Seaborn Hall, 11/25/18, updated 11/09/19
This dream was featured in a prominent newsletter recently as as example of a universal dream ‘for the Body of Christ.’
We use this dream as an example because it was featured publicly and because when something is featured publicly it becomes an example for others to follow. Therefore, it opens itself up to appraisal because it purports to teach others and to become an example for them. If the interpretation or the teaching is off-base or incorrect, it can lead others astray and into error.
James 3:1 says, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1 NAS95).” What this means is that when someone becomes a teacher they spread their error or lack of understanding to those that they teach. This can happen on many levels.
The epitome of this is demonstrated in Revelation 2 which says of Jezebel, “she teaches and leads my bond servants astray.” The dream interpretation described here is not to the extent of Jezebel – but our point is that teaching always deserves appraisal because it has the propensity to lead people into truth or error.
Misinterpreted and mis-applied dreams can lead people astray and cause them to make unwise decisions in their lives. This is especially true when someone believes that God can and does speak in dreams. We believe that over the last thirty years in the prophetic stream of the church that errors like this have happened on a regular basis. This is part of the reason for the ineffectiveness and confusion in much of this part of the church body.
The Misinterpreted Dream
We purposely leave out the origin of the public presentation of the dream and the author. Our intent is not to embarrass anyone but to prevent the larger church from being led astray by misinterpretation and misapplication of dreams.
Here is the dream:
I had a dream where I was on the phone with a good friend, but we got interrupted and cut off. Then I got a call from the operator who was sent to give me a message from my friend. He said a few things at first which seemed OK, but one stood out and caused me to get angry. He said, “She won’t listen to gossip anymore, so don’t gossip.” I was so angry for two reasons: First, that she would send a difficult message like that through someone I didn’t know instead of telling me herself. Second, because I wasn’t gossiping.
I went across the street to her house to confront her on this. I told her she didn’t have reason to send me the message because I wasn’t gossiping, and she should have told me the message herself instead of going through someone I didn’t know. I also said that I’d worked on this issue in the past and was doing well. She was relentlessness and didn’t apologize. She said she was getting ready to go on a mission trip overseas, and needed to set herself apart by going higher in her character. Then some other friends of mine came into the room and they heard both of our sides.
This is what the author said to introduce the dream: “The Lord spoke to me in a dream about what is dividing the Body of Christ and how we are to recalculate, so as to be wise to the enemy’s schemes.”
But, is this dream a dream about the larger Body of Christ? Or, is it a personal dream designed to give insight to the dreamer in the smaller issue of a relationship struggle or some other intra-personal struggle? And, how do we know the difference?
Interpreting Someone Else’s Dream – How Do We Interpret?
Before interpreting the dream we need to speak to the issue of interpreting someone else’s dream, whether a friend or a stranger. In this case, we are interpreting the dream of a stranger, of someone we don’t know and of whom we have no personal knowledge. To address this we need to talk in general of how we interpret.
How do we interpret anything? That is, how do you know that I am saying what I am saying? It is through an understood language and that language is always interpreted in a context. We might ask first, ‘What is language?’ A language is merely symbol for meaning, in other words, a word written on a page or spoken by someone acts as a symbol for a particular and widely understood meaning or meanings. This meaning may be the same or different in different nations or cultures. The meaning may change according to the context.
For example, if I say “Ship the package” it is not the same as “ship-shape,” and that is not the same as “The ship sails on the ocean.” The meaning of the word “ship” is determined by its context in the sentence – by its literary context. In this example it has three different uses and three different meanings. But, further, if I am standing on the deck of a ship when I say ‘ship-shape’ it might take on a different meaning than if I am a personal trainer speaking to students in a gym. The meaning of words is also determined by their life context.
Numbers 12 says, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream (Num. 12:6 NAS95).” Then it goes on to describe how this happens, saying, “With him [Moses] I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly, and not in dark sayings (Num. 12:8 NAS95).”
The Hebrew word for ‘dark sayings’ is hiydah, which means ‘riddles,’ ‘hidden things,’ ‘allegory,’ or ‘intrigue.’ It is not ‘clear speech,’ which is the way that God spoke with Moses. Hidden things or speech always needs to be interpreted and, as such, it may be misunderstood or misinterpreted.
So, dreams and visions are ‘dark sayings.’ They are not open, or literal, or ‘face to face’ type of speech. They are purposely put in the form of riddles, or puzzles. The difference between ‘riddles’ and ‘clear speech’ is the difference between levels of prophecy and prophets – this is addressed more extensively in Evaluating Prophets And Prophecy.
Are Dreams A Language? If They Are, How Does The Language Work?
A friend questioned my interpretation recently when I interpreted the dream of someone I did not know.
I had heard the entire dream through another source – when the person had shared the dream on a recording. My friend’s point was that I could not know the interpretation of the dream because I did not know the person. The implication was that each person has their own personal dream vocabulary and that dreams, therefore, can only be interpreted by the person dreaming – each dream has a different meaning depending on the dreamer’s interpretation, and they are the only one who can affirm what God might be saying.
Is this the case?
What is a dream? Isn’t a dream a language? The same thing is happening in a dream that happens when we speak or write. Symbols are used for meaning, but in this case the symbols are not primarily words, but they are pictures or actions or words.
In the case of a dream, pictures – people, places, things, actions, and words (be careful, this last one trips people up when they interpret dreams all of the time) – are used as symbols to convey meaning. To extract meaning we therefore must understand the pictures as symbols and then we must understand what the symbols mean. The symbols are interpreted in the same manner that we might interpret words in a sentence – in their life context and in their literary, or in this case, dream context.
As it happened, I heard the dream of this particular stranger on a You Tube channel. She also misinterpreted a very personal dream as a dream for the universal church. Even though she was a stranger to me I clearly understood what the dream was saying to her. It was a dream seeking to clarify relational and personal confusion and to help her see the solution to her problem.
I sent her the interpretation via her You Tube contact info. Several weeks later I heard back and she was amazed at how the interpretation spoke exactly to her life situation – in spite of the fact I had no knowledge of her or what she was going through.
How could I interpret the dream of a stranger?
How Do We Interpret Dreams?
It is true that everyone has a personal dream vocabulary. That is, there are certain people, things, and places that have a particular meaning to us. When we dream, God can use these things as personal symbols to convey special meaning to us. But, at the same time there are common symbols that we all understand. Examples of these are Biblical symbols and iconic symbols, just to name two.
Biblical symbols are Biblical people, places, or things that have known meaning. For example, the wilderness is a known Biblical symbol with a particular meaning. The people of Israel traveled through and were tested in the wilderness before they entered the ‘Promised Land,’ which is also another known symbol with a clear meaning.
Iconic symbols are known universal symbols, for example, like a ‘snake’ (which also has a particular Biblical meaning). The universal understanding of a ‘snake’ is someone who acts in a deceptive, underhanded manner. In the same way, a ‘rat’ is someone who tattles or informs on someone, or it might be someone who is rotten to the core.
The Statue of Liberty is an iconic symbol of freedom. The Virgin Mary is an iconic symbol of purity.
Either language means something or it doesn’t. That is, a word does not mean what you want it to mean. Its meaning depends on the history of its use. The same is true of a personal dream vocabulary. Symbols don’t mean whatever meaning you want to assign to them, their meaning is based on the history of your associations and the meaning they have developed through the years.
God, through the Holy Spirit, takes these associations and speaks through both a Biblical-Iconic vocabulary and a personal vocabulary. Both vocabularies have a field of meaning that is based on the history of associations that the words, people, places, or things have come to have over the years.
This ‘field of meaning’ might be rather narrow, or it can be quite large. For example, ‘ship,’ the word example from up above, might have a ‘field of meaning’ of three meanings. Another word or symbol might have a much larger field of up to ten meanings or more. Every meaning is determined by context – dream context and life context.
For now, it is good to remember that dream interpretation involves literary or dream context and life context. Dream symbols are a language like any language where symbol substitutes for meaning, but meaning is always governed by context, just as in any language.
Dreams, if they are God-dreams especially, speak to us through a Biblical/Iconic vocabulary that has universal meaning. They also speak through a more intimate specific personal vocabulary that involves having special knowledge of the dreamer to be fully understood.
That said, Biblical and Iconic vocabulary, being universally known, can be used to interpret anyone’s dreams if the overall context – dream and life context – of the dreamer is respected.
Personal dreams usually begin with specific personal details and set a ‘personal’ context. Universal dreams usually begin with larger than life symbols that are non-personal in nature. In general, God speaks to us first about personal and developmental issues long before He speaks to us about larger universal type issues.
When a dream opens with a phrase like, “I had a dream where I was on the phone with a good friend” we can be sure that the dream is speaking to some sort of personal issue. In the next installment we will discuss a possible full interpretation of the dream.
Also see, Dream Discernment, Seaborn Hall, Common Sense Spiritual Life