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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Guidance through visions, and other means: Some examples from the Bible

A number of Bible characters had a vision, or similar miraculous communication, from God. Sometimes, it was for the purpose of guidance. Sometimes, it was to receive a message from God for someone else. David was called to repent, in one case. In another case, David was told that God didn't want him to do something that he thought God would have wanted.

Some of the instances of special guidance are these:
Abraham: Genesis 15:1 After these things Yahweh’s word came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Don’t be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”
18 In that day Yahweh made a covenant with Abram, saying, “I have given this land to your offspring, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates: 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” (Abraham had previously been told to go to what became the land of Israel to live, leaving his ancestral home.)

Jacob: Genesis 28:10 Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place, and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. He took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. 12 He dreamed. Behold, a stairway set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven. Behold, the angels of God ascending and descending on it. 13 Behold, Yahweh stood above it, and said, “I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. I will give the land whereon you lie to you and to your offspring.

In Genesis 40, Joseph apparently interpreted the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker on the spot. In Genesis 41, Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt, had dreams that he could not interpret. God showed Joseph their meaning. Apparently God gave Joseph wisdom to understand these dreams on the spot, too, while he was talking with Pharaoh.

In Exodus 3, Moses saw a burning bush, which didn't burn up, and talked with God. His visitation was such that he not only heard from God, but he even questioned God's judgment.

There were various manifestations of God, to Moses, and to the entire congregation, during the Exodus from Egypt.

In Joshua 2, Rahab didn't have a special vision, but she was guided by knowledge of recent events:  Before they had lain down, she came up to them on the roof. She said to the men, “I know that Yahweh has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how Yahweh dried up the water of the Red Sea before you, when you came out of Egypt; and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites, who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and to Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 As soon as we had heard it, our hearts melted, and there wasn’t any more spirit in any man, because of you: for Yahweh your God, he is God in heaven above, and on earth beneath. 12 Now therefore, please swear to me by Yahweh, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a true sign; 13 and that you will save alive my father, my mother, my brothers, and my sisters, and all that they have, and will deliver our lives from death.” It is interesting that almost no one else took the same sort of action, even though what God had done for the Israelites was common knowledge. (The Gibeonites did act wisely, and deceived the Israelites, and Joshua, their leader, into making a peace treaty with them, in Joshua 9.)

In Judges 7, a Midianite man, in an army which was gathered for the purpose of attacking Israel, had a dream, which, he said, meant that the Midianites would be defeated by Gideon. Gideon, who was listening outside the man's tent, was encouraged by the dream.  

Samson's mother was visited by an angel, who instructed them to raise Samson as a Nazirite. (The angel spoke to Samson's father, too.)

God apparently spoke to Ruth through Naomi, the mother of her dead husband, and she became a follower of God.

Samuel 1 Samuel 3:10 Yahweh came, and stood, and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak; for your servant hears.” There is no indication that Samuel's call to be a spokesman for God was fully revealed to him at that time -- he was a boy then -- but perhaps it was, and, for sure, God revealed Himself, and what was going to happen to Eli's family, to Samuel at that time.

David, being rebuked: 2 Samuel 12:Nathan said to David, “You are the man. This is what Yahweh, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that would have been too little, I would have added to you many more such things. Why have you despised Yahweh’s word, to do that which is evil in his sight? You have struck Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. 10 Now therefore the sword will never depart from your house, because you have despised me, and have taken Uriah the Hittite’s wife to be your wife.’
11 “This is what Yahweh says: ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he will lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 12 For you did this secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.’ ”
13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against Yahweh.” The Bible doesn't indicate how Nathan knew about these matters, but God must have told him, in some way.

In 1 Kings 3, God appeared to Solomon in a dream, and, in the dream, Solomon asked for wisdom, above all. God granted his wish.
David, being told that he was not to build the temple: 1 Chronicles 17:That same night, the word of God came to Nathan, saying, “Go and tell David my servant, ‘Yahweh says, “You shall not build me a house to dwell in; for I have not lived in a house since the day that I brought up Israel to this day, but have gone from tent to tent, and from one tent to another. In all places in which I have walked with all Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to be shepherd of my people, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ ” ’ 

Esther, who had become the queen of her country in exile, was given a task because of her position. The very existence of the Jews was threatened. Her relative, Mordecai, sent her this message: Esther 4:11b “Don’t think to yourself that you will escape in the king’s house any more than all the Jews. 14 For if you remain silent now, then relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Who knows if you haven’t come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Even though the assignment came through a relative (God is not mentioned in the book of Esther) it was what God wanted her to do.
Prophets sometimes had dreams, or visions. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah had a vision of the glory of God. In Jeremiah 24, Jeremiah had a vision of two baskets of figs. Ezekiel had some remarkable visions.

Like Joseph, Daniel interpreted the dream of a powerful ruler, but, unlike Joseph, he did so after time for reflection and prayer, apparently joined by his three friends: Daniel 2:17 Then Daniel went to his house and made the thing known to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, his companions: 18 that they would desire mercies of the God of heaven concerning this secret; that Daniel and his companions would not perish with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 Then the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven.
Daniel interpreted other dreams. He also had visions, perhaps about end times, or the future of Israel. In Daniel 10, Daniel had a vision, or dream, that he couldn't interpret. A man, apparently an angel, told him the meaning.

In Luke 1, the angel, Gabriel, appeared to Zechariah, a priest, in the Temple. Zechariah was told that he and his wife, who had supposed that they would die childless, would have a son, John -- they were called to be his parents. Zechariah doubted the angel, and was punished by being unable to speak until the boy was born.

And Gabriel had another message, in the same chapter: 26 Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 Having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, you highly favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women!”
29 But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what kind of salutation this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb, and give birth to a son, and will call his name ‘Jesus.’ 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom.”
34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God. 36 Behold, Elizabeth, your relative, also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing spoken by God is impossible.”
38 Mary said, “Behold, the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”
Although Mary had a logical question, she accepted the answer, and the task, that of being mother to the Son of God.

Joseph, who was to be Mary's husband, received guidance in a dream: Matthew 1:20 But when he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take to yourself Mary, your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She shall give birth to a son. You shall call his name Jesus, for it is he who shall save his people from their sins.” 

The wise men were given guidance in a dream: Matthew 2:12 Being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country another way.

Joseph, also in Matthew 2, was told, in a dream, to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt. He was also told to come back to Israel, after a stay in Egypt.

In Matthew 4, Jesus personally called some of his first followers.

In Matthew 9:9, Jesus called Matthew from his tax collection business.
In Acts 9, Christ, himself, visited Paul while he was on his way to Damascus to persecute the church. Soon after, Ananias had a vision, directing him to go to Paul and heal him of the blindness that had stricken him when Christ appeared to him. Both Paul and Ananias talked back, with Ananias, like Moses, suggesting that God was giving him poor guidance. (He wasn't, of course!)

In Acts 9, Dorcas/Tabitha did good works, providing for the needy. We don't know how she was called, but perhaps, just seeing the need, and that she could fill it, was her call.
In Acts 10, Peter had a vision, which directed him to go to speak to Cornelius, a Gentile, and those who were gathered there to hear what Peter had to say.

Paul had a significant vision, in Acts 16, directing his missionary party to go to Macedonia.

The entire book of Revelation seems to be a recounting of a visionary experience of John.

Thanks for reading. God is able to guide us, and He suits that guidance (including reproof) in ways appropriate to our background and personality.

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