In the Bible, God occasionally used dreams to communicate the messages He had for one or more persons. The following examples took place in Genesis.
- As early as Genesis 20:3, we read that “God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, ‘You are about to die because of the woman you have taken, for she is a married woman.’” Abraham was living in Gerar at the time and was pretending Sarah was his sister. So, using a dream, God intervened to prevent Abimelech, the king of Gerar, from violating Sarah (see also v. 6).
- As Jacob was traveling, he stopped at a place he would later name Bethel, a name meaning “house of God.” God had an important message for Jacob there and spoke to him in a dream. After the dream, Jacob made a commitment to serve the Lord (see 28:10-22).
- In Genesis 31, Jacob dreamed regarding details that would affect his relationship with his uncle Laban (see vv. 10-13). In turn, Laban dreamed and received a warning from God not to hinder Jacob and his family from departing (vv. 22-24).
- Joseph shared two dreams with his family in Genesis 37:1-11. Later, we learn that both Joseph’s dreams were prophetic (see 42:5-9), but at the time Joseph’s brothers responded with jealousy and anger. Before selling Joseph into slavery later in chapter 37, Joseph’s brothers derisively referred to him as “that dreamer” (v. 19).
- While in prison in Egypt, Joseph interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners. Significantly, both the dreams and Joseph’s interpretations of the dreams proved accurate (see 40:1-23).
- The previous incident set the stage for Joseph to perform noteworthy and unique service for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, two years later (see 41:1-36). Because of his ability to interpret dreams, Joseph would be promoted from a prison cell to being Pharaoh’s right-hand man! Yet Joseph did not take credit for accurately interpreting dreams. Instead he told Pharaoh, “I am not able to [interpret your dreams].…It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (v. 16). God also had gifted Joseph as a capable administrator, so Egypt, as well as the entire world, benefited from Joseph’s leadership.
Although God would continue to use dreams on various occasions to convey important messages (see Dan. 2; 4; 7; Matt. 1:20; 2:12-21; Acts 2:17 [Joel 2:28]), He also would warn His people regarding any prophet who used dreams in his work (see Deut. 13:1-5; Zech. 10:1-2). Moreover, although dreams were not mentioned specifically by the writer of Hebrews in Hebrews 1:1-2, we see them alluded to in verse 1: “Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways.” We should not be surprised that as God increasingly revealed Himself through written words, and then ultimately through His Son Jesus, the need for Him to communicate to people through dreams greatly diminished.
B. Nathaniel Sullivan
Christian educator, Bible teacher, and Editor
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations in SundaySchoolZone.com materials are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.