Dreams From God Are Cool, But Not What You Really Want
One of the primary drivers behind the charismatic movement is the desire for an experience with God. While we should always pray for and seek God’s power in our midst, we have to be careful what we mean when we speak of these things. Do we mean watching God change lives, illuminate his Word, meet needs, and providentially orchestrate details? Or do we mean visions, dreams, tongues, angelic encounters, and other extraordinary happenings? Sadly, much of the charismatic world is predominantly concerned with the latter.
While the draw to the mysterious is understandable, I would like to give you a sobering reality check about such things; and I would like to do that with one of the items mentioned above: dreams. There is a particular passage of Scripture that documents a surprising cluster of dreams in a short period of time. We can learn from this just what to expect from such happenings.
Our passage is the first two chapters of Matthew. These chapters detail the birth of Christ and so we know already this is a unique event in human history. A part of the uniqueness of this event is a cluster of five special dreams from God.
But before we do this, let’s remember that everything God does is right. Everything he does is needful and wise. And for those precise reasons we often find God’s words and God’s dealings perplexing and poorly timed. Why is this? For the same reason an ant doesn’t know it is walking on a pyramid. The design is right under its nose, but he doesn’t see it because his perspective is too small. What God says is clear, but our own sinfulness and limitations make what is clear foggy, what is precise debatable, and what is glorious mundane.
This is why people would rather have a dream than read God’s word. At least the dream feels mysterious and powerful. But as we look at the dreams in Matthew 1-2, you will see that they are perplexing in themselves.
All I want to do as we look at these dreams is highlight the strangeness about them. Are these really what you want?
Dream #1 – Joseph told not to divorce Mary
- Timing – Wouldn’t it have been better to have this message before Joseph went through the agony of considering an unfaithful wife and making plans for a divorce? Seems like poor timing on God’s part.
- Content – The angel affirms a virgin birth, but what about practicalities? How is Joseph supposed to explain this to people? What does he do with the social stigma? What special needs and instructions are there to raise the Son of God? None of that is given to him.
Dream #2 – Magi warned not to return to Herod
- What is the point? - This dream almost seems unnecessary. The Magi have already informed Herod about the new born king and he is expecting them to report back at a relatively set time. So not going back to Herod is only buying a little time. Additionally, why didn’t God bypass Herod completely and just use the star, or another dream, to direct the Magi directly to Jesus in the first place?
Dream #3 – Joseph told to flee to Egypt
- Why Two Dreams? - Couldn’t God have killed two birds with one stone by having Joseph tell the Magi to not go back to Herod while at the same time telling Joseph to pack and leave?
- Travel instructions – Traveling is dangerous, especially for a young family. What road should Joseph take? What provisions should he try to take along? And by the way, Egypt is a big country. Where exactly in Egypt are they to go? Is this a quick or long stay? A few more details would have been extremely helpful for such a long, dangerous, and expensive trip.
Dream #4 – Joseph told to go back to Israel
- Traveling Instructions – Again, Israel is a big place. Where in Israel are they supposed to go?
Dream #5 – Joseph fears Archelaus in Judea and warned and told to keep traveling
- Late information? – In the previous dream, Joseph was told that all who sought to destroy the child were dead. Yet when Joseph learns that Archelaus, the son of Herod, was ruling Judea he become rightly afraid. This is confirmed by the warning dream. But we have to ask why this information didn’t come in dream #4. Why get jerked around like this and have to endure uncertainty and fear?
This exercise has been speaking like a fool. As I said above, God does nothing wrong. All his ways are wise and right. But can’t you see that God’s ways and wisdom is always beyond us? Some of the questions above could be answered by us with the fuller picture that comes from our complete Bible? But how difficult living in those moments must have been. And for this blog, I am highlighting that the difficulties remained even having received the dreams.
I don’t believe God is giving dreams or visions or tongues or special prophecies now. But I don’t believe that means we have something lesser and/or harder to deal with. My point is that God’s Word is always from God, and because it is from God, it is always going to be difficult for us to grasp in fullness. This is why the need for each moment is a trusting obedience to what God has revealed in His Word.
Those dreams were perplexing, but God did give all that was needed for those individual and localized moments. We have something even better in God’s Word because we have what all of God’s people need in every moment. Not only that, it is infallibly recorded for us in black and white, and (praise God) translated into reliable English translations. We can read it every day, and not have to wonder if we remembered it correctly. We can apply it to whatever situation we find ourselves in. Will questions remain? Sure. But questions remained even when people received dreams from God. People don’t like to do the work of study and interpretation, but don’t you see that the dreams of old, in the extreme rarity that they happened, did not make things easier? They often raised more questions than they answered, while still requiring the recipient to endure painful, expensive, and fearful situations. Therefore, read your Bible with joy and thank God he has given you everything you need in his clear, sufficient, and living Word!