"Job, I had some terrible dreams last night, and I want to talk to you today, Job, about dreams. When you spoke of your distress, you talked of God scaring you with dreams and terrifying you with visions (7:14). God seemed to set a guard over you (7:12), and would not let you alone even to swallow your spittle (7:19). In other words, the terrifying dreams were another sign to you of the divine harassment, of God's oppressive presence against you. But when Elihu spoke of the various ways that God speaks to a person, guess what the first source of divine communication was? Yep, you got it, dreams. I love the way Elihu says it, actually:
"For God speaks in one way, and in two though people do not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on mortals, while they slumber on their beds, then he opens their ears, and terrifies them with warnings, that he may turn them aside from their deeds, and keep them from pride" (33:14-17).
I bet you noticed what Elihu does in these four verses, but just in case you didn't, I will point it out. He honors your experience and puts a different twist on it. That is, he admits that God "terrifies" mortals "in a dream, in a vision of the night." That is what God did to you, right? So, Elihu affirms that insight. But then he goes on to say that these are "warnings" that are meant to "keep them from pride."
Wow. I think I need to think about that one for a minute, Job. Dreams as warnings against pride. This is a different oneiorology than one would have expected both from oneirocritics in the modern and ancient world. Oh, Job, I learned those words more than 30 years ago, when I picked up Artemidorus' ancient book on dreams. Those were the days, Job, when I would spend day and night reading works from classical antiquity because I wanted to be the greatest biblical scholar of the twentieth century. I gave up that idea when I realized that to be a biblical scholar in the modern sense of the word you had to disengage yourself from the text and stand over against it as an "objective" observer, whatever that is, rather than to treat it like you and I are treating it now. I never could follow the rules of professional biblical studies, Job. In some ways, then, I feel like a failure in life, Job, because I just couldn't stand to sit down and do "research" the way the scholars said you were supposed to do research. I always wanted to see the text as something that immediately had a claim on our attention and life. I wanted to see the text as revelatory of the deep issues of the heart. But I didn't want to do this in a pastoral situation, Job, because I had a tendency to want to be critical of everything I read. I really have a wretched professional career, Job, because I never could find an institututional locus that would match the place in my heart that made me comfortable understanding the text.
So guess what? Now I am teaching law, of all things. I am good enough at law because I have a mind that can't forget anything and that criticizes everything. I also have a pretty good grasp of the English language. But there is nothing more laughable than my teaching law, really. And, I may not do it too much longer. I am not "made" for law. It is my "third" intellectual language. I speak it with such a strong accent, so to speak. Bible-speak is my first language, but I never found a place where I could comfortably speak the Bible. So, I have to do something to earn a few dollars, don't I, Job? And, the people have been nice to me, so I teach a few courses in law now.
Job, I have made a huge detour, again, and I apologize. Let's return to dreams, because I want to get to my dreams from last night and how Elihu's words have actually helped me sort out my dreams. Ah, I know what got me sidetracked--oneirocriticism, oneirology, oneriomancy, etc. I learned those words back in the early 1970s when I read Artemidorus. I had been dying to use those words ever since, just like a teenager might get a car with a huge engine that he just has to use, and letting out the throttle to the desired degree would make Art Arfons and Craig Breedlove's speed competition in the Utah desert in the 1960s look like kids racing tinker toys. So I have been holding those words in my heart for more than 30 years, Job, and now I said them. Pretty pitiful, don't you think, to fill my mind with that sort of stuff when there are starving people around the world? Just no excuse for it.
But here is the point I was getting to. Elihu gives a theory of dream interpretation that doesn't match yours, Job, nor does he really agree with modern interpreters. For example, Freud tended to look at dreams as "wish-fulfillments," or as things that we wanted to do but which we didn't pursue because of the restraining power of society. Jung, ever one to have to disagree with his mentor, saw dreams as the inner process by which we "worked out" tensions in our life. Dreams, for Jung, were sort of a way to achieve "balance" in life, to reclaim a center, possibly even to allow aspects of the collective unconscious to come out. I could go on and on--dream research is really such a fascinating field in psychology today, Job, even though scientists are looking at more of the physiological aspects of dreaming (rapid eye movements/brain waves/breathing, etc), but let's stop here for now.