is rarely the main meaning!
Of course, this is a generalization, and some people do have a greater proportion of literal dreams than me. However, I always start by asking the question, ‘Is this dream symbolic?’. This approach has always worked well for me, and they nearly always turn out to be symbolic.
The bible can help with symbolic thinking
So how can you get into a ‘symbolic’ way of thinking?
Well, if you read the bible regularly, the chances are that you have a reasonable grasp of symbolism already. The bible is bursting full of symbolic language; it contains an abundance of metaphors, similes, illustrations, and parables, and is very useful for getting a feel for how God speaks.
Meditating and thinking about these examples – and applying them to your own life – is one of the best ways I know to get in the right frame of mind for understanding dreams.
In the rest of this article, we will consider plenty of biblical examples to get you started, plus some real dreams to demonstrate the principles in action.
Example of a dream in the bible
Here is an example from the bible. It is a section of a strange dream recorded by the prophet Daniel. It is part of a larger portion of revelation that was given to Daniel more than 500 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.
“In my dream that night…four huge animals…came out of the sea. The first animal looked like a lion, but it had the wings of an eagle. While I watched, its wings were pulled off. It was then pulled erect so that it was standing on two feet like a man. Then a human heart was placed in it. Then I saw a second animal that looked like a bear. It lurched from side to side, holding three ribs in its jaws… Next I saw another animal. This one looked like a panther. It had four birdlike wings on its back. This animal had four heads… After that, a fourth animal appeared in my dream. This one was a grisly horror—hideous. It had huge iron teeth. It crunched and swallowed its victims. Anything left over, it trampled into the ground. It was different from the other animals—this one was a real monster. It had ten horns…”Daniel 7:1-7, The Message
Explaining the dream
These visions were not literal in the sense that there were real lions with wings, but the events that they symbolized were real, and carried a real message from God.
The animals depicted the various kingdoms that would rule on the earth, one after the other, between that time and the coming of Jesus. The sea represented the world scene from which they would arise. A brief summary is as follows:
- The lion – The Babylonian empire with King Nebuchadnezzar being the heart.
- The bear – The Medo-Persian empire which conquered three empires (the ribs).
- The panther – The Greco-Macedonian empire under Alexander the Great, which was divided into four smaller kingdoms (the heads)
- The fourth animal – The Roman empire
Once you understand the figurative nature of the animals and the nations they represent, it all falls into place! The dream predicted with astounding accuracy the events that we now call history.
It helps to know dreams are symbolic
Understanding that dreams are symbolic is essential – and stops us jumping to wrong conclusions about a dream or becoming unduly anxious about what the interpretation might be.
Knowing that dreams are symbolic stops us jumping to wrong conclusions or becoming anxious about the meaning.
For example, I am often asked about dreams of people dying. This can be quite distressing and worrying if this happens in a dream. The immediate thought is that it might really happen.
However, remember that dreams are symbolic. In most cases, someone dying represents an area of our life which is coming to an end – and is unlikely to be literal.
Example: Dream of someone dying
l dreamt that my husband and I were with our son in a boat. It was a lovely scene on a tropical sea. Then our son suddenly appeared to die in the dream, although we could still hear a faint heartbeat. We managed to get him to a hotel.
The dream explanation
This was one of my dreams from around 2010. It felt quite alarming when I first woke up because it was so vivid, and I might have dismissed it as a nightmare if I didn’t understand symbolic language. After a short time had passed, I was able to think about it objectively, and was able to understand the meaning. I was very glad it wasn’t literal!
In this dream, our son was representative of the church which our husband and I were leading at the time (God had used this son many times to represent the church in my dreams, so I understood the symbolism).
God was letting us know that the church as it currently existed had come to the end of its season, and it was time to move to a new place.
A few years later, we did close the church by unanimous decision of the congregation, and they all moved with us to become part of a larger church with a similar heart to ours (symbolised by the hotel in the dream). The physical church ended (died), but the people (the heartbeat) continued!
Learning from similes
A simile is a figure of speech where one thing is compared with another. One thing is said to be like another thing.
In similes, one thing is said to be like another thing.
Similes in the bible
Similes are very widely used in the bible, particularly in the wisdom literature, psalms, and prophets. Jesus also used them. Here are a few examples:
- 1 Thessalonians 5:2, NASB …the day of the Lord is coming just like a thief in the night.
- Matthew 13:44, NASB The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field…
- Psalm 102:6, NASB I have become like an owl of the ruins.
- Judges 6:5, NASB …they would come in like locusts in number…
Each of these comparisons conjures up a picture in the mind, and a picture conveys far more than words:
- A thief comes unexpectedly and catches you by surprise.
- Treasure is something of great value that is worth spending effort to find.
- An owl is a solitary creature in lonely places.
- Locusts come in huge swarms, destroying everything in their path.
Here are a few more bible similes for you to ponder on:
- Proverbs 4:18, NASB …the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.
- Song of Solomon 1:15, NASB How beautiful you are! Your eyes are like doves.
- Psalm 22:14, NASB My heart is like wax; It is melted within me.
Dream elements are like the things they represent
Dreams work in a similar way. The images and events in a dream convey a message; they are like (or similar to) the things they represent.
For example, searching for treasure in a dream would suggest that there is something valuable for the dreamer to seek out. The analogy conveys the sense that it is something the dreamer will really want to find.
Dreaming of a thief coming to your house while you were out, or asleep, would tell you to stay alert; there is probably something coming that you are currently unaware of and need to watch out for. The rest of the dream would give more clues about what that might look like and the area of life it applies to.
The similes in the bible are helpful images that can encourage us at any time. But a dream gives us a specific comparison that applies to something real going on in our life.
A dream gives us a specific comparison that applies to something real going on in our life.
Example: Rising up
Here is a well-known bible simile that has encouraged many people:
- Isaiah 40:31, NASB Yet those who wait for the Lord Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.
In this example, being able to rise with renewed strength is said to be like the flight of an eagle. The wings referred to are not literal wings but metaphorical ones, and the image helps us to engage with the concept being conveyed.
Many people have been comforted and inspired by this verse, by reflecting and meditating on the way an eagle flies and soars on the wind. It helps us to imagine us rising above our situation in God’s power.
In a similar way to this example, flying in dreams can also represent being able to rise above our circumstances.
Flying in dreams can also represent being able to rise above our circumstances.
The dream: Flying up over the war planes
My friend dreamed she was running along and thought she would crash into the walls of some ruins in front of her. But then she flew up in the air, up through some war planes that were in the sky and ended up above them all. It was peaceful up there and she could look down on it all.
The dream explanation
The ruins and war planes were things going on in her life that were a battle to cope with at that time.
The dream was telling her to trust God. As she did so, she would be able to see it all from His perspective and be at peace. Just like the eagle in the biblical simile, she would be able to rise above the situation.
Learning from metaphors
A metaphor states that one thing is another thing.
This is not literally true, in the sense that they are not actually the same; but the symbolism helps to explain the idea or make a comparison.
Here are some examples of metaphors in the bible:
- Psalm 18:2, NASB The Lord is my rock and my fortress.
- Psalm 23:1, NASB The Lord is my shepherd, I will not be in need.
- Isaiah 64:8, NIV We are the clay, you are the potter.
- Mathew 5:13, NIV “You are the salt of the earth”.
- John 15:5, NIV “I am the vine, you are the branches”.
Real dream example: I will be with you
Here is a familiar example of a metaphor in the bible:
- Isaiah 43:2 NASB When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.
Although this verse could be literal (we read in the bible that Daniel’s three friends did physically survive a fiery furnace), this verse is usually understood in a metaphorical way. Most of us understand that going through difficult times can feel like drowning amidst the waves, or like going through the fire.
Here is a dream that uses some of the same symbolism that we discovered in Isaiah:
The dream: Afraid on the sea
A colleague dreamed she was in a boat on the sea. It was scary and she was afraid. However, there was a man in the boat with her. She didn’t recognize him, but he seemed familiar and was helping her.
The dream explanation
This dream contains a scenario of passing through waters like the one in Isaiah 43. If we understand the biblical metaphor, we can see that the dreamer was going through difficult times where she was starting to feel anxious.
We also know from Isaiah 43 that God promises to always be with us during times like that. This tells us that the familiar feeling man in the dream was actually God, who was communicating to the dreamer that He was with her and helping her.
Learning from parables
There are many parables in the bible. Jesus himself told parables, some of which have become very familiar. A parable is a short story or illustration that conveys an idea.
Parable: A short, simple story that teaches or explains an idea.The Cambridge English Dictionary
I enjoy reading parables, because they give us a picture that captures our imagination and goes far behind just the words themselves. I love the way that the picture stays in our mind long after we have finished reading. God can keep speaking to us through it throughout the days and weeks to come.
Dreams are like parables
This is very similar to what happens with dreams; they come back into mind just when I need them! Often, when I am in prayer, a scene from a dream will come to mind – along with sudden clarity of understanding about what God has been trying to say to me.
I have found that it is very helpful to know that dreams, like parables, can be seen as helpful illustrations that God can use to speak to us about our lives.
I have found that dreams, like parables, can be seen as helpful illustrations that God can use to speak to us about our lives.
We are going to consider a couple of parables and discover how they can help us interpret a couple of dreams.
Example: The parable of the lost sheep
“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”Luke 15:4-7, NASB
This parable is one of my favourites, and it is also very helpful because Jesus explains the meaning. It is a lovely heart-warming little story in itself – but of course we know it is really about something far deeper than sheep and shepherds.
- The sheep is representative of a person who has wandered away from God.
- The shepherd is representing God Himself, who will never give up pursuing until we are reconciled to Him.
- The friends and neighbours celebrating represent the rejoicing in heaven that takes place when that person allows themselves to be found by God.
The amazing thing about a parable is that the more we reflect on the story, the more God will speak to us through it. As we ponder on the love of the shepherd and how His love never gives up on us, it speaks deep into our hearts and draws us nearer to Him.
Here is a dream with a similar theme:
Real dream example: Being pursued
A relative of mine dreamed she was being chased by Clint Eastwood who was pursuing her with a bunch of flowers. It was like one of those films where he would just never give up. He kept popping up everywhere with flowers.
The dream explanation
This dream has some similarities to the lost sheep parable in that the pursuer, Clint Eastwood, like the shepherd, doesn’t give up.
If we understand the lost sheep story, then we understand God’s heart towards people. This helps us see that in this dream Clint Eastwood represents God. Clint Eastwood was somewhat of a heartthrob; and to bring someone a bunch of flowers is a common way of showing love.
So, in this dream, God is saying to the dreamer: “I love you, and I am never going to give up on you however much you keep running from Me.” This dream is encouraging the dreamer to stop running away and receive God’s love.
Example: The parable of the wide and narrow gates
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”Matthew 7:13-14 NASB
This is a short, straightforward parable:
- The pathway represents our life journey, or the direction we choose to take
- The gate represents choosing to follow that direction.
Two choices are compared:
- The first option is to take the easy way, or the broad way, which doesn’t take much effort and is probably the default position.
- The alternative is to take the narrow way, which is presumably a harder choice to make.
The heart of the story
Jesus’ story makes it clear that it is the harder path that will lead to the best outcome for his listeners.
We know from history that in the lives of Jesus’ listeners this parable would turn out to have serious implications. Following the narrow path represented the Jews who were able to leave behind all their familiar thinking about the Law of Moses and the temple system to believe Jesus – who warned them of the coming destruction of the temple in AD70. Unfortunately, many of those listeners followed the broad path and ignored what Jesus said. As well as rejecting the offer of life that Jesus came to bring, many of them ended up being killed in Jerusalem when the temple was destroyed.
We can see from this parable that Jesus’ heart was to warn the people so that they would make a good choice. He desperately wanted them to take what he said seriously and avoid disaster. He wanted the best for them.
This helps us understand God’s heart for us when he gives us direction and guidance through our dreams. He wants us to make good life decisions, and He constantly provides insight to enable us to do this. With God there is no condemnation, just loving guidance to help us live life to the full.
- John 10:10, NIV The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Real dream example: Wide and narrow escalators
Here is a dream with some similar elements:
A friend dreamed there was a double escalator going up. She could choose to go on the narrow part with small treads or the wider part with larger treads. They were both joined but going up at different rates.
She chose the smaller, narrow ones as she thought it might be going faster – but too many people were on it. She got the impression she was too heavy for it, so she stepped onto the other one.
The dream explanation
The similarity of this dream to the parable of the wide and narrow paths is obvious, but in this case, instead of gates or paths, there is a choice between a wide or narrow escalator.
This dream was about a choice that my friend had to make at that time.
The narrow escalator was going faster and obviously represented the better route, but it was hard for her to make that choice. Both routes did get to the same place eventually, although choosing the wide escalator (the easier choice) would take longer.
The dream carried an encouragement to make some adjustments and take the harder route. But it also showed that she was struggling to make that choice; God understood, and she would get there in the end.
Using the bible to learn dream language
One of the main reasons I adapted easily to the idea of interpreting dreams is that I have spent many hours meditating and thinking about Jesus’ parables over the years. God often uses similar illustrations in our dreams to the ones we find in the bible.
God often uses similar illustrations in our dreams to the ones we find in the bible.
I would thoroughly recommend meditating on some of the parables and other metaphorical bible passages. This really helps in several ways:
- It helps us learn to think in a metaphorical way.
- Our minds become tuned into God’s pictorial language
- We get helpful hints about what common dream symbols might represent.
- We gain understanding of God’s heart and ways, which helps us more accurately understand the heart of God behind our own dreams.
- We learn to hear God’s voice personally, which sets us up to hear His voice as we pray through dreams.
You could start with some of the references listed in this article. Some other ideas are:
- Psalm 23
- The I AM statements of Jesus in John’s gospel
We have learnt that dreams are mostly symbolic, not literal:
- They contain scenarios which are illustrations – just like parables.
- They contain symbols and images which can be understood like metaphors and similes.
I have found that understanding the symbolic language in the bible has greatly helped me to understand dreams. So, if you would like to help your mind become aligned with the language of dreams, I thoroughly recommend that you do the same!
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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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