“He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in their beds.” (Job 33:15)
When you read the word DREAM, what thoughts or images come to mind? Those things that happen while we sleep? Daydreaming on a lazy day? Or the dreams we have of success, marriage, or future life?
In the Bible, dreams from God affected and influenced many characters’ decisions and actions. Is it possible to learn about our dreams from theirs?
Could it be that as the Prophet Joel said,
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” (Joel 2:27–29)
Is it possible that God is speaking to us in our dreams?
People have been dreaming since Adam and Eve. But not all dreams are from God. We were created with this capacity built into the fabric of our being. We all dream, but not all remember them.
Researchers tell us that dreams are made up of fragments of our lives that creep from our conscious to our unconsciousness in an effort to arrange a paradigm or grid to resolve the input and stimulation we encounter throughout our lives.
However, we are not going to look at modern psychology here. We are only looking to understand if God is speaking to us in our dreams and to uncover a few principles for interpreting them.
Here Comes the Dreamer
“Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more.” (Genesis 37:5)
Some of the most famous of all dreams in the Bible are those that Joseph had (which almost got him killed) and those he interpreted for Pharaoh (which rose him to second in command of all Egypt).
In Genesis 37, God gives Joseph two dreams using metaphors and images that he is familiar with—a common method used to transmit messages in dreams still today.
In his first dream, eleven sheaves bow down to the sheaf of Joseph. This dream is so easy to interpret that Joseph’s eleven brothers immediately understood it:
“Are you actually going to reign over us?” they asked him. (v. 8)
The mere thought of it threw the brothers into a rage. “Here comes the dreamer,” they said, as they plotted to kill him. (v. 19)
That is not the immediate result Joseph had hoped for from a dream of God.
Nevertheless, his prophetic destiny, confirmed by his two dreams (vv. 8–10), gave Joseph the hope he needed to sustain many years of misfortune in Egypt leading up to that destiny.
Our dreams can give us hope, too. And we can see from Joseph’s life that sometimes our dreams have both an immediate result and a long-term outcome. We need the wisdom of God to help us see both, if it is in His will that we know it.
As Joseph said, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8)
God Can Converse with Us in Dreams
We might think that dreaming is a one-way communication from God to us, but a dream of King Solomon shows us that this is not always the case.
“At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night” and said to him, “Ask what I shall give you.” (1 Kings 3:5)
Solomon asked for “an understanding mind to govern Your people, that I may discern between good and evil.” (1 Kings 3:9)
Our Father in heaven loves to bestow wisdom, especially on those who cherish it more than riches and honor. So, He gave Solomon wisdom and discernment (an immediate result) like no other king ever had, and he went on to pen the great books of wisdom: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (a long-term outcome).
At times, we too can interact in our dreams and perhaps move our destiny ever so slightly. We may even receive interpretation in the dream itself.
For instance, after Daniel dreamed of four beasts, he wrote:
“I approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of the things.” (Daniel 7:15)
Daniel lived a rich life of dreams (while sleeping) and visions (while awake) and was given much wisdom in the interpretation of them, such as this magnificent Messianic dream given to a pagan king.
The Stone That Became a Mountain
“The stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.” (Daniel 2:35)
Sometimes dreams that are meant for us can be given to the most unlikely people. For example, God has given many signs, prophecies, allusions, and metaphors to both Jews and Gentiles throughout Scripture about the Messianic kingdom to come.
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon received such a sign—a statue in a dream comprised of four metals and clay as shown in the image above. He tried to get an interpretation of this image from the wisest men in his land.
“No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked,” Daniel told the king, “but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days.” (Daniel 2:27–28)
God revealed to Daniel that the metals represent kingdoms that would be utterly smashed into oblivion by a divine stone, as if they were “chaff on a threshing floor.”
This imagery has eternal implications for every person.
As you read the full dream and its interpretation in Daniel chapter 2, pray about the spiritual implications of this dream to your life. Consider the stone’s current trajectory on becoming a mountain, a kingdom that fills the whole earth, and what your role in it is.
As we can see from these examples in the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures), God spoke through dreams in a way that made sense, either to the person having the dream or to its interpreter.
When someone didn’t understand a dream and God wanted it to be understood, He gave the interpretation. The same applies to us today. God is the one who reveals the understanding of our dreams, as He did with Joseph and with Daniel:
“The mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven … and said, ‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, … for You have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of you, for You have made known to us the king’s matter.’” (Daniel 2:19–23)
Understanding Biblical Interpretations of Dreams
By looking at the dreams and interpretations revealed in the Bible, we can see patterns develop and discern some principles for interpreting our own dreams.
Let’s ask some questions about King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, as an example, and then see how you can apply these same questions to your dreams.
Who had the dream? King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.
What was the imagery used and why? A statue. Why a statue? As with most dreams, the primary image used is something the dreamer is intimately familiar with. Nebuchadnezzar built statues of himself to be worshipped by the citizens of his kingdom. Therefore, a statue was a perfect metaphor to represent his own and other kingdoms.
What was God’s message? Even though Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was the most powerful of the day, a time would come when no earthly kingdom—no matter how great—will stand when the Kingdom of God comes to full fruition.
How was the dream interpreted? (For example, did the interpreter pray first? Did God reveal the meaning during the dream?) While some dreams (like Joseph’s) are understood upon hearing, Daniel prayed for revelation of the king’s dream.
What was the response or outcome? The king’s dream had no immediate outcome except to prove that God was indeed speaking through Daniel. Yet, that gave Daniel great favor with the king. The fuller outcome, however, is still unfolding as the stone continues to grow into its destiny as a kingdom that fills the whole earth.
Some dreams, however, have a clear and immediate fulfillment, especially when they deal with warnings.
For instance, in the Brit Chadashah (New Covenant), Joseph was warned to leave Bethlehem with baby Yeshua and Mary and flee to Egypt. The three Magi were warned in a dream not to return to King Herod, so they went home by another route. (Matthew 2)
Before trying to analyze your own dreams, practice applying the five questions above to the dreams of the following people:
- The Phoenician King Abimelech (Genesis 20)
- Joseph’s two dreams (Genesis 37)
- The cupbearer (Genesis 40)
- The baker (Genesis 40)
- Pharaoh (Genesis 41)
- King Solomon (1 Kings 3)
- Daniel (Daniel 7)
- The Magi (Matthew 2)
- Joseph (Matthew 2)
By analyzing the dreams listed above, you will become more able to dissect and understand your own dreams—that is, if you remember them. So, as you embark on this new venture, add these items to your daily routine:
- Pray to remember your dreams.
- Write them down when you wake up.
- Pray for understanding as you apply the questions below to your dreams.
Interpreting Your Dreams
When you have remembered and written down a dream, answer these questions:
Who had the dream? You, a friend, or a relative?
What imagery was in it? Who are the people in it? What are the places or objects? What activities are going on? How does the imagery relate to you or the dreamer? Don’t interpret yet; just identify the imagery.
What is the message? Is there a simple, clear meaning as in Joseph’s dream of the sheaves? Was the interpretation given in the dream? Or does the meaning need to be prayed through?
Consider what is going on in the life of the dreamer, but be careful. Maybe you play tennis, but just because you dream about a tennis match with someone attractive does not mean you are being told to play tennis with them. Sharing the dream with someone who knows you well may help bring further insight.
If you come to an interpretation, does it make sense to the dreamer within the context of their life? If not, keep praying.
Even if the immediate result is unfavorable, what will the overall outcome be if the dream is heeded? Whether it is a warning or guidance, will it bring Glory to God?
If you get stuck at any step, pray some more. If the dream is truly from God, He will make the interpretation known in His timing.
Remember, though, that not all dreams are “God” dreams. Some are just dreams and some nightmares are from a spicy meal. So, it really is important to pray for understanding; and when you receive it, give God all the glory!
When Solomon received abundant wisdom from God, “he stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings, and made a feast for all his servants.” (1 Kings 3:15)