Dreams play roles in our lives that is very much like the roles played by prophets in the Bible—and perhaps this is one reason why many people find dreams somewhat uncomfortable to work with and explore. And maybe it is a reason why some people ignore or forget their dreams altogether!
People tend to think of a prophet as someone who can predict or foretell the future. In the Bible, this was true of the prophets in many cases. We can think of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Obadiah who predicted the eventual downfall of Israel and Edom because of the sins of the people.
Many people don’t want to hear dire predictions about the future, especially when the message runs counter to their hopes. Hearing a prophet foretell doom and destruction for Israel wasn’t something the king wanted to hear, or anyone else who had something to lose in those times. It is no wonder prophets weren’t popular and often suffered abuse.
However, the most important role of the biblical prophets was not so much to foretell the future as it was to “forthtell,” to speak out about an uncomfortable or challenging situation which was presenting itself at the present moment, and to suggest ways this situation could be remedied or resolved. This often meant challenging the king, the priests and the people about their unjust or immoral behavior. We only have to think of the dramatic story of how the prophet Nathan called King David out for sending his general into the worst of the battle so that the man would be killed, allowing David to take the man’s wife to be his own. Or, the prophet Micah who, spoke out against the unjust ways that people treat each other, saying that God was a god of justice who wants mercy instead of phony animal sacrifices. Micah asks, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” A great prophet of our time is Martin Luther King, who called us as a nation to act justly and treat everyone equally under the law.
Dreams also foretell in a way that can be uncomfortable for us. People who have consistently kept a dream journal over a significant period of time know that many dreams are like a dress rehearsal of things to come: in dreamtime, they have already encountered issues and made decisions that sooner or later manifest in waking life. Or in dreamtime, they meet new people whom they encounter for the first time a bit later in waking life. In a sense, their dreams foretell the future. In dreamtime our minds are trying to resolve the issues, often producing nightmares when the problems are severe.
So while dreams not only foretell, they “forthtell.” Another realization that comes with paying attention to dreams in a consistent and mindful manner is that dreams challenge us and call us to our best behavior, to live by values that are ours and not society’s values. Like Nathan calling out David, they often tell us when we are missing the mark and often point the way to better decisions. They can expose our masks in the various figures that present to us in dreams. They can send guides or teachers that literally tell us in dreamtime to shape up.
It is no wonder that our dreams, like the prophets of old, are scary creatures. It takes a brave person to hear their message and act on their advice. This is why doing dreamwork is like learning from the prophets and is thought to be a religious and spiritual undertaking. Dreams give clues to the paths we can take and call us to our higher selves. It is like they are our own inner prophets–and they can make prophets of us if we but heed their call!