Dreams play an important role throughout the Bible. God used dreams to communicate with people, to reveal His plans, to warn of danger, and to provide encouragement. As you read through the Scriptures, you’ll find dozens of examples of meaningful dreams and visions.
Pay attention to the dreams in your own life as well. While not all dreams are from the Lord, God can and does speak through dreams today just as He did in biblical times. Approaching your dreams with wisdom and discernment, and interpreting them in light of Scripture, can provide valuable insight into God’s purposes for your life.
- Dreams enabled people to hear from God before the full revelation of Scripture was complete.
- God gave direction and revealed His plans through dreams.
- Dreams exposed sins, warned of danger, and provided occasions for prophecy.
- Symbols and imagery were used in dreams to communicate spiritual truths.
- Interesting patterns emerge when looking at all the biblical dreams together.
Old Testament Dreams
The Old Testament records dozens of significant dreams that shaped Biblical history. Through dreams, God made His will known, guided His people, called individuals into service, and warned them of things to come.
As you read these Old Testament accounts, you’ll notice some common themes and purposes surrounding Biblical dreams:
Guidance from God
Before God’s Word was complete, He often spoke through dreams to give people guidance. For instance:
- Abimelech was warned not to touch Sarah, Abraham’s wife (Genesis 20:3). God spoke to Abimelech in a dream to keep him from sinning.
- Jacob saw a vision of God’s angels (Genesis 28:12). This dream affirmed God’s promise to Jacob about his descendants and the land of Israel.
- Laban was warned not to harm Jacob (Genesis 31:24). God appeared to Laban in a dream and told him not to speak harmfully to Jacob.
- Joseph gained understanding of the future from his dreams (Genesis 37:5-10). As a teenager, Joseph had dreams which foretold his leadership and authority over his family.
Calling People into Service
Dreams were often part of God’s call on someone’s life. For example:
- Samuel heard God call him as a child (1 Samuel 3). God spoke to Samuel by name through a dream, beginning his prophetic ministry.
- Solomon asked for wisdom (1 Kings 3:5). Solomon’s dream conversation with God led to God granting his request for wisdom as king.
- Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams (Daniel 2). God gave Daniel insight into the king’s disturbing dreams, launching his influence in Babylon.
Warning of Danger
At times, God sent dreams to warn people of danger or instructions they needed to follow. For instance:
- Abimelech was warned about taking Sarah (Genesis 20:3). As mentioned above, God warned Abimelech not to touch Abraham’s wife.
- Jacob saw spotted sheep (Genesis 31:10-13). This dream revealed Laban’s deception toward Jacob, prompting Jacob to flee with his family.
- Pharaoh’s dreams of skinny cows and grain (Genesis 41). These dreams foretold the seven years of plenty and seven years of famine in Egypt.
- Nebuchadnezzar’s tree dream (Daniel 4). This dream depicted Nebuchadnezzar’s pride and coming humiliation, which Daniel interpreted.
As you can see, God used dreams frequently in the Old Testament. They provided guidance, direction, warning, and confirmation of God’s will. While dreams were much rarer in the New Testament, they continued to play an important role.
New Testament Dreams
Dreams and visions occur less frequently in the New Testament because God’s full revelation was complete in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). However, God continued using dreams at pivotal moments.
- Joseph was instructed about Mary’s pregnancy (Matthew 1:20). An angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to explain Mary’s miraculous pregnancy and that he should still marry her.
- The wise men were warned in a dream (Matthew 2:12). God warned the magi through a dream not to return to Herod after visiting baby Jesus.
- Pilate’s wife had a disturbing dream (Matthew 27:19). She had a dream warning that Jesus was innocent, prompting her to try to dissuade her husband from condemning Him.
- Paul received the Macedonian call through a vision (Acts 16:9). Paul saw a vision of a man from Macedonia pleading for him to come there, leading to his missionary work in Europe.
While less frequent than in the Old Testament, these dreams provided guidance, instruction, and warning at critical moments in the early Church.
Common Types of Biblical Dreams
As you study all the dreams throughout Scripture, several common types and patterns emerge:
- Symbolic dreams. Many dreams used symbols, imagery, and metaphor to communicate spiritual truths. Joseph’s sheaf and star dreams are examples.
- Warning dreams. God warned people through dreams to avoid danger, expose sin, or provide guidance during difficult times.
- Prophetic dreams. Some dreams revealed events that would happen in the future, especially regarding God’s plans for Israel and the coming Messiah.
- Voice of God. In some dreams, God spoke directly to people, often calling them into His service. Samuel’s call as a boy was through this kind of dream.
- Life-changing dreams. Certain dreams massively impacted the dreamer’s life once they understood the meaning, such as Jacob’s ladder dream or Pharaoh’s cow dreams.
- Dreams needing interpretation. Many symbolic dreams required someone with discernment to interpret them correctly, like Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams or Daniel interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream.
There are other examples, but these cover some of the primary ways God used dreams in the Bible. Pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal the meaning and application when God speaks to you in dreams.
Principles for Interpreting Dreams
How should you approach your own dreams today? While we must use wisdom, here are several tips for interpreting dreams biblically:
- Pray for discernment. Ask God for insight into whether a dream is from Him and what it means. The Holy Spirit can guide you.
- Search the Scriptures. Look for symbolic parallels with people and events in the Bible. Does the dream remind you of any biblical stories?
- Consider current situations. Think about what’s happening in your life right now. Might the dream relate to something you’re going through or concerned about?
- Talk with other believers. Share dreams with mature Christians who know you well. They may see connections you’re missing.
- Test against Scripture. God will not contradict His Word. So compare dreams against the Bible and reject any that contradict it.
- Write dreams down. Keep a journal of significant dreams. Pray over them and review them for insights. Over time you may notice important patterns.
- Wait on God’s timing. Some dreams make sense only later when the right circumstances arise. Don’t force interpretations but patiently wait on God.
By following these principles, you can gain much through your dreams. But always use discernment, test against Scripture, and submit interpretations to other believers for confirmation.
Along with good examples of dreams, the Bible includes some warnings:
- Don’t always trust dreams. While dreams can be from God, not every dream should be followed. Some stem from the subconscious or the enemy (Jeremiah 23:25-28).
- Be wary of dream interpretations. Someone who interprets your dream may inject their own ideas or agenda into it (Genesis 40:8). Confirm interpretations with wise and trusted believers.
- Avoid forbidden practices. The Bible prohibits practices like divination, soothsaying, sorcery, fortune-telling, and witchcraft (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). Don’t open yourself to demonic influence.
- Don’t become obsessed. An unhealthy fixation on dreams can lead to poor decisions, false guidance, and even the occult. Our primary source of guidance is God’s Word.
So while God can speak through dreams, have a balanced biblical perspective. Test dreams carefully against Scripture. And avoid dangerous spiritual influences as you seek to understand them.
A Final Prayer
Father God, thank You for communicating with Your people through dreams in biblical times. I ask You to speak to me as well through my dreams. Grant me discernment to understand when a dream is from You and what it means. Give me wisdom as I interpret my dreams, so I come to conclusions consistent with Your Word and Your character. Protect me from the deceit of the enemy and from fixating on dreams in an unhealthy way. Help me rest fully in Your Word as my guide and Lamp to my feet. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.