How one dream can have different levels of interpretation

How dreams – and messages from God in the bible – can both be interpreted at different levels – with examples.

Some of the tools we use to study the bible can also help with understanding our dreams; many of the principles are the same.

In this article we will explore how messages from God in the bible can speak on different levels – as can dreams.

Plus – what that means in practice for dream interpretation – with 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.

The bible can help with dreams

As someone who has been a follower of Jesus for more than 40 years and studied both the bible and dreams in depth, I have discovered that many tools we use to understand the bible can also help with dream interpretation.

In fact, there are so many similarities that I have become convinced that the God of the bible is the same God who speaks to us in dreams.

The God of the bible is the same God who speaks through dreams

If you are reading this, you probably already have a love for the bible and some knowledge of it, so we will start with some biblical examples; we will explore how the bible can often be read at various levels, and how the same principle applies to dreams – with a real dream examples.

More on this subject…

Different levels in the bible

I have observed that many bible passages which contain messages from God can be understood at several levels:

  1. Natural level at the time: A fairly literal meaning relating to the original recipients at the time of dreaming. Often this serves as proof of the reliability of the deeper / longer term message.
  2. Deeper symbolic level: A deeper meaning, often with a longer-term application, which is the primary purpose of the message to the intended recipients.
  3. Further levels of revelation: Additional applications that arise from from the original word at other times and for other people – inspired by the Holy Spirit.

We use these different levels all the time with the bible – probably without realising it! Here are some examples to explain what I mean:

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A biblical example from Amos

A few years ago, I taught the book of Amos in our church bible school. Amos was a humble shepherd who was given a difficult message from God to convey to Israel: An enemy army was going to come, which would deal with the corrupt religious system and the rich who had been oppressing the poor.

The initial, natural meaning: He starts off by referring to an earthquake (which occurred two years after he spoke out this message):

  • Amos 1:1, NASB The words of Amos, who was among the sheepherders from Tekoa, which he saw in visions concerning Israel… two years before the earthquake.

It is recorded that he predicted there would be an earthquake in conjunction with a darkening of the sun (maybe an eclipse):

  • Amos 8:8-9, NASB “Because of this will the land not quake…? Indeed, all of it will rise up like the Nile, and it will be tossed about…. And it will come about on that day,” declares the Lord God, “That I will make the sun go down at noon, and make the earth dark in broad daylight…”

The deeper meaing is this: Amos says that, in the same way, God was going to shake Israel and weed out the oppressors by allowing an enemy army to come against them:

  • Amos 9:9-10, NASB “I will shake the house of Israel among all nations As grain is shaken in a sieve, But not a pebble will fall to the ground.  All the sinners of My people will die by the sword, Those who say, ‘The catastrophe will not overtake or confront us.’

So we can see that there are two biblical levels to this prophecy which apply to the intended recipients:

  1. A natural earthquake which would happen two years after Amos spoke the word.
  2. The deeper meaning: The earthquake was symbolic of the spiritual sifting and shaking (like that of shaking a sieve) that God would accomplish through the invading army. Many people would ignore Amos’ words, so the physical shaking (combined with the sun darkening) would act as proof that it would happen.

There is a third level of application:

  1. God can use the passage to speak to any of us personally.
    Around the time that I taught Amos, several worship songs (and whole albums by both Matt Redman and Bethel church) were released about this same subject of shaking. The Holy Spirit spoke to us through this book combined with those songs – and seemed to be preparing us for something (maybe the worldwide upheavals of the past few years!!).

    Although Amos’ prophecy was not intended for us, God used the words to personally prepare us and reassure us that nothing is allowed without the purpose of bringing change for the better and restoration. See the famous words at the end, which point to the wonderful result after all the shaking was complete:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “When the plowman will overtake the reaper, And the one who treads grapes will overtake him who sows the seed; When the mountains will drip grape juice, and all the hills will come apart.I will also restore the fortunes of My people Israel, and they will rebuild the desolated cities and live in them; They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, And make gardens and eat their fruit.”

Amos 9:13-14, NASB

Therefore, although these words do not directly apply to us, the Holy Spirit can speak to us through aspects of them: through the bits that He wants to specifically apply to our situation.

This is the song that reassured us when studying Amos. Have a listen…

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A biblical example from Isaiah

In Isaiah 7 we read that some armies were waging war against Jerusalem. The prophet Isaiah had a message for King Ahaz of Judah. The message was that those who planned to wage war against him would not succeed – in fact their Kingdom would fail within 65 years.

God said he would give Ahaz a sign that this would happen; a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son and call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’), thereby confirming that God was with them and would save them from their attackers.

  • Isaiah 7:14-16, NASB Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy knows enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be abandoned.

Most scholars agree that there was some degree of natural fulfilment at the time it was written; a child was born, and they called him Immanuel. It would have encouraged the king. Some have suggested that the child referred to was Isaiah’s own son.

But many of you will have already realised that that was more to this prophecy than meets the eye! This verse is one of the more well-known traditional Christmas readings!

Matthew explains that this verse in Isaiah was really a prophecy about Jesus who would save Israel from their sins.

  • Matthew 1:21-23, NASB She will give birth to a Son; and you shall name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they shall name Him Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”

So, again, we see two levels of biblical fulfilment here:

  1. A natural fulfilment to the people of Israel at the time – through the birth of Isaiah’s child – promising salvation from their enemies.
  2. The deeper meaning: Prophesying the birth of Jesus who would save His people – not from an invading army, but from sin.

And again, there can be further personal aplications:

  1. Although this prophesy was primarily about Jesus, I’m sure that the Holy Spirit has used it to reassure many people that their sins are forgiven. I’m sure God has drawn near to others and reminded them that he is their ‘Immanuel’, that He is with them. This would be the third level of application – and the opportunities for this are endless!

God seems to love taking things He has said to other people and situations – and bringing them alive for our situation through the Living Word and conviction of His Spirit.

The importance of context

We have seen that there are at least three levels of fulfilment for messages from God in the bible. There is the primary God-intended meaning; but there can also be natural spin-offs and applications at the time of receiving, plus Spirit-inspired applications for other people at any time!

Therefore, we need to tread very carefully with how we approach messages from God in the bible! There is a difference between this type of passage and principles that speak of the unchanging character of God; there is a difference between promises for all mankind and those that speak to specific situations. We need to correctly discern which category a particular bible passage falls into: ,

There is a difference between bible passages and principles that speak of the unchanging character of God and those that speak to specific situations.

As Christians, we are very good at taking bible verses out of context. We have our favourite verses which we quote and hold onto, forgetting that God said them to specific people at a specific time for a specific purpose.

That is why it is so important to understand the context when we read the bible! It is so easy to wrongly apply things to our situation. Ultimately, that leads to frustration and disillusionment – because we are trying to hold onto something God never said to us.

God uses bible verses out of context!

However, as we have discussed in the previous two examples, God does frequently use bible verses out of context!

As millions of Christians around the world will testify, He uses the bible to speak to us in many personal ways that are unconnected to the original meaning. But when that happens, we must treat it like we would any personal prophecy! We must test it and look for confirmations.

God does speak to us though bible verses out of context, but we must test it like any prophecy.

We must make sure that we are only holding onto promises that God really has said apply to us personally – then they will ultimately be fulfilled.

Dreams can be very helpful for receiving personally tailored messages from God. Often God will use dreams to confirm something He has spoken about in another way, for example when God is highlighting a bible verse to you out of context.

Different levels of dreams

In the same way, my experience has been that there are various levels of insight in any given dream.

Just as I have identified at least three potential levels of fulfilment of bible prophecy, I have found that there are three similar levels of fulfillment in the dreams God gives us.

  1. Natural level at the time of dreaming: Initial insight relating to literal elements of the dream.
  2. Deeper symbolic level: The God-intended primary meaning of the dream to the recipient – which usually needs some degree of interpretation.
  3. Further levels of revelation: Other useful insights and Spirit-inspired revelation which are inspired by the dream. This can be to the dreamer or to anyone who happens to hear the dream.

Let’s unpack each of those a bit more:

Natural level at the time of dreaming

Dreams are often based around real life situations that we find ourselves in. Therefore, people that we know, and situations we have been thinking about, will pop up in our dreams. Consequently, it is natural to jump to the conclusion that we ‘only had’ the dream because of it – or that the interpretation only relates to that situation.

It is true that the natural information in the dream can be helpful in the immediate situation. But dreams are nearly always symbolic. Therefore, even if I can see an obvious literal link to my life, I will always return to that dream a short while later to seek out the deeper meaning, i.e., the main reason that God gave the dream.

Deeper symbolic level

Just like Isaiah’s prophecy had a much deeper and true fulfilment in Jesus, so our dreams usually have a deeper, true meaning. When we discover that meaning there is usually an ‘a-ha’ moment, and it affects us on a profound level. Most of the information on this website links to finding this deeper level of meaning; it is usually the main reason God gave the dream – and would be the true interpretation.

Sometimes, it can be a long time before we understand the true meaning; we may need to wait until we have the understanding, or the key to unlock the meaning. It was 700 years before the angel was able to reveal to Joseph the true meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy!! Thankfully we don’t normally need to wait that long! Its usually a matter of days, weeks, or occasionally years before we understand.

Further levels of revelation

1. God speaks to us through other peoples’ dreams

So often I’ve been interpreting a dream for someone else, and I will suddenly realize that God is using their dream to speak to me! It is surprising how often it happens.

2. God gives further prophetic insight from the dream

Particularly with propetically gifted people, elements of the dream can inspire all kinds of further revelation from God during the interpretation process. It is important to note that when this happens it is not the interpretation of the dream; it is additional prophetic words.

3. God uses old dreams to speak to new situations

God can do this with our own dreams too. Even when we understood the main meaning, they can come back into play when we encounter a similar situation – and the Holy Spirit can remind us of the relevant aspect again. At other times, God will show me new insight from a previous dream that I hadn’t seen before.

Dreams just go on giving

Maybe all this is not surprising though. Dreams contain beautiful illustrations from the Holy Spirit that help us see life from His perspective. It’s no wonder they continue to speak to us and speak to other people too.

Just like bible parables, dreams go on giving. The principles contained in them can be timeless; they may contain wisdom and truth that can be applied to many situations.

Picture of man wigth hands out and text: Do interpretations not belong to God? Genesis 40:8

It is God who determines the meaning

Ultimately, it is God who determines what He meant by a dream… and what He meant by the words in the bible! We can argue over them, but God has the final say.

If the Holy Spirit wants to use bible verses out of context, He can. If He wants to use other peoples’ dreams out of context or speak to us at many levels, He can do that too. It’s all part of the wonderful, living relationship we can have with God through Jesus Christ.

We just need to be aware of the difference; we need to know when we are taking things out of context – and be careful to test everything we hear that way.

We need to know when we are taking things out of context – and be careful to test those things.

Real dream examples

This first example is a dream I had which spoke to me practically on the morning of dreaming, but also had a more important meaning – which was the primary reason God gave me the dream.

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Dream: Putting up bunting at church

One Sunday morning before church, I dreamed we had an idea about the service. There were tables set out, and we could give each table some blank triangles of bunting material. Each person could decorate their piece of bunting using felt pens. Then we could tie them all together and hang them up around the room. I then told our pastor that I needed to start my talk before 11:15 at the latest. We discussed the bunting idea and decided that it was a good idea, but for another time.

Picture of bunting

Intial level of encouragement

Later that morning, as I was praying with the team before the service, I remembered my dream. We were encouraged by the bunting image – reflecting that everyone had something important to contribute to church life – as a sign of worship. We also recognised that I really did need to start my talk by 11:15, so that was a helpful practical aim.

The main, deeper meaning

When I dream of timing it often symbolises dates. So I understood 11:15 to refer to early November (11:30 would be mid November, etc.). We had a leaders meeting planned for around that date, so I understood that there would be an idea shared that this dream was about, and I needed to say something (‘do my talk’).

At that meeting – our pastor shared an idea which I could see tied in with the bunting image. I was able to say that God was confirming the idea – and we should think about it for another time, maybe next year.

In this next example, God used a dream that someone else had to speak to me about a situation in my life.

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Dream: Two brides

This scene was part of a longer dream shared by a fellow blogger and dream interpreter – Jacquie at Chozeh Connections. You can read the original post with the full dream and the primary interpretation God gave her here, shared with permission: By My Spirit (2 and 22) by Chozeh connections.

“One woman was in a hotel luxury suite with a secure private patio overlooking the greens… She felt out of sorts without her circle of friends and thought about leaving earlier than planned. Muffled voices came from the suite next door. Annoyed, she phoned the hotel manager to complain about the lack of privacy. He encouraged her not to leave and assured her she was very safe.”

Picture of hotel on golf course

God spoke to me through her dream

A few years ago I gave up my paid job to spend time waiting on God – out of obedience and a desire to know Him better. I started this blog in that time. I could see how, for me, the hotel room represented that special time with Him.

But I was starting to worry that my friends and family would get impatient with my situation (the murmuring in the next room). I had just asked God the previous night for confirmation that I would be protected (financially, relationally, emotionally etc.) if I continued waiting on Him. I felt like giving up.

Instead of giving me my own dream, God showed me this dream instead! The message was unmistakeable: Stay where you are for now… you are safe! That was my answer!

This wasn’t the original meaning of the dream, but it was a personal spin-off inspired by the dream. The Holy Spirit used it to speak to me. The incredible timing was the key that enabled me to receive the message.

Conclusion

We have seen that dreams are very similar to messages from God in the bible, in the respect that there are various potential levels of meaning. For both, there could be:

  1. Natural level at the time of dreaming: Initial insight that relates to literal elements of the dream or bible passage around the time of receiving.
  2. Deeper symbolic level: The God-intended primary meaning of the dream or prophetic word to the recipient(s) – which usually needs some degree of interpretation. Sometimes there is a time delay involved before it can be understood.
  3. Further levels of revelation: Further levels of meaning applied by the Holy Spirit personally to any number of other situations.

Of course, some dreams are very literal. But I have found that most dreams have a deeper, primary meaning, usually symbolic, which is there to be discovered. For me, the whole purpose of learning to interpret dreams is to discover that true life-giving message from God.

Ultimately, it is God who decides what a dream really means – and when it is also applicable to other situations.

I hope you have found this article helpful. If you want to know more, do subscribe to my emails below to receive regular dream interpretation tips.

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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