Does God Speak to us in Dreams?

by Matt Richardson

Daniel 2:1–3

2 Now in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was so troubled that his sleep left him. Then the king gave the command to call the magicians, the astrologers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans to tell the king his dreams. So they came and stood before the king. And the king said to them, “I have had a dream, and my spirit is anxious to know the dream.”

Has God ever spoken to you in a dream? I recall asking this question in a bible study several years ago and was nearly inundated with the responses of the group. It seemed that everyone claimed to have either experienced God or Jesus speaking to them in a dream or knew someone who had. Often these dreams accompanied a vision or image of Jesus or an angel speaking with them or even touching them to offer comfort.

Clearly, this tapped a rich vein of at least anecdotal experience in the lives of sincere believers. The theology surrounding dreams and God’s interaction with His people in them can be a difficult subject to discuss. Scripture is vague on the mechanics of this, probably with good cause. The nature of man is such that if we knew more and deeper knowledge of how God speaks to us while in repose, we would likely be tempted to abuse it.

One thing that the bible is not hesitant to tell us is that God speaks to his people. Our father reaches cross a vast gulf of space from His heavenly realm so that His children can hear His voice.

John Calvin reminds us that God speaks to us in His varied ways almost as a parent to a very small child:

For who is so devoid of intellect as not to understand that God, in so speaking, lisps with us as nurses are wont to do with little children? Such modes of expression, therefore, do not so much express what kind of a being God is, as accommodate the knowledge of him to our feebleness. In doing so, he must, of course, stoop far below his proper height. — John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.1

In so as God “lisps” or speaks “baby-talk” to us it is not too much of a stretch to imagine God choosing at times to speak to us in dreams. As Calvin further cautions however, in his Commentary on the book of Daniel:

As there are many natural causes for dreams, it would be quite out of character to be seeking for divine agency or fixed reason in them all; and on the other hand, it is sufficiently evident that some dreams are under divine regulation. — John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, Daniel, Chapter 2.

As Calvin suggests, God may indeed interact with you or I through a dream, but these should be seen as special and rare cases and not without some caution. For one thing, by the account here in Daniel 2, a divine dream may not entirely be a pleasant experience—it might be downright terrifying.

As verse one reveals Nebuchadnezzar’s spirit was “so troubled that his sleep left him.” There can be a significant difference between a dream where we perceive Christ’s comfort after the passing of a loved one or in a time of turmoil and receiving both barrels of the divine will revealed. Nebuchadnezzar was shaken to his core in much the same way the Israelites were filled with holy terror at Moses’ glowing face as he descended Mt. Sinai.

This brings us to the next facet of the troubled king’s holy nightmare: a true interpreter was needed. This is where sincere Christians can find themselves in a minefield when it comes to God speaking to us in dreams: there needs to be understanding. The Holy Spirit can and does provide this at times, but this is not standard. It is one thing to encounter an unexplainable experience with God and another to actively seek heavenly messages in our sleep.

God, of course, reveals His will through Daniel. The young, exiled Jew interprets God’s prophesy to Nebuchadnezzar of coming future kingdoms and God’s own unconquerable kingdom in the person and work of his son Jesus. 

The bible speaks of other incidents of God revealing His will to people in dreams: Joseph is told to take Mary and the infant savior into Egypt. The Apostle Paul encounters Christ one night in a comforting vision and is even seems to be directed on his mission work through a dream:

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” — Acts 16:9

This dream of Paul’s is similar to a dream centuries later by Patrick when he is called by God to return to the land of his former slavery to hear “the voice of the Irish” and bring the Gospel to a lost people.

Does God speak to you in dreams? I cannot answer that, but I do know that God has spoken to you already in sure and certain ways: through prayer and in His holy Word. One reason I believe we can sometimes desire God to speak to us in our dreams is because in an age when truth seems relevant and bad news leads the headlines, we long to hear from our heavenly father. We want to know His will for our lives and that all will be okay.

As Nebuchadnezzar’s dream drove him in holy fear to seek an answer, so too must we seek answers from the Holy One who holds them all.

“Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.” — Jeremiah 33:3

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.