This week's Sunday School Lesson will cover the subject of revelation through dreams.
In today's more scientific era we investigate dreams from a more scientific point of view. In primitive pre-scientific times, however, people considered dreams to be contacts from the spirit world. People interpreted them as warnings or omens. One biblical passage about the purpose of dreams which best describes the way most primitive peoples thought about dreams is found in Job 33;14-18. One of Job's comforters, Elihu, suggests that God warns men in dreams:
For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumberings upon the bed; Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction, That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword.
No distinction is made in this passage between Hebrew followers of Yahweh and others. God speaks to all men in dreams. Other passages in both Old Testament and New Testament confirm this view. In the Old Testament, he communicates in dreams to non-Jews; in the New Testament God communicates in dreams to non-Christians. Although not explicitly stated, perhaps a presupposition that the recipients of revelation through dreams at least believe in gods or a supreme deity.
A cursory look at specific examples suggests that the intent of revelation through dreams seems to be two general kinds: to provide specific direction to the individual recipient concerning a future course of action and to reveal general information about the future. Examples of the first type include God warning Abimelech that he had taken Abraham's wife (Gen. 20:3-7), directing Jacob to return to the promised land (Gen. 31: 11-3), and warning Laban not to inflict harm upon Jacob (Gen. 31:24). The well-known New Testament example is God encouraging Matthew not to fear taking Mary as his wife despite her mysterious pregnancy ( Matt. 1:20) and commanding him to return to Israel after
Herod's death ( Matt. 2.19-21).
Herod's death ( Matt. 2.19-21).
Examples of the second type include God's revelations to Pharaoh (Gen. 40:1-41:57) and to Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2:1-49). Both stories feature righteous Hebrews who possessed the gift of dream interpretation. In both stories the superior abilities of Joseph and Daniel elevated them to influential positions in the kingdoms. The underlying theme is how they used their positions to secure better treatment for God's people or to demonstrate that God is sovereign over these pagan kingdoms.
One of the more interesting accounts is God's communication to Solomon (1Ki. 3:5-14). The account of the dream includes not only God speaking to Solomon, but also Solomon speaking back to God. Is Solomon's response part of God revelation about what he wills that Solomon should desire? Or is Solomon's response a subconscious expression of what he himself really does desire? Or is he just talking in his sleep?
The Bible does not provide much guidance in determining which dreams are divine communications. In Deut. 13:1-5, the passage warns that any prophet reporting a dream directing the people to worship another god is a liar. More important, the passage explains that God is actually testing them that they are too ignore that prophet and kill him.
Most evangelicals today reject revelation by dreams. They assert that such revelations only came in “Bible days.” Other charismatic and pentecostal denominations still believe that God communicates by means of dream. Later posts this week will look at their efforts to make revelations through dreams intelligible to a modern audience.