Episode 39: Does God Still Speak in Dreams and Visions? (Part 1)
In our Bible readings for today as we follow the Robert Murray M’Cheyne plan, we will begin with Job 7. In this passage, Job is crying out in anguish and the deep bitterness of a crushed and wounded spirit. It is honest and powerful and bracing and nearly hopeless. One of Job’s complaints is that when he tries to escape his pain by sleeping or napping, God sends him haunting dreams and visions. More on that in a moment. In Mark 11, we see Jesus coming into Jerusalem to give His life as a ransom for many. Before the crucifixion, however, He cleanses the temple of money changers and befuddles the chief priests, scribes and elders of Jerusalem. Romans 11 contains the implications of the rejection of Jesus that we are about to read in Mark. At the time of Romans 11, Jesus has been rejected by the leaders of Israel, crucified, resurrected, and ascended into heaven for several years. Paul is writing in light of that rejection of the savior, and giving hope for the future, including a tantalizing (and highly debated!) promise in Romans 11:26, “All Israel will be saved.“
As promised yesterday, our focus today is on dreams and visions, and our focus passage is Genesis 41, which features Joseph interpreting dreams for Pharaoh and being elevated to a high place in his kingdom. Dreams in general are a frequently addressed phenomenon in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, and the word appears just shy of 100 times in the Bible. After we read Genesis 41 together, we will have a brief discussion on the nature of dreams in the Bible, and whether or not God still speaks that way.
The first clear time that God speaks to somebody in a dream in the Bible occurs in Genesis 20, when God has a conversation with King Abimelech. Jacob and Laban also have dreams with great spiritual significance, and it could be argued that some of Abraham’s encounter with God in Genesis 15 occurred during a dream. Dreams would be a prominent feature in the life of Joseph, son of Jacob. He had multiple prophetic dreams in his youth, and interpreted multiple prophetic dreams in his adulthood. His brother’s even (sarcastically) referred to him as a dreamer, or even an expert dreamer.
They said to one another, “Oh, look, here comes that dream expert!Genesis 37:19
In Numbers, God tells the leaders of Israel that He himself speaks to prophets via dreams and visions (but with Moses, He spoke face to face.)
5 Then the Lord descended in a pillar of cloud, stood at the entrance to the tent, and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When the two of them came forward, 6 he said: “Listen to what I say:Numbers 12:5-7
If there is a prophet among you from the Lord,
I make myself known to him in a vision;
I speak with him in a dream.
So, God confirms that He speaks to His people here in dreams and visions – at least during the Old Testament/Old Covenant times. There is also a cautionary warning given in Deuteronomy 13, however, that there can and will be false prophets and false dreamers:
“If a prophet or someone who has dreams arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, 2 and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us worship them,’ 3 do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer.Deuteronomy 13:1-3
Jeremiah 23 contains a very similar warning from God – this one even more stark:
24 Can a person hide in secret places where I cannot see him?” —the Lord’s declaration. “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?” —the Lord’s declaration.25 “I have heard what the prophets who prophesy a lie in my name have said: ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ 26 How long will this continue in the minds of the prophets prophesying lies, prophets of the deceit of their own minds?...I am against those who prophesy false dreams”—the Lord’s declaration—“telling them and leading my people astray with their reckless lies. It was not I who sent or commanded them, and they are of no benefit at all to these people”—this is the Lord’s declaration.Jeremiah 23:24-26+verse 32
By the day of King Saul, it is apparent that one of God’s obvious ways of guiding His people was through dreams. We can see this in 1 Samuel 28, when Saul is flummoxed (and ultimately goes down a bad path) because God won’t speak to him in dreams:
He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him in dreams or by the Urim or by the prophets.1 Samuel 28:6
After the exile of Israel, we encounter a young man named Daniel, one of the few people in the entire Bible that there is nothing negative said about their life and no sinfulness is recorded. (this does not mean that Daniel was sinless, but it probably does mean that he led an unusually righteous life.) I note here that the two most prominent dreamers in the Bible (Joseph and Daniel) both led lives of exemplary righteousness and Godliness. Jacob, another prominent biblical dreamer, did not, however, so we can’t make too many conclusions about a connection between dreaming and Godliness.
God gave these four young men knowledge and understanding in every kind of literature and wisdom. Daniel also understood visions and dreams of every kind.Daniel 1:17
The prophet Joel gives a tantalizing end-times prophecy about dreams and dreamers in Joel chapter 2, that becomes quite important on the birth-day of the church in Acts 2:
After thisJoel 2:28-29
I will pour out my Spirit on all humanity;
then your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
your old men will have dreams,
and your young men will see visions.
29 I will even pour out my Spirit
on the male and female slaves in those days.
A simple word search will show that the vast majority of the occurrence of dreams from God happened in the Old Testament, but that doesn’t mean that this practice died out. In the New Testament, God communicates with Joseph, father of Jesus, in a series of dreams, directing the holy family to safety during the early years of Jesus’s life. God also speaks to the wise men in dreams and to Pilate’s wife, warning her that her husband should not condemn the innocent Jesus. There are also a series of incidents in the book of Acts where the word dream is not used, but what happens is quite similar to God communicating in a dream:
8 Passing by Mysia they went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision in which a Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.Acts 16:8-10
9 The Lord said to Paul in a night vision, “Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking and don’t be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city.”Acts 18:9-10
The above gives us a sort of high-level and brief overview of dreams in the Bible. We didn’t cover every passage or principle, but enough to have an elementary understanding. In our overview what we have here is a pattern of God speaking in the Old Testament AND the New Testament to His people. It is obviously not a frequent occurrence, but rather a rare and special happening. Tomorrow we will go deeper into our primary question: Does God STILL speak to His people with dreams and visions, but I will close today with a good answer from Gotquestions.org’s Michael Houdmann and some fascinating dream-anecdotes from Charles Spurgeon:
I firmly believe that the Bible is the perfect and complete Word of God. It contains everything we need to know to follow God’s will for our lives. While it does not give specific instructions related to the personal situations and decisions we face, it does provide all the wisdom we need to be able to make right judgments in those situations and decisions.With that in mind, I do not see any reason for God to “supplement” His Word with additional revelation. But, at the same time, there is nothing in the Bible that indicates God NEVER speaks today. I do not know the mind of God, and therefore I do not claim to know every reason why God might say something to someone (Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:34).What I do know is this: if God were to speak today, what He said would be in perfect agreement with His Word. God does not contradict Himself. God does not change His mind. Compare any supposed message from God with God’s Word, and if the message in any way is in contradiction or disharmony with God’s Word, reject the message. If you think God has spoken to you, but are unsure about it, ask Him for confirmation (Judges 6:36-40; 1 Samuel 3:1-10). Seek wise counsel from men and women of God whom you respect and trust (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22).https://www.gotquestions.blog/God-still-speak.html
I READ a story the other day of an elder of a Scotch kirk, who at the elders’ meeting had angrily disputed with his minister, until he almost broke his heart. The night after he had a dream which so impressed him, that his wife said to him in the morning, “Ye look very sad, Jan; what is the matter wi’ ye?” “And well I am,” said he, “for I have had a dream that I had hard words with our minister, and he went home and died, and soon after I died too; and I dreamed that I went up to heaven, and when I got to the gate, out came the minister, and put out his hands to welcome me,” saying, “Come along, Jan, there’s nae strife up here, I’m so glad to see ye.” So the elder went down to the minister’s house to beg his pardon, and found in very truth that he was dead. He was so smitten by the blow that within two weeks he followed his pastor to the skies; and I should not wonder but what his minister did meet him, and say, “Come along, Jan, there’s nae strife up here.” Brethren, why should there be strife below? Let us love each other, and by the fact that we are co-heirs of that blessed inheritance, let us dwell together as partakers of a common life, and soon to be partakers of a common heaven.C. H. Spurgeon, Flashes of Thought (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1874), 449–450.
I have heard of a man who had a dream in which he thought he stood at the gates of heaven, and his wife with him. She went in, but the porter shut him out, saying, “The other day you said to your wife, ‘You may go to church and pray for us both.’ Now she shall go to heaven for you both, and you must stop outside.” Is that not just? There must be a personal hearing and listening to the Word for yourself. I ask you, do not make yourself absent from the hearing of the Word, for “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word about Christ” (Rom 10:17).Charles Spurgeon, Galatians, ed. Elliot Ritzema, Spurgeon Commentary Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013).
Myconius, the friend of Luther, had made up his mind that he would not help Luther, but that he would keep in a monastery, quiet and alone. The first night he went there, he had a dream to this effect:—he dreamed that the Crucified One appeared to him, with the nail-prints still in his hands, and that he led him away to a fountain, into which he plunged him,—a fountain of blood. He beheld himself washed completely clean, and being very rejoiced thereat, he was willing to sit down; but the Crucified One said, “Follow me.” He took him to the top of a hill, and down beneath there was a wide-spreading harvest. He put a sickle into his hand, and he said, “Go and reap.” He looked round him, and he replied, “But the fields are so vast, I cannot reap them.” The finger of the Crucified One pointed to a spot where there was one reaper at work, and that one reaper seemed to be mowing whole acres at once. He seemed to be a very giant, taking enormous strides. It was Martin Luther. “Stand by his side,” said the Crucified One, “and work.” He did so, and they reaped all day. The sweat stood upon his brow, and he rested for a moment. He was about to lie down, when the Crucified One came to him, and said, “For the love of souls, and for my sake, go on.” He snatched up the sickle again, and on he worked, and at last he grew weary once more. Then the Crucified One came to him again, and said, “For the love of souls, and for my sake, go on.” And he went on. But once he dared to pause, and say, “But, Master, the winter is coming, and much of this good wheat will be spoiled.” “No,” said he, “reap on; it will all be gathered in before the winter comes,—every sheaf. I will send more labourers into the harvest, only do thou thy best.” So now, methinks, the Crucified One takes me to the brow of that hill, and yourselves with me, and shows us this great London, and says, “See, this great field is ripe for the harvest, take your sickles, and reap it.” You say, “Lord, I cannot.” “Nay,” says he, “but for the love of souls, and for the sake of the Crucified One, go on and reap.”C. H. Spurgeon, “The Sluggard’s Reproof,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 48 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1902), 82–83.
And, an excellent teaching to close out with:
You must also surrender yourself at discretion to his method of operating upon you. One says, “I would believe in Jesus, sir, if I felt the horror and terror which some have experienced on account of sin.” What do you demand of God that he should drag you through horrors and terrors before you will believe? Submit yourself to be saved in a gentler way. “But I read of one,” says another, “who had a dream: I would believe if I saw a vision too.” Must God give you dreams? Must he play lackey to you, and save you in your preferred way? He tells you plainly, “If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ you will be saved.” Will you believe or no? For if you do not, neither dreams, nor visions, nor terrors, nor anything else can save you. There is God’s way, sinner: I ask you, and perhaps your answer will settle your fate for ever, will you follow that way or not? If you will not, you have chosen your own destruction; but if you will have it, and will submit yourself to be saved by believing in Jesus Christ, it is well with you. I know there are some in this place who feel ready to burst, for their broken hearts are saying, “I will yield at once. Oh, if he would but save me.” How glad I am to hear you say so, for “he gives grace to the humble.” I recall the time when I have stood and cried to God, “O God, if I must lie on a sick bed till I die, I don’t care as long as you have mercy on me; if you will but conquer my proud will, and make a new man of me, you may do whatever you please with me; only save me from the guilt, the power of sin.” It was when the Lord brought me down there that he enabled me to see life and salvation in Jesus Christ; and if he has brought you down to that point, sinner, then you have nothing to do but simply trust the Lord Jesus Christ, and you are assuredly saved.C. H. Spurgeon, “Unconditional Surrender,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 22 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1876), 71. modernized