The biblical symbolism of rivers, seas and lakes, and water in dreams; plus seaside, waves, streams, canals, muddy water, waterfalls, swimming, pools, underwater.
Have you ever dreamed of rivers, lakes, seas and other similar bodies of water?
In this article we will unpack potential meanings of these in dreams, plus some background insight into the biblical symbolism of water.
We will explore some water-related activities/actions in dreams and what these could symbolise, – 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.
- Introduction to water in dreams
- Dream symbol: Rivers and streams
- Dream symbol: Sea
- Dream symbols: Lakes and pools
The symbolic nature of dreams
Firstly, 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.
Secondly, remember that dreams are personal, so the meanings that I suggest may not apply to your specific dream. But please feel free to use my ideas as a springboard to thinking and praying about dreams yourself. Don’t take my ideas as gospel, but rather let them help you start to think metaphorically.
Introduction to water in dreams
Around 70% of our planet is covered in water, so water is all around us; it is essential to life, and we interact with it constantly: We drink it, wash with it, cook in it, swim in it, grow food with it, transport via it, and travel over and under it.
So, when thinking about water in dreams, the scenarios can be as varied as the number of dreams, and it is hard to narrow down such a wide subject.
Sometimes the activity we are doing in the water is more important than the water itself. Here are some examples of water-related dream activities that could take place in any body of water:
- Swimming (positive context) – often represents our spiritual activity / journey.
- Travelling in a boat – is often about our spiritual journey, or that of a group of people.
- Drowning or underwater (negative context) – can be about overwhelming circumstances or feeling overwhelmed by emotions.
- Drinking (positive context, e.g. clear water)– is usually about refreshment or receiving from the Holy Spirit.
- Washing – is usually about a spiritual cleansing process, e.g. getting rid of unhelpful stuff or changing our thinking.
Check out my article on vehicles in dreams for some hints about boats, travelling and journeys in dreams.
Water as a symbol of the Holy Spirit
Water is also one of the primary symbols the bible uses to describe the Holy Spirit, But this is also a huge subject. In a dream this could involve drinking, washing, swimming, or any number of activities.
In a dream context, the clarity of the water is vitally important.
- Pure clear water is usually indicative of God and His Holy Spirit.
- Muddy or dirty water can indicate confusion (not clear), or some natural/human activity mixed in.
For the remainder of this article I have chosen to focus on rivers, lakes, and seas – and what they might mean in a dream – because they are key dream symbols which commonly occur and are very useful to understand.
Dream symbol: Rivers and streams
The presence of clear flowing water or rivers in dreams is extremely helpful.
Rivers in the bible
There are many mentions of rivers in the bible, so I have chosen a few that help us think about rivers symbolically.
John recorded several occasions in his gospel where Jesus compared the work of the Holy Spirit in our life to flowing water. Jesus called it living water, which flows from God’s presence within us.
- John 7:38-39, NIV Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit…
I like to think of living water as being like the water we get from our mains water supply (here in UK our mains water is safe to drink and freshly flowing). The opposite would be a stagnant pool or water that has been stored in tank.
The key is that the water is fresh and flowing – which is what rivers and streams do.
In Revelation, John recorded a vision of the river or life which flows from God’s throne. The river of life is God’s life and presence flowing out to his people – which, again, we experience through the Holy Spirit. Note that the water is described as clear, which is an important factor to note in dreams.
- Revelation 22:1, NIV Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
Ezekiel also had a vision of a river. He saw it flowing from the temple and, again, from the presence of God. There is some helpful imagery in his account, for example his description of wading into the river, and of the life which came from the river. You can read that account in Ezekiel 47.
Rivers as the Holy Spirit
Streams and rivers are key images which the bible uses to describe the Holy Spirit. In particular – because rivers by nature move – they represent the movement, activity, or flow of God’s Spirit.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I would go further and say that the positive presence of a river (or any pure/clear/fresh flowing water) in a dream is a very strong indicator of the Holy Spirit and His work in a situation – even when it seems hard to grasp: So much so, that I would use that dream symbol as a baseline for interpreting the rest of the dream.
Dreaming of a river is a strong indicator of the Holy Spirit at work.
Sometimes (but not always) the size of the river can indicate the size of people group God is moving in. For example, a huge river flowing through a capital city might represent the activity of God in a city or nation. But a small stream bubbling along might be the work of the Holy Spirit in our own life.
That’s not always the case. Any river can simply represent the flow of the Holy Spirit in our own life. For example, walking alongside a river can represent us walking with God.
Other symbolism relating to rivers
Here are some other potential symbolic uses of rivers in dreams:
- The flow – could just be the flow/progress of life passing by.
- Going against the flow – could generally symbolize going against the crowd or the norm – or struggling to make progress. Of course, it could also potentially be going against the flow of God’s Spirit.
- Going with the flow –could just be going along with things, being carried along by others, or moving in the flow of God’s Spirit.
- Things that are downstream from us – can be situations we are going to encounter in the future, or the result of our current path.
- Things that are upstream – could be things that resulted in us being in our current position.
- Rapids – could be turbulent times, or making rapid (fast) progress, or God stirring things up.
- Going over a waterfall – can be something big from which there is no going back from, such as a shift in thinking. (Waterfalls can also be like fountains, which are more suggestive of refreshing and outpourings of God’s Spirit).
- A bridge – usually a change or transition
- A canal – a man-made water channel, so could symbolize a people movement.
I would still start by assuming that a river in a dream represents the activity of God and His path for our life, unless the context indicates that it is obviously not.
Real dream examples: Rivers
|I was walking along a path for ages, then suddenly my way was blocked by a river ahead. I had to come off the path and check Google maps.||I would need to pray and listen carefully to God, as He was about to stop me and lead me a different way.||Google maps was talking about prayer for guidance. The river blocking my path was God.|
|I saw a plane crash land by a river and knock various cars off the side into the river.||Something was going to come to a difficult end (crash), but it needed to happen to bring us back in line with our destiny.||The river was the Holy Spirit, so this thing needed to end – to bring us back in line with God’s plans.|
|I dreamed a river flooded and it took a while to find the white staircase to get higher.||Difficult times were coming, and it would take a while to find God’s way out of the situation,||The flood was the key symbol here rather than the actual river. White is another symbol for the Holy Spirit.|
Dream symbol: Sea
I have found there to be two primary uses of the sea in dreams. One stems from the biblical symbolism of the sea as humanity, and the other from the image of the seashore as an interface.
Sea in the bible
The bible compares the restless nature of the sea to the turmoil of the nations of the world. The sea covers the face of the earth like the sea of humanity covers the earth.
- Psalm 65:7, NASB Who stills the roaring of the seas, The roaring of their waves, And the turmoil of the nations.
- Psalm 98:7, NASB May the sea roar and all it contains, The world and those who dwell in it.
- Isaiah 17:12, NASB Oh, the uproar of many peoples Who roar like the roaring of the seas, And the rumbling of nations Who rush on like the rumbling of mighty waters!
- Ezekiel 26:3, NASB I will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves.
The prophet Daniel had a symbolic dream involving the sea. In Daniel 7 we read that he saw four different beasts coming up from the sea, one after the other. Each of these beasts represented a different kingdom that would arise, one after the other, throughout the following period of history. The creatures came out of the sea because they arose out of the nations.
The deep waters of the sea can also be used to describe overwhelming circumstances:
- Psalm 18:16, NIV He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.
- Psalm 69:2, NIV I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.
Sea as the nations
As we can see from Daniel’s dream above, the sea can represent humanity (or the nations of the world) in dreams. Depending on the size and dream context, the sea could symbolise the whole world or various people groups and demographics.
In modern times the world is not limited to physical nations. We have the internet (the world wide web), social media and global communications, which are a modern expression of the biblical sea – and the ever-changing ideas and movements that arise from it.
The internet could be a modern day ‘sea’.
The sea used in this way could be a positive or negative thing in a dream, depending on the context.
For example, a negative context – such as a dark foreboding sea or sharks in the sea – would probably be something negative in the world or media. Maybe the news is stealing our peace!
The sea in a positive sense (such as swimming or going out to sea) could represent potential global / wide-reaching impact, such as making a difference in your nation or having a presence on social media.
Other dream symbolism relating to the sea
- The seashore/seaside is an interface between two realms: The land and the sea. In dreams, this often represents the interface between heaven (the sea) and earth (the land), and things that help us to touch heaven in our daily life. Dreams can help bridge that gap, so dreams about the seashore could be about our dream life.
- Waves are commonly associated with moves or movements. It could be negative (like a wave of crime or the spread of a virus). But in a positive context, a wave is usually a move of God (i.e. the Holy Spirit). Note, just because a wave in a dream is scary and disrupts things doesn’t mean it’s not a move of God!
- Tsunami – a tsunami is a huge wave, so this suggests something of huge (maybe worldwide) impact, or a worldwide move of God.
- Stormy sea or deep waters –being overwhelmed by deep waters or being on a stormy sea can represent going through difficult times or being overwhelmed by emotions.
Real dream examples: Sea
|My friend dreamed they opened the door and there was a sea out there with lots of families on boats.||This person’s God-given destiny would involve having a wide-reaching impact.||The sea was in a positive context and represented influence.|
|I dreamed my husband went into the sea so I decided to follow. The sea was surprisingly warm.||This was a few years ago and confirmed my decision to start writing this blog; God was leading me in this.||My husband was Jesus.The warm sea indicated that I would find it OK, and maybe get a warm reception too .|
|I caught a glimpse in the rear view mirror and saw it was quite a nice sea coastline behind us.||This was confirming that I had been going the right way, at a time when I was feeling worried and God had seemed distant.||Rear view mirror is about the past. The coastline represented touching heaven, so I had been walking close to God all along.|
|I dreamed I was swimming in the sea with a turtle, but it turned out to be just a shell and something came out of it and attacked my leg.||I was spending a lot of time reading articles about blogging and looking on Pinterest, and this was a warning that it was stealing my peace.||The sea was the internet. A turtle can be peace, but it was false peace. I was looking for help but found confusion instead.|
Dream symbols: Lakes and pools
Lakes can generally be considered like a smaller version of the sea.
Lakes in the bible
The Sea of Galilee featured much in Jesus’ ministry and many scenarios occurred at that lake: It could be calm or stormy; they fished in it, sailed on it, and used it to cross over to the other side.
- Matthew 8:18, NIV Jesus… gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.
- Matthew 8:24, NIV Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.
One of the features of lakes is that they are generally still, rather than flowing like a river. Still waters can convey a sense of peace, such as the famous verse describes in Psalm 23:
- Psalm 23:2, NIV He leads me beside quiet waters…
Conversely, the stillness could be negative, for example if the water is stagnant and unpleasant, it could mean something that is not healthy, not fresh, or not from God.
- Jeremiah 2:13, NIV “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
Any of those scenarios could occur in a dream, and as we have discussed previously, sometimes it is the action/activity that is the most important thing.
With lakes and pools the context is everything: The appearance of the water and the action surrounding the water will determine what it symbolises.
Lakes and pools as groups of people
At one level a lake is just a smaller version of the sea – and can therefore represent groups (or communities) of people. I have found that this is a very common dream usage.
The size of the water could indicate the size of the group. For example, a very large lake could be a nation. A smaller lake could be a town, a swimming pool could be a church. A pond could be a small group.
This dream meaning stems from the concept of people being filled with the Spirit (water). So, a pool, lake, or reservoir is a container for God’s Spirit, i.e., a group of people such as a church or community.
- 1 Corinthians 3:16, ESV Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
Therefore, things that are happening in or around the lake/pool of water can indicate the condition of the community and the things that are happening in it. In particular, dreams like these often tend to be about the spiritual state of the groups of people they represent.
Other dream symbolism relating to lakes
- Dam – could be a blockage, or something hindering the flow of God’s spirit.
- Reservoir – could be linked to the dam (not flowing) or it could be more linked to lakes, Spirit-filled communities, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
- Swimming pool – is like a small man-made lake, so generally represents a small group of people like a church.
Real dream example: Lakes
|I was being shown round an architect-designed house on a lake. It was my perfect house.||This was God showng me His plans for our church and its role in our community – and I would love it!||The house was the church, God was the architect, and the lake was our community.|
|I watched our family cat launch out into a lake and start wimming for the other side. I felt worried as I’d never seen him do that before.||This was affirming my husbands coming decision to launch out with his own business doing DIY for people in the community, and letting me know God was in it.||That cat usually represents my husband in dreams! Launching out swimming was like launching his new venture.|
We have seen that there are widely varying uses of water in dreams, so the context (appearance of the water and the action surrounding it) are vital for determining what it means in any given dream.
We have also seen that water is one of the major biblical symbols for the Holy Spirit. In particular:
- Rivers, streams, and clear flowing water nearly always represents the work and flow of the Holy Spirit.
- Seas can represent the nations of the world (and the modern day equivalent of the internet/media).
- Lakes and pools can represent groups of people and communities.
Here are a few closing thoughts:
- Symbols involving water – such as rivers, seas and lakes – could represent any number of things. The above ideas should give you a good starting point.
- I believe only God can tell us what the presence of water means in a specific dream, so you could try asking Him!
- Consider the atmosphere and context of the dream to see whether the symbol is being used in a positive or negative sense.
- In addition to the meanings that I have shared, remember that it could mean something personal or culturally significant to you, that isn’t mentioned here.
And finally… have fun exploring the water-related symbols in your dreams! 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 biblical foundations for interpreting dreams 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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The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this article are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this article. Jennifer Needham disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this article.
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3 thoughts on “Dream symbols: Rivers, seas, lakes and water – and what they mean”
Thank you for this post. It’s so timely as I had a dream few days ago about the sea and I’ve been thinking about the dream since then.
It was in the middle of the sea, I was in a lightweight boat which was encircling another boat that was in the centre that it needed to be hooked to. I had to be measured as a slight increase in speed could move me a large distance away from that middle boat. I continued circling until I was close enough and then as my boat passed the centre boat, I stretched out my hand and successfully touched the also outstretched hand of the person in the centre boat, signifying I had successfully been anchored to it under the water. It was a very close shave and when I woke up I was relieved I didn’t sink in the sea.
Thanks for the feedback, I’m glad it helped! Of course, as I’m sure you know, anchors are also a classic biblical image of being ‘anchored in God’. Blessings, Jenny.
Yes indeed! The dream reflects what is currently going on in my life, so I am thankful to be anchored in God through it all, and also most thankful for this blog.
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