Types of Prophetic Visions in the Bible

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God has chosen to deliver prophetic messages in several different ways. This article discusses the types of prophetic visions in the Bible with some examples.

It is important to keep in mind that a prophetic message from God will seldom be about future events.

The Purpose of Prophecy

Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi wrote The Kuzari as a conversation between a rabbi and the king of Khazar. One of the many topics they discuss is prophecy.

The Kuzari 1:11.1

This God sent Moshe to give His Torah, and later [He sent] thousands of prophets throughout history who exhorted the populace to follow the Torah, and who taught about the great reward for those who observe it and the heavy punishment for those who violate it.

The Rabbi is explaining to the king of Khazar the fundamentals of Judaism. God gave His Torah to the Jewish people. God then sent prophets to teach and show the Jewish people the proper path to follow.

This article lists the ways recorded in the Bible about how God chose to communicate with different prophets.

The Book of Genesis answers some fundamental questions of human existence: Who are we? Why are we here? What does God want from us? Genesis: From Creation To Covenant

Preparations for Prophecy

A prophet may experience different type of visions at different times during his prophetic career. In particular, God may approach a new / young prophet in a manner that gradually initiates him into the prophetic experience.

Hearing a Voice

Samuel the Prophet had his first prophetic experience when he was still very young.

1 Samuel Chapter 3

3. And before the lamp of God had gone out in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was lying down to sleep;
4. And the Lord called to Samuel; and he answered, Here am I.
5. And he ran to Eli, and said, Here am I; for you called me. And he said, I called not; lie down again. And he went and lay down.

Samuel heard God calling to him, but thought it was the High Priest Eli calling him. At first, even Eli did not know what was happening.

God called to Samuel three times (see verses 3:3 – 8). Only after the third time did Eli understand what was happening and told Samuel what he should do.

(I will come back to Samuel in a little bit.)

Seeing an Angel

Moses was already an older man when he had his first prophetic experience.

Exodus Chapter 3

1. And Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock far away into the desert, and came to the mountain of God, to Horeb.
2. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.

An angel appeared to Moses in the form of a burning fire. Moses reacted by deciding to investigate further. That is when God called to him directly (see verse 3:4).

Moses Compared to Other Prophets

We know that there are different types of prophetic visions from the incident when Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses. God appeared to all 3 of them, and here is part of what God said:

Numbers Chapter 12

6. And He said, Hear now My words; If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known to him in a vision [Hebrew: marah], and will speak to him in a dream.
7. Not so with My servant Moses, for he is the trusted one in all My house.
8. With him I speak mouth to mouth, in a vision [Hebrew: mareh], and not in riddles; and he beholds the image of God. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?

Moses was granted by God a high level of prophecy of indicated in two ways in verse 8. God spoke to him “mouth to mouth” and he beheld God in clear visions, not in riddles.

All other prophets experience a lower level of prophecy than Moses.

Prophetic visions in the Bible

The Book of Genesis answers some fundamental questions of human existence: Who are we? Why are we here? What does God want from us? Genesis: From Creation To Covenant

Types of Prophetic Visions

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan in The Handbook of Jewish Thought (6:64) lists six types of prophetic visions.

In this section I will briefly describe each type of vision and an example of it recorded in the Bible.

1. Prophetic Dream

God told Miriam and Aaron that prophetic dreams are a level of prophecy available to many prophets.

Joseph had one of the first prophetic dreams recorded in the Bible:

Genesis Chapter 37

5. And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brothers; and they hated him even more.
6. And he said to them, Hear, I beg you, this dream which I have dreamed;
7. For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood around, and made obeisance to my sheaf.

Prophetic dreams played an important role in Joseph’s life. He had a second dream that is recorded a few verses later.

After he was sold into slavery in Egypt, Joseph was able to correctly interpret the dreams of the wine steward, the baker, and (most importantly) Pharaoh’s dream (Genesis 41).

2. Wakeful Vision

This is another level that God mentioned when He rebuked Miriam and Aaron.

We must remember, that most of the prophets we encounter in the Bible have already achieved a high level of prophecy. Hence, there are not many “wakeful visions” recorded. However, I think this is one:

1 Kings Chapter 22

16. And the king [Ahab] said to him [the prophet Micaiahu], How many times shall I adjure you that you tell me nothing but that which is true in the name of the Lord?
17. And he said, I saw all Israel scattered upon the hills, as sheep that have not a shepherd; and the Lord said, These have no master; let them return every man to his house in peace.

Micaiahu is telling King Ahab the prophetic vision he saw. Then, starting in verse 19, he relates what he heard from God.

3. Hearing Words

I already wrote that Samuel’s introduction to prophecy was hearing a voice but not knowing it was God speaking to him. Once Eli the High Priest understood what was happening he instructed Samuel:

1 Samuel Chapter 3

9. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you shall say, Speak, Lord; for Your servant hears. So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Note what Samuel actually says when God again calls to him:

1 Samuel Chapter 3

10. And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for Your servant is listening.
11. And the Lord said to Samuel, Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of every one who hears it shall tingle.

Eli instructed Samuel to say, “Speak, Lord …” Instead, Samuel only said, “Speak …”


According to several commentators (Rashi, Abarbanel, Metzudat David), it’s because Samuel saw no vision and he still wasn’t positive that it was God speaking to him.

In other words, Samuel’s prophetic vision at this time was he heard words but did not see anything.

4. Seeing the Speaker While Hearing Words

In this type of vision God allows the prophet to hear words and see who is speaking. The speaker may be God or an angel, but will appear to be merely a human being.

Joshua Chapter 5

13. And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man before him with his sword drawn in his hand; and Joshua went to him, and said to him, Are you for us, or for our adversaries?
14. And he said, No; but as captain of the army of the Lord I am now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and prostrated himself, and said to him, What does my master say to his servant?

Joshua saw a man, approached him, and challenged him. Based on the man’s answer Joshua understood that the “man” was an angel sent by God.

5. An Angel Speaks

Because most of the prophets mentioned in the Bible are on a high spiritual level, God often uses angels to deliver prophetic messages.

Zecharia Chapter 1

7. On the twenty fourth day of the eleventh month, which is the month Shevat, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo the prophet, saying:
8. I saw in the night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees in the glen; and behind him were red, sorrel, and white horses.
9. Then I said, O my lord, what are these? And the angel who talked with me said to me, I will show you what these are.

God is showing the prophet Zecharia visions and using an angel to explain the vision.

6. Hearing a Voice From God

Many of the prophets recorded in the Bible were able to receive a message directly from God and know that it was God speaking to them.

Isaiah Chapter 6

1. In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His robe filled the temple.

8. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

Further Reading

This article is part of a series on the subject of prophecy. A good place to start is with the article What is Prophecy – A Jewish Perspective.

At the end of that article you will links to all of the other articles.

A Note on the Translations

The translation of Bible verses is based on the Judaica Press Tanach.

The translation of Gemara is based on the Soncino Talmud.

The Book of Genesis answers some fundamental questions of human existence: Who are we? Why are we here? What does God want from us? Genesis: From Creation To Covenant