the First Week of Advent
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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(חֲלוֹם, chalom'; Sept. ἐνύπνιον; but καθ᾿ ὕπνον and κατ᾿ ὄναρ in Matthew are generally used for "in a dream"). Dreams have been the subject of much curious speculation in all ages. The ancients had various theories respecting them, the most notable of which for our present purpose is that of Homer (Iliad, 1:63), who declares that "they come from Jove." The most philosophic opinion of antiquity respecting dreams was that of Aristotle, who thought that every object of sense produces upon the human soul a certain impression, which remains for some time after the object that made it is removed; and which, being afterwards recognised by the perceptive faculty in sleep, gives rise to the varied images which present themselves. This view nearly approaches that of modern mental science, which teaches that dreams are ordinarily the re-embodiment of thoughts which have before, in some shape or other, occupied our minds (Elwin, Operations of the Mind in Sleep, Lond. 1843). They are broken fragments of our former conceptions revived, and heterogeneously brought together. If they break off from their connecting chain and become loosely associated, they exhibit oft-times absurd combinations, but the elements still subsist. If, for instance, any irritation, such as pain, fever, etc., should excite the perceptive organs while the reflective ones are under the influence of sleep, we have a consciousness of objects, colors, or sounds being presented to us, just as if the former organs were actually stimulated by having such impressions communicated to them by the external senses; whilst, in consequence of the repose of the reflecting power, we are unable to rectify the illusion, and conceive that the scenes passing before us, or the sounds that we hear, have a real existence. This want of mutual cooperation between the different faculties of the mind may account for the disjointed character of dreams. This is in accordance with the theory of dreams alluded to in Ecclesiastes 5:7; Isaiah 29:8.
"The main difference between our sleeping and waking thoughts appears to lie in this, that in the former case the perceptive faculties of the mind (the sensational powers [not their organs; see Butler, Analogy, part 1, c. 1], and the imagination which combines the impressions derived from them) are active, while the reflective powers (the reason or judgment by which we control those impressions, and distinguish between those which are imaginary or subjective and those which correspond to, and are produced by, objective realities) are generally asleep. Milton's account of dreams (in Par. Lost, 5:100-113) seems as accurate as it is striking. Thus it is that the impressions of dreams are in themselves vivid, natural, and picturesque, occasionally gifted with an intuition beyond our ordinary powers, but strangely incongruous and often grotesque; the emotion of surprise or incredulity, which arises from a sense of incongruity, or of unlikeness to the ordinary course of events, being in dreams a thing unknown. The mind seems to be surrendered to that power of association by which, even in its waking hours, if it be inactive and inclined to 'musing,' it is often carried through a series of thoughts connected together by some vague and accidental association, until the reason, when it starts again into activity, is scarcely able to trace back the slender line of connection. The difference is that, in this latter case, we are aware that the connection is of our own making, while in sleep it appears to be caused by an actual succession of events. Such is usually the case; yet there is a class of dreams, seldom noticed, and, in. deed, less common, but recognized by the experience of many, in which the reason is not wholly asleep. In these cases it seems to look on as it were from without, and so to have a double consciousness: on the one hand we enter into the events of the dream, as though real; on the other we have a sense that it is but a dream, and a fear lest we should awake and its pageant should pass away. In either case the ideas suggested are accepted by the mind in dreams at once and inevitably, instead of being weighed and tested, as in our waking hours.
But it is evident that the method of such suggestion is still undetermined, and, in fact, is no more capable of being accounted for by any single cause than the suggestion of waking thoughts. The material of these latter is supplied either by ourselves, through the senses, the memory, and the imagination, or by other men, generally through the medium of words, or, lastly, by the direct action of the Spirit of God, or of created spirits of orders superior to our own, or the spirit within us. So also it is in dreams. In the first place, although memory and imagination supply most of the material of dreams, yet physical sensations of cold and heat, of pain or of relief, even actual impressions of sound or of light will often mold or suggest dreams, and the physical organs of speech will occasionally be made use of to express the emotions of the dreamer. In the second place, instances have been known where a few words whispered into a sleeper's ear have produced a dream corresponding to their subject. On these two points experience gives undoubted testimony; as to the third, it can, from the nature of the case, speak but vaguely and uncertainly. The Scripture declares, not as any strange thing, but as a thing of course, that the influence of the Spirit of God upon the soul extends to its sleeping as well as its waking thoughts. It declares that God communicates with the spirit of man directly in dreams, and also that he permits created spirits to have a like communication with it. Its declaration is to be weighed, not as an isolated thing, but in connection with the general doctrine of spiritual influence, because any theory of dreams must be regarded as a part of the general theory of the origination of all thought."
Whatever may be the difficulties attending the subject, still we know that dreams have formed a channel through which Jehovah was pleased in former times to reveal his character and dispensations to his people. This method of divine communication is alluded to in Job 33:14. The most remarkable instances recorded in the Old Testament are those of Abimelech with regard to Abraham (Genesis 20:3), Jacob on his way to Padan-Aram (Genesis 28:8), and again on returning thence (Genesis 31:10), Laban in pursuing Jacob (Genesis 31:24), Joseph respecting his future advancement (Genesis 37:6-11), Gideon (Judges 7) and Solomon (1 Kings 3:5). In the New Testament (as was predicted, Joel 2:28) we have the equally clear cases of Joseph respecting the infant Jesus (Matthew 1:20; Matthew 2:12-13; Matthew 2:19), Paul (Acts 16:9; Acts 18:9; Acts 27:23), and perhaps Pilate's wife (Matthew 27:19).
"It must be observed that, in accordance with the principle enunciated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:15, dreams, in which the understanding is asleep, are recognized indeed as a method of divine revelation, but placed below the visions of prophecy, in which the understanding plays its part. It is true that the book of Job, standing as it does on the basis of 'natural religion,' dwells on dreams and 'visions of deep sleep' as the chosen method of God's revelation of himself to man (see Job 4:13; Job 7:14; Job 33:15). But in Numbers 12:6; Deuteronomy 13:1; Deuteronomy 13:3; Deuteronomy 13:5; Jeremiah 27:9; Joel 2:28, etc., dreamers of dreams, whether true or false, are placed below 'prophets,' and even below 'diviners;' and similarly in the climax of 1 Samuel 28:6, we read that,'the Lord answered Saul not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim [by symbol], nor by prophets.' Under the Christian dispensation, while we frequently read of trances (ἐκστάσεις ) and visions (ὀπτασίαι, ὁράματα ), dreams are not referred to as regular vehicles of divine revelation. In exact accordance with this principle are the actual records of the dreams sent by God. The greater number of such dreams were granted, for prediction or for warning, to those who were aliens to the Jewish covenant. Thus we have the record of the dreams of Abimelech (Genesis 20:3-7); Laban (Genesis 31:24); of the chief butler and baker (Genesis 40:5); of Pharaoh (Genesis 41:1-8); of the Midianite (Judges 7:13); of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:1, etc.; Daniel 4:10-18); of the magi (Matthew 2:12), and of Pilate's wife (Matthew 27:19). Many of these dreams, moreover, were symbolical and obscure, so as to require an interpreter. Again, where dreams are recorded as means of God's revelation to his chosen servants; they are almost always referred to the periods of their earliest and most imperfect knowledge of him. 'So it is in the case. of Abraham (Genesis 15:12, and perhaps 1-9), of Jacob (Genesis 28:12-15), of Joseph (Genesis 37:5-10), of Solomon (1 Kings 3:5), and, in the N.T., a similar analogy prevails in the case of the otherwise uninspired Joseph (Matthew 1:20; Matthew 2:13; Matthew 2:19; Matthew 2:22). It is to be observed, moreover, that they belong especially to the earliest age, and become less frequent as the revelations of prophecy increase. The only exception to this (at least in the O.T.) is found in the dreams and 'visions of the night' given to Daniel (2:19; 7:1), apparently in order to put to shame the falsehoods of the Chaldaean belief in prophetic dreams and in the power of interpretation, and yet to bring out the truth latent therein (comp. Paul's miracles at Ephesus, Acts 19:11-12, and their effect, 18-20).
"The general conclusion therefore is, first, that the Scripture claims the dream, as it does every other action of the human mind, as a medium through which God may speak to man either directly, that is, as we call it, 'providentially,' or indirectly in virtue of a general influence upon all his thoughts; and, secondly, that it lays far greater stress on that divine influence by which the understanding also is affected, and leads us to believe that as such influence extends more and more, revelation by dreams, unless in very peculiar circumstances, might be expected to pass away." (See the [Am.] Christ. Rev. October 1857.)
The Orientals, and in particular the Hebrews, greatly regarded dreams, and applied for their interpretation to those who undertook to explain them. Such diviners have been usually called oneirocritics, and the art itself oneiromancy. We see the antiquity of this custom in the history of Pharaoh's butler and baker (Genesis 40:1-23); and Pharaoh himself, and Nebuchadnezzar, are also instances. (See DIVINATION). It is quite clear from the inspired history that dreams were looked upon by the earliest nations of antiquity as premonitions from their idol gods of future events. One part of Jehovah's great plan in revealing, through this channel, his designs towards Egypt, Joseph individually, and his brethren generally, was to correct this notion. The same principle is apparent in the divine power bestowed upon Daniel to interpret dreams. Jehovah expressly forbade his people from observing dreams, and from consulting explainers of them. He condemned to death all who pretended to have prophetic dreams, and to foretell events, even though what they foretold came to pass, if they had any tendency to promote idolatry (Deuteronomy 13:1-4). But they were not forbidden, when they thought they had a significant dream, to address the prophets of the Lord, or the high-priest in his ephod, to have it explained (Numbers 12:6; compare the case of Saul, 1 Samuel 28:6-7). False and true dreams are expressly contrasted in Jeremiah 23:25; Jeremiah 23:28. (See NIGHT-VISION).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Dream'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​d/dream.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.