Understanding Symbolism, and How Symbols Acquire their Meaning

Dreams are tricky and often times elusive. They are filled with unusual scenarios at times, and multitudes of symbols. Interpreting dreams effectively requires a vast knowledge of the Word of God, a grasp on simple (and sometimes complex) symbolism, and an ability to receive and understand revelation. In the book, Dream Language by James Goll, he states, “There is no substitute for wisdom and discernment in dream interpretation, and prayer is crucial to developing both. . .” In other words, just knowing symbolism isn’t enough. It takes wisdom and discernment to understand what is being said within the symbolism of dreams, and even then, it is not until the word comes to pass that one will know whether or not the interpretation of the dream was correct. I was saying this to someone the other day. Often we pray and we perceive symbolism and the overall message of the dream to mean one thing, but it isn’t until that Aha! moment – the moment when things you discerned are now coming to pass – that we realize that this is what our dream meant! However, with all of that said, it is essential to grasp a firm hold on symbolism to give yourself a starting point when trying to decipher your dreams. If you can understand where symbolism comes from, what it means to you specifically, and how it lines up completely with the Word of God then you will be able to gain a clearer perspective.

First, and most important, symbolism first gains its defining status from scripture. What we see in the Word is what we can grab hold of in the natural. For example: gold is often known as wisdom, kingship or Kingdom glory. Silver is redemption and knowledge, wood is shown often as the works of the flesh, but iron is sometimes associated with bondage but also strength and justification. Now look at the scripture in Isaiah 60:17, “For brass I will bring gold [wisdom], and for iron [bondage] I will bring silver [knowledge and redemption], and for wood [works of the flesh] brass [God’s grace or truth].” Notice how brass, and also iron at the end of that scripture, are both used with a double purpose. They hold a negative and a positive meaning. This is the same for all symbols. They can be either positive or negative depending on what they mean to you, how they affect your life, and what the LORD is trying to say to you.

So what are some other ways that symbols acquire meaning?
1.They Symbols Natural Meaning: I explained in an earlier blog what a purse represents in a dream. This meaning is taken from its natural ability. It holds our ID, our money, our essentials. A purse; therefore, is associated with our identity. What about an innocent lamb? In the Bible innocent lambs are seen as God’s children. They are also associated with Jesus because He is the spotless Lamb of God. So in the natural we think of little lambs as precious, without any faults, innocent and harmless. They would mean the same thing in your dream. What about a Lion? In the Bible they are seen as both powerful, Kingly, Ruler, fierce, and bold. Revelations says, “And one of the elders saith unto me, weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah [Christ].” (Rev. 5:5). On the negative side a Lion can represent the enemy, a destroying spirit, a deceiving or counterfeit spirit. I Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil,as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” The NKJ version says walks about LIKE a roaring lion. He pretends to be something that he isn’t. He wants to be be like God, and yet we know from the Word that he will never be. Be is a counterfeit trying to imitate the bold authority of Christ, but the Word clearly makes the distinction by saying he walks around LIKE. The enemy is not a lion, but pretends to be, right?
2.Personal Experience: Symbols gain their meaning from our own ideas about things in the natural. The only problem with this form of definition is that it can be subject to error. We have to be careful when applying our own personal experience and ideas to a symbol. Keep your ideas lined up with the Word of God at all times for reference, and above all pray for discernment to know for sure.

For example: I love dogs. So, if I dream about my personal dog, then I am not afraid because my personal perception is that dogs are amazing. My dog is precious to me; however, if you have had a bad experience with a dog, and you hate to be around them because they instill fear in you, then if you dream of a dog your perception is going to be of danger, fear, strife, or something coming against you. Another example: I love strawberries! They are my favorite fruit. So if I dream of eating them then it isn’t going to bother me, but if you are highly allergic to them, and you dream you are eating them it is going to cause panic, fear, a feeling that something or someone wants to poison you, create havoc in your life, strife, pain, etc. The most important thing is to look at what things mean to you.
3.Society/Culture: Culture defines things in different ways. Let’s look at the scripture in Luke 9: 59-60 for reference: “And [Jesus] said unto another, follow Me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, “Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach he kingdom of God’” In looking at this from a Western perspective one might think, “Wow! That seems a little harsh for Jesus to tell him to let the dead bury the dead, and how is that even possible?” However, from a Jewish standpoint it means something totally different. What the man was really saying was, “Let me wait until my father dies, and I can get my inheritance, and then I will go and do as you’ve asked.”

Another example: If someone was raised in, let’s say a Korean culture, and they dream about teeth falling out, they believe it means someone close to them is going to die. In a Western mentality we look at teeth more as essential tools for eating. They give us an ability to chew on things in the natural and the spiritual (meat of the Word). They also represent an idealism of beauty, our wisdom, and ideology. If you are interpreting someone’s dream you need to know more about where they grew up, and what is their thought process on different symbols. Teeth are important to me. I smile big, and I have always felt like they are the first thing someone will notice about me. If i dream of teeth then the dream is impacting more than just outward looks. It is addressing internal issues as well.

Some ideas We have grown up learning are not the ones we need to adhere to.

We grew up in the poor south, and my grandmother believed, and had been taught by her family for generations to believe, that dreaming of a birth meant someone was going to die, and if someone dies in a dream then a birth is about to happen. This is more of an old superstition mindset. Kind of like ‘drop a spoon company soon.’ Superstitions are cute and fun, but they rarely adhere to the standard of the Word of God. Birth has nothing to do with someone dying. Birth is about renewal, a life that is beginning, a promise that you have been waiting on is finally coming to fruition.

No matter how a symbol a acquires its meaning just remember to never be narrow-minded and set on a symbol only meaning one thing. Even Jesus is known by multitudes of names and symbolic meanings throughout scripture. A few examples are: He is called a Warrior, A Rose, A Bridegroom, A Door, A Light, A Shepherd, A Physician, and the list goes on and on. In the natural we know that a physician can heal and bind up wounds, but a physician can also cause death. Do you see the multitude of meanings that can be applied both positive and negative? Whatever you discern from your dreams and the symbols involved just keep them comparable to the Word of God. Remember, God will never contradict His Word. He won’t tell you to go out and live life up by drinking and partying because you need and deserve a break, okay? So, if you have this kind of dream then know that He is probably dealing with concerning your worldly thinking and mindset, and He wants you to be set free from the bondage that is holding you bound. His ways are higher than our ways, and His thinking is higher than our thinking. Trust in Him to lead you when you feel like you are overwhelmed or uncertain. I encourage you to read His word daily and become immersed in the holy, healing, and powerful words of the One who created you and formed you; the One who loves you beyond all your failures and faults and desires to draw you closer to Him. That is why He gives us dream. It is why He sends prophetic utterances. He doesn’t do these things to entertain us, but He does this to bring us closer to His heart, and so that we can be more like HIM.

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