Can Dreams Foretell the Future?
FROM ancient times, mankind has had intense interest in dreams. The Egyptians prepared elaborate books for dream interpretation, and the Babylonians had their dream interpreters. Among the Greeks the custom was to have sick people sleep in the shrines of Asclepius to receive health instructions in their dreams. In the second century of our Common Era, Artemidorus produced a book in which he gave interpretations of dream symbols. Many similar books produced since then have been based on his book. Down to this day, efforts are made to interpret dreams, but do they actually give insight into future events?
For them to have a futuristic significance, they would have to be influenced by a superior force. In the Bible we find many instances in which God supplied that very force. He gave prophetic dreams to his servants as well as to some who did not worship him. In fact, Job 33:14-16 says: “God speaks . . . in a dream, a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, during slumbers upon the bed. It is then that he uncovers the ear of men.”
God did this in the case of the Egyptian Pharaoh in the days of Joseph, who lived more than 1,700 years before the Common Era. Pharaoh’s dream is found at Genesis 41:1-7, and in verses 25 to 32, Joseph interprets it as foretelling seven years “with great plenty in all the land of Egypt,” followed by seven years of famine. Joseph explained to Pharaoh: “What the true God is doing he has caused Pharaoh to see.” (Genesis 41:28) The dream was prophetic of what actually occurred.
A prominent king of the Babylonians had a similar experience. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that disturbed him greatly, but he could not remember it. So he called his sorcerers to make known to him the dream and its interpretation. This was a request impossible for them to fulfill.—Daniel 2:1-11.
Since God had given the dream to the king, He enabled the prophet Daniel to reveal the dream and its interpretation. Daniel 2:19 says: “Then it was that to Daniel in a night vision the secret was revealed.” Daniel gave credit to God for this dream: “The secret that the king himself is asking, the wise men, the conjurers, the magic-practicing priests and the astrologers themselves are unable to show to the king. However, there exists a God in the heavens who is a Revealer of secrets, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what is to occur in the final part of the days.”—Daniel 2:27, 28.
At times God gave instructions to his people by means of dreams, and at other times he gave assurance of divine favor or helped them to understand how he was aiding them. In the case of Jacob, God revealed his approval by means of a dream.—Genesis 48:3, 4.
When Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, discovered that Mary was pregnant, he decided to divorce her. Then he received instructions in a dream not to do so. Matthew 1:20 says: “After he had thought these things over, look! Jehovah’s angel appeared to him in a dream, saying: ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife home, for that which has been begotten in her is by holy spirit.’” Later he received a warning in a dream: “Jehovah’s angel appeared in a dream to Joseph, saying: ‘Get up, take the young child and its mother and flee into Egypt.’”—Matthew 2:13.
Dreams That Are Not From God
The fact that dream interpretation was common among those who were not God’s people indicates that dreams in general cannot be considered to be reliable revealers of the future. In the days of God’s prophet Jeremiah, false prophets were saying: “I have had a dream! I have had a dream!” (Jeremiah 23:25) Their intentions were to mislead the people into thinking that God was speaking through them. Regarding these dreamers, Jeremiah was inspired to say: “This is what Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, has said: ‘Let not your prophets who are in among you and your practicers of divination deceive you, and do not you listen to their dreams that they are dreaming. For “it is in falsehood that they are prophesying to you in my name . . . ,” is the utterance of Jehovah.’”—Jeremiah 29:8, 9.
Since these false prophets were “practicers of divination,” their dreams could have been influenced by wicked spirit forces for the purpose of deceiving the people. The same is indicated in what is stated at Zechariah 10:2: “The teraphim themselves have spoken what is uncanny; and the practicers of divination, for their part, have visioned falsehood, and valueless dreams are what they keep speaking.”
The Devil is the archdeceiver who for thousands of years has used religious leaders to claim falsely that God has spoken to them through visions and dreams, just as the false prophets did in the days of Jeremiah and Zechariah. Concerning such ones, the inspired Bible writer Jude wrote to the Christians of the first century: “Certain men have slipped in who have long ago been appointed by the Scriptures to this judgment, ungodly men, turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct and proving false to our only Owner and Lord, Jesus Christ.” These men, he said, were, so to speak, “indulging in dreams.”—Jude 4, 8.
Test the Claims
A person may claim that God spoke to him in a dream or that his dreams of future events proved true, yet that is not sufficient reason to believe him and blindly follow him. Note the instructions written to the Israelites, found at Deuteronomy 13:1-3, 5: “In case a prophet or a dreamer of a dream arises in your midst and does give you a sign or a portent, and the sign or the portent does come true of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us walk after other gods, whom you have not known, and let us serve them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or to the dreamer of that dream . . . And that prophet or that dreamer of the dream should be put to death.” God permitted such ones to speak out falsely as a test of the loyalty of his people.
Instead of blindly believing the claims of charismatic dreamers, the wise course is for us to test their claims to avoid being misled by the invisible archdeceiver, who is “misleading the entire inhabited earth.” (Revelation 12:9) But how can they be reliably tested?
God’s written Word is our divinely given guide to the truth. Regarding it, Jesus Christ said: “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17) So we are admonished at 1 John 4:1: “Beloved ones, do not believe every inspired expression, but test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God, because many false prophets have gone forth into the world.” When carefully compared with the Bible, their claims, philosophies, and actions will conflict with it. God’s Word is the authority as to what is truth.
Is the dreamer who claims special knowledge actually using divination or other spiritistic practices? If so, he is condemned by God’s Word. “There should not be found in you anyone . . . who employs divination, a practicer of magic or anyone who looks for omens or a sorcerer, or one who binds others with a spell or anyone who consults a spirit medium or a professional foreteller of events or anyone who inquires of the dead. For everybody doing these things is something detestable to Jehovah.”—Deuteronomy 18:10-12.
If he claims to have a soul in him that does not die, he is contradicting God’s Word that plainly states: “The soul that is sinning—it itself will die.” (Ezekiel 18:4) Is he exalting himself and drawing a personal following? Matthew 23:12 cautions: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.” And Acts 20:30 warns Christians: “From among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.”
Does he advocate violent actions? James 3:17, 18 condemns him: “The wisdom from above is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and good fruits, not making partial distinctions, not hypocritical. Moreover, the fruit of righteousness has its seed sown under peaceful conditions for those who are making peace.” Does he seek political authority or influence in the world? God’s Word denounces him emphatically, saying: “Whoever . . . wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.” Thus the Bible exposes what is false.—James 4:4.
If a person has a dream about the death of a family member or a friend, it is perhaps because he has been concerned about this person. That the person may have died on precisely the night of the dream does not in itself prove that the dream was prophetic. For every dream of this type that appears to become a reality, there are hundreds that do not.
Although God did use dreams in the past to reveal prophetic events and give instructions while his written Word was being produced, he has no need to do so today. That written Word contains all the instructions from God that mankind needs at this time, and its prophecies concern events more than a thousand years into the future. (2 Timothy 3:16, 17) So we can be confident that our dreams are not indications from God of future events but essential functions of the brain for maintaining our mental well-being.
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As Pharaoh’s dream showed what was to come, God’s Word sheds light on our future