Do our dreams have meaning?

Human beings have longed pondered whether or not our dreams have meaning. The Bible contains examples of God using dreams to communicate to people. Does this mean He uses dreams to communicate to us?

One example of God communicating with people via dreams is found in Genesis 41. Let’s look at this passage, then we will see what it teaches us about gleaning meaning from our dreams.

Gen. 41:1 ¶ Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream, and behold, he was standing by the Nile.

Gen. 41:2 And lo, from the Nile there came up seven cows, sleek and fat; and they grazed in the marsh grass.

Gen. 41:3 Then behold, seven other cows came up after them from the Nile, ugly and gaunt, and they stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile.

Gen. 41:4 The ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. Then Pharaoh awoke.

Notice in the verses above that the number seven is repeated three times. Notice also the contrast between the sleek and fat cows that were followed by the ugly and gaunt cows.

Gen. 41:5 He fell asleep and dreamed a second time; and behold, seven ears of grain came up on a single stalk, plump and good.

Gen. 41:6 Then behold, seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them.

Gen. 41:7 The thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Then Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream.

Again, notice that the number seven is repeated three times, and that there is a contrast between the plump and good ears which were followed by thin and scorched ears.

Gen. 41:8 Now in the morning his spirit was troubled, so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.

Notice the word troubled. Most of us have had dreams. Sometimes our dreams are good, sometimes they are nightmares, and sometimes they are neutral. In Pharaoh’s case, he was troubled and he wanted an explanation, but the magicians and wise men of Egypt were not able to give him an explanation.

Gen. 41:9 ¶ Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, “I would make mention today of my own offenses.

Gen. 41:10 “Pharaoh was furious with his servants, and he put me in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, both me and the chief baker.

This is a reference to a story recorded in Genesis 40.

Gen. 41:11 “We had a dream on the same night, he and I; each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream.

Gen. 41:12 “Now a Hebrew youth was with us there, a servant of the captain of the bodyguard, and we related them to him, and he interpreted our dreams for us. To each one he interpreted according to his own dream.

Gen. 41:13 “And just as he interpreted for us, so it happened; he restored me in my office, but he hanged him.”

The Hebrew youth was Joseph. Genesis 40 tells us that when the cupbearer and baker had their dreams, Joseph predicted that in three days, the baker would be hanged and the cupbearer would be restored to his position. Three days was a concrete time limit for his prediction to come true, and the details regarding each man were concrete and could be verified. Things happened as Joseph predicted and so the cupbearer was able to recommend Joseph to Pharaoh because he had objective, verifiable proof that Joseph was able to interpret dreams.

Gen. 41:14 ¶ Then Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph, and they hurriedly brought him out of the dungeon; and when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came to Pharaoh.

It is interesting to me that the Bible tells us that Joseph shaved and changed his clothes. Even though Pharaoh was in a hurry, Joseph still had to meet certain standards before he appeared before Pharaoh.

Gen. 41:15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

Gen. 41:16 Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

Joseph properly gave God the credit for the ability to interpret dreams.

Gen. 41:17 So Pharaoh spoke to Joseph, “In my dream, behold, I was standing on the bank of the Nile;

Gen. 41:18 and behold, seven cows, fat and sleek came up out of the Nile, and they grazed in the marsh grass.

Gen. 41:19 “Lo, seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and gaunt, such as I had never seen for ugliness in all the land of Egypt;

Gen. 41:20 and the lean and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows.

Gen. 41:21 “Yet when they had devoured them, it could not be detected that they had devoured them, for they were just as ugly as before. Then I awoke.

Gen. 41:22 “I saw also in my dream, and behold, seven ears, full and good, came up on a single stalk;

Gen. 41:23 and lo, seven ears, withered, thin, and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them;

Gen. 41:24 and the thin ears swallowed the seven good ears. Then I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.”

This account of Pharaoh’s dreams gives us some more details, particularly the part about the ugly cows being just as ugly after devouring the fat cows.

Gen. 41:25 ¶ Now Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has told to Pharaoh what He is about to do.

Gen. 41:26 “The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one and the same.

Gen. 41:27 “The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven thin ears scorched by the east wind will be seven years of famine.

Gen. 41:28 “It is as I have spoken to Pharaoh: God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do.

Now we know the importance of the number seven.

Gen. 41:29 “Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt;

Gen. 41:30 and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will ravage the land.

Gen. 41:31 “So the abundance will be unknown in the land because of that subsequent famine; for it will be very severe.

Gen. 41:32 “Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about.

And now we understand the contrast between fat and gaunt. There was going to be seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine.

Gen. 41:33 “Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.

Gen. 41:34 “Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance.

Gen. 41:35 “Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh’s authority, and let them guard it.

Gen. 41:36 “Let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not perish during the famine.”

Joseph’s suggestion was to stockpile food during the seven years of abundance so that they would have food during the famine. Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams is indeed what happened, showing us that God used dreams to communicate to people.

Does God use dreams to communicate to us? Do our dreams have meaning? First of all, since this passage teaches us that God has the ability to use dreams to communicate to people, the question is not can He, the question is does He choose to do so.

Second, It should be noted that while the Old Testament contains multiple examples of God using dreams, the New Testament says very little about dreams. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that God used dreams to communicate to Jesus’ father; other than that, the New Testament does not mention dreams. It is risky to make an argument from silence, but since the New Testament says so little about dreams, perhaps we should not put much emphasis on the meaning of dreams, either.

Third, as we contemplate whether or not our dreams have meaning, we should keep in mind that we have the Bible and the Holy Spirit. God doesn’t need to use dreams to communicate to us, He has already communicated much information to us via other methods.

Fourth, the reason it was wise to act on Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream was because Joseph had earlier proven that God gave him the ability to interpret dreams. Likewise with us, before we act on a dream or conclude that God has spoken to us via a dream, we should be sure we have some objective evidence to conclude that God is indeed speaking to us via a dream.

God certainly can speak to us via a dream, if He chooses to do so; however, we should probably not seek to conclude much meaning from our dreams unless we have compelling, objective evidence to believe that God is indeed speaking to us via a dream.


Further Reading

How do we know if God is giving us a sign?


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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”