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So, what about dreams? Are we really responsible for what we do in our dreams? Yes, we are. Can we control what we do in our dreams? Yes we can. Can Satan have any kind of influence in our dreams? It appears it is quite possible. Can we support this all Biblically? Yes indeed.
What is a dream? Webster (Webster's Third New International Dictionary) describes a dream in this way, "1a: a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep. . . . having ideas or images in the mind while asleep". So, dreams are thoughts and images occurring during sleep.
In Scripture, dreams are not only called "dreams", but also "visions of the night" (Job 33:15), "thoughts on my bed", "visions of my head" (Daniel 4:5; 7:15), "visions of his head while on his bed" (Daniel 7:1), and "night visions" (Daniel 7:7, 13). Now granted, the above references out of Daniel are in reference to dreams given miraculously by God, but even when the Word speaks of a "normal" type of a dream, it is still called a "night vision" (e.g. Isaiah 29:7-8). In fact, Job 33:15 clearly describes a dream as a "vision of the night" ("In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men,"). So, Scripture defines dreams as "night visions". Where do these night visions come from?
I. From God
This is found several times over in the Word (Genesis 28:10-17; 31:11-13; 37:5-11; 40:1-22; 41:1-32; Numbers 12:6; Judges 7:9-15; Daniel chapters 1, 2, 4, and 7; Matthew 1:20; 2:12-22). In Matthew 27:19, Pilate's wife suffered in a dream that appears to have been from God as a warning to Pilate (via his wife).
Does God still give "night visions" (dreams)? Well, God can do as He pleases (Psalm 115:3). If He wants to, He can (and will). Yet, the dreams mentioned in the paragraph above are of a special and peculiar nature (out of the norm).
Elihu speaks of dreams not so abnormal.
For God may speak in one way, or in another, yet man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while slumbering on their beds, then He opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction. In order to turn man from his deed, and conceal pride from man, He keeps back his soul from the Pit, and his life from perishing by the sword. (Job 33:14-18)
Here, Elihu speaks of the work of God upon men in their sleep (in their night visions). It is a way in which the Lord speaks to men in their dreams in an effort to turn them away from evil. Yet, men are unaware of this work of God upon them ("yet man does not perceive it"). It is not inconsistent with John 1:9.
That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. (John 1:9)
Remember the old saying, "Sleep on it."? What do people mean when they say this? Typically, they mean that if you sleep on some decision or course of action to be taken, you might feel differently about the situation in the morning (after you've slept). There's a reason for this. God instructs men in the night, upon their beds, in their dreams. As He says,
For God may speak in one way, or in another, yet man does not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men, while slumbering on their beds, then He opens the ears of men, and seals their instruction. (Job 33:14-16)
Why? "In order to turn man from his deed . . ." (Job 33:17)
Isn't it true, that after a good night's sleep, a person (typically) is more sober and clear headed? Indeed, and this is because of the work of God upon the sons of men while on their beds dreaming. Of course, a wicked man may wake up and discard the instruction God has given him that night. But, nonetheless, God gives it. So, dreams (visions of the night) can be from the Lord, or they can also come...
II. From Satan
Can the realm of darkness have any hand in these visions of the night? Yes, indeed. In Ephesians 6:12 we read,
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Are our dreams excluded from this warfare? No.
In Job 4:13-19, we have an example of a dream in which a demon is involved. Eliphaz the Temanite declares,
In disquieting thoughts from the visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on men, fear came upon me, and trembling, which made all my bones shake. Then a spirit passed before my face; the hair on my body stood up. It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence; then I heard a voice saying: "Can a mortal be more righteous than God? Can a man be more pure than his Maker? If He puts no trust in His servants, if He charges His angels with error, how much more those who dwell in houses of clay, . . ."
Eliphaz describes a dream in which he saw a demon ("a spirit"). How do we know this was a demon? By his message. His message is extremely deceitful. He says that God "puts no trust in His servants", as if to imply or state that God doesn't trust any of His angels -- which is a lie. God certainly charged SOME of "His angels with error" (verse 18), and rightly so, because they sinned (Revelation 12:4; Jude 6). But, God does put trust in HIS angels, as Hebrews 1:14 exemplifies,
Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation?
God sent Gabriel to announce to Mary the coming of the Messiah through her body (Luke 1:26f; quite an important announcement!). In the future, God will entrust Michael and the host of holy angels to wage a radically important war against the Devil and his angels (Revelation 12:7-8). God most certainly trusts His angels. Yet, this demon says otherwise, this demon who was involved in Eliphaz's dream.
Now Eliphaz was not a man speaking truth. Note what is said of him in Job 42:7,
. . . the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, "My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as my servant Job has."
Eliphaz was speaking lies, but Job was speaking the truth. Now someone might argue, "That's why there was a demon in Eliphaz's dream!" Maybe so. But, even Job, who was a righteous man (Job 1:1,8; 2:3), experienced the power of darkness upon his dreams. Note Job's complaint about this in Job 7:13-14,
When I say, "My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint, then You scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions,"
Here, Job attributes these tormenting dreams to God. In fact, all of his troubles he attributed to being from the hand of God (see Job 6:4; 7:20; 16:11-14, etc.). And, he was right in this (Job 42:7-8). Yet, it is only attributed to being from God because God is the Sovereign Lord who controls ALL things (Psalm 103:19). Job's troubles did come from the Lord (as God recognizes in Job 2:3), yet it was via Satan's hand (Job 1:8-12; 2:3-6).
Therefore, these tormenting dreams were from God, yet via the hand of Satan. Thus, we have here an example of Satan having influence upon the dreams of a righteous man. So, dreams can come from God, and even the enemy of our soul. Where else do our "visions of the night" come from?
III. Our Own Hearts
In Jeremiah 23:16, the Lord says,
Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; they speak a vision of their own heart.
What was he speaking of ("vision of their own heart")? Jeremiah 23:25 explains further,
I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, "I have dreamed, I have dreamed!"
Their dreams were the "deceit of their own heart" (Jeremiah 23:26). These false prophet's dreams were coming from their own deceitful hearts. Note further Isaiah 29:7-8,
The multitude of all the nations who fight against Ariel, even all who fight against her and her fortress, and distress her, shall be as a dream of a night vision. It shall even be as when a hungry man dreams, and look - he eats; but he awakes, and his soul is still empty; or as when a thirsty man dreams, and look - he drinks; but he awakes, and indeed he is faint, and his soul still craves: so the multitude of all the nations shall be, who fight against Mount Zion.
As illustrated above, a hungry man or a thirsty man, because he is hungry or thirsty, has it in his heart to dream about food or drink. His dreams come from his desires (from his heart).
In Daniel 4:5, Nebuchadnezzar calls the dream he received from God, "thoughts on my bed". This is simply what a dream is -- thoughts in your mind while you sleep. They may be from God, maybe even from the enemy of your soul, or maybe simply from your own heart.
Being that Jeremiah 17:9 is true, men will have evil dreams. And, just as Jesus said that evil thoughts come from the heart of man (Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21), so do evil dreams come from the heart of man. They are evil thoughts in his sleep. So,
IV. Are We Responsible?
Are we responsible for our dreams? Clearly, Job gives us an example where he had no control over what he dreamed. His dreams tormented him (Job 7:13-15). If Satan or some demon might have the power to have influence upon what we dream, how then could we be responsible for what we dream? Maybe Satan is causing the dream!
The bottom line is this: We are responsible for anything we might do, be it while we are awake, or be it while we are asleep. If we sinfully lust after something or someone in our dream, it is sin, and we are responsible before God. If we carry out an ungodly act in a dream, it is sin, and we are responsible before God.
We cannot blame Satan (or some demon) for any sinful behavior we do in a dream. Even if the Devil did influence us to do some wrong (awake or asleep), we are still responsible before God for our actions (note 1 Chronicles 21 where Satan moved David to number Israel, yet David was still guilty before God).
How do we know that we can control what we do in our dreams and that we are responsible for our actions in our dreams? Because we see this exemplified in holy writ.
In Genesis 20:1-8, we see God come to Abimelech in a dream. Abimelech responds to the Lord quite coherently, and the Lord responds to Abimelech (just as if it was not a dream). Abimelech displays sober thinking and a wise response to the Lord in his dream.
If this was not enough evidence, 1 Kings chapter three should solidify the verdict.
At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, "Ask! What shall I give you?" And Solomon said: "You have shown great mercy to Your servant David my father, because he walked before You in truth, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart with You; You have continued this great kindness for him, and You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant King instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?" The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. (1 Kings 3:5-10)
The speech pleased the Lord! The speech Solomon made IN HIS DREAM! Solomon is no passive puppet here. Solomon responds in a good way, as opposed to a sinful or self-centered way, and God is pleased. Note, God commends Solomon for responding wisely in his dream.
Then God said to him: "Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you. And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days. So if you walk in My ways, to keep My statutes and My commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days." Then Solomon awoke; and indeed it had been a dream. (1 Kings 3:11-15).
Tremendous blessing came upon Solomon, because he acted wisely IN HIS DREAM. Yes indeed, we are responsible for what we do in our dreams, be it good or bad.
If this is so, then those of us who have sinned grievously in our dreams have all the more reason to fear and trembling before a holy God (which is good, Isaiah 57:15; 66:2; Philippians 2:12; 1 Peter 1:17).
But why is this? Why would we do something in a dream we would never dare do while awake? In a dream, we can be placed in a situation of serious compromise and temptation, that, in normal living, we would never allow ourselves to be in. Note Psalm 11:5,
The Lord tests the righteous. (see also Psalm 17:3)
Do you think it is possible that God might even test us in our dreams? Yes indeed. He did so with Solomon (1 Kings 3:5-15), and Solomon passed the test with flying colors. For those of us who have not done so well, Hebrews 4:15-16 should be ever on our hearts and minds (be it awake or asleep).
For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
This all places an interesting light on the prayer of Matthew 6:13, "do not lead us into temptation".
So then, how do we fight off and stay away from sin, and possibly even find that "throne of grace" in the midst of our dreams? By zealously seeking, knowing and taking heed to the Word of God.
Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11)
This does not only have to do with our waking hours, but also the hours of the night, as Proverbs promises,
My son, let them not depart from your eyes - keep sound wisdom and discretion; so they will be life to your soul and grace to your neck. Then you will walk safely in your way, and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet. (Proverbs 3:21-24)
My son, keep your father's command, and do not forsake the law of your mother. Bind them continually upon your heart; tie them around your neck. When you roam, they will lead you; when you sleep, they will keep you. (Proverbs 6:20-22).
The more Biblically minded we are, the more we love the Word and have Scripture running through our hearts and minds, then the more righteous, godly, and holy we will live, awake or asleep.
One last Scripture to consider is found in Ecclesiastes 5:7,
For in the multitude of dreams and many words there is also vanity. But fear God.
People can get carried away with, or be preoccupied with, dreams and attempting to understand them. The writer of Ecclesiastes exhorts otherwise. Don't get caught up in dreams. Get caught up in fearing God, and loving Him, and your sleep will be sweet (Proverbs 3:24).