“The Midianites and the Amalekites and all of the Sons of the East lay in the valley like a great many migratory locusts. And their camels could not be counted, like the great many sands that are by the shore of the sea. And Gideon came and behold, a man recounting to his comrade a dream. And he said, ‘Behold, I dreamed a dream, and I saw a cake of barley bread and it rolled round and round in the camp of Midian and it came to the tent and struck it rolled round and round until it was upside down and the tent fell.’ And his comrade answered, saying, ‘This is nothing except the sword of Gideon the son of Joash of Israel; God has given Midian into his hand and all the camp.’”
In the dark of night, watchmen are often far more transparent with one another than they would be during drills or battle. Something needs to prevent one from being swallowed up by the darkness of the night. And so one guard shares his strange dream with the other — and the misgivings of the other guard are shared…in this case, within earshot of Gideon as he has snuck up to the camp.
Do not misinterpret this event. Sometimes people suggest that this is an indication that the people of the camp all have misgivings about this attack and that these two guards are simply reflections of the anxiety that is running through the whole of the camp. Not only does this view minimize the work of God in this event, but it also does not take seriously who the Midianites were: namely, nomadic hordes that had been ravaging Israel for seven years. They were here in Israel to teach the people a lesson and they did not fear any serious opposition. What we have here is an act of God that took place for one purpose: to encourage Gideon.
When our children were small, we often took pictures of them to share with grandparents and friends. Yet, there would often be times where something really special would happen and it would happen so quickly that we did not catch it on camera. Then, the children would be unwilling or unable to repeat said act. In times like those, I used to tell my wife, “God meant this just for us and for our memories.” This event in the life of Gideon was meant just for him — to strengthen and encourage him before the battle.
But, what is it with dreams? Certainly we see God using dreams in the scriptures while at the same time, the counsel that I usually give to people today is to be wary about reading into dreams. Today, of course, we have the completed Scriptures by which God speaks to us as his people; in Biblical times, such was not the case, and so God often used dreams to speak to his people, or, in this case, used the dreams of an unbeliever to speak to his people. God is sovereign even over the dreams of the wicked.
There is also an air of mystery about a dream. They are dark, usually quite insubstantial and “fuzzy” in our minds, and we often struggle to clearly remember the dreams we have. Psychologists tell us that the elements found in dreams are reflections of our subconscious trying to organize and make sense out of the cares, concerns, stresses, anxieties, and experiences of the days or weeks that have passed. They are necessary for good rest, though sometimes if we are very anxious about things, they rob us of rest. Some people also tend to remember their dreams more easily than others and for them this can be either a blessing or a curse.
In the end, God causes a dream to settle into the mind of one specific guard…a dream that is not just a matter of rapid eye movement and brain activity, but is prophetic in nature. And it ordained, by God’s providence, to be remembered in such a way that it unnerved the Midianite guard. And much like Pharaoh before him, being unnerved about the dream, he sought interpretation. And, like Balaam before his friend, God used the wicked to give an interpretation.
What should we expect then today? Can God still work through dreams? In reality, “can” is the wrong question to ask. God is God and he “can” do anything that is consistent with his character. The right question is, “does.” So, “does” God still speak through dreams (as a pastor, I get asked that question a lot). The answer I give is that we should not expect that to be normative in the life of the church. When we seek answers to questions, we must go to the Scriptures for our answers. Dreams are open to interpretation and the creativity of man. The Scripture is plain, fixed, and absolute when we search them out diligently. Again, that does not mean that God “cannot” use a dream to encourage his own, but it is not the norm and we ought to be extremely careful and measure all things according to the Canon of the Bible.