Dreams in the Bible: the secret language of God

Source: https://www.abarim-publications.com/Dictionary/ht/ht-w-l.html

Dreams in the Bible

— The language of God —

Abarim Publications' online Biblical Hebrew Dictionary

חול  חלם

There are two different roots חול (hwl) in Hebrew, and they don't seem to have much in common. Then there are two roots חלם (hlm), one of which appears to be a continuation of one of the roots of the form חול (hwl).

Also note the similarities between this group of words and the חלל (halal) cluster.

חול I

The first verb חול (hul) denotes a whirling in circular motions or a writhing in agony. Hence this verb is used for dancing (Judges 21:21) or the shuddering of mountains during an earthquake (Habakkuk 3:10), and also for the contractions during the labor of child birth (Isaiah 45:10) or the averting motions of people who fear the wrath of God (Joel 2:6). HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament sums the meaning of this word up as "the physical writhing expresses the inner terror aroused by knowledge of God's great deeds".

Derivatives are:

  • The masculine noun חל (hol), meaning sand (Genesis 22:17, Job 6:3, Jeremiah 33:22). BDB Theological Dictionary suggests that the link between sand and a verb that means to whirl may lie in the image of sand being blown about by a whirling wind. Note that another noun חל (hol) means profaneness or commonness. The latter comes from the verb חלל (halal II).
  • The masculine noun חל (hil), meaning pain, agony or sorrow (Exodus 15:14, Micah 4:9).
  • The feminine equivalent of the former noun, חילה (hilla), also meaning pain (Job 6:10 only).
  • The masculine noun חל (hel) or חיל (hel), meaning rampart (2 Samuel 20:15, Isaiah 26:1) or fortress (Obadiah 1:20). BDB Theological Dictionary supposes an original meaning of a surrounding wall.
  • What seems to be the feminine equivalent of the former noun, חילה (hela), rampart or fortress (Psalm 48:13 only).
  • The feminine noun חלחלה (halhala), meaning writhing (Isaiah 21:3, Nahum 2:11, Ezekiel 30:4 and 30:9 only).
  • The masculine noun מחול (mahol), meaning dance or dancing (Jeremiah 31:4, Psalm 149:3).
  • The feminine equivalent of the former noun, מחולה (mehola), also meaning dancing (Exodus 15:20, Judges 11:34, 1 Samuel 18:16).
חול II

The second verb חול (hul) curiously seems to mean something completely opposite, namely to be firm or to endure. The verb is used only twice in the Bible (Psalm 10:5, Job 20:21), but the derived noun חיל (hayil), meaning might, occurs a whopping 244 times.

Most often this noun denotes plain might, either God's (Psalm 59:11), man's (Ecclesiastes 10:10) or even plants (Joel 2:22). Often it means wealth (Job 31:25), or worthiness (1 Kings 1:52), but both in the sense of might-giving; substance. Our word may also be used as synonym for army — that is: the king's force(s); Exodus 14:4.

HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes that the familiar phrases gibbor hayil ('mighty-man') or ben hayil ('son of might') may have indicated a social class. An elite group of David's army consisted of these so-called mighty-men (2 Samuel 23:8). Similar phrases are enosh hayil, or "mighty man" (Genesis 47:6, Exodus 18:21) and 'ish hayil; man of might (Judges 3:29). Naomi called her daughter-in-law Ruth a ishot hayil, or a 'woman of might' (Ruth 3:11) and so does king Lemuel his more-precious-than-rubies wife (Proverbs 31:10; chauvinistic tradition turns this 'mighty woman' into a woman of unspecified but decidedly docile virtues, but that's neither fair nor correct; she's a one-woman army who kicks butt where butts need).

חלם I

The verb חלם (halam I) means to be healthy or strong. It occurs a mere two times: the young of mountain goats and deer grow strong (Job 39:4) and Hezekiah implored YHWH to restore him to health (Isaiah 38:16). This verb has no derivatives other than perhaps the name Helem.

חלם II

The verb חלם (halam II) means to dream, and scholars attest that in Arabic it's linked to the former verb in that a pubescent boy's wet dream demonstrates his growing stronger. This verb's sole affirmed derivation is the masculine noun חלום (halom), meaning dream. There is also a feminine noun חלמות (hallamut), which looks like a plural of a noun derived from חלם, but its derivation is unclear. This noun occurs only once in the Bible, namely in Job 6:6, where it appears to describe some oozing tasteless slime (perhaps a hallucinant plant? Most translations have "white of an egg" but it doesn't mean that. The Young translation speaks of the "drivel of dreams").

The rub of dreams

At present, scientists have no idea what the mind is, let alone how it works, and stubbornly display a kind of erudite nescience where the process of dreaming is discussed. What is clear, however, is that during REM sleep the release of certain neurotransmitters stops — causing a drop in vigilance (am I in danger?) and mood-modulation (so what?) — and the prefrontal cortex goes on weekend mode — causing diminished sense of logic (what's going on?) and planning (what do I do next?). In other words: we don't worry much in our sleep.

When we are awake we observe the world around us and convince ourselves that we are inside of the reality we observe, but in fact, no part of reality is recognized to exist unless its signal (its image, sound, smell, taste or feel) travels across a bodily membrane, is translated into chemical and electronic signals and processed in the brain. That means that all reality only exists inside our heads.

We have to read the world like a text, the language of which we first have to learn. Our reality is really just one of many languages possible, and dreams live in the same place as does reality. They are the same thing, except that we experience dreamland like toddlers do wakeland, and we experience wakeland through the distorting lens of our beliefs. That's how two men can look out the same window, while one sees stars and the other only bars (a concept lovely explored in the movie What Dreams May Come).

In wakeland, we mostly get in our own way, and it stands to reason that if a human being's "language" with which he/she reads reality comes close to the "language" in which nature (including ourselves) was written, understanding dreams becomes second nature. We all dream, but only very few of us have the skills it takes to interpret dreams into wakeland experiences. In the old world, folks that could do that were highly praised (Joseph of Israel: Genesis 41:12; Daniel: Daniel 2:30, Joseph of Nazareth: Matthew 2:19), while folks who couldn't but pretended they could anyway, were stoned to death and that rightly so (Deuteronomy 13:5).

Whether our subconsciousnesses are isolated reservoirs of perfect knowledge, or we are logged onto a kind of Akashic library via bent and fraying cables, or getting fed info crumb by crumb by aliens, angels or the Divine, there's something groovy about dreaming. In her book The Mind At Night, Andrea Rock rattles off a list of famous people who came up with famous inventions because they invented them in their sleep. Among these Paul McCartney, who one night in May 1965 dreamt of a string ensemble that started playing music for him. Paul woke up and played what he had heard on the piano by his bed in order to not forget it. Upon analyses, however, this music, which became known to the world under the title Yesterday, appeared to be wholly McCartnean and nothing alien. In fact, even though the song was "given" to him in a dream, it could not have been given to someone else, or if it had been, it would have sounded completely different and resulted in something else (like a painting, a scientific insight or perhaps an award-winning article on the Hebrew word for dream), or else may not even have been recognized to be worthy of note and forgotten about after a sturdy cup of coffee. The Talmud says: "A man is shown in a dream only what is suggested by his own thoughts," because Daniel explained the king that his ability to explain dreams served only to make the king understand his own thoughts (Berakoth 55b, after Daniel 2:29-30).

God and his agents speak all the time (Psalm 19:1, 29:3, Jeremiah 7:23, Hebrews 12:25), and sometimes his words are picked up by wake people (Genesis 15:1) and sometimes by dreaming people (Job 33:14-18). Yet the ability to tune into the Voice of YHWH and comprehend it appears to come via a skill that must be developed from an innate talent, which initially works via dreams (1 Samuel 3).

In our article on the name Mary, and particularly the paragraph "The Psychology of Mary" we explore the suggestion that the relation between Mary the Magdalene and Mary the Nazarene may be the same as the relation between one's conscious (factual knowledge and practical skills) and subconscious (dreams and intuition). The Nazarene's husband, Joseph, was named after Israel's quintessential oneirocritic, namely patriarch Joseph, the penultimate son of Jacob (Genesis 40:8: "Do not interpretations belong to God?"). In the gospel of Matthew, no fewer than five times the ability to properly interpret a dream is a crucial factor of the proceedings between the discovery of Mary's pregnancy and the return of the holy family to Galilee (1:20, 2:12, 2:13, 2:19, 2:22).

Associated Biblical names