The Bible’s Viewpoint
Are Dreams Messages From God?
REPORTEDLY, inventor Elias Howe’s idea for the design of the sewing machine was based on a dream. The composer Mozart said that many of the themes for his music came to him in dreams. The chemist Friedrich August Kekule von Stradonitz likewise claimed to have discovered the shape of the benzene molecule in a dream. Such occurrences are hardly unique. Throughout history many cultures have attributed dreams to the supernatural. Some believe that the dreaming and waking worlds are equally real.
The Bible contains several accounts in which dreams are described as an important source of information—a form of divine communication. (Judges 7:13, 14; 1 Kings 3:5) For example, God communicated with Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph in dreams. (Genesis 28:10-19; 31:10-13; 37:5-11) Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar received prophetic dreams from God. (Daniel 2:1, 28-45) So might there be good reason to believe that even today some dreams are messages from God?
Dreams From God
In the Bible, God-inspired dreams were always induced for a specific reason. True, at times the dreamer could not immediately understand the meaning of the dream. In many cases, however, the “Revealer of secrets” himself provided the explanation so that there would be no doubt as to the meaning of the dream. (Daniel 2:28, 29; Amos 3:7) Dreams from God did not have the vague illogic that often characterizes normal dreams.
At times, dreams were used by God to protect key individuals in the outworking of his purpose. The recipients of such dreams were not necessarily servants of God. For example, the astrologers who visited the young child Jesus did not return to see murderous Herod as he had requested. Why? They received a warning in a dream. (Matthew 2:7-12) This gave Jesus’ adoptive father, Joseph, enough time to flee to Egypt with his family, in response to the direction that he too had received in a dream. This saved the life of young Jesus.—Matthew 2:13-15.
Centuries earlier, an Egyptian pharaoh had dreams of seven healthy ears of grain and seven fat-fleshed cows contrasted with seven sickly ears of grain and seven emaciated cows. Joseph, with divine help, interpreted the dreams correctly: Egypt would enjoy seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. Knowing this in advance allowed the Egyptians to prepare and stockpile food. This proved instrumental in preserving the descendants of Abraham and in bringing them to Egypt.—Genesis, chapter 41; Ge 45:5-8.
King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon likewise had a dream. It foretold the rise and fall of the future world powers that would have a direct impact on God’s people. (Daniel 2:31-43) Later, he had another dream that predicted his personal fall into madness and subsequent recovery. This prophetic dream had a larger fulfillment, pinpointing the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom, through which God would accomplish his will.—Daniel 4:10-37.
What About Today?
Yes, God did communicate with some people through dreams. But the Bible indicates that this was quite rare. Dreams were never the principal form of divine communication. There were many faithful servants of God who never received messages from God in dreams. God’s use of dreams to communicate with man can be compared to His parting of the Red Sea. We know that he did it once, but that is certainly not his usual way of dealing with his people.—Exodus 14:21.
The apostle Paul acknowledged that in his day God’s spirit was operating on his servants in many extraordinary ways. Paul said: “To one there is given through the spirit speech of wisdom, to another speech of knowledge according to the same spirit, to another faith by the same spirit, to another gifts of healings by that one spirit, to yet another operations of powerful works, to another prophesying, to another discernment of inspired utterances, to another different tongues, and to another interpretation of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:8-10) Although divinely inspired dreams are not specifically mentioned, a number of Christians evidently received divinely inspired dreams as one of the gifts of the spirit in fulfillment of Joel 2:28.—Acts 16:9, 10.
However, the apostle said regarding these special gifts: “Whether there are gifts of prophesying, they will be done away with; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will be done away with.” (1 Corinthians 13:8) Evidently included among the gifts that would be “done away with” were the various forms of divine communication. After the death of the apostles, God ceased to impart these special gifts to his servants.
Today experts are still trying to understand the process of dreaming and whether it has a practical function. The Bible sheds no light on such issues. However, to those who insist on seeking divine communications in their dreams, the Bible does provide a warning. At Zechariah 10:2, it states: “The practicers of divination, . . . valueless dreams are what they keep speaking.” God also warns against looking for omens. (Deuteronomy 18:10-12) In light of these warnings, Christians today do not expect to receive divine guidance in their dreams. Rather, they view dreams simply as something experienced during sleep.