The Rules of Dreams

Posted by: Brittney Zellner

The rules of dreams - vineyard

What is a dream and what are the rules of dreams?

So, of course, no human probably really knows exactly what dreams are and what the rules of dreams are. There are hundreds of books written on the subject and countless opinions and ideas about their purpose or lack thereof. However, there is much that we can deduce from the bible and from general logic about the purpose of dreams.

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For many years I have had much interest in dreams. I have never seen them as magical. I have never imagined my creator as magical. To me, he is the smartest and most intelligent being that there is and we cannot even fathom the entirety of his intelligence. It is because of that obvious aspect of him that I refuse to believe that dreams are somehow mostly nonsense. Rather, I believe dreams are intentional and beneficial.

Dream Dictionaries

At the start of my interest in the rules of dreams, I found what are known as dream dictionaries to be of great help. I wasn’t sure exactly how the symbols in dream dictionaries came about but that is where I started. If you do not know what a dream dictionary is, it is basically a list of objects and subjects that can appear in a dream. It also contains their corresponding symbolic meaning. Dream interpreters use these symbols to tell a person what their dream means.

For example, if someone dreamed of a dog, the dream dictionary might say a dog symbolizes loyalty. The dream interpreter would tell the dreamer that their dream was about their loyalty to something. Dream dictionaries do not tell you the rules of dreams nor how to really use the symbolisms. They don’t give you any idea why you had the dream or where it comes from.

New-age type people make most of the dream dictionaries that are online or in print. These dream dictionaries usually connect to psychic websites and the like. Religious and secular types create them as well. Since I know that God’s Torah (Hebrew for instructions) says I am to stay away from such twisted things, I’ve made it a point to stay clear of those types of websites and dictionaries. Especially, any that openly advertise things like astrology or World Pantheism. I do this in order to maintain balance and clearly distinguish where the line is drawn for me. The ones I used often came from a psychological point of view. However, those types of dictionaries were very limited as if missing the most crucial part of a dream’s purpose.

Biblical Symbolism

It was because of my realization that dream dictionaries seemed to be more attached to “magic” and “fortune telling” that I instead searched out biblical symbols and was intent on only interpreting dreams from that point of view. Oddly enough, the bible isn’t as clear about its symbols as you would think. It’s even worse if you look up what Christians and Jews think dreams and dreams symbols represent. Even with two prominent dream interpreters in the bible, there is substantial debate about how their interpretations came about.

How do people normally interpret dreams?

There are all sorts of camps of beliefs when it comes to dream symbolism. Some people try and interpret a dream based on an overall meaning of what stands out to them the most, while others try to go the predictive route and assume that whatever they are dreaming will one day come true. From my experience, most think that some dreams come from God, some from the devil and demons, some have some psychological unknown purpose and lastly, that they may mean nothing at all and you probably had the dream because you ate too many burritos last night.

Ancient Hebrew Thought

I couldn’t get a grasp on interpreting dreams from strictly bible only symbolism the way I was going about it and dream dictionaries were hit or miss. Then one day after reading a book from the Hebraic language and culture teacher Brad Scott, I learned about what is referred to as “ancient Hebrew thought”. Something about his teaching struck me and I had a revelation about symbolism in general. His teaching was about how in the context of the culture, the original Hebrew people thought of objects and subjects by their function and purpose and not necessarily by their form.

For example, if an ancient Hebrew person was asked to describe a pencil, their answer would be something like “it is an object for writing held in the hand”. The other mindset being compared was what he called a Greek or Western mindset. In this mindset, a person would describe the visual characteristics of the pencil, like what it is made from or what color it is, what each part of it looked like and was called.

In a dream, you would go even a step further with the function and purpose of the pencil. The pencil would symbolize a form of communication that isn’t permanent and that can be taken back if your mind has been changed. It can also reflect something temporary, of little importance or insincerity.

Abstract Function before Form

Conversely, the introduction of the mindset “function before form” had me understanding subjects in a different light as well. I was able to understand and utilize slightly more complex abstract words in the bible by giving them concrete anchored functions.

An example of that would be the word for love which in my western mindset can mean anything I want it to mean. In Hebrew, the word for love is Ahav. Ahav can be used interchangeably with the word preference. Preference over one’s own self is essentially the meaning of that word when looking at the context of the word used in the bible. “To give” is also an association to the Hebrew word ahav and to give is a function that we can readily recognize and apply to our mental understanding of the word.

There are other Hebrew words for love in the bible that can all be associated with concrete visuals as well but now that I have this understanding of Ahav and its concrete function, I can now use the word love with purpose that doesn’t change and hasn’t changed since creation. If I prefer something unselfishly and am physically, emotionally or spiritually giving of myself, then love is an appropriate description of my behavior.

Spiritual, (read psychological) function before physical function

Equipped with more information, I decided to use this method experimentally in dream interpretation. Instead of trusting some dream dictionary to tell me what the symbolism for dream objects was, I could simply ask myself what the object or subjects function, action and/or purpose was and correlate it to something in the dreamer’s life that had a parallel function, action and/or purpose. BINGO! Suddenly, I didn’t need dream dictionaries at all anymore and I also began to understand what the purpose of dreams might be. I kept expecting something to be wrong about my hypothesis…for some aspect of it to not fit with the bible or with a person’s life but it matches every time, without fail and never contradicts the word of God.

I began to use this method full force and have since learned even more. Instead of writing out how I came to each conclusion (we don’t have enough space in blog-world to recount it all) I will list the meaning, purpose, and rules of dreams based on the bible and the rules of dreams based on my Hebrew thought hypothesis. For certain, based on my research, this is not how historically pagan cultures or even the Jewish ones interpreted dreams. I do believe, however, that it is how Joseph and Daniel used of dream interpretation to some extent and will share my findings in future posts.

No Space for Thoroughly Peppered Scripture

Before I begin I want to point out that I am a firm believer that a person may teach another person something that is completely biblical even though they do not litter the entire teaching with a thousand scriptures to back up every claim. The Bible is logical and it can be plainly seen when ideas line up with it or not if you are familiar with even the general message. Littering teachings with various scriptures can sometimes lead a person to take the meaning out of context.

It is important for me that you understand that the message begins in a general sense and works its way down to the details. Each point of this list is exactly that, a general statement. Each statement will be systematically broken down in later blog posts using more scripture references for those of you who insist that even if it makes complete sense, explicit statements in the bible must occur in every post before it you can believe it.

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The Basic Rules of Dream Interpretation

1. Every dream has a real and consistent purpose.

God gives dreams to us for a reason. Whether to help us deal with an issue, change the course we are taking or to warn us about how to handle future situations, dreams are not simply about something. They are not stories; they are purposeful even if you don’t understand them.

Job 33:13-18 says this about dreams:

13 Why do you complain to him that he responds to no one’s words?

14 For God does speak—now one way, now another— though no one perceives it.

15 In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they slumber in their beds,

16 he may speak in their ears and terrify them with warnings,

17 to turn them from wrongdoing and keep them from pride,

18 to preserve them from the pit, their lives from perishing by the sword.

This bit of scripture makes it clear that not only dreams but that nightmares are communication from God to us to help guide us on the path towards the kingdom and life. However, dreams are not just for warning us. Imagine your life represents a path you are attempting to use to get somewhere but you do not know the way. The dream is one of the many forms of communication you need from the only one who knows the path and can guide you there with ease.

Great And Powerful Purpose – Dreams Are Direction

Sometimes you might be confused as you walk and wonder if you are on the right path and going in the right direction in life. God may use a dream to coax you a little to the left of where you were so that you will not have to go out of the way or so that you can avoid some obstacle that will cause you hardship. Sometimes you may indeed be going in the wrong direction and need obvious correction before you get too far into dangerous terrain. Maybe you are going in exactly the right direction but you are coming upon a crossroads in your life and need to make a decision. God may use a dream as a sort of map to show you where you have come from so that you may take the correct route confidently.

Once you realize and understand this truth about dreams; you will begin you utilize them in a beneficial way that can and will propel you great distances on your walk towards the kingdom.

2. Dreams are almost never literal and the people in them are not real people.

I say almost because I have never been personally told of a dream that was literal in all details but I can’t rule it out since there is no way of knowing every dream ever dreamt and every interpretation of such.

So, if you dream that your husband cheats on you, it does not, I repeat, IT DOES NOT mean that he cheats on you. Husbands represent strong personality characteristics that we commit ourselves to for life. Cheating in dreams represents actions that go against the things we commit ourselves to. Your dream was likely to have represented a strong long-held waking-life belief you thought would never change. Somehow though, over a short while or even on a whim, this view changes and you feel you’ve betrayed yourself. In fact, since this action goes against the commandments of God, it is very likely that He is comparing your self-betrayal to the seriousness of a real-life betrayal to encourage an immediate change of your attitude and related waking life behavior.

Psst…They’re ALL You

It is important to know that people in dreams ALL represent some aspect of your own mind. Imagine for a moment that within your mind are dozens of different aspects of your opinions, experiences, and understandings. They all interact with each other without you giving it a second thought. Sometimes internally you have conflicting opinions and feelings. In the dream world, this manifests itself as two people who you know in your waking life that are known to be in favor of each of your opposing ideas or opinions. In your dream, they would be fighting or making each other uncomfortable in some way.

Another concept about dreams that is difficult to absorb is that when you do something to someone in a dream or they do something to you that hurts you, this is actually a representation of some self-destructive action in your waking life and has little to do with another real-life person at all other than what they represent to you in your waking life. If, for example, a gossiper friend from work is beating you up in a dream, the symbolism is that your own habit of gossip is contributing to your own pain. If that person actually beats you up in your waking life and you dream it, the symbolism doesn’t change. People are mirrors of each other and the things we intensely dislike about them that stir vehement responses in us are usually things we hate within ourselves and might be in denial about.

3. At their core, dreams are for the person dreaming them and whomever they are responsible for.

For example, a King would have personal dreams and dreams about his kingdom (like in the bible, pharaoh’s dream about the cows or the Babylonian king’s dream about the statue and generations to come). A father would dream about his own issues and those of his immediate family (wife and children). Lastly, pastors might dream about a situation in regards to their congregation in addition to dreams about their own walk.

They are for you.

You must keep in mind, however, that your dream is not for another person. You would not dream for someone else you are not or will never be responsible for. For example, I would not dream about a friend’s problem and tell her, “this dream is for you”. The dream is about your own personal struggle on your own path towards the kingdom. It may also be about the others you are responsible for helping to get there but in regards to your own responsibility for them, not a correction towards them. Sadly, it is much easier to see other people’s problems. We tend to think we can help them as opposed to changing our own problems. Unfortunately, we will likely associate a dream issue with the people we see in the dream instead of our own issues connected to their behavior that is within our control.

Because people often think that they are having dreams for another person, to warn them or something similar, it is important for them to remember the basic purpose of a dream. This basic purpose is to move the dreamer along the path that leads to life and the kingdom. To them, it sounds spiritual and important to tell others about their neighbor’s destruction. In doing this, though, you miss the dream’s very important purpose. You also miss the ability for you to confront an obstacle that could propel you forward by leaps and bounds. Dreams are meant to direct your focus more inward.

4. Your dreams do not predict the future or some future event that you need to warn the world about.

If they do, you are a ruler or king and these people are your responsibility.

This is something I often have to explain to people that they might either disagree with or they ignore entirely. People are usually certain that their dreams are predicting the return of the messiah. They also have dreams they insist are warning of some cataclysmic event. With all the practice it becomes obvious to me that the dream is actually symbolizing an internal conflict they have. However, internal conflicts are boring, tedious, and cause you to confront denial. Apocalyptic events, however, are more dramatic and can allow you to feel the excitement of panic and fear.

It might amaze people to know that cataclysmic events happen within their minds and hearts more often than they think. A tornado, for example, would symbolize that they can see unpredictable destruction coming in the near future. It could be that their boss has just announced that layoffs are coming. They might feel that a lot of changes are on the horizon. In this case, the stress you feel on a psychological level could be comparative to the stress of seeing a tornado in the distance in your waking life.

A dream with this symbol could direct you to prepare yourself or to calm yourself when you can see that the tornado is not headed in your direction. However, if you are just intent on warning all your neighbors that a tornado is coming, you are just likely spreading your stress around. You are sadly missing the chance to progress towards the kingdom. More about the symbolism of tornados here.

5. Dreams do not come from the devil and he has no control over them.

No matter how evil a dream might seem, it is just a bunch of symbols that are not inherently evil. Symbols are complex and one needs understanding to interpret how they apply to a person’s life. For example, sex is essentially a symbol for the intimate joining of two types of personalities. Rape is symbolic of feeling violation in that joining. Demons symbolize feelings and actions of helplessness and a lack of self-control. Kissing represents equipping someone or something with power related to speaking.

A terrible nightmare that causes intense fear is essentially symbolic of internal conflict that causes you great stress or fear. A dream like this needs to be dealt with immediately. Children often suffer nightmares when their parents are not stable and emotionally healthy. They also tend to suffer nightmares when their parents allow movies and stories to teach them a kind of morality that isn’t healthy and appropriate at their young age. Their sense of comfort and safety is not there as it should be. This communication from God that causes children terror utilizing nightmares alerts their parent to be more attentive to their children. The rational information and parental confidence can assure them, comfort them and bring them out of their fearful state. You can read more about scary dreams, uncomfortable dreams, and children’s dreams by clicking these links.

6. Not every object symbolizes just something good or just something evil. 

The symbols in dreams can have a positive aspect and a negative aspect in most cases. Using sex as an example again, we can see that when dreamt of in a moral sense between a husband and a wife would symbolize the joining of two personality types within the bounds of God’s approval. While dreaming of sex with a stranger or with another person’s husband would represent the joining of two personalities that God does not approve of or that do not go together naturally.

Remember, dreams are essentially communication that moves one spiritually forward. Therefore, there must be symbols that bring attention to our negative aspects, actions, and thoughts in order to remove them. To dream of demon-possession does not mean that someone has demon-possession. It means that there is some aspect of yourself that feels out of control and/or helpless. It means that this aspect of your character is something that needs confrontation immediately. This is not to say that real demons don’t exist or influence people’s lives. Rather, it means that Jesus our Messiah, and God our creator are so much stronger than anything. All it takes is a desperate and sincere prayer for help with your uncontrolled behavior. You can do this to change your life and free you from the bonds of those evil influences.

7. Not everyone can interpret dreams.

This statement would seem to go against my expressed belief that anyone can interpret dreams. However, this statement is more about an immediate ability as opposed to gradual growth in maturity and ability.

Symbols are complex and determine the function, purpose and to a lesser degree the form of an object or subject. It takes time and practice to see how symbols correlates to some aspect of a person’s life through its symbolism. Very few people can grasp this quickly. Most need to devote regular time to changing their views on symbolism and overcoming rigid cultural norms or standards. There is also a rather important element of discernment. You need discernment to be able to understand a dreamer’s character. Discernment is crucial and gives an accurate and helpful interpretation.

Knowing the Bible is essential to understanding the communication coming from God. It helps us so that we know which direction the dreamer must go. Be careful if you do not have much experience. One day you may have to answer for the direction you gave someone if it was incorrect.

Dream interpretation is much like the difference between knowing an entire second language intricately and knowing a few choice phrases. Nobody learns a language overnight. Even some who have spent years learning a language may still not know how to thoroughly use it. They may not understand it as a native speaker does. Do not assume that you are fluent in symbolism. At best even the most experienced dream interpreter is at novice level and still far less than intermediate.

8. Dreams have multiple levels.

Our creator is logical but, I am convinced he is also deeper and wider than we could ever know. Jews have been studying the bible for centuries using PARDES levels (Peshot, Remez, Drash, Sod) (blog posts coming soon about this subject). In addition, Christians in the medieval times studied Allegorical levels of the bible (Literal, Typological, Tropological and Anagogical). Dreams also can be understood to have multiple levels of understanding. However, like these ways of understanding the bible, it is important to start with the literal sense. We will later work our way towards the mysterious sense in a balanced way.

An example of the various levels of dreams could be that whatever we are dealing with on a personal level is also what the Israeli assembly (the body) deals with as a whole. You struggle with gossip and divisiveness and the body struggles with gossip and divisiveness etc.

Many people read the bible looking only for every mystery and miss the most important basic teachings. Dreams likewise can be “over spiritualized” to cause us to miss the point and miss out on an important direction.

There are many more rules for dreams but these are the basics. You will understand your dreams when keeping with these rules. You will avoid rabbit trails and confusion by following them. Number one is most important even if you do not understand the rest of the list. Just remember that Abba loves you and wants to direct you toward life.