This article will address a question that came to my attention recently about nightmares. Much has been written about their causes and stress they cause on people of all ages. We can all recall certain “night terrors” that have left us shaky and troubled just after we awoke from our restless state. We are not speaking about garden variety nightmares but those that have a crippling effect on us. We have just passed Remembrance Day where we recall the many brave and valiant soldiers who faced death and suffering for their generation and generations to come. Can we even imagine what it must have been like the night or day before a battle trying to get some shut eye, knowing that they will have to face enemy fire and possibly dismemberment or death, maybe even that of their friends? To this day, many who look back at their horrid battlefield experiences, where across enemy lines they faced the terrors and fierceness associated with battle, really may never leave them; for memories of it lie restless in wait to pounce, if, as we say they have been so fortunate to survive the war, leaving them in cold sweats and distress, by war’s end and their return to safety, had left them as much as a casualty as their fallen comrades. But what would you say if you were told that God has nightmares? Would you think that this is even possible since God does not sleep? The question below refers to the use of a metaphor that describes God as waking up from a nightmare. We will respond to this but first the question.
“I was just wondering if you might be able to translate something for me. I received a random Bible passage today and I am not sure what it means. The passage is Psalm 73:20 and I was wondering if you might be able to explain to me what is meant by this passage. I just found it interesting and it seems like a riddle.”
Whenever studying the Bible, in this case Psalm 73:20, as much as possible seek a particular translation that will give the plain translation of the verse.
King James Version
“As a dream when one awaketh; so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image.” Ps. 73:20
Direct wording from the Hebrew texts says it this way: As a dream when one awakes, Lord [so} when you awake their image you shall despise.
You can grasp a better idea to read a word for word translation from the Hebrew. The author describes the experience of waking up from a nightmarish sleep using a metaphor to describe God, as though a man, someone who awakes from a nightmare; another way is to say — Like a man that awakes from a bad dream, from which He sees the depraved state of man, which He hates.
A similar portion is found in Psalm7:6, where the plea of the Psalmist is for God to act against the unrighteous. Arise (like a man rising from his sleep), O LORD, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake for me; you have appointed a judgment. Ps. 7:6 (ESV)
While the text from Ps.73:20 does not say what God does with unrepentant men, though you may have a good idea already, the psalmist’s plea from Ps. 7:6 indicates that he knows. He knows that God will act decisively at Judgment. Sometimes judgment is temporal, here on earth in our lifetime; but for certain, in the last days, a final and comprehensive judgment is still to come for all mankind. So when you combine teaching from both Psalms where God is compared figuratively to man in the sense that He arises or awakes, but is unlike man who wishes to forget his nightmarish dream; God is not dismissive in dealing with the sinfulness of man. It is not a dream for him to put out of His thoughts, (metaphors are not meant to be exhaustive in their use) but He will judge man and all rebels and their rebellion will be removed from His presence forever. The sad irony to all of this, is this: what is nightmarish now for God, to see the continuous state of evildoing, will become a dreaded awakening for man in the end of time; worse than anything he could ever imagine in this life. This grim ending can be avoided if man responds to the warning from Scripture about sin and its consequences and man seeks Christ for forgiveness and repents of his sins; for God is gracious and merciful and will forgive you and will keep His promise to give eternal life to all those who ask. God continues even today to offer an escape from certain damnation, for He does not cease to warn man about the eventual outcome for men in this life.
How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, Hebrews 2:3a(ESV)
In the book of Hebrews are at least five extensive portions in which warnings are given regarding unbelief and departing from the Living God (see 2:1-4; 3:7-12; 5:11 –14; 10:26 – 29; 12:25 – 27). Yet, God remains gracious for He continues to invite the sinner to Himself.
From Psalm 86:5
For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You.