When the LORD restored the captives of Zion,
we thought we were dreaming.Then our mouths were filled with laughter;
our tongues sang for joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD had done great things for them.” – Psalm 126: 1-2
According to Hebrew cultural traditions, the time of exile, the galut is often referred to as a time of dreaming, as the lamentations of Psalm 126 suggest. It was thought that during the time of the Jewish Exile to Babylon, the nation taken far away from the Holy of Holies, fell into a state of spiritual slumber. Yet, the allusion to the dream places the time of exile as a moment holding great spiritual promise that was pregnant with the potential of ascending great heights of holiness. (Babylonian Talmud)
Biblical dreams are seen as divinely revealed and the Book of Genesis recounts in several chapters, dreams in which the Lord God provided the recipients with direct messages: Abim’elech’s dream in Genesis 20 is a direct warning from God about taking Sarah as a spouse; Jacob’s dream in Bethel where he sees the angels of God ascending and descending a ladder (Genesis 28); Genesis 31 tells us of God revealing Himself to Jacob as the “God of Bethel” and to return to the land where he was born; In the same chapter of Genesis 31, Laban is given a warning by God not to say anything either good or bad to Jacob; In chapters 37 – 41 of Genesis, there are six dreams that pertain to Joseph’s life – the dreams of Joseph’s grain and stars, the steward’s branches of grapes, the baker’s baskets of bread, and pharaoh’s dreams of cows and grain stalks.
In the other places in the Old Testament, an unnamed man is gifted a dream of a barley loaf rolling into the camp of the Midianites and claiming victory for Gideon’s camp (Gideon 7); 1 Kings 3 tells of how the Lord God appeared to Solomon in a dream, to which Solomon chose wisdom out of the magnitude of possible gifts; Daniel 2 speaks of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream to which, the various metals signified the different kingdoms, the the stone signified the power of God that would obliterate the idol forever; Daniel 4 recounts Nebuchadnezzar’s second dream of a tree being stripped down and signifying Nebuchadnezzar’s seven years of madness; Daniel 7 unveils a dream of 4 beasts where the Son of Man is given dominion over all the nations, foretelling the coming of the Messiah; and the Book of Esther opens with Mordecai’s dream of “noise and confusion, thunders and earthquake, tumult… [and] two great dragons.” (Esther 1) that spoke about the Persian empire.
In the New Testament, we see how the dreams of the people involved served to warn and redirect their steps, and how these dreams revealed certain Truths – the identity of Jesus is revealed to Joseph, and the Angel of the Lord exhorts Joseph not to divorce Mary (Matthew 1); the magi are warned in a dream not to return by the same way; Joseph is tasked to escape to Egypt; Joseph is asked to return home as Herod had passed on; and Joseph is warned again not to return to Judea as Herod’s heir had taken over the throne (Matthew 2). Last but not least, at Jesus’s passion, the wife of Pontius Pilate is gifted a nightmare as warning to not have anything to do with Jesus’s trial (Matthew 27).
For the purposes of this written piece, it may be salient to examine a little deeper the intriguing dreamscape that Joseph in Genesis 37-41 had. Joseph was only 17 when he was first gifted with a dream. The implications of Genesis 37-41 are as follows:
- The Lord God in His incomprehensible wisdom has a life-plan, or dream or vision for us, and he will reveal it to us if we ask it of Him. We may like Joseph been privy at a very young age to a portion of the epic magnitude of the dream that God has for us. However, in the time that the dream is revealed to us, we may not have been ready to see the fulfilment of the dream. For example, Joseph presented with a youthful immaturity which caused him to speak arrogantly to his father and brothers, who began to despise him, and out of envy plotted his demise.
- Joseph in his dreaming had a type of expectancy that he was one day to rise above the rest, even his brothers and father. Yet he would never have imagined the pathways that he was to take before this dream could be realised many years later. His death was plotted by his brothers, he was sold as a slave to a foreign land, and he landed in prison for refusing the advances of a female cougar – Pot’iphar’s wife.
- A Godly dream means complete trust and dependence in the promises of the Lord, even to the point of being placed at ground zero and having everything taken away from us. Joseph had been taken away from his family, everything he had known, and his homeland, to be placed in an unfamiliar and foreign territory, to start from the lowest of ranks, as a slave, and to learn to lean on God instead of his own will.
- A God-given dream needs training before we can see the dream to fulfilment. It was not by accident that Joseph was a slave in Pot’iphar’s house where he was put to the fields where he eventually learnt to understand the agricultural knowhow of grains, which many years after, came in handy when Joseph was placed in charge of overseeing and alleviating the famine situation in Egypt. Who would have guessed? The key to these years of waiting, hoping, and doing things which may seem inconsequential but actually hold deep significance to the plan of God, is docility and obedience to the Will of God.
- At every stage of the journey, the temptations and the struggles would be very real. Yet the Lord God is fully aware of the battles and will provide the necessary Grace to overcome these obstacles. He will send the right people to direct our paths and sometimes, even angels in the guise of people to take us where we ought to go. It is not by coincidence that Joseph met the steward and the baker in the prison.
- It is the Lord God who will thus open the right doors for us that no one can close, while shutting the doors in our life that need to be shut.
- God dreams take time. Abraham and Sarah were in their golden years before Isaac came along, the Israelites wander in the desert for 40 years, Joseph spent quite a substantial time as a slave and in prison before he was promoted and liberated. It took 14 generations before Israel was to see the Messiah.
- Finally, our struggles arise because we are bound by chronology and time, and can in our finite minds, only see a small part of God’s plan as it unfolds. Yet the Lord God is sovereign and knows exactly what He is doing. in our limited capacity as human beings, we may feel as if we are stuck in a rut, we would definitely question our decisions, and we would be impatient for God’ plan to unfold in our lives. Yet, if we ourselves were not ready, the harvest may be less than ideal. When the seasons change and things are ripe, things will move very quickly.
Perhaps we have been holding on to our dreams for so long that we cannot see God’s dreaming in the mix. What if we let go of the dreams that we held dear, and let God do the dreaming for us instead? What’s holding us back?
By the Grace of God,
Brian Bartholomew Tan
Babylonian Talmud. (M. L. Rodkinson, Trans.) (1918) Boston New Talmud Publishing Company.