What are dreams? Where do they come from? Can you control them? Why did God design man – and the animals – so that they could dream? What possible purpose could they serve in the plan of God? Everyone has probably thought about a few of these questions from time to time. And before we are through, I think you will see that dreams are one of the most valuable tools in the arsenal of those trying to build in themselves the nature of God. I think we’ll also explain a few previously unexplained scriptures along the way. So what does the Bible say about dreams?
Ecclesiastes 5:2-3 Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. FOR a dream cometh through the multitude of business; and a fool’s voice is known by multitude of words.
It is easy to be “drowned” by the context of this and the following verses; Solomon is specifically speaking of the consequences of not paying vows to God in this chapter, and of saying things and not doing them. In the process of establishing his point however, he touches on dreams several times.
Ecclesiastes 5:3 (Douay) Dreams follow many cares: and in many words shall be found folly.
In this verse we see that dreams follow as a result of many cares, or worries. By itself this is not very surprising, since psychologists mostly agree that dreams are a result of unresolved tensions. But we are going to build on that idea quite a bit. In verse 3 we see the statement “FOR a dream comes….” implying that the previous verse was the cause of these dreams.
To make it clear exactly what I mean, consider the statement “Don’t eat too much ice cream, FOR stomachaches come from overeating”; it is clear that the second half is an explanation of the consequence of disobeying the first statement. So also verse three follows as a consequence of “being hasty to utter things before God”, and “being rash with your mouth”. In some way, it appears that those things can cause dreams.
Ecclesiastes 5:6-7 Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands? For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.
Here again dreams are connected to “your mouth causing your flesh to sin”, as if they are in some way related. But an added interesting fact here is the warning not to say before “the angel” that “it was a mistake”. The context here is vows – a man who makes a vow to God without thinking it through, as if a man told God “I’ll never drink beer again if you just let me get this job”, who then gets the job, wants a beer, and tries to back out of his deal by saying “it was a mistake”. Naturally this would annoy God.
But when would this be stated “before the angel”? In prayer perhaps? But our prayers are heard directly in the throne room of God, are they not? We’ll come back to this later.
Ecclesiastes 5:12 The sleep of a labouring man is sweet, whether he eat little or much: but the abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep.
So far we have seen that the more you do things before God that make your heart condemn you (I.E., break vows), the more you will be troubled with dreams. But this verse goes a long ways towards backing that up when it tells us that the sleep of a working man is sweet, but the rich man’s isn’t. Why?
A ditch-digger’s life is pretty simple, assuming he has a decent job and enough money coming in to feed his family. He goes to work in the morning, does simple, clean, hard, honest work all day, and comes home at night. He is comfortable knowing that he did exactly what was expected of him. He’s not in a job where hundreds of complicated decisions must be made daily, and any one of which could trouble him for days – like, say, a banker.
The banker gets up and goes to the office, forecloses on a few widow’s homes, grants a loan which he knows he gets paid too much for, does various other things that EVEN IF COMPLETELY RIGHT are in a gray enough area that they could trouble him – then he comes home and worries about his money and people stealing from him, all while his heart condemns him for his day’s work.
So it is easy to see that one man’s life is peaceful, his heart needn’t condemn him and he knows his place in the universe, while the other man is tied up in knots inside in a constant web of worry, constantly living under the sword of Damocles, knowing he made hundreds of decisions that day that might be wrong and unable to get peace in himself. Which of these do you suppose will have troublesome dreams?
And so says Solomon.
We all remember dreaming of things we’ve thought of that day, or of things we’ve worked at recently, or of various interpretations of recent conflicts we’ve had. But why? Why does our mind dredge up these issues – along with dozens of bizarre and/or totally unrelated issues – to plague us in our sleep?
Ecclesiastes 2:23 For all his days are sorrows, and his travail grief; yea, his heart taketh not rest in the night. This is also vanity.
Your heart – metaphorically speaking of course – does not rest in the night. We know that your heart is the part of you that God intends to keep – your spirit, your conscience. The set of values that you construct over a lifetime that defines who you are.
Romans 2:15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
So what can it be doing in the night when it is “not taking rest”? There is nothing for it to do… after all, you aren’t conscious, needing to make decisions. Simply put, this part of you is what works with the spirit of God, as Paul says, to accuse yourself or excuse yourself OF GUILT in various actions – and your mind continues to do this EVEN WHILE YOU SLEEP, taking NO REST in the night!
Your mind does this to give you a built-in emotional pop-off valve to deal with emotions that you didn’t deal with while you were awake – feelings of guilt, remorse, or longing that you were too afraid or too busy to deal with that day, or perhaps were totally unaware of because of a mental block that had somehow become entrenched in your mind.
Dreaming gives you a place to be Rambo for a few hours and shoot hundreds of bad guys and exact justice – thereby dealing with the unresolved issue from earlier that day because the boss’s unqualified nephew got the promotion you were up for.
Sometimes people are so tightly wound because of unresolved issues at home or at work that at night they vent at their coworkers and cuss them soundly while they sleep – doing it so loudly that their spouse hears them.
People should never allow themselves to get into this situation. Still, we’re human and things have a way of sneaking up on us sometimes. But the Bible has clear instructions to us about this…
Ephesians 4:25-26 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:
There is nothing wrong with being angry; Nehemiah, Moses, God, and Jesus Himself (Mark 3:5) were angry. But DEAL with the anger! If your brother stole from you, TELL HIM ABOUT IT! Let him KNOW! Take it to him and say DUDE, you wronged me! “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger” is a direct command from the Bible!
Matthew 18 describes the process of dealing with a problem with your brother very simply. If that process is followed, you won’t HAVE unresolved issues when the sun goes down! But this isn’t just talking about brothers – although in the case of the world you haven’t got a church to back you up in the third step (see Matthew 18 again), but nonetheless it is your RESPONSIBILITY to rebuke your neighbor if he wrongs you!
Leviticus 19:17 (NKJV) ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him.
Or as Douay renders the last part of that verse “But reprove him openly, lest thou incur sin through him.”
And then if he won’t hear you after you’ve told him, then let it go, knowing that now that you have done your part then God will pick up the slack. Commit your judgment to God, in other words. The issue is resolved – nothing more can be said to change that person’s mind or make them do right, so it is out of your hands. And your anger should be gone at that point if you have done the process correctly. So be angry… but don’t sin (by) letting the sun go down on your wrath.
You can easily imagine that if dreams did not exist then these unresolved issues would continue to snowball until the person mentally snapped and either went insane or started killing people. Or both. The mind absolutely must have an outlet for its problems, one way or another.
Job 7:14, 17-18 Then thou scarest me with dreams, and terrifiest me through visions: … What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? and that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? And that thou shouldest visit him EVERY morning, and try him every moment?
At this point it gets more interesting. Up until now a good psychologist could have given you a lot of this advice. But here it says that God visits man EVERY morning. Think about that. It doesn’t say every afternoon. It doesn’t say every midnight. It says morning. Why?
What is even more interesting is that this is said in the context of dreams. AND in the context of “trying” or testing man. Now consider this: dreams occur in REM sleep. The bulk of REM sleep typically happens in the morning, in the last few minutes or hours of sleep right before awakening. Dreams are here connected with God “trying you”, and God visits you every morning!
Those add up to an interesting conclusion, don’t they? That dreams are another way for God to test you, and see what you are made of – what your heart truly loves, if the fetters of conscious restraint are removed? God must know that before He can trust you.
We build a box around ourselves – what we perceive our family and friends expect of us, what we think God wants, and establish a certain comfort zone that is “us” to all outward appearances. On a conscious level we may even be righteous inwardly. But what if God placed you in a situation where you didn’t have any of those restraints?
What if God made you, say, Elvis circa 1965? Would you still believe in keeping the 7th commandment, given those pressures? What if he placed you as Mayor of Los Angeles – would you, all things being equal, still not believe in taking bribes? I’m not saying you wouldn’t – I’m asking how you would know.
Dreams give God a playground to observe your unfettered soul scampering around without limits or boundaries, doing exactly what it wants. Serving justice however and to whomever your spirit, in your deepest heart of hearts, thinks is best. Fulfilling every thing your heart desires, in exactly the way your heart thinks is right – all things being equal.
It has been truly said that your character is defined by what you do when no one is watching. No place is more private than one’s dreams, and so what place could be better for God, through an angel, to observe a snapshot of your true character?
Psalms 17:3 Thou hast proved mine heart; thou hast visited me in the night; THOU HAST TRIED ME, AND SHALT FIND NOTHING; I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.
If God visits you in the night, then He isn’t there to talk to your conscious mind! He is there to observe and test you in the night and see what your subconscious mind – the most sincere outgrowth of your conscience – is like. This is why Ecclesiastes warns us about what we say “before the angel” when God, according to Job, visits man in the morning.
Hypnotists have often said that no one will perform any act under hypnosis that is contrary to their conscience. I go one step farther and say that you will not do anything in a dream that you would not do, circumstances being appropriate, in real life.
But if all this is true, then why do animals dream, as any pet owner knows they do? Obviously God needn’t test or visit them each morning. However, they are built roughly after the same pattern as we are, emotionally. A common designer, as you know. And domesticated animals, like domesticated people, are crammed into a little box, both literally and figuratively; prevented from following their deepest desires by the pressures of society – we call it “training” in animals, and “civilization” in people – and so your cat, unable to run away from your dog, and unfit to do battle with him, dreams of defending himself from him during the 18 hours of the day he spends sleeping. Just like a person, if he was unable to vent these issues in some way he would grow more and more irritable and tense and eventually explode.
I have heard that wild animals dream far less than domesticated ones, if at all. I can’t verify it personally, but still, it makes sense; wild animals, who live a simpler life in many ways, and express themselves as they wish – with certain exceptions imposed on them by larger animals – have to have far less repressed issues, for they have far less training. Virtually none. And so their sleep, like the sleep of the laboring man, is sweet.
But back to humans again, the conclusion thus far is this; if you have issues with your neighbor, don’t let the sun go down on your wrath – otherwise you’ll have dreams about it, in which you may not act correctly and the angel will see it, tell God about it, and it will displease Him, and then He will punish you for it. Instead, make sure that you can say, with David…
Psalms 119:55 I have remembered thy name, O LORD, IN THE NIGHT, AND HAVE KEPT THY LAW.
And be proud of your dreams, and be pleased with the nature of your spirit. But here is a neat twist; what if, in a dream, you do something that your conscious mind knows is wrong. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? You look back on what happened in your dream, and see how your soul handled this particular situation, and you regret it, right?
When you regret something, in effect you are saying that you wouldn’t do that again – given the same situation. You might call that repentance, mightn’t you? And when you repent, what has to happen next? Before you can be forgiven? Blood has to be shed for you (Hebrews 9:22, Romans 7:9). And then when a sacrifice is applied to your sins, you receive forgiveness and you can move on with your life.
And so we see a situation where, every day as you go to work and deal with the problems of everyday life, once in awhile we may do something we regret in retrospect; the less often that happens the better of course, but once in awhile it will befall any of us. And so at the end of the day, when the work is done, as we sit on our metaphorical porch and watch the sun go down, we say to ourselves “I’ll do that better next time”, and if appropriate we apologize to our brother – or yell at him, as the case may require – and refuse to allow the sun go down on our wrath.
And as we repent of the day’s sins, we must symbolically “die”, according to Romans 7:9. And Paul said in other place, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). Another way of phrasing this is that at the end of each day as we repent of the day’s misdeeds, if any, a sacrifice must be applied to us.
Then we sleep, and our subconscious dredges up the issues that we didn’t deal with for one reason or another, and vacuums out the cracks in our psyche to purge the last vestiges of our problems for the day. And our mind deals with those issues, and as soon as we arise in the morning we look back over those dreams which we remember, repent if necessary, and a sacrifice must be applied again.
As you have probably guessed by now, this concept unexpectedly explains the symbolism behind the morning and evening sacrifice, which God commanded to be offered every morning at dawn and every night at sunset – one lamb, representing Himself, being offered for us as we awake and one as we fall asleep. One sacrifice for our conscious mind, and one for our subconscious, so that we are able to attack each new day and each new night with a clean conscience – if we are doing what we should.
But if you don’t follow this process of purging misdeeds and misthoughts by repenting of them, then they build up on you and weigh down your soul with compromise and frustration. And by not dealing with the day’s problems, and by letting the sun go down on your wrath…
Ephesians 4:26-27 …let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.
…YOU GIVE PLACE TO THE DEVIL! You give him a place that HE likes to hang around! By venting at your coworkers at night, and cussing and screaming in your sleep, you’ve provided an environment that’s just like home to him! So he will “terrify you with visions” as he did Job – we call them nightmares – and guess whose fault that is? Why, yours! Because you made a place where he is comfortable by not resolving any problems that are the result of your own sins, and by not rebuking other people of their sins that you still harbor resentment over!
The more muddled your mind is, and the less righteous your subconscious mind, the more your dreams will be told in abstract symbols; because God always deals in parables to the less righteous to protect them from understanding too much, too fast. So you may have totally bizarre arrangements of concepts to vent your unresolved issues – but still, there is always a “right thing” to do. And as you approach righteousness, your dreams should simplify and reveal the actual characters your mind is presenting for analysis and judgment. And as you deal with these issues, you should have fewer dreams, and more peaceful, restful sleep.
Because it is possible to control your dreams. Regardless of what psychologists may tell you, dreams are only an outpouring of your most sincere, unfettered desires. And so logically, when you reach a point, spiritually, where you truly don’t want to see your coworker slaughtered, and where you can understand why he is the way he is – and where you have done your part in helping him to see his mistakes – then your mind will have no reason to picture you with a case of C-4 blowing up your office building.
And when you do catch yourself doing something in a dream that is wrong, consider the situation; figure out what the right answer was, and promise yourself that you will do better next time. Then the morning sacrifice can be applied to you – because remember, there is no sacrifice for a willful (or un-repented-of) sin.
And as we follow this path of righteousness towards building in ourselves a copy of the divine nature, with God’s help, and to where you approach peace with your place in the universe, you will reach a point where your actions in your dreams are as righteous as your actions when conscious.
And when that happens, and the angel drops by for your daily spiritual check-up in the morning, he is greeted by the peace of a righteous spirit – not cussed out by an irate madman. And when he is greeted by such a righteous spirit… he just might finally be able to talk to you about something important… and give you a dream about something that’s a bit more profound than the mundane details of this life. Daniel’s mind must have been pure indeed for him to receive the visions he did, and to be “greatly beloved of God” as he was. If you desire to share in the love of God as he did, you cannot expect to achieve it by doing any less.
2 Corinthians 10:5 Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity EVERY THOUGHT to the obedience of Christ;
Your subconscious is the part of you that God really wants trained. That training must begin in your conscious mind, but your dreams offer you, and God, a tool of inestimable value for testing and correcting your subconscious. The end of this process – and it should hardly take a lifetime – will result in a heart so pure that God can be sure you can be trusted, for your actions, and even your conscious thoughts, will no longer be mere facades to hide deeper thoughts of lust and envy, greed and pride, but instead your actions and thoughts will be only the inevitable outpouring of a subconscious nature that is a veritable copy of the nature of God, Himself. And then you, too, will be able to proclaim to God…
Isaiah 26:9 With my soul have I desired thee IN THE NIGHT; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.