It is written:
Acts 2:16-21-But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 ‘AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS IN THE LAST DAYS, SAYS GOD, THAT I WILL POUR OUT OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL FLESH; YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS. 18 AND ON MY MENSERVANTS AND ON MY MAIDSERVANTS I WILL POUR OUT MY SPIRIT IN THOSE DAYS; AND THEY SHALL PROPHESY. 19 I WILL SHOW WONDERS IN HEAVEN ABOVE AND SIGNS IN THE EARTH BENEATH: BLOOD AND FIRE AND VAPOR OF SMOKE. 20 THE SUN SHALL BE TURNED INTO DARKNESS, AND THE MOON INTO BLOOD, BEFORE THE COMING OF THE GREAT AND AWESOME DAY OF THE LORD. 21 AND IT SHALL COME TO PASS THAT WHOEVER CALLS ON THE NAME OF THE LORD SHALL BE SAVED.’
Over the last several weeks, I have been contemplating dreams.
A friend approached me who was very troubled. A young lady he was friends with had approached him some months earlier, upset because she had been having dreams that she would not live to see her next birthday. The dreams recurred time after time, and he tried to comfort her. Shortly before her birthday, she told him that she was having dreams now that she would die in a car accident. A few days later, and shortly before her birthday, the young lady was killed (along with members of her family) in a horrific semi-accident.
My friend asked me, “Was God sending this dream to her for some reason? Why would God send dreams like this? How am I supposed to understand these things?”
Like my friend, I have often wondered about the meaning and source of dreams. Numerous Scriptures make it clear that God communicates to people through dreams,, and that this would continue through the end of the world.
As one example, the passage in Acts 2:16-21 specifically has God providing mankind with dreams throughout the entire Christian Age. The phrase “the last days” has reference in the Bible to the dispensation of time from Pentecost of Acts two to the end of the world. Peter’s quotation from Joel 2 makes this clear. Noticed that Peter says the events that were taking place on Pentecost of Acts 2 were prophesied by Joel (2:28-32) to occur during the “last days” (Greek Old Testament translation of Joel 2:28).
Other Scriptures make this clear as well.
Hebrews 1:1-2-God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;
2 Timothy 3:1-5-But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
Notice that Paul tells Timothy of events that would take place “in the last days,” and then he tells Timothy to turn away from some of the wicked people that he describes. The implication is that Timothy was living during “the last days.”
With this in mind, let us turn our attention to what is perhaps one of the most powerful descriptions of dreams that God’s Word provides.
In the Old Testament Book of Job (likely the oldest Book in the entire Bible), we are told that the patriarch was the target of horrible suffering and misery. Believing that God had turned against him and was treating him unfairly, Job was surrounded by his three friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) who unjustly accused Job of wickedness. He continued to make attack after attack upon God.
Then, near the end of the Book, we are introduced to another person named Elihu (Job 32). Several clues suggest that this man was an inspired Prophet of God.
Dawson has written:
“We now enter an entirely new phase of the book. Since the debate between Job and his friends failed, a new, and the last character of the book of Job comes onto the scene, Elihu, a young prophet. He had been listening to the debate, and he’s going to be quoting from both sides during his speech. I call him a prophet, even though the Bible never does, but it makes several statements about him that convinces me that he is one. First, in v18, he will say he’s full of the spirit to the extent that he will burst if he doesn’t say something, which sounds like the prophet Jeremiah in 5.14, 20.9. Second, in 36.3, he claims to speak for God, and speaks from afar, which sounds like a claim to inspiration. Third, he will make a number of prescientific statements in (1) 36.27-29, the water-vapor cycle, unknown until the 19th century, and (2) 37.15, the balancings of the clouds, unknown until the 1960s. Finally, he introduces God (37.22), and God accepts that introduction! Thus, he’s not just some young upstart, as some commentators think he is. Elihu will do four things: (1) he points out that Job’s friends are wrong, (2) that Job has now sinned, (3) he introduces a new concept of suffering─it may be disciplinary, not necessarily punitive, but perhaps instructive─the Bible doctrine, (4) he introduces God, then withdraws.” (Samuel G. Dawson, Job: The Largest Collection of False Doctrine in the Bible, 149 (Kindle Edition); Bowie, TX; SGD Press)
Point by point, Elihu answers Job’s charges against God. He demonstrates that God is indeed good. Throughout this section (Job 32-37), Elihu quotes Job and all of his friends, and then answers what they say.
Job had previously accused God of wickedness because he had been troubled by terrible dreams.
Job 7:13-14-When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, My couch will ease my complaint,’. 14 Then You scare me with dreams And terrify me with visions,
Notice what Elihu tells him:
Job 33:14-30-For God may speak in one way, or in another, Yet man does not perceive it. 15 In a dream, in a vision of the night, When deep sleep falls upon men, While slumbering on their beds, 16 Then He opens the ears of men, And seals their instruction. 17 In order to turn man from his deed, And conceal pride from man, 18 He keeps back his soul from the Pit, And his life from perishing by the sword. 19 “Man is also chastened with pain on his bed, And with strong pain in many of his bones, 20 So that his life abhors bread, And his soul succulent food. 21 His flesh wastes away from sight, And his bones stick out which once were not seen. 22 Yes, his soul draws near the Pit, And his life to the executioners. 23 “If there is a messenger for him, A mediator, one among a thousand, To show man His uprightness, 24 Then He is gracious to him, and says, ‘Deliver him from going down to the Pit; I have found a ransom’; 25 His flesh shall be young like a child’s, He shall return to the days of his youth. 26 He shall pray to God, and He will delight in him, He shall see His face with joy, For He restores to man His righteousness. 27 Then he looks at men and says, ‘I have sinned, and perverted what was right, And it did not profit me.’ 28 He will redeem his soul from going down to the Pit, And his life shall see the light. 29 “Behold, God works all these things, Twice, in fact, three times with a man, 30 To bring back his soul from the Pit, That he may be enlightened with the light of life.
Let’s notice several things about this text of Scripture.
First, Elihu makes it clear that God speaks to mankind in numerous ways. We understand this, for the Bible teaches us that God speaks to mankind through general revelation in nature (cf. Job 12:7-10; Matthew 5:44-45; Acts 14:17; Romans 1:18-20) and in special revelation through His Son Jesus and the Bible (Hebrews 1:1-2; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). In the same way, God may use dreams to communicate to mankind. What is especially interesting here is that Elihu shows us that God uses dreams to speak to mankind in general. There is nothing here to suggest that this is an ability given only to Prophets of God.
Second, the text makes it clear that Elihu is conjoining his entire line of argument of dreams with the broader context of helping to explain possible reasons why God allows mankind to suffer. In other words, God uses dreams to help mankind in regard to suffering in this world.
Far from trying to terrify Job pointlessly, God was using dreams to try and help guide Job!
Specifically, God can use dreams for a number of reasons.
The Lord sends dreams sometimes in order to instruct mankind in a favorable path that He intends.
Job 33:16-Then He opens the ears of men, And seals their instruction.
Several times in the Bible, God used dreams in order to instruct people of a certain path they were to follow.
Matthew 2:12-13-Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way. 13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
Sometimes, God used dreams in this way in order to instruct mankind away from calamity that was was on their path.
Job 33:18-He keeps back his soul from the Pit, And his life from perishing by the sword.
Job 33:18 (ERV)-He does this to save them from death. He wants to keep them from being destroyed.
The text suggests that one of the reasons for God sending mankind dreams is to protect him from calamity.
I am reminded of events in my life where I believe that God sent dreams to warn me of dangers that were on the horizon for me. For example, some time ago, I began having a recurring dream of driving to death on a waterfall in the state of Ohio. I wrote it in my dream journal, but could make no sense of it. Then, while in the state of Indiana, I was returning to Kentucky when I saw a sign that read, “Ohio State Park Waterfalls.” Immediately, my dream was fresh in my mind, and because of my heightened senses I was able to avoid a potential deadly crash on the Interstate. I firmly believe that God had sent me this dream to warn me and prepare me.
We see the same thing in the Book of Acts:
Acts 16:6-10-Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Notice that the vision/dream of Paul was sent by God in order to instruct the Apostle as to where he was to go (from a geographical point of view).
It is also worth noting that the Christians took time to investigate and consider the dream instead of acting impulsively. This is made clear here by the word “concluding,” which implies that they discussed these things carefully. This is very important for us to remember: any dream that we believe may be from God must be examined and tested with the Scriptures. God had made this clear throughout the Bible.
Jeremiah 14:14-And the LORD said to me, “The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart.
Jeremiah 23:21-32-“I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. 22 But if they had stood in My counsel, And had caused My people to hear My words, Then they would have turned them from their evil way And from the evil of their doings. 23 “Am I a God near at hand,” says the LORD, “And not a God afar off? 24 Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So I shall not see him?” says the LORD; “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the LORD. 25 “I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ 26 How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, 27 who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal. 28 “The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?” says the LORD. 29 “Is not My word like a fire?” says the LORD, “And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? 30 “Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” says the LORD, “who steal My words every one from his neighbor. 31 Behold, I am against the prophets,” says the LORD, “who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’ 32 Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” says the LORD, “and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” says the LORD.
Jeremiah 29:8-9-For thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. 9 For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the LORD.
Notice in all of these passages, the people were to compare the dream with the Word of God. If there was any discrepancy between the dream and the Word, the Word of God was to take first priority. This is how we discern dreams: with the Word of God!
This is especially vital to remember when we consider that Satan and his forces can influence our dreams as well.
Job 4:12-15-Now a word was secretly brought to me, And my ear received a whisper of it. 13 In disquieting thoughts from the visions of the night, When deep sleep falls on men, 14 Fear came upon me, and trembling, Which made all my bones shake. 15 Then a spirit passed before my face; The hair on my body stood up.
Now, it is possible that the encounter described here was more than a dream-perhaps a ghostly apparition which appeared to Eliphaz. However, it is also very clear that the language connects this with a dream of the night. When we consider these words in the context of the Book of Job, we are not left to question the identity of this spirit!
Morris has well noted:
“This mysterious spirit was not God’s Holy Spirit speaking words of divine inspiration. God later rebuked all the counsel of Eliphaz and his friends, which was largely based on the revelation received from this spirit. For the same reason, it was not one of God’s holy angels either. Although angels appeared to men on occasion during biblical days, their appearances and messages were never like this. We conclude therefore, that this was an evil spirit, speaking words of apparent piety and partial truth. In reality, however, they were deceptive and misleading words, for this is how Satan works. He can appear as “an angel of light” and his angelic servants as “ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11: 14-15). Perhaps this night visitor was Satan himself, in view of the importance of the mission, or at least one of his “principalities and powers,” not a run-of-the mill demon; the latter seem to be more useful in terrifying than in deceiving. But why would he come to Eliphaz at this time? The reason must be connected somehow with the pending visit of Eliphaz to Job. Satan, knowing that Eliphaz was Job’s respected friend and counselor, may have decided this was the best way to get to Job and to cause him to lose his faith and renounce the Lord.” (Henry M. Morris, The Remarkable Record of Job, 850-861 (Kindle Edition); Green Forest, AR; master Books)
Since Satan, fallen angels, and demons can influence our dreams-we should be ever more vigilant to compare dreams with the proven and tried standard of the Word of God (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1, 6)!
Elihu also shows us here that God can use dreams (and suffering) as an encouragement for men to consider their ways and to repent. Indeed, several Scriptures testify to the ability of God to allow suffering in the lives of His people to try and guide them to repentance.
Psalm 119:67-Before I was afflicted I went astray, But now I keep Your word.
Psalm 119:71-It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes.
Psalm 119:75-I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
The Lord declared through Amos:
Amos 4:6-12-Also I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities. And lack of bread in all your places; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD. 7 “I also withheld rain from you, When there were still three months to the harvest. I made it rain on one city, I withheld rain from another city. One part was rained upon, And where it did not rain the part withered. 8 So two or three cities wandered to another city to drink water, But they were not satisfied; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD. 9 “I blasted you with blight and mildew. When your gardens increased, Your vineyards, Your fig trees, And your olive trees, The locust devoured them; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD. 10 “I sent among you a plague after the manner of Egypt; Your young men I killed with a sword, Along with your captive horses; I made the stench of your camps come up into your nostrils; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD. 11 “I overthrew some of you, As God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, And you were like a firebrand plucked from the burning; Yet you have not returned to Me,” Says the LORD. 12 “Therefore thus will I do to you, O Israel; Because I will do this to you, Prepare to meet your God, O Israel!”
Notice after each judgment that God says, “yet you have not returned to Me.” God had allowed these punishments on the people of Israel to try and encourage them to turn to Him to be redeemed from their sins.
God can send dreams in order to warn mankind against sin.
When Abimelech took Abraham’s wife, Sarah, the Bible says:
Genesis 20:3, 6-7-But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” …And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now therefore, restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
God had sent this dream to warn Abimelech not to sin.
Genesis 31:24-But God had come to Laban the Syrian in a dream by night, and said to him, “Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.”
Notice that Laban understood this dream to be a warning from God:
Genesis 31:29-It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful that you speak to Jacob neither good nor bad.’
God can send us dreams to warn us of sinful situations that we may find ourselves in, so that we will avoid those situations.
In much the same way, God can send dreams to mankind to try and encourage him to repent of his ways when he sees.
When we consider the ways that many Muslims around the globe have begun searching for Jesus through dreams, we can see many ways that the Lord works in this way to start people on the way of Jesus.
Tom Doyle writes:
“So take a deep breath and enter a new world. Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus all over the globe. Their faith is fresh, and their passion will capture your heart. Your new brothers and sisters in Christ live in Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gaza Strip. They make their homes in Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and the West Bank. And everywhere, they are bold and willing to die for Christ. Each of their stories is really His story. Jesus wants you to know what He’s doing and to appreciate the power by which He still works today. To us, these dreams and visions are supernatural experiences, but to Jesus, I suspect He’s just doing business here on earth the way He always has. The stories in this book are about real people I know personally or are known by my family’s closest friends in the Middle East. If we couldn’t verify the experience, we left it out—no Christian fairy tales here. More Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus today then ever before. In fact, we believe more Muslims have become followers of Jesus in the last ten years than in the last fourteen centuries of Islam. Could it be that the real story about Muslims today is not global terrorism? Could it be the real story about Muslims is that Jesus is reaching out to them with His offer of eternal life earned by His death on the cross and resurrection from the dead? I believe Islamic terrorism is Satan’s attempt to keep the gospel message away from Muslims. The enemy thinks that if he can make the rest of us afraid of Muslims or make us hate them, then he can short-circuit Jesus’ church from reaching Muslims. But that isn’t working. Jesus has stepped in and is opening Muslim hearts Himself.” (Tom Doyle, DREAMS AND VISIONS: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World?, xiv-xv (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson)
To give you an idea of the types of dreams we are talking about here, Doyle tells Lee Strobel:
“When I asked Doyle when he became aware of the phenomenon of dreams and visions among Islamic people, he recalled the first time he visited Jerusalem and met with a group of Muslims who had converted to Christianity. “One of them, Rami, said he had been a fervent Muslim when he started to have dreams about Jesus. He said they were different than anything he had ever experienced. Often dreams are fuzzy or confused, but these were bright and laser focused—and they kept coming.” “What did Jesus tell him?” “He was a man in a white robe, and he told Rami that he loves him. They were beside a lake, and Rami said he saw himself walking over and embracing Jesus.” “How did you react?” I asked. Doyle chuckled. “I didn’t know if Rami was nuts or what,” he replied. “But over and over, from a variety of different people, I started hearing the same basic story: Jesus in a white robe, saying he loves them, saying he died for them, telling them to follow him. It started to snowball—in Iran, Iraq, Syria, all over. There were even ads placed in Egyptian newspapers.” I looked up from my note taking. “What kind of ads?” “They simply said: ‘Have you seen the man in a white robe in your dreams? He has a message for you. Call this number.’ In other words, so many Muslims were having these dreams that Christian ministries started placing these ads to reach them.” I asked Doyle if he would give me a typical example of how these dreams play out in someone’s life. He chose the story of what happened to Kamal, an underground church planter in Egypt, and a married Muslim mother named Noor. 7 He explained that Kamal was busy with his work one day, but nevertheless he felt God was leading him to go to the Khan el-Khalili Friday market in Cairo. Frankly, it was the last place he wanted to go—this was right before Muslim prayers, and the market was crowded, noisy, and chaotic. But he went because he felt 100 percent convinced that God had a special assignment for him. A Muslim woman named Noor, covered head to toe in traditional garb, spotted him from a distance and started yelling, “You’re the one! You’re the one!” She pushed through the crowd and made a beeline for him. She said, “You were in my dream last night! Those clothes—you were wearing those clothes. For sure, it was you.” Kamal quickly sensed what was motivating her. “Was I with Jesus?” he asked. “Yes,” she replied. “Jesus was with us.” Later she explained, “Jesus walked with me alongside a lake, and he told me how much he loves me. His love was different from anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve never felt so much peace. I didn’t want him to leave. I asked this Jesus, ‘Why are you visiting me, a poor Muslim mother with eight children?’ And all he said was, ‘I love you, Noor. I have given everything for you. I died for you.’” She said that as Jesus turned to leave, he told her, “Ask my friend tomorrow about me. He will tell you all you need in order to understand why I’ve visited you.” She replied to Jesus, “But who is your friend?” Jesus said, “Here is my friend,” and he pointed to a person who was behind him in the dream. “He has been walking with us the whole time we’ve been together.” Now, there in the marketplace, Noor said to Kamal, “Even though you had walked with us around the lake, I hadn’t seen anyone but Jesus. I thought I was alone with him. His face was magnificent. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Jesus did not tell me your name, but you were wearing the same clothes you have on right now, and your glasses—they’re the same too. I knew I would not forget your smile.” The encounter led to a deep discussion about faith that lasted some three hours. “I have never been loved like I was when Jesus walked with me in that dream,” Noor told him. “I felt no fear. For the first time in my life, I felt no shame. Even though he’s a man, I wasn’t intimidated. I didn’t feel threatened. I felt . . . perfect peace.” Kamal explained to her that religion will never bring her that kind of peace. “That’s what [Jesus] wants to give you,” Kamal told her. “Before he went to the cross, Jesus said, ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.’ 8 You will not—you cannot—find peace like that with anyone else. No one but Jesus even has it to offer.”” (Lee Strobel, The Case for Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for the Supernatural, 145-147 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
Ultimately, God continues to use dreams in the world of man in order to point humanity to His Son.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.