Ordinary, nocturnal dreams are something completely natural that occur in all higher beings. They can be stimulated by thoughts and feelings, direct sensations (hunger, urination needs, etc.) and daily activities. But the dreams are memories of what has happened during the day or before, things one expects, ponders, etc.
The Bible on Dreams
God has given people important messages in several different ways. In Bible times. He sometimes used dreams. But they were not vague and illogical, as ordinary dreams are. The dreams of God were clear and distinct and had a specific message. For example, the prophet Daniel dreamed of a number of beasts that represented political kingdoms from the time of Babylon to the present day. ( Daniel 7: 1-3, 17 ) And it was in a dream that God urged Joseph of Nazareth, Jesus’ adoptive father, to flee to Egypt with his wife and child. In this way, Jesus escaped being killed by the evil King Herod. After Herod’s death, God told Joseph in a dream that he and his family would return to their homeland.
Biblical meaning of dreams – Dreams in Old Testament Israelites
This view of dreams also existed in the Old Orient – in the world that surrounded the Old Testament Israelites. There it was taken for granted that all dreams expressed some form of divine message. There, dreams were seen as a way to see into the future or receive messages from the gods. And consequently, they devoted much time to dream interpretation -“oneiromanti”.
Dream interpretation occurs already in very early literary sources and plays an important role in e.g. the Mesopotamian “Gilgamesh epic”. In the Homeric poems, dream interpretation also occurs on many occasions. From Old Norse times, Snorre tells in his royal tales how Halvdan Svarte dreamed of the future when he slept in a pigsty. Even in many Icelandic genealogies, dream interpretation is an important part of the course of events.
Biblical meaning of dreams – Babylonians and others
Most dreams came unsolicited, but sometimes supernatural communications were also sought. In fact, the Babylonians had such faith in the dreams that they slept in the temples before making important decisions. This was in the hope to get the help of the gods in the dream. Greeks who wanted advice on their health slept in the shrines of Asklepios, after various ritual preparations. The Romans slept in the temple of Serapi for the same reason. Trofonius Cave and Hator’s Temple near the turquoise mines on the Sinai Peninsula were a couple of other famous “dream sites”. As a last resort to force a dream from a reluctant god, they resorted to magic.
Biblical meaning of dreams – what does the Bible says
In general, the Bible speaks of dreams in a very down-to-earth and realistic way. In the book of Job and in the Psalms, for example, the dream is described as something that “flies away” (Job 20: 8). It is something fleeting that “is gone when one awakens” (Psalm 73:20).
At the same time, in both Old and New Testament times, people were convinced that in exceptional cases God could speak to people through the dream. The book of Job describes sleep as a state in which God can “open the ears of men” to his voice (Job 33: 14-16). God’s influence encompasses our whole life. In the same way that a person can be affected by God’s spirit when he is awake, God can speak to her also in sleep, through dreams.
For example, God came to King Abimelech, the king of Gerar, in a dream at night and warned him to touch Sarah because she was another man’s wife (Genesis 20: 3). Genesis 31:24 tells how God came to the Aramaean Laban in a dream and warned him to say something to Jacob. The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night (1 Kings 3: 5). The wise men who visited Joseph and Mary sometime after Jesus’ birth received a divine warning in a dream, They did not return to the murderous Herod (Matthew 2:12).
The Bible gives several examples of times when God in dreams warned his servants or gave them instructions. This was to tell them how to avoid or cope with dangers and difficulties. When Joseph fled with Mary and Jesus to Egypt (Matthew 2:13), it was because an angel had appeared to him in a dream. He warned him of Herod’s plans. It was also in a dream that God urged him to return from Egypt and settle in Nazareth (Matthew 2:19).
Biblical meaning of dreams – God may use dream to communicate but this should not be taken too far
God has also sometimes used dreams to communicate his will or reveal the future through his chosen prophets. Bur the Bible emphasizes that the interpretation of the dream is God’s thing. It is not something to be performed by astrologers, dream interpreters and “divinators”.
The Old Testament, for example, tells of the young Joseph’s dreams (Genesis 37: 5-11). In one of these dreams, he and his brothers were tying sheaves in a field. Joseph’s sheaves stood upright, while his brothers’ sheaves stood around and bowed. In another dream, the sun, the moon and eleven stars bowed to him. Both of these dreams came true when Jacob, his wife, and their eleven sons moved to Egypt during a difficult period of famine. There they were all forced to submit (and bow to) Joseph, who had then become the Egyptian food administrator.
Another example is the dreams of the Egyptian pharaoh (Genesis 41). In the first he saw seven fat cows devoured by seven lean cows. In the second dream, seven lush ears grew on a stalk, only to be devoured by seven dry and shrunken ears. With God’s help, Joseph was able to explain that both dreams showed that one would experience seven years of extremely good harvests followed by seven years of famine.
Daniel 2: 1 tells the story of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the events of the last days. In the dream he saw a huge statue depicting a human being. The figure had heads of gold, breasts and arms of silver, belly and thighs of copper, legs of iron and feet of iron and clay. A stone “not cut by man” hit the statue’s feet, crushed them and destroyed the rest of the figure.
Daniel explained that the statue represented a series of great powers, with King Nebuchadnezzar’s own Babylonian kingdom being the first, represented by the golden head. The other body parts symbolized the various great powers that would follow the Babylonian. This would be until the day when God himself would finally establish his own kingdom (the “kingdom of heaven” or “kingdom of God”) on earth.
Later, Daniel himself had a dream that showed the same thing, but in his dream, the different world kingdoms were symbolized by four huge and strange wild animals. By the way, in the Bible, wild beasts are a recurring symbol of empires or great powers. When the Apostle John in the Book of Revelation tells of the “beast” that will appear in the end times, it is nothing but a great power. Daniel also saw how the human rulers were succeeded by a ruler appointed by God himself:
“To him was given power and glory and kingdom, and all peoples and tribes and languages must serve him. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom that will not end, and his kingdom will not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:14).
These examples show how God can use the dream as a tool to reveal things to his servants — either through their own or others’ dreams. But it is clear from the Bible stories that these are exceptional events and not something that touches our ordinary, nocturnal dreams.
Therefore, God also warns against “false prophets” who refer to dreams they have had and claim to be God’s mouthpiece and pass on God’s prophetic words:
“I have heard what the prophets say, those who prophesy lies in my name: ‘I have had a dream, I have had a dream!’ . The prophet who has had a dream, let him tell a dream, but he who has received my word, let him faithfully speak my word . I am against the prophets. Those who speak the word of their own tongue and saith, Thus saith the Lord. I have not sent them or given them a commission ” (Jer 23: 25-32)
Dreams are natural manifestations of our own subconscious. There is no reason to perceive them as anything else, no matter how gratifying or disappointing they are. No matter how strong an impression they make on ourselves or other people who hear them being told.
Biblical meaning of dreams – Closing Words
Not a single place in the Bible calls on believers to search for secret signs from God in their or others’ dreams. This is for the simple reason that there are no such hidden messages. Nor does God urge us anywhere to strive to receive revelations from Him in the dream. Revelation is something that God gives on his terms – not ours. And when he does, he does so in such an unequivocal way that there is no doubt about their origin.