(continued from last week)
The significance of dreams. Dreams do have significance. They bespeak the state of the soul and the trend of its thought during waking hours. Now if the trend of thought of a man during his waking hours is in the way of the Lord’s commands, then the trend of his thought will be in this way when he is asleep and in his dreams, too, he will have fellowship with God. On the other hand, if, during the waking hours a man’s thinking and willing are under the dominion of the law of sin, his dream-life will necessarily be carnal.
Yes, our dreams do have significance. When a man dreams he is turned inside out, so to say, so that, if he is able to recall his dream-experience, he may learn what ordinarily goes on there in his subconscious soul. Dreams show in what strange and frequently unwholesome paths our minds will stray, when freed from the shackles of the will, and what our unbridled fancy is capable of in the way of sinful dream construction. Certainly, then, we are morally responsible for our dreams.
For the rest, our dreams have no more significance than the thought-processes of our waking moments. They are no mediums by which God today reveals to men the mysteries of the kingdom that are not revealed in His word. For when the canon of the Scriptures was closed, special revelation ended. Dreams are no unveiling of the future. Still we are told that it does happen that dreams come true. The predictions that a man makes when awake, may also come true. In the event they do, we do not say of the man that he has received a special revelation from above. So much for ordinary dreams.
II. The prophetic dream. The number of times that the Lord used the dream as a medium of special revelation is rather small. There are, not counting the visions, but sixteen such dreams on record in the entire Scriptures. Let us list them, so that we may have them before our eye.
Abraham’s deep, prophetic sleep in which he sees himself overtaken by a great horror of darkness, anticipating, according to the explanatory word of the Lord, the terror of darkness, which, with the Egyptian bondage, should rest upon his seed..
Abimelech’s dream of the night in which the Lord transacts with him by the spoken word respecting his sin of taking Sarah, Abrams wife, into his harem..
Jacob’s dream of the ladder and of the Lord’s blessing him..
The dreams of the butler and the baker interpreted by Joseph..
Pharaoh’s dream interpreted by Joseph..
The dream of the Midianitish soldier for the encouragement of Gideon..
Solomon’s dream by night in which the Lord communed with him respecting what He should give the king..
Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams of the great image and of the great tree..
The four dreams of Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Christ.; ; .
The dream of Pilate’s wife..
Though Scripture makes mention of sixteen such prophetic dreams, the number of persons who served as the mediums of this species of revelation is but twelve and of this number seven were heathens, namely, Nebuchadnezzar, the Midianitish soldier. Pharaoh, the butler, the baker, Abimelech, and the wife of Pilate. The wife of Pilate and Abimelech, however may have been true believers. Thus the dream was used when God had something special to say also to heathens.
We must also notice that the prophetic dreams divide into three classes: 1. the visual; 2. the auditory; and 3. the semi-visual and the semi-auditory. Visual are the dreams of Joseph, the baker, the butler, the Midianitish man, Pharaoh, and Nebuchadnezzar. These dreams are purely visual and thus symbolical, engaging the eye only and not the ear, because no words are spoken by the revealer. They are thus dreams that call for an interpreter.
Auditory are the dreams of Joseph, the husband of Mary. These dreams engage only the ear yet also the eye as the heavenly messenger actually appears. Solomon’s dream is solely auditory it seems. The dreams of Abraham and Jacob are semi-auditory and semi-visual. They engage both the ear and the eye. Further, in all these dreams with the exception of two, the mediums are passive. They hear or see or do both but they do not engage in speech. The two exceptions are Abimelech and Solomon.
The prophetic dream occurred also in sleep, and here, too, there was a greater or less degree of unconsciousness due to the same cause that produced ordinary sleep and productive of the same results. The nervous system passed into a state of inactivity. As a result, the intelligence was obscured and the special senses depressed. All contact between the mind of the sleeper—the organ of revelation—and his environment was lost. His sleep isolated him from the world of his waking hours, through closing his soul to the stream of impressions flowing in from his surroundings through the sense organs. Thus the dream-images that rose before his mind are not to be explained by the action of’ external objects upon the sensory organs of sight, yet they were as vivid as the external impressions conveyed to the soul by the avenues of these organs.
Then, the prophetic dream had also this characteristic in common with the ordinary dream that though resembling waking experiences in some respects it never exactly reproduced and was in some cases far from reproducing the order of these experiences. Jacob’s dream of the ladder; the butler’s dream of a vine with three branches, as though budding and shooting forth blossoms and of the clusters bringing forth ripe grapes, and of him taking the grapes and pressing them in Pharaoh’s cup and giving the cup in his hand; the baker’s dream of the birds, eating out of the uppermost of three baskets poised on his head, the meat for Pharaoh; Pharaoh’s dream of the seven well-favored kine that came up out of the river devoured by the seven ill-favored kine; his dream of the seven good ears of corn consumed by the seven thin ears; Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams of the great image and of the great tree—all these dreams differed, one more than another, from events known to the dreamers in the waking life. The reason is that these dreams bore upon the future and had reference to the mysteries of the kingdom of God. Yet they also, one more than another, resembled waking experience. This, too, was no meaningless aspect of the prophetic dream. The communication from heaven had to be conveyed in a language of which the recipient had understanding and thus also in connection with symbols—the dream- images were this, namely symbols—that bore some resemblance to objects that were already familiar.
Further, the explanation also of this dreaming includes the negative condition of the suspension of the will. It was more or less involuntary thinking. The ego was no longer active but had become receptive. Attention, the will, instead of dominating the thought- images that presented themselves, was itself dominated by them. Yet, this dreaming, no more than the ordinary dream, is to be regarded as purely the functioning of some spiritual faculty. Here, too, the correct doctrine is that both the body and the mind were involved.
There are still other resemblances. Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar, like man who dream ordinary dreams, could not recall their dream-experience. In their case this was due to a special working of God while in the case of all ordinary dreaming it is due to the transitorines of the dream-impressions.
The prophetic dreams had also variable features, the same as ordinary dreams. In some of these dreams the dreamer was merely a passive spectator. So Nebuchadnezzar in his dreams. In other of these dreams the dreamers were active. They talked and moved as they were wont to do in their waking hours, as for example the baker and the butler and also Solomon in their dreams. The other respects in which these dreams differed amongst themselves has already been indicated.
Though the prophetic dream and the ordinary dreams had much in common, they differed essentially. The former belonged to the category of miracles. It is thus not to be ascribed to the ordinary working of divine providence but was the result of a special and extraordinary doing of God, for the benefit of His people and with the design to promote the ends of His kingdom.
But we can be more specific. In the ordinary dream, the dream-structure is the product of the faculty of the imagination or mind. But what is here supplied by the imagination was, in the prophetic dream, supplied by a special working of God. The questions, in what respect and to what extent the Lord, in fashioning the dream-structure, made use of the mind of the dreamer must remain unanswered. But this is certain, no more than the pattern of the tabernacle originated in Moses own mind but was shown him on the mount, no more did this dream-structure originate in the dreamer’s own fancy, was it conceived of and constructed by his own mind. It was God’s conception, His workmanship, and was made to rise before the mind of the dreamer by His special working.
Further, the prophetic dream was not, as is the ordinary dream, conditioned or caused by antecedent mental or physical states. But it does seem that these states did aid in preparing the dreamer for the revelation that was to be made. There was connection, so it seems, between Peter’s vision and his antecedent bodily hunger. The sacred narrative tells us that “Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour. And he became very hungry and would have eaten: but while they made ready he fell into a trance. And saw heavens opened and a certain vessel descending unto him . . . wherein were all manner of four footed beasts . . .” Here God seemed to link His revelation of the most vital truths of Christianity to the most elementary craving of human nature. We feel warranted to conclude that any bodily or mental emotion led on to the required state. But the dream as such, the voice heard in it, revealing the higher truth, were affected by a special working of God.
There was also a moral preparation of the dream as well as there was a moral preparation of special revelation in general. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a colossal man seemed but the projection into a figure of his great day-dreams of a universal empire. Jacob’s dream was, no doubt prepared by his loneliness and by his need of a helper.
Then there is this question: Whence came the materials that entered into the make-up of the dream-structure or vision? They were present in the dreamer’s soul, having been previously put there by God Himself both by the working of His providence and by special revelation. So, the material’s from which He formed the dream-structure were taken from the dreamer’s apperceiving mass. What was new in the dream is the dream-structure or vision as a whole. This structure was the very word of God, a special and infallible revelation, in the production of which God used the whole man as He had prepared him.
In the auditory and semi-auditory dream, the dreamer was spoken to either by the Lord directly or by the Lord through the agency of an angel. In ordinary dreaming the speech that is heard is nothing else than the thoughts of the dreamer’s own heart which in sleep he hears as a living voice. In the prophetic dream the speech that was heard was the thoughts of God, whispered into the spirit of the dreamer by God Himself and which this dreamer too was made to hear as a living, audible voice. Yet there was no such voice, as it was truly a dream-experience.
The mere fact that the dreamer had dreamed and in his dream had seen visions and heard voices was not allowed to constitute the evidence that the dream was of God and that the dreamer was God’s prophet. The word of the dreamer had to be tried. The standard that had to be applied is set forth in the following Scripture: “If there arise among you a prophet or dreamer of dreams, and give a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee saying, Let us go after other Gods, thou shaft not hearken unto the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love your God with all your heart and with all your soul”. And again, “And if thou shalt say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken”. Thus the genuineness of prophecy and the prophetic dream could be known only by its results and by its character.