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Dreams, Vision and Sleep 3

Old and New Testament Dreams

by the Rev. Frederick L. Schnarr

In our last treatment we learned of how dreams and visions were used by the Lord in Most Ancient times, primarily as a means of giving instruction concerning the life of heaven. We saw how some dreams served to convey doctrinal knowledges to them, how other dreams let them see the life and activity of the societies of heaven with their beautiful paradisal surroundings, and how still other dreams served as means of confirming their instruction by presenting representative scenes in which they knew the significance of every animal, plant, mineral, and so forth. We noted that during the fall of the Most Ancient Church the primary use of dreams and visions changed from that of instruction directly to the individual, to that of instruction mixed with prophesy to the few.

In the first ages of the Ancient Church something of the former use of dreams seems to have briefly endured, but only with the good remnant from the Most Ancient Church; not with everybody. But now the dreams and visions were no longer crystal clear. General truths passed on by word of mouth could still be confirmed through dreams and visions, because the knowledge of correspondences had not yet been lost. But the open communication with the nature and quality of heaven was gone. This was the time in which the Lord began to provide that there should be a written form of revelation with man. Since man could no longer be led and taught through dreams and visions from within, he would have to be taught the knowledge of good and truth from without. As long as there was a memory of the meaning of correspondences, a written Word could be formed by collecting together the symbolic and representative stories from the Most Ancient times. This was done under Divine guidance, and what we know as the Ancient Word came into being.

But the use and function of the Ancient Word depended upon men remembering the meaning of correspondences and representatives. Once this began to fail, as it did in the succeeding times prior to the Hebrew Church, the Lord then had to form a new Word.

We are taught that in giving the Old Testament the Lord employed three different means, internal speech, visions, and dreams. (AC 4682) These means were not in themselves new, as we have seen, but the manner in which they were used was new. For now the purpose could not be that of open instruction; the essential purpose would be that of preserving communication between heaven and earth so that man would not completely destroy himself from off the face of the earth. Dreams and visions taken from the representative appearances of heaven and the world of spirits at the Lord's direction, would be given through men specially chosen, and written down by them. When these were read by men on earth, the angels and spirits present with man would see their internal meaning, and something of the life of heaven could thereby be communicated to man. This is how the Lord preserved something of heaven with man all through the hundreds of years of the external and perverted states of the Hebrew, Israelitish and Jewish Churches. Certainly the dreams and visions served to provide a means whereby essential Divine truths were revealed; such as the Ten Commandments. But most of the writing would remain for ages a closed and mystical work, as far as the comprehension of man was concerned.

We noted previously six ways whereby revelation was given: by dreams, by night-visions, by day-visions, by speech within man, by speech with man from angels that were seen, and by speech without man from angels that were not seen. (AC 6000) We noted above, however, the teaching that revelation was only given in three ways, through internal speech, through dreams, and through visions. These teachings are not contrary - one is giving a general statement, while the other has simply given a more particular explanation. It will be seen when we examine examples from the Scriptures, that some of the six modes include a combination of these six ways; for example, vision with internal speech.

All dreams take place when the conscious mind of man is sleeping. The activity of the cerebrum is lulled, whether from fatigue, from sickness, from drugs, or what have you. (AC 1975; AE 706: 3) There are different kinds of dreams, some from heaven and some from hell. What kind of a dream a man has at one time depends upon many things. What he should think of his dreams, how or if he should interpret them, and what use dreams serve we will consider in a later class. Here we are concerned only with the dreams the Lord used in giving Divine revelation. (AC 1976, 1977)

The Writings tell us there are three types of dreams which are genuine, that is, three types that are according to Divine order. We have already seen in our last class how paradisal dreams of heavenly life and scenery were common in Most Ancient times. With the possible exception of Swedenborg's preparation for giving the Writings, we know of nowhere such dreams were used in giving Divine revelation. Then there are dreams which are from the activities of associate spirits with the things of our memory. These are our own dreams, and they are significative - that is, they have a meaning if they are from good spirits, even though we cannot tell what their signification is. Swedenborg shows how such dreams work. This, too we will consider in a later class. These common dreams are not the kind used in Divine Revelation. (Ibid.)

The type of dreams which the Lord employed in giving revelation are representative and prophetic dreams. They pictured the representative appearance in the spiritual world, but at the same time were Divinely organized and ordered so that they foretold future things hidden in the wisdom of the Lord's Divine foresight. (AC 5113: 30) Because no angel has foresight of future things, but the Lord alone, it is said of these dreams in distinction to others, that "they flow in immediately through heaven from the Lord." (AC 5091) The dreamer was instructed and stirred up to doing things by representatives "which flowed into the affection of the dreamer, and from that into the sight of the thought, for when a man dreams his natural understanding is laid asleep and his spiritual sight is opened, which draws its all from the affection." (AE 706: 3)

There are many examples in the Word of prophetic dreams, and we will only list some of those that will be more easily recalled to mind:

Jacob and the Ladder: "And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham, thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not." (Gen. 28: 12-16)

Joseph's dream of his brother's sheaves bowing down to his sheaf. (Gen. 37: 5-8)

Joseph's dream of the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him. (Gen. 37: 9-10) The dreams of Pharaoh's butler and baker. (Gen. 40) Pharaoh's dreams of seven fat cows being eaten by seven lean cows, and seven good ears of grain being eaten by seven lean ears. (Gen. 41)

Nebuchadnezzar's dream of a great tree that was hewn down. (Dan. 4)

Joseph is told of Mary conceiving from the Holy Spirit in a dream. (Matt. 1: 20)

The Wise men are warned in a dream not to return to Herod. (Matt. 2: 12)

Many other examples could be found of the use of representative-prophetic dreams in the Word. From the Writings we can see that such dreams also contain within them a great storehouse of Divine instruction which is to serve mankind forever. Naturally the dreamers of such dreams had no idea of the Divine content of their dreams and interpretations other than the immediate natural concerns involved; such as that Nebuchadnezzar would for a time lose his kingdom, and so on. Little did he realize that through this dream the Lord not only foretold events of the Last judgment, but also revealed details concerning the vastation and judgment of every individual.

Many perversions concerning the use and interpretation of representative-prophetic dreams sprang up all over the world of the Ancient Church, and continued throughout the ages. Only in the last few centuries indeed, have many of the perversions ceased or taken new forms. It was common knowledge with the ancients that there were Divine representative-prophetic dreams, and the man who received such dreams became known as a prophet, a seer, or a dreamer of dreams. How easy it was for those in the lust of power, dominion, reputation, fame, self-glory, and other such evils to set themselves up as prophets and dreamers of Divine things as a means of seeking their evil ambitions. And as the knowledge of the Lord and heaven were lost or destroyed, who could tell when the prophet spoke from God or from self. And so in the ancient world, soothsayers, diviners, oracles, magicians, sorcerers, astrologers, priests of every god and goddess, filled the centers of learning and culture. They were respected and feared, even though many of them were caught from time to time in open lies and evil works. Even the prophets and dreamers of the Jewish Church, through whom the Lord was trying to keep alive the knowledge of Jehovah and His Divine laws, often abused and falsified their revelations from the Divine. Here indeed was a strange state, for the Writings tell us that part of their message, the prophecy or prediction, was actually from the Divine, but that the prophet would then apply it in such a way as to persuade the people to do some evil, such as to worship another god. (AC 3698) Even in the days of Moses, before the era of the great prophets, the Lord warned the people of the possibility of such a state existing with the prophets where they could speak both from the Lord and from self." If there arise in the midst of thee a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and he give thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or unto that dreamer of dreams; for Jehovah your God trieth you." (Deut. 13:1-3)

As the state of the Church degenerated towards its last perversion and decay, the Divine warnings concerning prophets and dreamers became more and more frequent, and the message stood forth clearly. In the days of the captivity in Babylon, the Lord spoke through the prophet Jeremiah: "Both, prophet and priest are profane; yea, in My house have I found their wickedness, saith the Lord ... I have seen folly in the prophets of Samaria; they prophesied in Baal, and caused my people Israel to err. I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing; they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evil-doers, that none doth return his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah . . . Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord.... I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied ... I have heard what the prophets said, that prophesy lies in My name, saying, I have dreamed, I have dreamed. How long shall this be in the heart of the prophets that prophesy lies? Yea, they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart; which think to cause My people to forget My name by their dreams which they tell every man to his neighbor, as their fathers have forgotten My name for Baal. The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the Lord. Is not My word like a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that steal My words every one from his neighbor. Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the Lord, that use their tongues, and say, He saith. Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the Lord, and do tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the Lord." (Jeremiah 23:11-32)

We have quoted this reference in Jeremiah rather fully because it helps to make clear, even in the literal sense, why the days of prophecy through dreams came to an end. So much had prophets and dreamers perverted the function of their office, and so questionable had become their influence with the people in general, that their words would no longer be heeded in the least - not so as to lead to anything good. Their works were filled with magic and superstition, and had further Divine prophesies been given, these would have been completely mingled with falsities and evils. As Divine messages, they would not enter the mind and be retained, and so would no longer serve even as a means of keeping alive a communication with heaven through representatives. All of this is the reason why nothing of Divine revelation was given in the five hundred years preceding the Lord's First Advent. From Malachi, the last of the prophets, writing around 500 B.C., to the Advent, the voice of the Lord through dream and vision was silent.

If we compare the dreams of the Old Testament with the dreams of the New Testament, we will notice a striking difference. All were Divine dreams in the sense that they were brought about from the Divine foresight, and all were inspired immediately from the Lord through the heavens. But we note that in the Old Testament all the prophetic dreams are couched in the imagery and symbolism of correspondence and representation. Notice that Jacob dreamed of a ladder (actually a stairway) reaching into heaven; Joseph dreamed of sheaves, sun, moon, and stars; Pharaoh's butler dreamed of a vine, grapes, and a cup, while his baker dreamed of baskets and birds; Pharaoh dreamed of cows and ears of grain; Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a great image of gold, silver, brass, iron, and clay, and a great stone, that smashed the statute; he dreamed of a great tree that was hewn down; and so on with all the Old Testament dreams, they all were prophetic, but prophetic in representatives and correspondences. In New Testament dreams, even though there are not many, we see plain warnings and prophesies without the same use of representatives or correspondences. The words used in New Testament dream still have an internal sense, but they are significative of that sense, not representative or correspondential.

When the angel of the Lord appeared unto Joseph in a dream, he said: "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins." (Matt. 1:19-21) Similarly when the wise men are warned not to return to Herod, and when Joseph is warned to take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, the message is prophetic, but not couched at all in representative imagery. Now, remember, we are talking about dreams here, and not about visions.

Why should there be such a change in the use of dreams in the giving of Divine revelation? Is it indeed worthy of attention; for did not the Lord use something of representative dreams in preparing Swedenborg later for giving the revelation of the Second Coming? To answer the last question first, we will note when we come to consider the use of dreams in the Second Coming, that while representatives were employed in certain dreams, the manner and purpose of their use was different from that of Old Testament times. Obviously, since we have drawn a distinction between Old and New Testament dreams, we believe there is an importance in seeing the reasons for that distinction. But we would note, that they are not quickly or easily seen. At this time we would merely draw to your remembrance the fact that when the Lord made His Advent into the world, the whole nature of influx from the spiritual world to the natural world changed. Communication between heaven and man on earth, and hell and man on earth, changed. Many states of man on earth changed dramatically; external obsession, and the power of magic ended. The use of representatives changed. (TCR 670; AC 8972) The nature of Divine revelation itself changed.

All of these changes had an effect upon the nature and life of man. Understanding something of these changes, and those effected in the Second Coming, makes it possible for us to examine and understand our own states, and those of society in general, in the light of Divine revelation. And in this, understanding the history of dreams and visions plays an important part.

And more important than this, is the importance of understanding the nature and quality of the Lord, which we see primarily from doctrine and which we confirm primarily from the story of the Sacred Scriptures, the history and order of its formation, and the beauty and Divine intelligence of its internal senses.

-New Church Life 1980;100:404-410

Next in Series


What the Bible Says about The Bible's Inner Meaning
Dreams and Visions
How Miracles Worked: Introduction


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