Guide for the Perplexed, by Moses Maimonides, Friedländer tr. , at sacred-texts.com
WE have already shown in our work that the prophets sometimes prophesy in allegories; they use a term allegorically, and in the same prophecy the meaning of the allegory is given. In our dreams, we sometimes believe that we are awake, and relate a dream to another person, who explains the meaning, and all this goes on while we dream. Our Sages call this "a dream interpreted in a dream." In other cases we learn the meaning of the dream after waking from sleep. The same is the case with prophetic allegories. Some are interpreted in the prophetic vision. Thus it is related in Zechariah, after the description of the allegorical vision--"And the angel that talked with me came again and waked me as a man that is awakened from his sleep. And he said unto me, 'What dost thou see?'" etc. (Zech. iv. 1-2), and then the allegory is explained (ver. 6, sqq.).
Another instance we find in Daniel. It is first stated there: "Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed" (Dan. vii. 1). The whole allegory is then given, and Daniel is described as sighing that he did not know its interpretation. He asks the angel for an explanation, and he received it in a prophetic vision. He relates as follows: "I came near unto one of those that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things" (ibid. ver. 16). The whole scene is called ḥazon (vision), although it was stated that Daniel had a dream, because an angel explained the dream to him in the same manner as is mentioned in reference to a prophetic dream. I refer to the verse: "A vision appeared to me Daniel, after that which appeared to me at the first" (ibid. viii. 1). This is clear, for hazon (vision) is derived from ḥaza, "to see," and mareh, "vision," from raah, "to see"; and ḥaza and raah are
synonymous. There is therefore no difference whether we use mareh, or maḥazeh, or ḥazon, there is no other mode of revelation but the two mentioned in Scripture: "In a vision I make myself known to him, in a dream I will speak unto him" (Num. xii. 6). There are, however, different degrees [of prophetic proficiency], as will be shown (chap. xlv.).
There are other prophetic allegories whose meaning is not given in a prophetic vision. The prophet learns it when he awakes from his sleep. Take, e.g., the staves which Zechariah took in a prophetic vision.
You must further know that the prophets see things shown to them allegorically, such as the candlesticks, horses, and mountains of Zechariah (Zech. iv. 2; vi. 1-7), the scroll of Ezekiel (Ezek. ii. 9), the wall made by a plumb-line (Amos vii. 7), which Amos saw, the animals of Daniel (Dan. vii. and viii.), the seething pot of Jeremiah (Jer. i. 13), and similar allegorical objects shown to represent certain ideas. The prophets, however, are also shown things which do not illustrate the object of the vision, but indicate it by their name through its etymology or homonymity. Thus the imaginative faculty forms the image of a thing, the name of which has two meanings, one of which denotes something different [from the image]. This is likewise a kind of allegory. Comp. Makkal shaked, "almond staff," of Jeremiah (i. 11-12). It was intended to indicate by the second meaning of shaked the prophecy, "For I will watch" (shoked), etc., which has no relation whatever to the staff or to almonds. The same is the case with the kelub. kayiẓ, "a basket of summer fruit," seen by Amos, by which the completion of a certain period was indicated, "the end (ha-ḳeẓ) having come" (Amos viii. 2). Still more strange is the following manner of calling the prophet's attention to a certain object. He is shown a different object, the name of which has neither etymologically nor homonymously any relation to the first object, but the names of both contain the same letters, though in a different order, Take, e.g., the allegories of Zechariah (chap. xi. 7, sqq.). He takes in a prophetic vision staves to lead the flock; he calls the one No‘am (pleasure), the other ḥobelim. He indicates thereby that the nation was at first in favour with God, who was their leader and guide. They rejoiced in the service of God, and found happiness in it, while God was pleased with them, and loved them, as it is said, "Thou hast avouched the Lord thy God," etc., and "the Lord hath avouched thee," etc. (Deut. xxvi. 17, 18) They were guided and directed by Moses and the prophets that followed him. But later a change took place. They rejected the love of God, and God rejected them, appointing destroyers like Jeroboam and Manasse as their rulers. Accordingly, the word ḥobelim has the same meaning [viz., destroying] as the root ḥabal has in Meḥabbelim keramim, "destroying vineyards" (Song of Sol. ii. 15). But the prophet found also in this name Ḥobelim the indication that the people despised God, and that God despised them. This is, however, not expressed by the word ḥabal, but by a transposition of the letters Ḥet, Bet, and Lamed, the meaning of despising and rejecting is obtained. Comp. "My soul loathed them, and their soul also abhorred me" [baḥalah] (Zech. xi. 8). The prophet had therefore to change the order of the fetters in ḥabal into that of Baḥal. In this way we find very strange things and also mysteries (Sodot) in the words neḥoshet, Kalal, regel, ‘egel, and ḥashmal of the Mercabah, and in other terms in other
passages. After the above explanation you will see the mysteries in the meaning of these expressions if you examine them thoroughly.