An Outsider’s Guide to Dreams

1. Reached point in story where Joseph is still in the prison but has been elevated to a place of responsibility – the Warden had put him in charge – ch39:23 "because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in everything he did".

2. It’s now 11 years since the 17 year old Joseph was sold by his brothers – but he’s clinging onto his trust in God. A trust which has confidence that God will enable him to correctly interpret the dreams of Pharaoh’s Cupbearer and Baker.

3. His hope is that the Cupbearer would bring his plight to Pharaoh’s attention is dashed as we are told "the Chief Cupbearer did not remember Joseph: he forgot him". And 2 years later he was still in prison.

4. But then Pharaoh has a couple of dreams that disturb him, and none of his magicians and soothsayers can make sense of them – then the Cupbearer remembers Joseph.

5. In God’s scheme of things timing is crucial. Maybe this is something we need to note.

6. Joseph explains the meaning of the dreams, and brings an interpretation that includes a plan for survival, having declared (ch41:32) "The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon".

7. So Pharaoh appoints Joseph to be the person to see things through, and at that point Joseph must have realised that those dreams that he himself had 13 years ago, dreams about his own life’s destiny, were about to be fulfilled.

8. So Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s notion that, for Joseph, "Any dream will do" is a fallacy. During the desolate years in prison Joseph’s hopes must have been kept alive by his firm belief that God would do what he had promised. And sure enough, by the middle of chap 41, Joseph is once again lifted from lowly status to be adorned with the garments of high status, as he embarks on a mission to save the world from starving.

9. Joseph’s own dreams, and his understanding of them, had led him into a position of having confidence to be able to interpret the dreams of the Cupbearer and Baker, which in turn had led him to be able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, which had now led full circle to the fulfilment of his own dreams. And later on he would be able to say to his brothers "God sent me ahead of you …. To save your lives by a great deliverance" (ch45:7).

10. And all his raises the question "So what about now – what about our dreams?" First of all we need to take a quick Biblical overview.

11. Not all dreams hold a particular spiritual or prophetic message. Ecclesiastes ch5:3 "As a dream comes when there are many cares (or maybe for a thousand other reasons!) – so the speech of a fool when there are many words".

12. However, the Bible does recognise that there are times when God does use dreams as a means of communication, and there seem to be two types:

a. Ordinary dream phenomena – images that connect to events in everyday life; e.g. The dreams recounted by Joseph, his fellow prisoners, and Pharaoh.

b. Dreams that communicate to the sleeper a direct message from God. e.g.:

i. Gen 20:3-7 Abimilech warned not to sleep with Sarah

ii. 1 Kings 3v:5-15 God speaks to Solomon and Solomon asks for wisdom

iii. Matt 1:20-24 God tells Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary to be his wife

iv. Acts 18:9 God tells Paul it’s safe to stay in Corinth

13. In common with contemporary society the Biblical accounts show us that people sought explanations for their dream experiences, but there seems to be an underlying difference in the matter of the interpretation of the dreams of Gentiles (unbelievers) and God’s covenant people – then and now

a. The first group require interpretation (except where God is heard to speak directly – as with Abimilech

b. The second group receive the interpretation along with the dream e.g.:

i. Gen 37 Joseph does not require an interpretation of his own dreams

ii. Acts 16:9 Paul sees a man from Macedonia

14. But with all this God gives a warning – Jeremiah 29:8 "Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have". Sometimes we want to see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear!

15. However, Acts 2:17 (where Peter quotes from Joel 2) – sons & daughters prophesy; young see visions; old dream dreams – confirms that God continues to use dreams as a means of communication in the New Testament age. Therefore, the question must be asked, "Are all dreams from God?" Are we to wake up every morning looking for some hidden, spiritual message in our dreams? The answer is an emphatic NO.

16. Dreaming is a natural physiological function that is common to every human being, and is necessary for maintaining adequate mental and emotional health. If deprived of REM sleep (the sleep cycle at which dreaming occurs) for a substantial length of time it can result in serious medical and mental complications. So while most of our dreams are just the result of natural human functioning, every Christian needs to be aware that sometimes God might use this natural function in a supernatural way.

17. When to know if a dream is from God, i.e. a "spiritual dream," or if it’s just a natural dream can sometimes be hard to discern. No doubt it’s a very subjective experience but many of us may have had the feeling that some dreams are not like the rest. The images linger, the emotions are strongly affected, and we get this feeling that what we just experienced is a message that needs explanation. When we do receive a spiritual dream it can be:-

18. 1. Warning Dream – This type is meant to warn us about some future attack from the enemy or some difficult time ahead. This could be a warning about a friend, spouse, or child. These are given so that we might pray and intercede for the individual. Often times the calamity is not decreed from above and through prayer the hardship can be avoided. Example from Scripture: Abimelech warned not to sleep with Abraham’s wife. (Gen. 20:3-7) and in Gen. 41:30 "the famine will ravage the land", but it didn’t because Pharaoh heeded what Joseph had said.

19. 2. Confirmation Dream – This dream simply confirms that what you believe to be true about a person or situation is in fact true. This type of dream is used to give you the emotional impetus to act on what you already know to be true but have not yet acted upon. Example from Scripture: Pilate’s wife’s dream confirming that her husband should release Jesus from custody. (Matt. 27: 17-19)

20. 3. Prophetic Dream – A dream which reveals the future concerning yourself, another individual, a nation, etc. Example from Scripture: As a 17 year old, Joseph dreamt about his future place of honour and high position. (Gen. 37: 5-8)

21. Spiritual dreams are God’s sole prerogative. When they do come we need to quickly record them and pray for the interpretation. Spiritual dreams, when heeded, can keep us in the will of God and remind us that we serve a God who knows us intimately and who takes the time to speak to His children individually for our own safety and care.

22. Beware of those who purport to be dream interpreters, who say they know the codes and hidden imagery of dreams. There are hundreds of them on the internet! There is no specific gift or function mentioned in the NT as "Interpreter of Dreams".

23. Remember the words of the writer to the Hebrews in ch1 v2, "In these last days He has spoken to us by His Son" – the eternal living word – the one who declared himself to be "The Way and The Truth and The Life". No truly God given dream, prophetic word, or any other revelation, will deny, change, over-ride or add to the truth of what God has declared in the Scriptures.

24. We can, and should, expect that within the church there will be those who have dreams and interpretations, but we must also acknowledge that there are those who will have God given dreams of the heart that can be just as real as any vivid sleeping dream or vision. Remember, Martin Luther King whose "I have a dream…." resulted in such sweeping changes in US society.

25. George Bernard Shaw is reported as saying "You see things as they are, and ask "Why?". But I dream things that never were, and ask "Why not?".

26. May we be a church who is led by the Spirit to dream dreams, receive visions, and hear prophetic words that move us on in achieving and experiencing all the amazing things God has planned for us.