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In Jeremiah, which dreams is God saying to not listen to?

NKJV, Jeremiah 29:8 - For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed.

In Hebrew, is God saying for Israel to not listen to any of their own dreams? Or, is God talking about a specific type of dream that is caused - perhaps through substances, lucid dreaming, or even daydreaming?

In Hebrew, how should Jeremiah 29:8 be translated and then interpreted?

  • Should "have dreamed" be translated in 2nd, or 3rd Person Plural? "... you all have dreamed" ... or, "... they have dreamed"?
  • Is the NKJV correct to imply an active sense of either making yourself dream, or even others causing themselves to dream?
  • Is the NASB correct to imply that Israel was no longer to listen to anyone's dreams?

Or, can the verses be validly / reasonably translated in multiple ways?

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Should "have dreamed" be translated in 2nd, or 3rd Person Plural? "... you all have dreamed" ... or, "... they have dreamed"?

The word is מַחְלְמִים, which is a masculine plural participle (which might be translated as "dream" in the present, or "dreamer," but certainly not "have dreamed" - on the exact translation see below), undeclined for person. However, the word אַתֶּם before מַחְלְמִים unambiguously makes it a second person plural address, that "you" are doing, and not the prophets mentioned previously.

Is the NKJV correct to imply an active sense of either making yourself dream, or even others causing themselves to dream?

The word מַחְלְמִים is in the hiph'il form, which usually means causing someone to do something. For the translation, some ancient versions (LXX, Peshitta) ignore the different form and translate it as "dream" (as if it said חוֹלְמִים), which might be a clue to confusion as how to translate, or possibly a different text (maybe it was erased due to being interpreted as an enclitic mem: rearranging the consonantal text gives אשר אתמ-ם חלמים).

However, according to the Masorah and the Targum, which echoes the hiph'il form of the Hebrew, it seems to be saying "which you cause to dream."

Some possible explanations:

  • The explanation you propose, causing dreams through substances, is very creative, and fits the grammar, but I don't recall any mention of causing dreams through substances in the Bible
  • One interpretation given is that "your dreams" are the dreams of the prophets with whom Jeremiah is disputing, and they are called "your dreams" because the people listened to them, and without their encouragement they wouldn't have continued to have those dreams (Radaq). This interpretation is seen as well in the NIV translation "Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have."
  • I would like to propose reading מְחַלְּמִים in the pi''el form, by analogy to מְאַהֵב (e.g. in Hosea 2:9), which differs from the qal אוֹהֵב "lover" with the meaning "improper lover." Maybe מְחַלְּמִים could also mean having an improper dream

Is the NASB correct to imply that Israel was no longer to listen to anyone's dreams?

No. Jeremiah said the exile would last 70 years (29:10), and told them to build houses, marry, and pray for the welfare of their city (29:5-7). Other prophets were making the claim that the exile would be short and they would return to their land soon (28:3). This is the claim Jeremiah was disputing, which is far from saying "no longer to listen to anyone's dreams."

The dreams referred to here are those of a "חֹלֵם חֲלוֹם" ("dreamer," Deuteronomy 13:2, in apposition to "נָבִיא," prophet). He was disputing very specific prophetic dreams, just as he disputes other prophets many other times in the book. The Greek and Aramaic translations tend to translate this sort of prophet as "false prophet" (unlike the Hebrew, which never says "false prophet"), and "dreams" in this context should be understood as "false dreams" - i.e., specifically the dreams Jeremiah was disputing. He is not addressing the reliability of dreams in general.

  • So are "dreams" in this context "sleepy-time dreams" or simply "fantasies" as in "products of the imagination"? – Ruminator Apr 22 '18 at 12:50
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    @Ruminator In accord with the verse in Deuteronomy, I would say it refers to prophecy (incorrect prophecy in Jeremiah's view); whether it comes while asleep or awake is both ambiguous from irrelevant to the verses here but Job 4:13 (if it is a reference to this kind of dream) seems to be an instance of "sleepy-time dreams" – b a Apr 22 '18 at 13:52
  • So basically the false prophet caused the israelis to fantasies about future that will not come true. Nice answer! – A. Meshu Jun 21 '18 at 14:58
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I think this verse may actually have to do with lucid dreaming. People recreationally did it in older times, and didn't have all of the odious New Age yoga alien content that a lot of people try to add to it nowadays. Lucid dreaming may have been something common amongst people from this certain time period as well, and this may have been saying something along the lines of "Don't alter your dream to where you're getting some prophecy you want."

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