It is important to interpret symbols correctly as they can have more than one meaning.

When we receive something from God it often holds a symbolic meaning which needs to be worked out. The word ‘symbol’ is made of two Greek words ‘syn’, meaning together and ‘Ballein, meaning to throw (Conner 1992). It literally means ‘thrown together’. God literally throws together a set of circumstances/ brings about a situation in order to speak. A symbol is something that represents or stands for something else – usually by convention or association. It is often a material object/event used to represent something abstract.

When using symbols it is important to understand where the symbolism of the two things thrown together comes from. There are four general areas (Milligan 2000) and I will use the symbol of the lamb and wolf to illustrate this:

1. The Universal meaning.
Lambs are generally accepted as having the same meaning the world over – a sweet innocent defenceless creature and wolves as a ferocious predator.

2. The cultural meaning.
Most cultures agree on the wolf as a picture of aggression and the idea of a wolf in sheep’s clothing is a negative one. In Italy and India however there is a tradition of wolves protecting and bringing up children. Romulus and Remus the founders of Rome and the Indian legend of Mowgli in the Jungle book by Rudyard Kipling.

3. The Biblical meaning. In the Bible the lamb’s primary meaning is of a sacrifice that is acceptable to God. This finds its ultimate fulfilment in Jesus. Lambs can also represent the disciples of Jesus: “Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Luke 10:3 see also John 10:12. As we have seen the meaning of a wolf in scripture is also mainly negative and the association of the two together is a negative one. However there are promises of the end times when: “The wolf will dwell with the lamb.” Is 11:6 “The wolf and the lamb will graze together.” Is 65:25 Which show that the placing of a wolf and lamb together does not always need to be negative!

4. The personal meaning. I read the book ‘White fang’ as a child and because of this I always wanted a wolf as a pet. The symbol of a wolf to me would be a positive one, of something which when trained properly would be the most loyal friend you could hope for!

The precise meaning of a symbol and the way it is used can make a big difference in interpretation.

Picture of a raised flower bed in a park. The sign reads 'Peace flower bed.' The bed behind is empty exept for weeds.
Sometimes a picture can appear to say one thing and mean another!


Examples of Biblical symbols with more than one meaning:

Snake – Represents the Devil, evil (Gen 3) prophesied that the Devil would eat dust all the days of his life – man was made of dust and the Devil feeds on the fleshy nature of mankind. However, a snake can also be symbolic of how Jesus was raised up on the cross and therefore provides healing. (Numbers 21:8-9)
Star – Spiritual seed of Abraham (Gen 15:5), Apostates, antichrist (fallen star) (Jude 13; Rev 9:1; 12:4), Jesus (The morning star) (2 Peter 1:19; Rev 2:28; Rev 22:16).

Care needs to be taken therefore as to which meaning of a symbol is applied to a situation! The symbolic meaning must fit with the context in which it is placed. It is important if possible to look up the symbol in scripture and find out it’s meaning(s) there and then use the most appropriate one.

1. Introduction.
2. God is the only one who can interpret.
3. Bible is the best source.
4. Circumstances and knowledge can help.
5. Don't jump to conclusions.
6. Art or science? It'is only in part.
7. Ask for more.
8. Remembrance of the past can help.
9. How to interpret symbols correctly.
10. The importance of context
11. Don't add or subtract.
12. All prophecy must witness.
13. What if the opposite happens.
14. Dream interpretation.
15. Preparing to bring a prophecy.
16. How to bring a prophetic word.
17. Judging prophecy.
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