God Speaks in DreamsAlthough I grew up attending churches and had read the Bible a number of times, I never realized how God speaks to us in dreams or visions of the night until I sought out how to hear from God and studied with a prayer ministry.  It’s recorded throughout the Bible.  More importantly, you can do it too.

Two Caveats
(1) Not all dreams are from GodZechariah 10:2.  In my experience, dreams can come from our own desires or fears.  Sometimes they show things we need to repent of.  If they are from God, they won’t violate Biblical teaching.  Also, there’s no formula for interpreting them.  But you can improve your relationship with the Holy Spirit (the revealer of mysteries), and you can gain experience studying Biblical symbolism and parables and hearing dream interpretations from ministers.  (See, e.g., Resources page.)  Writing them down helps a lot too.

(2) Don’t be presumptuous.  (See, e.g., Deuteronomy 18:20-22.)  This should be self-explanatory, but sometimes requires maturity to get right.  Perhaps this is why Joel 2/Acts 2 says “your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.”   (For example, a dream can be so vivid that it has a real sense of immediacy.  But that by itself doesn’t mean it is immediate.)

My personal frustration is when people claim God is saying something to them, without answering “how” they are hearing it.  Alleging “God says” is a very powerful statement, leaving no room for error.  But even if I trust the person is sincere, how do I know they understood correctly?  A decent reporter or attorney would ask “how” the person heard from God.  A feeling?  A voice in their head?  An open vision (while awake and not under the influence of alcohol, medicine or drugs)?  A dream?  What’s your basis?  In my opinion, the very nature of dreams is that the symbolic imagery is hard to understand without guidance from the Holy Spirit and experience, and thus there is room for error.

Unfortunately, I’ve often heard preachers make theological or historical points without naming a source, even when they know those points are disputed.  From my years deposing expert witnesses, I’ve seen technical experts make all sorts of conclusions.  The conclusion itself (our side wins) doesn’t mean much without a good basis.

I know a lot of churches shy away from anything prophetic.  But just talking about moral lessons won’t confirm whether or not to move or change jobs or other such decisions.  We serve a living God, not a mute idol, and He does help.  It’s about much more than life decisions.  It’s about being transformed into the image of Jesus.

I’ve often had dreams encouraging me one way or another.  For example, in early 2013, I was encouraged to wake up early in the morning to worship and pray before the kids arise.  My kids get up around 6:00 a.m., so that wasn’t easy.  But when I slept in, I had a dream about being in college and missing all my classes that day.  I got the message and did what I supposed to do.  My kids even started sleeping-in more often.  You could call it a small step, but I now have a lot better prayer life, and I start off each day with God.  Transformation.

The Bible Says It

The Bible clearly teaches that God speaks to us in dreams:

•  Here’s what God said, as recorded by Moses:  “When there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams.”  Numbers 12.

•  This is from Job’s younger friend, who was not corrected by God:  “For God does speak—now one way, now another—though no one perceives itIn a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings, to turn them from wrongdoing and keep them from pride, to preserve them from the pit, their lives from perishing by the sword. Job 33:14-18.

•  In the New Testament, we have an even more powerful statement:  When the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost (Acts 2), Peter explained it by quoting Joel 2:  “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.  Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.  I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Accordingly, the Lord does speak to us by dreams, more so now than ever.  Should you find yourself living in dangerous times, dreams could be a necessary skill to master.

Heroes Who Listened to Their Dreams

Here are just a few of the Biblical heroes who listened to their dreams.

Joseph married a pregnant girl, claiming to be the virgin mother of the Messiah, and moved from place-to-place to stay alive based on what he saw in dreams.  (Can we blindly hope God will protect us, if we don’t listen to his warnings, or even learn how to hear them?  Joseph didn’t.)  This story is my favorite on dreams:

•  Matthew 1:18-25. … But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. …”

•  Matthew 2:13-16.  Now when [the wise men] had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt…. Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under….

•  Matthew 2:19-22.  But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.

The wise men also listened to their dreams, and recognized Jesus as a newborn baby:

•  Matthew 2:11-12.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

 Notice also Solomon‘s encounter with God:

 •  2 Chronicles 1:6-7.  There in front of the Tabernacle, Solomon went up to the bronze altar in the Lord’s presence and sacrificed 1,000 burnt offerings on it.  That night God appeared to Solomon and said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!”

Daniel learned great secrets in dreams and visions of the night, even seeing Jesus and his kingdom:

•  Daniel 1:17.  God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. And God gave Daniel the special ability to interpret the meanings of visions and dreams.

•  Daniel 2.  One night during the second year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar had such disturbing dreams that he couldn’t sleep. He called in his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers, and he demanded that they tell him what he had dreamed. As they stood before the king, he said, “I have had a dream that deeply troubles me, and I must know what it means.” … The king replied, “I know what you are doing! You’re stalling for time because you know I am serious when I say, ‘If you don’t tell me the dream, you are doomed.’ … Then Daniel went home and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah what had happened. He urged them to ask the God of heaven to show them his mercy by telling them the secret, so they would not be executed along with the other wise men of Babylon. That night the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven.

•  Daniel 7.  Earlier, during the first year of King Belshazzar’s reign in Babylon, Daniel had a dream and saw visions as he lay in his bed. He wrote down the dream, and this is what he saw. In my vision that night, I, Daniel, saw a great storm churning the surface of a great sea, with strong winds blowing from every direction. Then four huge beasts came up out of the water, each different from the others. … As my vision continued that night, I saw someone like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient One and was led into his presence. He was given authority, honor, and sovereignty over all the nations of the world, so that people of every race and nation and language would obey him. His rule is eternal—it will never end….

Jacob, Joseph and the other Patriarchs had a great understanding of dreams.

•  Genesis 28:12-17.  And he [Jacob] dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven.

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And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

•  Genesis 37:5-10. [Note that Joseph’s brothers and father understood the meaning of Joseph’s dreams].  Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more.

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He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.  Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?”

•  Genesis 41:15-33.  And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

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Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Behold, in my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile. Seven cows, plump and attractive, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. Seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and thin, such as I had never seen in all the land of Egypt. And the thin, ugly cows ate up the first seven plump cows, but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were still as ugly as at the beginning. Then I awoke. I also saw in my dream seven ears growing on one stalk, full and good. Seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouted after them, and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. And I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.”

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it aboutNow therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt

Why Dreams?

In my experience, God can “speak” to us in lots of ways, such as through circumstances, feelings, convictions in your heart, songs or thoughts that pop into your head, and through dreams.  (Once on a business trip, I had the song “Angels watching over me” playing in my head as I travelled.  And so I thanked God.)  But dreams can speak to us through an elaborate language of images, situations and emotions.  Solomon writes, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.”  Proverbs 25:2.  Similarly, Jesus explains why he speaks in parables in Matthew 13 (Parable of the Sower):

•  And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand….

Thus, I study dreams.  So that in seeking God, I may have an abundance.  Matthew 7:8.

Most of us have too much clutter in our minds to have clear dreams.  I had a dream where I couldn’t hear God because of all the noise around me.  I had another where I was in a hospital trying to fix my eyes by breathing a high-pressure oxygen mixture inside a rubber mask with no eye holes.  So I am still working on these issues myself.  A friend of mine had to give up listening to political talk shows, before he could have dreams.  Since then, he’s had many dreams that came true, including some that were for me.  We need to seek God diligently, and to limit the junk that we fill up our minds with (especially what we watch, listen to, and speak).

I think God speaks to us in dreams to encourage us to seek Him, but also out of His mercy and love.  Based on our spiritual development and maturity level, a dream may be all we can handle.  In the Bible, when God spoke directly to someone, very strict obedience was required.  (Credit to John Paul Jackson who teaches about this.)   Adam and Eve were exiled from Eden.  Lot’s wife was turned into a pillar of salt for looking back at Sodom.  Sampson lost his strength for not following instructions given directly to his parents.  And Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, was stricken mute for laughing at an angel’s message.

In contrast, the symbolic imagery of dreams is hard to understand without guidance from the Holy Spirit and experience.  Not understanding a dream message may result in a missed opportunity and could be tragic, but you don’t typically incur some further punishment for disobedience.  Thus, dreams give us room for error.


We’re seeking fellowship with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  We know that God does speak in dreams to warn the unsaved.  Job 33:14-18.  But we want God to answer our prayers and talk with us.  Thus, we need to walk in obedience.

•  Psalm 66:18.   If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me

•  1 Peter 3:12.  For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.

•  James 4:4.  You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

•  John 14:15.  If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

Jesus was the ultimate example of obedience.

•  Pillipians 2:8.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Personally, I was unable to receive dreams in answer to prayer until I had received full-immersion water Baptism.  General repentance wasn’t enough.  Baptism in the Spirit wasn’t enough.  But I kept seeking until I understood the command of Jesus in the Great Commission.  Matthew 28:19-20.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  See Baptism is Critical for more discussion.

Dream Interpretation – Further Study

Dream interpretation can be a very involved study, and I think it can take some experience.  Hebrews 5:14.  In my own studies, I came across the work of John Paul Jackson, which I highly recommend.  I see no point in duplicating his work.  There’s a write-up on the Resources page, for further study.

A Few Stories
There have been times when I was praying about something, and received dreams I didn’t understand.  But I could understand if the dream was positive or negative, and that helped shape my decision.  This has happened a few times when I was thinking about making investments, had bad dreams, and thus decided I had better things to do than risk hard-earned money (which I would’ve lost).  On the other hand, when thinking about buying a small plot of land, I had positive dreams that encouraged me to at least ask about the price.  As it turned out, the price was very expensive, so I knew not to waste any more time on it.  Another time, I was thinking about taking a loan to buy a larger piece of land.  I prayed about it, and had a dream where a couple had escaped from a place, but then returned so that they were captured and enslaved.  So we decided not to enslave ourselves financially.

Next, Go Beyond Salvation



February 2013