Question: Why do angels often use dreams to communicate with people, as with Joseph? Wouldn’t it be more challenging for us to trust a dream than a waking encounter?
Matt. 1:20, 24 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.
More often than not, angelic appearances throughout Scripture do take place when the person is awake. Angels communicating by means of dreams is repeated in Joseph’s experience (1:20; 2:2, 13, 19, 22), yet this is unique in the New Testament. In Acts 2:17, where Peter quotes the prophet Joel regarding the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Scripture states, “your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” This may refer to angelic communication, or it may refer to the Holy Spirit manifesting Himself directly to the believer in a dream.
Even Old Testament examples typically represent the Lord speaking personally to individuals during a dream rather than through the medium of an angel:
1Kings 3:5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you” (see Gen. 20:3; 31:24).
However, Genesis 31 records a vivid conversation between an angel and Jacob in one dream that recalls an earlier dream in which Jacob had witnessed angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. In the first experience God Himself spoke to Jacob in the dream. But the second time it was an angel who communicated with Jacob:
Gen. 31:11-13 “The angel of God said to me in the dream, ‘Jacob.’ I answered, ‘Here I am.’ And he said, ‘Look up and see that all the male goats mating with the flock are streaked, speckled or spotted, for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and where you made a vow to me. Now leave this land at once and go back to your native land.’”
God has spoken to mankind through angels who have appeared in various forms, including wind and fire, sometimes through visions, and most of the time appearing human:
Judg. 13:3, 6 The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, “You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son. …Then the woman went to her husband and told him, “A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn’t ask him where he came from, and he didn’t tell me his name.
Joseph and Jacob are among the few in Scripture to whom God has sent an angel to communicate His will during a dream. Why would God choose to communicate with these two men while they slept, when in nearly every other instance He sends His angels to those who are awake? Was it something about their personality that made them more receptive to spiritual guidance while they slept?
Scripture doesn’t say. What it does say is that God in His great love for us directs His angels to guard and guide His people in the most effective ways possible:
Ps. 91:11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…