Psychologists and western culture have taught us that dreams are nothing more than our subconscious sorting things out. This, of course, isn’t untrue. We have these kinds of dreams all the time. Our brains are constantly going, whether we’re awake or asleep, so by all means, we are bound to dream. It’s simple science. But just because there’s science going on up there doesn’t mean that spirituality can’t play a part too. We are both science and spirit—natural and supernatural. And if God wants to break into our lives, He can do so however He wants. And biblically, we see that He is open to doing so in our dreams.
For most people, Joseph from the Old Testament comes to mind the moment we talk about dreams and the Bible—and rightly so as dreams are crucial to how his story works. But by no means is Joseph the only dreamer in the Bible. In fact, dreams come up more often than we might think. If we pay close attention we begin to realize that even some of the best known stories in the Bible have dreams in them. We just often don’t notice because of the other elements at play in the story.
Take Joseph in the New Testament for example. Jesus’ dad was a dreamer. We always talk about him as though he’s led around by angels. This fact is true, but it’s interesting to note that the angels never physically appear to him; rather, they often appear to him in dreams. Yes, believe it or not, Joseph puts a lot of stake into keeping his family safe by chasing not after visible manifestations of angels, but dreams of angels. When he was debating breaking off his engagement with Mary because she was pregnant, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream” (Mt 1:20) and told him not to. When Herod set out to kill all the babies in the area, “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream” (Mt 2:13) and told Joseph to flee to Egypt. And then after Herod died, “an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt” (Mt 2:19) and told him to go to Israel.
We read this and think little of it, but Joseph made some of the biggest decisions of his life based on dreams of angels—dreams that he could have explained away as something he ate if he truly wanted to. He was convinced his virgin fiancé was pregnant based on a dream. Rather than break off his engagement with Mary, he decided to marry her based on a dream. He convinced his family to live as refugees based on a dream. He decided it was safe to move into a land that once meant death for his child based on a dream.
We always think that if we were to see an angel, it would be some kind of crazy physical manifestation, but as we see here, that’s not always the case. In fact, sometimes we should expect to see them while we’re asleep. We can further note this from Peter. While Peter was in prison, an angel hit him on the side to wake him up. Still half-asleep, Peter watched an angel free him from his chains and then lead him out of his prison cell. What’s hilarious about all of this is that Peter “did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision” (Ac 12:9). In other words, before Peter perceived that this angel was actually there, he first thought he was having some kind of vision or dream of an angel. Peter’s initial expectation speaks volumes to the assumption that we could encounter angels in our sleep.
Dreams are commonplace for conversation with God all throughout Scripture. In fact, ancient people put so much stock in the fact that dreams could be supernatural that they even threatened people’s lives in order to get an interpretation for them.
Nebuchadnezzar once had a dream that he was so sure was from a supernatural source that he refused to tell any of his servants what the dream even was. He wanted to make absolutely sure that he got the correct interpretation for it, so he told all of his magicians, enchanters, and sorcerers that he would only accept their interpretation if they could tell him both the dream he dreamed and the interpretation of the dream without him ever saying a word about it. He threatened to tear all these servants apart limb from limb if they didn’t do what he said and they were all rightly terrified, saying, “The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh” (Dan 2:11). They knew they were at the mercy of a supernatural being to save them. Of course, we know that this dream was from Yahweh so no being except Yahweh could relay the dream and its interpretation to Nebuchadnezzar.
Unfortunately for Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar lumped him into the same crowd as the Chaldeans. The king saw him as just another magician or enchanter or sorcerer and so his life was just as at risk as everyone else’s. But fortunately for Daniel, he was not a magician or enchanter or sorcerer—he was a prophet of Yahweh and therefore, he knew the source of the dream. And just as you might think would happen, God revealed to Daniel what the dream was by giving Daniel the same dream.
Daniel then reports to King Nebuchadnezzar and tells him about the dream and it’s interpretation, explaining that, “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” (Dan 2:28). This is the start of Nebuchadnezzar’s slow and evolving theology, for he now exclaims, “Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this mystery” (Dan 2:47). The whole thing story ends with Yahweh’s supernatural servants in Babylon (that is, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) being promoted to oversee the affairs of the province. And all of this happens why? Because of a dream.
The Bible affirms the power and authenticity of the supernatural in dreams all over the place, which means we should be open to God talking to us in this way as well.