The battle that never was
Judges 7: I had this dream: A loaf of barley bread tumbled into the Midianite camp.
In preparation for the coming battle the Lord sends Gideon to the outskirts of the camp of the mighty Midian army. As he cautiously scouts the camp he overhears a conversation between two soldiers. One is telling the other about a dream he’s had that has nearly scared him to death. In his dream he saw a tent that represented the Midian army. Then, of all things, he saw a giant loaf of barley bread, representing Gideon and the Israelites, tumbling down the hill into the camp and knocking down the tent of Midian. The soldier has concluded that this is a message from his gods that Gideon’s army is going to roll over Midian. Overhearing all this is greatly encouraging to Gideon who concludes that God is preparing the way for his tiny force to defeat this mighty army. That night, when Gideon’s 300 sound the trumpets, light their torches, and break the jars what the skittish Midian army hears and sees causes mass confusion and they begin fighting one another and running for their lives. In no time at all the battle that never was is over. I think stories like this are important to God’s people. We need to tell them to our children and in telling them, instill in our boys and girls a deep faith in a God who takes care of his people in sometimes delightful, unusual ways. As we tell and retell stories like this, we, ourselves, are reminded of God’s power over those things that overwhelm us and his faithfulness to us in all the circumstances of life. Maybe that’s a message you need today.
Take Away: The Lord delights in doing good things for his people and he especially seems to enjoy doing those good things in unexpected ways.
The coming crisis
Genesis 41: Egypt was the only country that had bread.
Joseph rises to power in Egypt based on some of the king’s dreams. When the king is troubled by the dreams and wants someone to explain their meaning to him, Joseph, under the inspiration of the Lord, comes through. His new job is to take advantage of the coming seven years of bounty in preparation for the following seven years of famine. Joseph does such a good job of this that, once the famine hits, Egypt has enough grain for its own citizens and plenty to sell to surrounding nations too. I know there’s a huge difference of scale, but we’re expected to do the same thing in our lives. We may not have a vision or a dream or some other specific advance knowledge of what’s coming but we do know this: every person goes through both good days and bad. That’s not only true of our financial picture, it’s also true spiritually. I need to take full advantage of times of spiritual refreshment. Right now I may have extra time to spend in the presence of the Lord, to bask in the light of his love. Later on, a crisis will come (note: I didn’t say “might come”) when there will be no time for quiet reflection on spiritual truths. I need to fill the storehouse of my life with the good things the Lord is providing for me right now so that when I need them, they’ll be there to help me through troubled times.
Take away: What am I “storing up” now that will help me when it’s time to make a withdrawal?
Genesis 40: Don’t interpretations come from God?
Joseph’s situation deteriorates from his being a slave to his being a slave in prison. However, even there God’s with him and, while his life is not that of a favored son, he does rise to a position of authority in this limited world. The most significant thing that happens to Joseph during these years is his contact with the disgraced cupbearer of the King. When he, along with another prisoner, has disturbing dreams Joseph offers to interpret them. With God’s help Joseph is right on in his interpretation and that lays the foundation for the next chapter in God’s plan for him. It’s interesting to think about God speaking to people through dreams and I have to confess that if the Lord has ever spoken to me in that way I missed it entirely. Still, the Bible has several stores of people having dreams and visions from God. Even the Apostle Paul received his “Come over into Macedonia” request in a dream. I’ve concluded that I don’t think about God-given dreams very much for two reasons. First, unlike those whose stories are in the Bible, I have the Bible as a communication from God. Everything I need to know for my salvation is found there. If I want to know what God is saying to me, I need to spend less time dreaming and more time reading his Word. Second is, I think, lack of expectancy. Godly people of the Bible weren’t surprised to hear from God via their dreams. In some cultures, that amounts to just so much superstition. However, they knew they served the Living God and that he is a Communicating God. With that in mind, it may be that I need to keep praying the child’s bedtime prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” as a sincere request that the Lord watch over me through the night. I might even want to extend to the Lord an invitation to inhabit my dreams if he so desires.
Take away: Let’s be open to hear from God in any way he chooses to communicate.
Jacob’s stairway vision
Genesis 28: God was in this place – truly. And I didn’t even know it.
Jacob – that “heel grasper” has lived down to his name. He, with this help of his mother, fooled his father, Isaac, into granting him the precious blessing that rightfully belonged to his brother. Now, he’s paying for it by having to get out of the country before Esau can get his hands on him. Alone in the night he has an unexpected encounter with God. In spite of his failure and lack of character God graciously renews to Jacob the promise he made to his grandfather, Abraham. Jacob awakes from his dream and says, “God was here, in this place – far from home, when I have done nothing but wrong, and when I am not thinking of him at all – he was here all the time.” Jacob is not only on a long journey in distance, he’s at the first step of a spiritual journey that will take decades. This “heel” has heard from God and while there’s still more wrong than right about him this “stairway vision” marks the beginning of that spiritual journey. The story of Jacob’s spiritual journey is more entertaining than most, but it does remind us of our own stories. I am glad today for God’s grace – his unexpected, unearned, promising, and patient grace.
Take away: Thank God for grace.
Matthew 1: Joseph woke up. He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream.
Matthew begins the story of Jesus with genealogy, father to father to father. He then continues writing from the masculine perspective as he tells us of the God-sent dream of Joseph. Mary’s pregnant but it’s okay. God’s behind all this, sending the Savior into the world. To Joseph’s credit, he believes the message of the dream and moves forward in faith, never looking back. There are a lot of “dream stories” in the Bible. Way back in the book of Genesis Joseph has message-dreams and also interprets the dreams of others. Daniel’s story is similar, and later on Paul will be directed in a dream by the Holy Spirit concerning his missionary journey. In spite of these, and many other stories, we don’t often think about God communicating to us in dreams. I understand that we now have the written Word of God and that probably accounts for less emphasis on dream messages. Still, I wonder if our own lack of expectation might choke off the possibility of God speaking to us in this way. While I’m not ready to jump off the cliff on this one, I do want to be open to whatever word the Lord might have for me. Maybe bedtime prayers should include not only a request for the Lord’s protection while we sleep but a promise to take seriously anything the Lord might have to say to us through our dreams.
Take Away: I want to be open to hear the Voice of God in whatever way he might speak to me.
Take your pick
Daniel 4: Make a clean break with your sins…quit your wicked life…then you will continue to have a good life.
Nebuchadnezzar’s been dreaming again. This time he dreams of a larger-than-life tree that commands the landscape and provides for all around it. In the dream God orders the tree to be cut down but the stump be saved. Nebuchadnezzar wants to know the meaning of the dream and Daniel comes through for him. The king’s “statue” dream was about his kingdom. His “tree” dream is about him personally. The Lord’s weary of Nebuchadnezzar’s ignoring him. When there are miraculous events that declare God Almighty to him Nebuchadnezzar gives God lip service, but goes on living his own way. This time, the Lord will touch his life directly to humble him enough that he’ll stop merely declaring the Lord to be God but will start acting as though he believes it. After explaining the dream to Nebuchadnezzar Daniel pleads with him to respond now and avoid the reality of what he’s dreamed. In other words, through the dream and Daniel’s interpretation of it Nebuchadnezzar is being given a choice. If he continues as he is the dream will become reality. If he repents right now and changes his ways he can continue “to have a good life.” I see this as an example of the openness of God. Nebuchadnezzar’s future isn’t already set, but based on how he responds to this warning, it’s already known. If he heeds this warning from God things will go one way. If he ignores it, things will go the other. In this I see the Lord as knowing, not just one set future, but all possible futures. In this application we see God not only warning Nebuchadnezzar, but offering him a much more desirable alternative. Still, the Lord won’t negate his free will…the ball is in Nebuchadnezzar’s court.
Take Away: The Lord has granted us free will, but he holds us accountable for our exercise of that free will.
Daniel 2: There is a God in heaven who solves mysteries, and he has solved this one.
Daniel is the interpreter of dreams. When Nebuchadnezzar has a disturbing dream it’s Daniel who comes through, not only with the interpretation of the dream, but the dream itself. This good man is always careful to give credit where credit is due, and he tells this pagan king that it’s his God who’s solved this mystery. “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men” can’t do it, but God can and has. Daniel describes the dream and then he explains the meaning. The vexing mystery is unraveled for Nebuchadnezzar and he likes what he hears. I haven’t had any deep, meaningful dreams of late. However, life does have more than its share of mysteries. Who hasn’t asked, at some point, “why?” If you’ve never received one of those middle-of-the-night phone calls I’m happy for you but don’t think that call will never come. Sooner or later we all face some mystery of life. I’m glad today to be reminded that “there is a God in heaven who solves mysteries.” In this statement Daniel reveals his Source. God is the great Mystery Solver.
Take Away: The Lord can unravel the mysteries of our lives.
God has ways of getting our attention
Daniel 2: If it please your majesty, tell us the dream.
Nebuchadnezzar is having some repeating, vivid dreams and he’s sure they’re a message from some god. He has an entire division of wise men who are supposed to be experts in such things but he suspects that they’re all just carnival fortune tellers. He knows that if he tells them his dream that they’ll make up an interpretation so he decides to really put them to the test. Not only are they to interpret his dream, they’re to first tell him the dream, itself. If they can do that he’ll know something supernatural is going on. Nebuchadnezzar also has decided on an incentive plan for his wise men. If they can’t tell him his dream he’ll kill them and their families. If they do tell him, he’ll make them rich beyond their wildest dreams. I can’t help but feel sorry for the fortunetellers who are in over their heads. If the king told them his dream some would, no doubt, take it quite seriously and try to figure it out for him. I’m also a bit frustrated with Nebuchadnezzar. Here’s a man arrogant in his power. The lives of all these men and their loved ones (including Daniel and his friends) are, in his eyes, disposable. However, the Lord knows all of this and is using it for his own purposes. Nebuchadnezzar has already been impressed with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah as individuals. Now, he’s going to find out about the God they serve.
Take Away: The Lord has ways of getting our attention.
The weeping prophet
Jeremiah 4: My insides are tearing me up.
If Jeremiah was a modern film maker this portion of his writings would be rated “R” for violence. In one disturbing scene after another he describes the utter destruction that’s coming. Adam Clarke says this is “imagery scarcely paralleled in the whole Bible.” Jeremiah’s not untouched by his own prophecy. We don’t know exactly how this word of the Lord came to him, but if it was in a dream, it was a nightmare and if it was a vision it was a very disturbing vision indeed. He reports “I’m doubled up with cramps in my belly — a poker burns in my gut.” I can’t say that Jeremiah is my favorite Hebrew prophet to read, but his humanity does draw me in. Jeremiah didn’t want to be God’s spokesman in the first place. However, he accepts the Lord’s appointment and his journey begins. When he sees the coming destruction he isn’t a disconnected reporter. Instead, he’s part of the story. As wave after wave of visions of destruction wash over him he’s sick to his stomach. He says to the Lord, “How long do I have to look at the warning flares, listen to the siren of danger?” All he wants is out of this. As a “proclaimer” of God’s Word in my generation I need some of his spirit. Otherwise, I (and other Christians) sound hard and hateful and am easily rejected by the very people who must hear the message. If I can interact with lost people without being moved by their plight something’s wrong with me and I need a spiritual transfusion from this “weeping prophet.”
Take Away: Judgment, when it must be preached, must be preached with tears in our eyes.