Seeing Visions and Dreaming Dreams
Joseph Dreams of Greatness
Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.
He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
Joseph Is Sold by His Brothers
Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
Jesus Walks on the Water1
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Joel 2:28 tells a prophecy that Peter interpreted in light of Pentecost – the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples of Jesus after his ascension. However, this particular event was not the first, nor the last time that God worked through visions and dreams. Both the Old and New Testaments have multiple accounts of prophetic dreams and visions in both young and old.
Hebrew poetry, as found often in the prophets, creates emphasis by repeating the same kind of phrase with a slightly different term (known as parallelism). I take that to mean, Joel meant little or no distinction between dreams and visions here. Functionally, they serve the same kind of purpose. Dreams and visions from God push us out of our comfort zone and into God’s mission.
Those dreams and visions do not bring guaranteed results though, certainly not immediately. Joseph’s dreams came true, but not for many, many years. It is also possible that the suffering he faced from telling his family about those dreams may have been necessary for him to accomplish the results of those dreams. God does not usually show us everything in detail – just our part.
Even Peter’s vision of Jesus, which was not a hallucination as he feared, but an actual sight of Jesus walking on the water, served in the same way. It called Peter out of his current place of comfort and moved him out into uncharted waters. Unlike Joseph, his vision had immediate effects, but they did not last long at all. Again, Peter probably misunderstood. Seeing Jesus walking on the water was probably less of a promise that Peter too could someday walk on water, and more of a realization that Jesus could not be held back by such things. It was also proof that this particular vision of Jesus was really Him in the flesh and not some evil spirit as Peter feared. Like Peter, we are often slow in comprehending the full importance of God’s visions and dreams we receive. At least until we need to. As in everything else, these gifts are meant to be taken in faith, and more often change the prophet even more than the people around them.
What visions or dreams has God given you?
How have they brought you closer to Christ?
How have they changed you?
- (Mk 6:45–52; Jn 6:15–21)↩