Martin Luther King Jr. declared “I have a dream!” Theodore Herzl said, “If you will it, it is no dream.” The famed pop group Abba sang, “I have a dream, a song to sing.”
Dreams exist on many levels. As our brain processes the experiences of the day while we sleep we may have related dreams. Prophetic dreams, however, are God-inspired visions. The dreams of poets are conscious flights of imagination. Visionaries have idealistic dreams of a better world. Through His people Israel, God offers the world dreams of Redemption. Psalm 126:1 reads, “When God returns the captivity of Zion, we will be like dreamers.” This is a dream we are seeing fulfilled in our time.
Dreams and visions are woven throughout the Bible. What is the first biblical dream that comes to your mind? Maybe the dreams of young Joseph that caused his brothers to sell him as a slave? Then his being summoned from prison to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh, which caused him to become the most powerful man in the then world, second only to Pharaoh himself. We see that the ruler attributed Joseph’s talent of interpretation to a Divine source for he says, “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God? …Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as wise and discerning as you” (Genesis 41:38-39).
We can remember, too, the earlier and significant dream/vision had by Joseph’s father Jacob after fleeing from his brother Esau. He encountered a place and when he slept, with a stone for his pillow, he saw a glorious ladder reaching from heaven to earth with angels ascending and descending. God stood above it and proclaimed to Jacob that He was giving him the Land, that his descendants would be as numerous as the dust of the earth, and that He would be with him and watch over him wherever he went and would bring him back to the Land. When he awoke, Jacob could only declare, “This is none other than the House of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven!”
Kohelet tells us that God …”makes everything beautiful in its time. He also has set eternity in the hearts of man” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). That is the hope and the promise while we walk through our day to day journey in this world and dream our dreams. In the final accounting, all in His Kingdom, including ourselves, will be restored to its intended beauty through His grace and mercy; praise God. We anticipate and long for olam habah – the world to come; however, while we are in this world – olam hazeh, we need to face and deal with the imprefections and the often bitter hardships of the present reality. The means God has given to strengthen us, as we walk through the daily challenges we inevitably face, are His promises and the hope we derive from the “dreams and visions” of His prophets.
The wisdom of Proverbs tells us the oft quoted first half of the verse: “Where there is no vision the people perish” (KJV 29:18). This is rendered in the ESV, “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint” and the second half of the verse reads: “but blessed is he who keeps the law/Torah”. Blessing and vision cannot be separated from the Word – the teaching/Torah – of God.
What does a life wthout this vision, without dreams, look like?
The life of a “realist,” of one who insists on only taking into account the practical reality he sees before him, becomes immersed solely in materialism. Life, with its expansive vision of further horizons, of greater depths of meaning, of dreams of beauty and glory, evades him and he becomes like a bird caged in the iron bars of grim “reality.” The shackled soul cannot soar and find the heights for which it was created.
The power of dreams and of vision sets us free from the limitations of physicality. Instead of a partial and fragmented view of life, our dreams reveal to us the wider and more accurate truth of the eternal perspective of the God-created universe.
What about “bad dreams”?
As we know, not every dream can be catagorized as “an inspired vision from God.” The prophet Zechariah stresses, “Diviners …tell false dreams.” (10:12) How do we know if a dream is prophetic or pointless? The more our minds are focussed on God and His purposes the more our imaginations become godly and can relate to the reality of eternal life. Our dreams are then more likely to reflect the truth of the spiritual dimension of reality. When a person is solely preoccupied with personal and materialistic concerns his or her dreams cannot rise above a self-centered view of reality.
Rabbi A.I. Kook refers to an allegory of the Sages that says, “Angels bring prophetic dreams anad demons bring false dreams” (Berachot 55b).** Angels are messengers of God who work to perfect the world in accord with the will of God. True dreams will be in harmony with this purpose. Demons are unholy and operate against God’s purposes of truth and order. False dreams will therefore reflect selfish and ungodly fantasies.
Chalom – חלום
The Hebrew word for dream is chalom. The initial letter chet – ח has the numerical value of 8 which indicates a new beginning. It’s a letter that represents life, Chai – חי, the full expression of which is love. It also begins the word for ‘stork’ chasidah. Which is maybe where the myth began that it is the stork that delivers a baby, the fruit of life and love, to its parents.
It’s shape represents a fence, a door or a gateway. A threshold to a new area or dimension. At this liminal space of a dream or vision from the Father, we can receive clear insight into the place we have arrived at on our journey and of the path set before us in His perfect plan for our life in His service. We gain greater clarity, as explained in Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers, as we “Know from whence you came and to where you are going.” The place where you will give a final accounting and where the glory of eternal life in God’s Presence awaits.
Just as God did with Jacob, He promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you!” In our loving Shepherd’s grace and guidance we can trust our vision and press forward to our eternal destination with joyful anticipation.
* Photo credit “500 Years Away” #02 by Adam Ferriss.
** Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, Sapphire from the Land of Israel.