I’m Dreaming of Genesis

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of September 20. Enjoy!


Within this week’s study of Genesis and Victor P. Hamilton’s commentary, one significant theme that piqued my personal interest was the frequency of dreams and other events discerned in the context of restful sleep.  The creative manifestations of brainwaves are recorded not only from the lives of vital patriarchal characters, including Abraham and Jacob, but also from Abimelech, servants of Pharaoh, and other minor players in the grand scope of Genesis.  I will briefly recount the varying dreams and deep-sleep revelations presented in the Scripture while discussing my observations and reflections.

Though not specifically called a dream in Genesis, the first deep-sleep revelation comes to the male ‘adam in the context of God’s creation of a female companion (Gn 2:21-23).  Shortly after he is awakened from his slumber, the male is immediately aware of the nature of God’s creative act, thereby implying a degree of subconscious understanding on his part.  In a similar fashion, Abram receives God’s covenantal plan for the first time by way of a deep-sleep revelation (Gn 15:12-16).  The covenant is repeated to Abraham’s grandson after Jacob dreams up a ladder, or stairway, reaching from the ground to heaven (Gn 28:10-17).  However, these dreams of blessing contrast distinctly with visions of warning presented to Abimelech (Gn 20:3-7) and Laban (Gn 31:24).  For example, the former is cautioned not to have sexual relations with Sarah, who is actually Abraham’s wife, while the latter is admonished to proceed with tact when confronting the fleeing Jacob.

The story of Jacob’s favorite son brings an important evolutionary step in our Genesis dreams, for as Hamilton realizes, “What distinguishes Joseph’s dreams from these is that in all the other recorded dreams…God speaks clearly to the dreamer.”[1] His dreams, of course, entail sheaves of grain representative of his brothers bowing to his own sheaf of grain (Gn 5-7) as well as the sun, moon and 11 stars bowing to Joseph himself (Gn 37:9).  But in addition to Joseph’s own creativity in sleep, he is also blessed with the ability to successfully interpret the dreams of others, as he does with Pharaoh’s butler (Gn 40:9-11) and baker (Gn 40:16-17) before progressing to Pharaoh himself (Gn 41:1-7).  Joseph correctly predicts that Pharaoh’s butler will be reinstated from prison while the baker is executed; furthermore, Joseph rightfully understands the periods of abundance and drought that are soon to define Egypt.

God never explicitly explains the importance of sleep to man.  Perhaps it is a given. However, the variety of dreams in Genesis appears to underscore some of sleep’s not-so-obvious benefits.  For example, in the cases of Abram, Jacob, the male ‘adam, and others, sleep gives God an appropriate avenue to communicate, be it with blessings or warnings; through New Testament eyes, modern scholars may view this as a precursor of sorts to the Holy Spirit.  Similarly, creative machinations of the mind with no direct connection to God take form in the slumbers of Joseph, Pharaoh, and Pharaoh’s servants.  With a little bit of interpretation, these are implied in Genesis as fortuitous foresights into the future.

As Joshua Leibowitz explains, “The dreams in Genesis are very significant: Either they depict the future, or they cause future events.  Everybody dreams in Genesis.”[2] The Scriptural message is clear: dreams come from God.  Just as Genesis is interested in explaining the reason for mankind’s disconnect with God, the phenomenon of the rainbow, the reason for confusing languages, and the like, the authors thoroughly explore the nature and significance of dreams.

[1] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Pentateuch (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 122.

[2] Ariel Knafo and Tziporit Glick, “Genesis Dreams: Using a Private, Psychological Event as a Cultural, Political Declaration,” Dreaming 10, no. 1 (2000): 19.

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