The Scriptural Basis for Dream Interpretation

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It is amazing to me how many Christians ignore the scriptural evidence that God speaks to people through dreams. But then, I can’t talk, because I used to be one of those Christians. I admitted that God “could” speak to somebody in a dream, but I assumed that such an experience was a unique and miraculous event, akin to changing water into wine or parting the red sea.

Oh, sure, I realized that God talked prolifically to Bible characters through dreams and visions, but it never dawned on me that Abraham, Jacob, Pharaoh, Moses, Gideon, Nathan, Eli, Samuel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Joseph, Amos, Zechariah, the wise-men who came to witness Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary, Pilate’s wife, Paul, Ananias, Cornelius, Peter, John and many others were just regular flesh and blood folks like you and me. They weren’t some sort of metahumans who merited special treatment due to their uniquely holy DNA–or maybe a freak accident in the anointing oil factory.

I know! I’m being facetious here. I acknowledge that some of those folks were devout individuals of deep faith and uncommon humility who uncompromisingly feared and obeyed God on a daily basis. But Pilate’s wife? Pharaoh? Abimelech? These people were hardly great prophets or world-class intercessors. Yet God also spoke to them in their dreams.

Honestly, once you work your way past the supposition (which I find to be unsupportable by sound biblical study) that God no longer talks to people except through written scripture, then it really becomes logical that dreams would be one of the primary ways He would do it. Especially since He did so all the time in the Bible. But we don’t have to rely on logic alone. Does the scripture itself speak directly to the subject, more than simply providing examples of people who experienced dreams from God?

And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.  Numbers 12:6

“Well, that doesn’t prove anything!” I hear somebody reply. “That’s clearly talking about prophets. I’m neither a prophet, nor the son of a prophet.”

How do you know you’re not a prophet? Because you don’t sport a long, gray beard and wear a sackcloth robe? No, seriously. Prophecy is a New Testament gift of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:4,10 and Ephesians 4:11 make that clear.

Before the Apostle Paul lists various gifts in verse 11 of Ephesians 4, he introduces them in verses 7 and 8 by saying, “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.”

So, when were these gifts, including the gift of prophecy, allocated? At Jesus Christ’s ascension to the right hand of the Father. There He received spiritual gifts and ministries from His Father. But He didn’t abandon us. He sent the Holy Spirit in His place to indwell us and distribute these gifts and ministries. This had been predicted eight centuries previously by Isaiah. Isaiah’s language in Isaiah 53:12 is that of a conquering Prince displaying his captives and giving gifts of the spoils.

Every Christian should have some inkling of what gifts they have been given, because we all have at least one. What are your spiritual gifts? If you don’t know, then you can’t say with certainty that you don’t have a prophetic gifting.

But even before Jesus’ ascension, God was talking to people through dreams, and instructing his people about the validity of dreams as a method of Divine communication. Let’s look at some Old Testament scriptures.

As for these four children, God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.  Daniel 1:17

Here we see that accurate dream interpretation comes as a gift from God. In the book of Job, Elihu had some interesting insight into dreams. The following passage is one of the most comprehensive statements in scripture about the origin and function of dreams.

Job 33:14 For God speaketh once, yea twice, yet man perceiveth it not.

15 In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falleth upon men, in slumbering upon the bed;

16 Then he openeth the ears of men, and sealeth their instruction,

17 That he may withdraw man from his purpose, and hide pride from man.

18 He keepeth back his soul from the pit, and his life from perishing by the sword.

19 He is chastened also with pain upon his bed, and the multitude of his bones with strong pain:

20 So that his life abhorreth bread, and his soul dainty meat.

Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;

If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;

Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.

Granted, Job is a very old book. Scholars disagree about exactly how old it is, but they do agree that the Hebrew is difficult and some of the words and phrases are more easily interpreted by comparing them to Arabic, Syriac, Ugaritic, Akkadian, Sumerian or Aramaic dialects than by trying to translate them as pure Hebrew. There is no close parallel in either other Biblical books or in ancient literature to the literary format of Job.

All of this suggests a pre-exilic or even pre-Mosaic dating of the text. The antiquity of the writing which was completed at a primitive stage of God’s progressive revelation, coupled with the fact that the above passage is coming out of the mouth of one of Job’s miserable prejudiced comforters, might be used as an argument against the reliability of the drawing spiritual truth or normative theology from Job. However, keep in mind that all of the book is inspired and that, except for Satan, all of the characters express some elements of truth.

God didn’t contradict Job’s friends for everything that they said. In fact, the only comment He had to make to them, was, “My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath.” (Job 42:7) That’s a little vague. Is God negating everything that they said? I don’t think so. Based on Yahweh’s extensive reply to Job, and on the theme of the entire book in general, I believe that the main attitude that upset God was Job and his buddies’ presumption that they had God all figured out. They had gotten their eyes off of the transcendent infinity of God and were having a theological boxing match, trying to justify their perspective on God’s ways at the expense of each other.

So, with that being said, let me paraphrase Elihu’s comments a little bit.

Elihu observes that God speaks to us. He tries once. He tries again. We don’t get it. Finally, God waits until we are asleep and confirms His communication with a dream. He does this so that man cannot be proud of himself for his own wisdom or the insight gained by the strength of his own willpower, because when you are dreaming, you are quiet, you can’t ignore God, you are not distracted and you are a captive audience for several hours every night.

Elihu goes on to list some of the reason God might communicate in a dream. God’s dreams warn us of danger. They protects us from foolish choices. They discipline us. They expose our waywardness and self-absorption, and make our own ways seem less rewarding. Obviously, dreams can have a negative or corrective purpose. But they can bring great reward in the form of insight and wisdom, as well.

Next, Elihu promises that if we ask for wisdom and seek for it as if it were treasure, God will reward our search with knowledge and insight that comes from His own heart. Wouldn’t all of us like to “understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God”? James backs up Elihu’s claim in the first chapter of his epistle, verse 5: “But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.” (New English Translation)

So far, this post has been kind of directed at Christians. That’s because we’re looking at the scriptural basis for dream interpretation. Therefore, I’ve been using a lot of scripture and Christianese to explore the topic. However, I don’t want to leave the impression that God only talks to Christian folks. There is one God and creator of all men. As part of the created package that we call “me”, everyone dreams. If you say you don’t, you’re wrong. You just don’t remember your dreams. Why you don’t remember them, is another post for another day. But as long as you are human, you dream. Christian or otherwise. Remember Pharaoh and Pilate’s wife and Abimelech?

So let’s do a little experiment. Tonight, before you fall asleep, take Elihu’s advice and ask for God to talk to you in your dreams. Expect Him to do so. If you are nervous about receiving dreams from a dangerous or unreliable source, simply ask God to protect you from that. Tell him that you only want to dream his voice and that you aren’t interested in anybody else’s opinion. You might be surprised at what happens!

If you would like to support this work, you may become a patron at Your investment into this journey frees me up to spend more time in study, prayer and dreaming.  In turn this enables more people to benefit from the process.  Thank you, and God bless you for your support.

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