The Anatomy of a Dream

By on October 5, 2010

Most of us experience dreams while sleeping. Those we best remember usually occur early in the morning during the final stage of REM (Rapid Eye Movement).

But dreams can occur at any hour of the night. Our brains go in and out of deep sleep as the night progresses. REM is a time of light sleep that happens three or four times a night, usually about every 90 minutes or so. The eyes move rapidly from side to side under the eyelids while our large muscles are relatively relaxed. The last round of REM or light sleep before waking can last a half-hour or more.

Not all dreams are significant. Most are construed from the previous day’s activities or from the occupation of the mind in the last few hours before sleep. Dreams occur during the time of brain activity following a deep sleep. They range from pleasant experiences to nightmares. Most terror-ridden dreams occur during the first two hours of sleep, whereas the more enjoyable dreams, including inspiration, occurs in the last hour of a night’s sleep.

The human brain is the home of the soul. All thoughts proceed from there. The self consciousness of a person resides in the frontal lobe, with the rest of the brain used for processing sight, hearing, function, etc.

Nightmares are more common among children, between the ages of three to eight years, though adults can also be afflicted as a result of stress, emotional problems, trauma, or illness. Those, whose nightmares seem unrelated to these types of external problems, tend to have a more emotionally sensitive personality. Five to ten percent of the population experience nightmares at least once a month. Combat veterans may be prone to nightmares brought on by the stress of war. Such nightmares tend to occur over and over.

Night Terrors

Nightmares and night terrors are somewhat different and arise from different physiological stages of sleep. Nightmares occur after several hours of sleep, whereas night terrors seem to occur within the first hour or two. Night terrors sometime include loud screaming and thrashing, though the person is hard to awaken. Children who have night terrors also have a tendency to sleepwalk. Fortunately, most children outgrow these dreadful dreams by the time they reach their teens.

Scientific Studies

Dreams are a common phenomenon in brain activity. These nocturnal experiences have prompted several scientific studies over the past century. According to the Association for the Study of Dreams, most dreams are forgotten by morning: “There is something about the phenomenon of sleep itself which makes it difficult to remember what has occurred and most dreams are forgotten …” This may have been the case with King Nebuchadnezzar. Though terrified by his dream, the king couldn’t remember it.

On occasion, a person can remember a dream several days later, which means that the memory is not lost, just hard to retrieve. According to scientific studies, drugs, medications and alcohol can affect dreams. Some medications and medical conditions can produce nightmares and even hallucinations. Most dreams, however, are the result of normal brain activity.

Scientific studies of the dream state are reportedly useful in learning about one’s feelings, thoughts and motives. It is said that the interpretation of dreams is sometimes found to be helpful in solving problems. Artists, writers, scientists and theologians reportedly get creative ideas from their dreams. Many of the modern developments in technology have been attributed to ideas that just seemed to pop into a scientist’s mind just before waking.

Some dream studies have attempted to determine the validity of predictive or prophetic dreams, including clairvoyant and telepathic dreams, but such dreams are difficult to study in a laboratory setting. The results of such studies have been notably inconclusive.

Most experts believe that a dream reflects one’s own underlying thoughts and feelings and that the elements of a dream are unique to that individual. In other words, the same image or symbol will have different meanings for different people. For example, a lion in a dream may have a different meaning for a zookeeper than for the average person.

However, in the Bible, dreams seem to take on a quality of similarity unlike those in modern scientific studies. A lion, bear, goat, etc., appear to have a continuity of meanings, regardless of who is dreaming, or at what time in history the dream is recorded. Biblical dreams are cohesive enough to consider a single divine source.

The Dreams of the Bible

There are seven stories about dreams, sandwiched between two instances of visions in the book of Genesis. Beyond that, the Bible is filled with dreams and visions. On the surface, theologians equate these with a type of communication between heaven and earth. They are spiritual experiences quite separate from the physical realm.

It is difficult to separate these experiences into categories. Dreams and visions appear to be somewhat synonymous. Both can be experienced during sleep, but the vision may be received in a trance-like state with eyes wide open. The trance is related to deep sleep, whereas dreams are usually experienced during light sleep. The first vision, recorded in the book of Genesis, was in some way, transferred to Abraham in at least two sessions, one involving a “deep sleep” (Gen. 15:12). In the story of Balaam, we are told that he fell into a trance as he prophesied: “He hath said, which heard the words of God, and knew the knowledge of the most High, which saw the vision of the Almighty, falling into a trance, but having his eyes open…” (Numbers 24:16).

During Bible days, it seems that dreams could be classified into three categories:

  1. Revelations of Deity;
  2. Dreams which reflect the state of mind;
  3. Prophetic dreams.

While dreams are experienced during light sleep, causing little or no exhaustion, visions are more akin to nightmares or night terrors, and the recipient is often severely weakened by it.

The term “vision” occurs 86 times in the Old Testament (in the singular form 64 times; and in the plural form 22 times). Almost a third of the uses of the term in the Old Testament are recorded in the book of Daniel. There, the term is used 22 times — the same number of times as there are letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The term “vision” occurs 15 times in the New Testament, eleven of which are in the book of Acts.

On the other hand, the term “dream” is used only seven times in the New Testament. Six occur in Matthew and one in Acts. Five of those dreams center around the birth of Christ:

  1. An angel spoke to Joseph about Mary’s conception in a dream (Matt. 1:22-23);
  2. The wise men were warned about Herod (Matt. 2:12);
  3. Joseph was warned to flee with the child and Mary to Egypt (Matt. 2:13);
  4. An angel told Joseph to return to Israel (Matt. 2:19,20); and
  5. Joseph was warned that Archelaus reigned in Herod’s stead, causing Joseph to withdraw to Galilee (Matt. 2:22).
  6. The sixth dream was given to the troubled wife of Pilate concerning Jesus, “that righteous man” (Matt. 27:19). The seventh and final use of the term “dream” is a quote from Joel’s prophecy that in the last days, “old men shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).

Face to Face at First

In the early days of the human race, God interacted with man face to face. It seems that God would come down and fellowship with Adam in the cool of the day. On the evening of Adam’s fall, God personally visited the garden, looking for the guilty pair:

“And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden” (Gen. 3:8).

We are told that God made “coats of skins” (Gen. 3:21) for Adam and Eve. This was no mere dream. God had personal contact with man. However, from the very beginning, men knew that their thinking was monitored from the heavenly realm. The offerings of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4:3-5) were known and observed in heaven. There was a communication between the human brain and the Creator.

When Cain was asked the whereabouts of his brother, he tried to conceal his crime. But God told him that the blood of Abel cried out from the ground. This reveals a form of communication with the heavenly realm:

“And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10).

The life force in Abel’s blood was detected and monitored in heaven. This suggests that life is an emanation, rather than a result of some chemical compound. Scientists have tried to create life in a test tube, with no satisfactory results. Though the chemicals present in a plant or animal cell are fully available to science, they cannot be mixed together in such a way as to create life. In John’s Gospel, we are told that life comes from a divine light source:

“In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).

Here lies the connection between heaven and earth that monitors every thought. It provides us the opportunity to contact heaven with our petitions and prayers, and gives God the opportunity to communicate with us without having to send an angel, or personally come down every time we need an answer. From these very first chapters of Genesis, we learn that Adam taught his sons how to communicate with God. Today, we call this “prayer.” Seth was the first man to actively use this method of communication:

“And to Seth, to him also there was born a son; and he called his name Enos: then began men to call upon the name of the LORD (Gen. 4:26).

The Days of Noah

Interaction between heaven and earth is not confined to mere mental activity. Many early theologians were convinced that fallen angels cohabited with human wives in the years before the Great Flood, thus corrupting the human gene pool:

“The sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose” (Gen. 6:2).

Only Noah and his family remained genetically pure, or as the KJV puts it: “perfect in his generations” (Gen. 6:9). From the context of Scripture, we assume that God personally came to Noah and explained how and why all life on earth would be destroyed, giving plans to build a ship for the survival of each genetically pure species.

These were no mere visionary experiences. Though we are not told just how God spoke with Noah, it seems apparent that no mere dream or vision could have prompted the man to spend 120 years building a ship on dry land, where there was no sea, and where it had never rained. The Bible, in simple terms, tells us that God spoke with Noah:

“And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth” (Gen. 6:13).

God’s visit must have been personal and physical. Not once do we have an indication that God spoke to Noah, or any previous human through dreams and visions. The first visionary contact from the heavenly realm was to be given to Abraham. Only then would God introduce His new method of communication — the vision. To Abraham, God used a “vision,” but the next time, when God spoke to an earthly king, he used a “dream.”

The Tower of Babel

From the days of Adam, all men spoke one language. Many believe it was an early form of Hebrew, a Semitic language common to early civilizations in the Middle East. After the Flood, Noah’s family began to populate the earth once again. Though God had told them to spread out over the face of the earth, Nimrod, grandson of Ham, convinced men to settle in the fertile plains around the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and build cities.

One city in particular was to represent man’s spiritual rebellion against God — Babylon. Desiring to communicate with the heavenly realm once again, Nimrod suggested they build a tower. It was to be a “gate” to God — a religious shrine that offered the opportunity for direct communications with angelic creatures of the not-so-godly kind. Evidently Nimrod had heard about the angels that visited mankind before the Flood and desired to contact them again. This illegal communication became known as “idolatry.”

We are told that God came down to see the tower. This appears to be an actual personal visit:

“And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded” (Gen. 11:5).

At this point, God created confusion in the thought processes of the human brain, and caused men to develop new languages to accommodate the various races. According to the Ebla tablets, a cache of some 25,000 clay tablets uncovered in an archeological dig in the early 1970s, men once spoke a single language. Dictionaries were found that explained the three languages used in the tablets. One dictionary reported that not long before, all men spoke one language, but that “now there are three.” By the time Moses led the Exodus of the Israelites, some four centuries later, there were said to be seventy languages among men. Today, there are thousands.

This fabulous cache of tablets were found at the site of an ancient city called Ebla, in Western Syria, about forty miles inland from the Mediterranean Sea, and a few miles north of Syria’s border with Lebanon. Two prominent cities mentioned in those tablets were Sodom and Gomorrah, both of which were destroyed during the life of Abraham, thus dating the tablets as contemporary with Abraham — some 4,000 years ago.

God’s judgment at the Tower of Babel hampered man’s communication with each other, let alone their communication with the angelic realm. Soon thereafter, God also began to change His method of communicating with men. He began to develop visions and dreams.

The Vision and Dreams of Abraham

It was during this time that God called upon Abram (i.e., Abraham) to leave his native country and travel west to a Promised Land. Over a period of time, God’s communications with Abram took on more than one form. The Bible records seven contacts between God and Abram. Of these, the first three are actual personal visits. The fourth encounter is recorded as the first “vision” in the Bible. The fifth and sixth encounters are personal visits, and the seventh appears to be in the form of an audible voice from heaven. Have you ever heard anyone tell about hearing a voice speak to them, only to turn and find no one there? This is what Abraham experienced. The voice was audible enough, but it came from another dimension (i.e., heaven). It was no dream or vision. It can only be explained as a voice from heaven.

God’s First Contact with Abraham

At first, we are told: “the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country” (Gen. 12:1). This communication appears to be direct. A few verses later (Gen 12:7), we are told: “the LORD appeared unto Abram….” We can only assume that God made another actual personal visit. After Abram’s brief sojourn in Egypt, God made a third personal visit to Abram:

“And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:

“For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever.

“And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.

“Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee” (Gen. 13:14-17).

In this third visit, God further confirmed His covenant with Abram by asking him to walk through the Promised Land, from north to south and east to west. Though Abraham, himself, never possessed the country, with the lone exception of the cave of Machpelah, all of the land was promised to his posterity through Isaac. The important thing to note is that God delivered this message in person, because the next time God spoke with Abraham, He used a vision:

“After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward” (Gen. 15:1).

For the first time in the Bible, God used a vision to contact man. Previously, God had personally appeared to Abram. But in this fourth encounter, God used a vision to tell Abram to: “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars” (Gen. 15:5). This places the vision at night. A few verses later we are told that Abraham fell into a deep sleep:

“And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him” (Gen. 15:12).

This vision is associated with a deep sleep and horror, two things associated with what modern science calls “night terrors.” These usually occur within the first two hours of the sleep cycle, whereas dreams occur during REM (rapid eye movement) or light sleep, usually later in the sleep cycle.

Thereafter, God would begin to use dreams and visions more often. As we shall see, the king of Gerar would be the next person to hear from God, but this time through a dream.

Meanwhile, Hagar and Lot would have direct encounters with angels. After the pregnant Hagar first fled from Sarah, we are told that an angel went looking for her (Gen. 16:7) and found her near a fountain of water on the road to Shur. This was no dream. It was a physical encounter between the angel and Hagar. She was told to go back home to Sarah.

God’s fifth and sixth encounters with Abram were also personal visits. We are told that God appeared to Abram when he was 99 years old:

“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect” (Gen. 17:1).

During this visit, the Lord confirmed His covenant, changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah.

The sixth encounter with Abraham took on the form of another personal visit — this one included Jehovah and two companions:

“And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;

“And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground,

“And said, My LORD, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:

“Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:

“And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant. And they said, So do, as thou hast said” (Gen. 18:1-5).

During this visit, the Lord told Abraham that Sodom would be destroyed. However, because of his pleading, Abraham’s nephew was spared. The Lord sent His two companions to rescue Lot and his family.

These were no mere apparitions, but rather actual angelic beings sent to Sodom. They represented a meaningful relationship between man and Deity. It seems that God still preferred to speak to men directly. Contact with the human brain was available, but some things had to be done by sending emissaries to have direct contact with people. It was not long, however, until God chose to use the dream state once again. This time, He threatened to bring judgment upon King Abimelech for having taken Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

The Dream of Abimelech

“But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife” (Gen. 20:3).

Again, as in the first recorded vision, this dream is quite specific. There are no vague symbolisms of stars, animals, or grain, as in the dreams of Joseph, for example. Here, God, Himself, appeared to the king in a dream. Note, that God told the king that if Abraham prayed for him, God would spare his life:

“Now therefore restore the man his wife; for he is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live: and if thou restore her not, know thou that thou shalt surely die, thou, and all that are thine” (Gen. 20:7).

Here, we have both the dream, God’s method of communicating with man; and the prayer, man’s method of communicating with God. These are the two essentials for man’s contact with heaven.

Hagar’s Second Encounter

After that experience, dreams became more common. Though we are not told specifically that God communicated to Hagar through a dream, we are told that in her second encounter with heaven, the angel of the Lord didn’t come down, but simply called to her from beyond this dimension:

“And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is” (Gen. 21:17).

What is important here is that the angel did not come down as in the previous encounter. Instead, the angel spoke from beyond the heavenly realm and opened her eyes to see a well of water. Also, we are told that God heard the voice of the lad. Not only does God hear our thoughts, He hears our audible prayers as well.

God’s Last Contact with Abraham

In His seventh and final contact with Abraham, it seems that God did not personally visit, but used the invisible voice again (Ahah! The Shadow knows!). Well, this time it wasn’t Lamont Cranston, it was God! The chapter opens with God saying, “Abraham!” After which, Abraham said, “Behold, here I am.” In this contact, God told him to slay his son. Had it been a personal visit, Abraham might have initiated another heated discussion with God (as he did over Sodom and Gomorrah). However, Abraham could only listen and obey. This time, he was not given the opportunity for rebuttal.

A few days later, as Abraham raised his knife to slay Isaac (Gen. 22:11), an angel called to him out of heaven. Again, God did not come down for a personal visit as in earlier times, but had an angel speak audibly from beyond this earthly dimension (another disembodied voice). The angel directed Abraham to use a nearby ram for a substitute for Isaac. Then, for the second time, the angel spoke to Abraham out of the heavenly realm, saying that God would keep the promises made in the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 22:15). This is the last recorded occasion in which God communicated with Abraham before his death.

The Dreams of Isaac

Isaac was a man of prayer. On the evening of Rebekah’s arrival, he had gone out into the field to “meditate” (Gen. 24:63). We assume that he was praying. Later, he prayed that Rebekah (Gen. 25:20) might be able to give him a son, and God blessed him with twins — Jacob and Esau.

God’s first recorded contact with Isaac came during a severe famine. The LORD appeared unto Isaac and told him to dwell in Gerar, rather than Egypt:

“And the LORD appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of” (Gen. 26:2).

We are not told whether this contact was a personal visit or a dream, but some months later, after an upsetting day of arguing with the herdsmen of Gerar over the ownership of several water wells, God appears once again to Isaac — this time, at night:

“And the LORD appeared unto him the same night, and said, I am the God of Abraham thy father: fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for my servant Abraham’s sake” (Gen. 26:24).

It is possible that this contact came by way of a dream, though we are not told specifically that it was. Therefore, we cannot count it as one of the dreams recorded in the book of Genesis.

As far as the biblical narrative is concerned, those were the only two recorded times that God contacted Isaac. Several years later, being old and blind, Isaac gave the family blessing to what appeared to be the wrong son. That brings us to the story of God’s choice — Jacob.

The Dreams and Vision of Jacob

Because of his deceitfulness, Jacob had to run from the wrath of Esau. But on his trip across country to Laban’s house, we are afforded the opportunity to observe one of the great dreams of the Bible (Gen. 28:12). Jacob dreamed of a ladder set up on the earth, the top of which, reached to heaven. He saw angels ascending and descending on it. God spoke to Jacob in that dream and extended the promises of the Abrahamic covenant to him. Jacob awoke the next morning and called the place “Bethel” meaning, “the house of God.”

For the first time, a new element was added to the dream state. Jacob saw a ladder in this dream. No previous dream reported anything other than God delivering a message. Furthermore, Jacob saw many angels ascending and descending on that ladder. Though we are not told the significance of the ladder or the heavenly traffic, we assume that it represented heaven’s continuing concern for and contact with mankind. The angels may have been involved in the lives of Earth’s growing population. Do we not all have guardian angels? It must have been so in Jacob’s day as well.

For God to take the time to personally talk to Jacob in the midst of such angelic activity shows how important Jacob was (above all other men) to God’s great plan for the redemption of the human race:

“And, behold, the LORD stood above it [the ladder], and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;

“And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

“And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.

“And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.

“And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

“And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it.

“And he called the name of that place Bethel: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first” (Gen. 28:13-19).

This was the first recorded dream to include a variety of objects woven together to offer a theme. Throughout the Bible, dreams will become more elaborate. Pharaoh will see seven healthy cows eaten by seven lean cows and seven good ears of corn devoured by seven shriveled ears; Nebuchadnezzar will see a man made of various metals; and Daniel will see animals emerge from a raging sea. These examples offer us an excellent opportunity to observe God’s use of the dream state to communicate with man. But, for now, let’s get back to the story of Jacob. This dream, including the ladder and angels, represented a prophecy — God’s promise of a bright future. Note that Jacob did not try to analyze the symbols in this dream. However, when we come to Pharaoh’s dream, an interpretation will be called for.

Jacob went on to Padanaram and worked for Laban, Rebekah’s brother. While there, he took four wives — Laban’s two daughters, Leah and Rachel, and their handmaids, Zilpah and Bilhah. After working for fourteen years to pay for his two wives, Jacob stayed on in order to accumulate a fortune — inspired, believe it or not, by another dream:

“And it came to pass at the time that the cattle conceived, that I lifted up mine eyes, and saw in a dream, and, behold, the rams which leaped upon the cattle were ringstraked, speckled, and grisled” (Gen. 31:10).

We remember reading about the shenanigans Jacob conjured up with the rods of green poplar, hazel and chestnut woods, but later, he tells that his wives that he got the idea from a dream. This is the first occasion that a dream offers a plan for producing a herd of animals that were ringstraked, speckled and grisled!

This dream inspired Jacob to plot the takeover of Laban’s finest herds, leaving him with scrawny and mediocre animals. The dream was probably trying to tell Jacob that God would give him all the ringstraked, speckled and grisled animals, thus affording him a fortune. But since God didn’t speak directly to him, Jacob probably mistook the dream to be nothing more than a brilliant idea. Therefore, he took it upon himself to produce these herds though some sort of contrived hocus-pocus. He could have saved himself a lot of trouble. He would have had them anyway! The dream had declared it.

The Dream of Laban

When Jacob finally gained the courage to leave, Laban was furious. He mustered his horsemen and gave pursuit. As he drew close to his expected encounter with Jacob, God appeared to him in a dream:

“And God came to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said unto him, Take heed that thou speak not to Jacob either good or bad” (Gen. 31:24).

Here is a dream given to an idol worshipper. Laban was in no spiritual condition to receive an interpretive dream with a lot of obscure symbols. Therefore, God appeared directly to him in that dream, similar to His communication with King Abimelech. Laban may not have deserved an encounter with God, but his plot against Jacob required it.

The Heavenly Wrestler

Jacob was to experience a personal encounter with God just a few nights later. Jacob wrestled all night with the heavenly combatant. This was no dream. A dream could not have crippled the man’s thigh. For the only time in Jacob’s long life, he met God face to face.

Before we observe the dreams of Joseph, let’s complete the story of Jacob’s encounters with God. This takes us to the forty-sixth chapter of Genesis, to the time when Jacob is about to move his family to Egypt. We are told that God speaks to Jacob in a night vision:

“And God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I.

“And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation:

“I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes” (Gen. 46:2-4).

For only the second time in the book of Genesis, a heavenly encounter is called a “vision.” The first vision was experienced by Abraham (Gen. 15:1), and the final vision is here. The design is remarkable. Both the first and last nightime encounters are called visions, whereas, the encounters between them are called dreams.

The Dreams of Joseph

Jacob had twelve sons, of which, Joseph had an unusual special mental connection with the heavenly realm. However, his brothers did not appreciate his unique talent.

Throughout the Bible we read of men who experienced dreams that turned out to be heavenly communications. But when the dream was told, those who heard were generally skeptical. Most dreams in the Bible were prophecies not fully understood, nor believed to be authentic, until the prophecy came to pass. Such was the case with Joseph:

“And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.

“And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed:

“For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.

“And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.

“And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.

“And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?

“And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying” (Gen. 37:5-11).

Though his brothers were appalled at Joseph perceived arrogance, Jacob “observed the saying.” In other words, Jacob wanted to believe in his son’s dream, but was as skeptical as the others. The dream was not conclusive enough at this point.

Joseph’s dream was a prophecy. Note that the prophecy was repeated, using first grain, then stars. Though two symbols were used, the dream concerned a single subject. The use of two symbols certifies the dream as being from God. Joseph understands this as he later explains another “double” dream to Pharaoh:

“And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass” (Gen. 41:31).

The “double” dream was first used in Joseph’s sheaves and stars, then used again in Pharaoh’s dream of the cattle and corn, thus establishing a method for confirming the prophetic dream. We shall observe Pharaoh’s dream in due course. But first, we should note that Joseph had the ability to interpret the dreams. We first learn of this when he interpreted the dreams of the butler and baker:

“And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison” (Gen. 40:5).

This extraordinary experience reveals the importance of dreams to the butler and baker, who were not particularly spiritual men. Yet, they were given dreams that would prove to predict their destinies. These dreams were significant in showing Joseph’s spiritual talent, something that would later provide his elevation as governor of Egypt.

The Dreams of Pharaoh

It was not until Pharaoh had a double dream that Joseph’s fortunes changed. As earlier noted, the two dreams established them as being from God. Pharaoh remembered the dreams. The first dream awakens him. Then, after dropping off to sleep again, the second dream is given. Modern analysis would suggest that they came during two separate REM states that normally occur about 90 minutes apart:

“And, behold, there came up out of the river seven well favoured kine and fatfleshed; and they fed in a meadow.

“And, behold, seven other kine came up after them out of the river, ill favoured and leanfleshed; and stood by the other kine upon the brink of the river.

“And the ill favoured and leanfleshed kine did eat up the seven well favoured and fat kine. So Pharaoh awoke.

“And he slept and dreamed the second time: and, behold, seven ears of corn came up upon one stalk, rank and good.

“And, behold, seven thin ears and blasted with the east wind sprung up after them.

“And the seven thin ears devoured the seven rank and full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and, behold, it was a dream (Gen. 41:1-6).

This dream was recognized as a communication from beyond this realm. It seems that kings were more prone to such dreams than the average citizen. Perhaps by that time in the development of civilizations, kings had advisers schooled in the interpretations of dreams. Pharaoh called upon his magicians, but they were unable to decipher the dream. It was then, that the butler remembered Joseph’s unusual talent for interpreting dreams and recommended him.

When told the dream, Joseph advised the Pharaoh that the double dream referred to one event — a period of fourteen years. Seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine. Joseph’s advice to prepare by taxing the people one-fifth of their crops each year until the famine, proved to be a remarkable solution to the problem. Joseph’s wisdom impressed the Pharaoh. His honesty and integrity were apparent to Egypt’s king, and Joseph was appointed to oversee the project. He became the governor of Egypt. The human brain was to become a major vehicle for God’s communication with man.

What Does God Say About Visions and Dreams?

The Bible’s definition of the prophetic dream comes from Jehovah, Himself, on the occasion of an argument between Moses and his brother and sister. Aaron and Miriam were upset with Moses over his Ethiopian wife. I can imagine Aaron and Miriam arguing with Moses, “Does God only speak through Moses? What about us? God speaks through us, too!” Moses was publicly embarrassed. He didn’t speak up and defend himself. But, God heard the argument and audibly called for a meeting with Moses, Aaron and Miriam:

“And the LORD came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam: and they both came forth.

“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.

“My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house.

“With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Num. 12:5-8).

Jehovah quickly put an end to their bickering by imposing leprosy upon Miriam. She must have been the main cause of the argument with Moses.

Though some may want to relegate this story to the dusty past, I can assure you that God still takes a dim view of His ministers being publicly insulted or humiliated. He still listens in today! So, we must watch what we say. Does God still use dreams and visions today? Joel said it would be happening in the “last days.” It is an awesome thought.

Go to Lesson 9: Moses and the Dispensations