Appearing in a dream 2

Nebuchadnezzar by William Blake who didn’t heed his dream

The most complete treatment of dreams in the Old Testament is found in the Book of Daniel which consists largely of a series of dreams or visions, showing the high regard in which dreams were held. In the first chapter we read that Daniel ‘had insight into all visions and dreams’ (1: 17), which leads into the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream which he cannot recollect but knows is important. Daniel prays to God for help to resolve this mystery, which will otherwise lead to persecution and death for all the wise in the kingdom. God grants Daniel a message to give to the king, offering to give an account and an interpretation of the dream which ends with the phrase: ‘that you may know the thoughts of your mind’ – in other words the dream reveals the thoughts of the unconscious mind of Nebuchadnezzar.

A second dream is also interpreted by Daniel, Nebuchadnezzar dreams of a great tree that shelters the whole world, but an angelic ‘watcher’ appears and decrees that the tree must be cut down, and that for seven years the king will have his human mind taken away and will eat grass like an ox. The dream reveals the hubris of the king, and how he has regarded himself as the author of his own power taking a godlike role. Failing to heed the warning of this dream the king does indeed lose his mind, ‘driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen … until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws (4 33). This fate could have been averted if the king had reflected on the dream and changed his ways (4: 27). When the time elapses and Nebuchadnezzar is restored from this strange psychosis to reason, he is more truly himself.

Similarly, a vision on the road to Damascus brings Saul to a complete change of heart and name to become Paul; and if only Pontius Pilate had listened to his wife’s dream: ‘Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream (Matt 27:19).

In both the Old and New Testaments dreams and visions were regarded as revelations from God; those who were skilled in dream interpretation were seen as wise, and some overcome by such inner experiences became prophets and missionaries. Looked at in this way the entire bible is about God’s breaking through into the human conscious mind by way of the unconscious.

If dreams were so important for the Hebrew people and in the early church where does that leave us now? God broke through then with a personal experience, and still does. Sanford writes that God ‘convinced’ people, and here the word refers back to its Latin derivation which means to ‘overcome’. When we are ‘overcome’ and do not deny or dismiss the experience – as ‘only a dream’ ‘or just day dreaming’, then it’s time to reflect and think about it. Sanford explains that after the dream the experience was given structure and the meaning expanded – later by the church and the priests and became accepted as the word of God.