But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.
Matthew 1:20 ESV
Why did God speak to Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, in dreams? He spoke directly to Mary through Gabriel. He gave a vision to Zechariah. But he spoke to Joseph, not once, but four times through dreams. Why?
The Bible does not answer the question for us, but it does provide some hints. First of all, think about that name. Is there another Joseph in the Bible? There certainly is, he appears in the last chapters of the book of Genesis, and guess what? He too is associated with dreams. His future was displayed to him in a couple of dreams. Then it was the Pharaoh’s dreams that were the means of Joseph’s deliverance from prison and his elevation to second place in the kingdom.
But there is a further comparison between these two men. Each of them was instrumental in fulfilling the work of God for his people. Joseph I was the means whereby God could keep his promised people alive through a terrible drought and famine, stemming from fallen Nature. And Joseph II was the means whereby Jesus could be kept alive, and through him, all of us, in spite of the murderous instincts of powerful people determined to keep their power at all costs – fallen humanity.
But still, why dreams? First of all, I suggest that Joseph’s II’s dreams are intended precisely to call our attention to Joseph I. This coming of Jesus is not some crazy, new idea on God’s part; it is the final unfolding of the saving work that God has been about since the tragedy of Genesis 3, a work that is continually brought about through insignificant people in difficult circumstances who yet choose to live in simple obedience.
Second, dreams are an expression of the thin boundary between the visible world and the invisible one. In the coming of Jesus, that boundary is all but erased. In him the visible man and the invisible God were joined as never before, so it is entirely appropriate that his mother should be delivered from shame because of a dream, that his life be saved because of a dream, that he should return to God’s land, the place of his work, because of a dream, and be delivered from one more deadly king because of a dream. God is in the deliverance business.