Identifying and interpreting dreams

We all dream but a few remember what we dreamt when we wake up. Some don’t bother us while others can show a connection to events in our lives. But the real question everyone wants to know is to identify if a dream is from God. In this post we will discuss what Scripture says about dreams, how to interpret them and different types of dreams.

Scripture on dreams

Jacob’s Ladder

Not all dreams are accurate

There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf. And his brothers said to him, “Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?”

Gen 37:7-10

If you read the dreams of Joseph, we can clearly see there were two dream. The first was the sheaves of his brothers bowed down to his sheaf which clearly shows how his brothers will bow down to Joseph and it did come to pass when Joseph became the governor of Egypt. But the second dream says about his own father, Jacob and his mother, (probably the other three since Rachel was dead) bowing down to Joseph which never came to pass anytime. Hence, the first dream of Joseph was indeed from God and it did come to pass but his second dream may not be from God and it did not come to pass. Refer an another post, Joseph, a type of Jesus where the unfulfilled dream was discussed.

God can give false dreams

If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’–which you have not known–‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Deut 13:1-3

When God spoke the law to Moses, He clearly warns that He will test His people by rising dreamer of dreams among them. Hence, it is extremely important that even if a dream is from God, we need to be extremely careful not to disobey Him in any way because of such a dream.

God can give dreams and its interpretation to unbelievers

And when Gideon had come, there was a man telling a dream to his companion. He said, “I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed. Then his companion answered and said, “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp. And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel, and said, “Arise, for the LORD has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand.

Judg 7:13-15

In the story of Judges, God is giving a dream to a Midianite and his companion to interpret the dream.

Established dreams

And the dream was repeated to Pharaoh twice because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.

Gen 41:32

Sometimes, if God had established a matter, He may give two dreams signifying the same matter. Hence, it is so important if there are two dreams seem to say the same thing.

Why do we get dreams?

Much activity

For a dream comes through much activity, And a fool’s voice is known by his many words. … For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God.

Eccl 5:3,7

If you are working more on something, then you can get a dream related to it. It is neither from God nor have any meaning to it.

Desires of heart

The multitude of all the nations who fight against Ariel, Even all who fight against her and her fortress, And distress her, Shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as when a hungry man dreams, And look–he eats; But he awakes, and his soul is still empty; Or as when a thirsty man dreams, And look–he drinks; But he awakes, and indeed he is faint, And his soul still craves: So the multitude of all the nations shall be, Who fight against Mount Zion.

Isa 29:7-8

If you are desperately longing for something, then you can get a dream of your desire being fulfilled. This too, is neither from God nor have any meaning to it.

God speaking

Then He said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream.

Num 12:6

Finally, dreams can be from God where He speaks.

And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets.

1 Sam 28:6

We can see God not answering to Saul by dreams when he inquired of the LORD.

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask! What shall I give you? … Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” … Then Solomon awoke; and indeed it had been a dream.

1 Kgs 3:5,9,15a

It was a dream where God asked Solomon and gave him wisdom along with other things which he didn’t ask for. We know for sure, that dream of Solomon came to pass. Even Jesus mentioned His wisdom as we read in the gospels. e.g, Matt 12:42.

How to identify if a dream is from God?

For God may speak in one way, or in another, Yet man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, When deep sleep falls upon men, While slumbering on their beds, Then He opens the ears of men, And seals their instruction. In order to turn man from his deed, And conceal pride from man, He keeps back his soul from the Pit, And his life from perishing by the sword.

Job 33:14-18

Elihu’s reply to Job is extremely important because, when Job wants God to respond to him as in Job 31:35, Elihu starts to respond. God never blamed
Elihu for his reply and several other reasons. This is discussed in another post, Elihu, a type of Jesus. Elihu not only says how God can seal instructions through dreams but also gives us reasons why He does so. He gives four reasons for God to seal the instructions through dreams.

  • To turn man from his deeds
  • To conceal pride from man
  • To keep his soul from the Pit and
  • and to save his life from perishing by sword.

Warning – to turn man from his deeds

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. 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.”

Gen 20:3, 6-7

God warned Abimelech in a dream to turn him from his deeds because he had taken Abraham’s wife. Hence, if a dream seems to warn us from doing something, it is from God.

Humiliation – to keep us from pride

This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses. And inasmuch as they gave the command to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be assured to you, after you come to know that Heaven rules. Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.

Dan 4:24-27

God warned Nebuchadnezzar in a dream to become righteous and show mercy to the poor. But in twelve months, as the Scriptures say, the dream was fulfilled by humiliating him as an animal as per the dream because of his pride. Hence, if a dream humiliates us of something we are proud of, then it is from God.

Salvation – to keep our soul from Pit

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, 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.

Jer 23:26-37

God warns false prophets who speak lies by their dreams because they cause His people to forget His name.

And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. …. And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the LORD has said, Among the remnant whom the LORD calls

Joel 2:28,32

God is giving dreams to His people, so that they can remember His name and call on His name to be saved. Hence, if a dream leads us to remember His name and leading us towards salvation, then it is from God.

Give Life – to save our lives

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do: … Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint officers over the land, to collect one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. Then that food shall be as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land may not perish during the famine.”

Gen 41:25, 34-36

God gave dreams to Pharaoh to save lives in the land of Egypt by preparing him during the seven years of famine. Hence, God can give dreams for us to prepare us from what He is going to do.

Dreams vs Visions vs Nightmares

But there is a God in heaven who reveals secrets, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days. Your dream, and the visions of your head upon your bed, were these:

Dan 2:28

I saw a dream which made me afraid, and the thoughts on my bed and the visions of my head troubled me.

Dan 4:5

There is a misunderstanding that a vision is something that happens when you are awake, not sleeping and merged with the existing environment and dream is something when you are sleeping. This is simply untrue. According to scriptures, as explained by Daniel himself, both visions and dreams happen when we are asleep and both are infact dreams.

  • Dreams are very common and often we remember them in vague details immediately when we awake.

So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.

Acts 12:9

Peter was unable to differentiate reality from vision. This is exactly what happens when you are lucid dreaming.

  • Visions is vivid dreaming with full consciousness and awake, often referred in modern terminology as lucid dreaming. It is hard to differentiate dreams from lucid dreams except the person who experienced it. It is also important to note that not all visions are from God.

When I say, ‘My bed will comfort me, My couch will ease my complaint,’ Then You scare me with dreams And terrify me with visions, So that my soul chooses strangling And death rather than my body.

Job 7:13-15

Apart from dreams and visions, there are also nightmares, and nightmares involving strangulation as Job mentioned. The dream which Nebuchadnezzar had and then forgot, which troubled him is a nightmare. In modern terminology, nightmares involving strangulation is referred as sleep paralysis. It is a state where we are fully awaken, able to sense the environment around us yet unable to move while the characters in the dream may try to harm you. The strangulation happens because when we try breath more air due to panic, the lungs are still controlled by the sleep phase and will not breath faster, and all our body is paralysed as per the normal function of sleep. Sleep paralysis is not from demons. There is no reference in the entire Scripture of demons giving any nightmares. As we read from the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, they don’t even know what a person is dreaming.

It is vain for you to rise up early, To sit up late, To eat the bread of sorrows; For so He gives His beloved sleep.

Ps 127:2

However, Scriptures do say that God gives His beloved sleep.

Conclusion

Not all dreams are from God and not all dreams have meanings attached to it. We dreams through much activity and because of our desires of our heart as well. Only some dreams are from God and they have meaning to it. Not all dreams are accurate as well. God can give false dreams to test us but accurate dreams and its interpretation even to unbelievers.