After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, and there came up out of the Nile seven sleek and fat cows, and they grazed in the reed grass. Then seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. The ugly and thin cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. And Pharaoh awoke. Then he fell asleep and dreamed a second time; seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. Then seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind, sprouted after them. The thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Pharaoh awoke, and it was a dream. In the morning his spirit was troubled; so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.
Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, ‘I remember my faults today. Once Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard. We dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own meaning. A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each according to his dream. As he interpreted to us, so it turned out; I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.’ — Genesis 41:1-13 NRSV
Dreams are odd things. They seem to be the brain’s way of entertaining itself while the body is off sleeping and rebuilding. The brain can’t shut down, though. It’s like a power plant — shut it down and everything comes to a total halt. Can’t have people not having heartbeats or breaths while they’re supposed to be resting, now can we? So the brain keeps going, doing its thing while we are sleeping. One thing the brain does is create stories, whether based on reality or on pure imagination. Sometimes I wake up and there’s a fragment left of a dream my brain was conjuring. Sometimes it’s amusing, sometimes absolutely unreal and sometimes there’s something that sticks with me long enough to think about it for a while, looking for the memory or the meaning of what my brain brought to the forefront in the wee small hours.
There are probably thousands of books that have been written as purported guides to the meaning of dreams. In fact, people have been seeking and interpreting dreams for probably as long as they have been communicating. Does the car trip in the dream mean that I will be taking off to far places in an automobile or is it a symbolic or spiritual journey? Somehow I don’t think the dream of rescuing puppies from a swollen gutter means I will be adopting a litter any time soon, but am I rescuing something, someone or maybe myself?
Dreams in the Bible were serious business, considered messages from God (or their god) or revelations of truth that needed attention. In some cases the dreams could be interpreted by the dreamers themselves, but kings and rulers had groups of professional dream interpreters on staff specifically to perform that function lest the gods (or God) be sending a revelation that wasn’t completely understandable even to experts. In Joseph’s story, he was an outsider who was given the ability to speak the true meaning and prophecy. That ability to interpret dreams first imprisoned Joseph and then freed from jail and gave him power, status and the ability to help others, including his own family. But that part is yet to come in Joseph’s story.
I don’t think my dreams are of any great shakes in the greater scheme of things, but I wonder what they are telling me. Are my frequent dreams of being in strange but interesting places a signal that I need to expand my horizons or just a wish for a break in the normal (and often boring) routine? I remember the dream of being at home as a child, every detail of the neighborhood remembered exactly but with the exception of a drainage ditch full of water and with spotted puppies in it, neither of which never existed or happened. Was there a meaning or message from God? Or was it just my brain processing something of which I was unaware except for the image left behind?
There are times, though, where I know there’s something I need to figure out when a fragment of a dream sticks around and doesn’t allow itself to stray far from my thoughts during the day. I’m no Pharaoh or ruler, dreaming of things which affect not only me but thousands of my subjects, nor am I a Joseph who has been given the power and guidance to say what dreams mean and what to do about that meaning. Still, there is something that I need to interpret and can only use my own experience and knowledge to do it. I usually find it is something that I need to do to make a change, and then it is up to me to figure out precisely how to effect that change.
Just as a thought to myself, do I look at my dreams and fragments to see if God is in there somewhere or whether it’s just my brain amusing itself? It might be that sometimes that’s the best chance God has of getting my attention. I’ll have to be more attentive to that. For sure.