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-- © GodSpeak International 2004 --
-- Do not republish without written permission from <copyright@godspeak.org> --

Author: Teresa Seputis ts@godspeak.net http://www.godspeak.net
Editor: Kevin Nolan

Dreams, Visions And Experiencing God

Lesson 9
Visions To Share

By Teresa Seputis

We have spent the last eight lessons looking at visions that were intended to speak to the person who received the vision. We saw that God does speak to individuals personally through visions. But most of the time that He gave visions to prophets in the Bible, it was because He was giving them a word to share with someone else. God asked them to speak for Him and He used a vision to communicate His message to them.

Sometimes God gave the messages to His prophets through night visions or dreams. Numbers 12:6 is an example of this, "Then He said, If there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream."

There is some disagreement among scholars as to the difference between a night vision and a dream. Some people say these are synonyms for each other -- that they both refer to God speaking to someone when they were asleep. Others say that a night vision is when the communication is literal instead of symbolic, and that it is a dream when it is symbolic. Others say that when God speaks to someone at night and they are awake, it is a "night vision" but if He speaks to them when they are asleep, it is a dream.

I am not sure which definition is correct. Personally, I tend to think of dreams as symbolic and night visions as literal but occurring while you are asleep. If you are awake (day or night) then it is simply a vision, not a "night vision." I think that way because that has been my own experience. But I won't argue with you if you prefer one of the other definitions, since the Bible does not give us a clear definition of these two terms.

Sometimes God gives nighttime visions to the prophet while they are asleep, and at other times God wakes the prophet up to give the vision. For instance, there is the story of the young prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 3. Samuel went to bed and then he heard Eli call him, so he got up and went to Eli. Samuel had to be awake to get up and go over to where Eli was; he could not have given that response if he were still asleep. But Eli had not called Samuel and sent him back to bed. This happened three times before Eli realized that God was speaking to the boy. So Eli gave Samuel instructions in how to respond to God and Samuel followed them. The next time God called him, Samuel responded correctly to God and God gave him a prophecy about condemning Eli's sons.

If you read the passage, it does not sound like anything visual, it sounds auditory. It sounds like God spoke and Samuel listened. The passage does not tell us if Samuel saw anything, just what he heard. And yet the Bible calls Samuel's interaction with God a "vision" in 1 Samuel 3:15. It says, "So Samuel lay down until morning, and opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel was afraid to tell Eli the vision."

That passage tells us two things -- Samuel was not laying down when he received the vision, because he had to lay down after it was over. That means he had to be awake, not asleep, when the vision occurred. And the other thing the passage (1 Sam 3:10-14) tells us was that Samuel's encounter with God was considered a vision even thought the Bible does not tell us what (if anything) Samuel saw.

The purpose of that vision was not for Samuel's own edification, commission or personal growth. It was to give Eli a message that God was displeased with his sons' behavior because they profaned holy things, and He was going to judge them for that.

Several other prophets were given their messages in visions. Even the false prophet Balaam actually had a real vision of God and he described it for us in Numbers 24:3-4. "Then he took up his oracle and said: 'The utterance of Balaam the son of Beor, the utterance of the man whose eyes are opened, the utterance of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, who falls down, with eyes wide open...'" Balaam's description is helpful to us because it shares an experience that he saw this vision literally with his physical eyes. I was not something that was a faint impression in his mind's eye. He says that he saw the vision with his eyes wide open, and that he was slain in the spirit (fell down) during the experience. He did not just see things, he also clearly heard the "words of God."

God used a vision to let the prophet Nathan know about David's secret sin, and to send him to David. Both 2 Samuel 7:17 and 1 Chronicles 17:15 tells us, "According to all these words and according to all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David." Again we see that the prophet's vision experience included an auditory "hearing" of words that God (or one of God's angels) spoke to him.

The prophet Isaiah also received his prophecies through visions. Isaiah 1:1, tells us how he received the word against Judah's wickedness. It says, "The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah." Again in Isaiah 21:2, he says, "A distressing vision is declared to me; the treacherous dealer deals treacherously, and the plunderer plunders...."

Have you ever wondered how the prophet Isaiah was able to give such graphic descriptions of the suffering and crucifixion of Christ? How could he write things like "But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5)? I believe he saw them in a vision. I do not know if he was literally taken ahead in time to observe the real event, or if this was shown to him symbolically. But I do believe he got his graphic details and powerful applications through a vision.

Ezekiel was another of the major prophets. Ezekiel also received many of his prophecies in visions. For instance, Ezekiel 11:24-25 says that he received a message from God to those in captivity by a vision. "Then the Spirit took me up and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to those in captivity. And the vision that I had seen went up from me. So I spoke to those in captivity of all the things the Lord had shown me."

Ezekiel seemed to assume that visions were the standard way for anyone to receive a word from the Lord. In Ezekiel 7:26 he says, "Then they will seek a vision from a prophet," implying that the way a prophet normally hears from God is in a vision. Even God seemed to feel that it was normative for prophets to receive their words by visions. He equated their vision and their message in Ezekiel 12:22-23: "Son of man, what is this proverb that you people have about the land of Israel, which says, 'The days are prolonged, and every vision fails?' Tell them therefore, thus says the Lord God: I will lay this proverb to rest, and they shall no more use it as a proverb in Israel. But say to them, the days are at hand, and the fulfillment of every vision..."

God did not say "the fulfillment of every prophecy" even though it is clear that this is what He is referring to. He used the word "vision" to refer to prophecies given by His prophets. So it is a natural assumption that God usually used visions to address most of His prophets.

Even the minor prophets refer to receiving their messages from God in visions. Obadiah 1:1 says, "The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom ...." And Habakkuk 2:2 says, "Then the Lord answered me and said: 'Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.'"

In the early days, prophets were called "seers" because the way that they heard from God was typically in seeing a vision. These visions had to be visual in nature or they would not have come up with that name for the early prophets. But the visions were not just pictures, people also heard and experienced things. Many of the passages we looked at in this lesson refer to "words" (heard or spoken or written). And at times the prophets had reactions to the visions, such as Balaam getting slain in the spirit. There are many other passages that we have not examined that refer to prophets interacting with the vision. For instance, a giant hand picked up Ezekiel by a lock of his hair and physically transported him to a different geographic location (Ezekiel 8:3).

So my conclusion is that the visions where God gave messages to His prophets were what I call "open visions" where heaven invades the reality surrounding the prophet and engages all of his senses, not just his sight.

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-- Do not republish without written permission from <copyright@godspeak.org> --

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