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Biblical Perspectives On Sleep

Thaddeus Bruno

Mar 15, 2013

Sleep is defined and generally thought of as a period of rest. Most dictionaries describe it as a natural condition of physical and mental inactivity that is non-voluntary and unconscious. A variety of derived usages exist in our western society, when prepositions are added to the word sleep. For example, depending on the circumstances, it is considered ok to sleep in, sleep out, or sleep over. If one needs to sleep off or sleep away we consider him not to be in the best mental state. And a most unfavorable sentiment is conveyed if one is spoken of as sleeping with or sleeping around. The Biblical usages of the word sleep are quite varied as well.

First there is literal sleep like that engaged in by no less a mortal than Jesus. (Mark 4: 38) His disciples found it strange that he could sleep despite the stormy conditions that arrested their boat. I suppose you can tell a lot about ones state of mind by his ability or inability to sleep. Though Adam’s sleep was not self imposed, he slept deeply and likely would not have protested the anesthesia, once he knew that its purpose was the making of woman from him and for him. It was after the woman arrived that his protesting began. (Gen 2:21) Natural sleep is spoken of as sweet by Solomon, when it has been preceded by labor. (Eccl 5: 12) I suppose this is why doing nothing is so tiring. The individual can’t stop to rest. The same author counsels against loving sleep because it leads to poverty and postulates that during the harvest is a very bad time for a son to sleep. (Prov 20:13; 10: 5) But the word sleep is also used euphemistically of death.

When Jesus spoke of the gravity of Lazarus’ condition, he softened its harshness with the word sleep. Later, and because they did not understand His use of the word sleep, He told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead”. (John 11:11-14) Similarly, Paul used sleep in the same way in his eschatological discussion with the Corinthian Christians. He explains that not all of us will sleep but some will be alive to witness the second coming of Christ (I Cor 15: 51) There he used sleep as a synonym of death. I suppose that sleep is a good substitute for physical death because neither of them describes a permanent condition. Just as one awakes from slumber, so too in the resurrection, he is awaken from the slumber of death. And then for Jesus, raising someone from the dead was as simple as awaking an individual from sleep. Though the mourners close to Galilee laughed him to scorn when He told them that the daughter of the ruler of the synagogue was not dead but merely sleeping, it was Jesus, and not the mourners who had the last laugh. He presented her alive without commotion or fanfare. (Luke 8: 52-56) But maybe most significantly, sleep is also a euphemism for spiritual oblivion or inactivity.

In the parable of the wheat and the tares, Jesus demarked the period during which the tares were sown as “while men slept.” That is, when people are not as spiritually aware as they should be, Satan, through his agents sows his evil seed. The laborers in the parable were puzzled by the presence of the tares because their seed was sown while they were asleep. (Matt 13: 25-27) Being spiritually dull is a sleep condition that can also affect Christians. Paul exhorts the sleepers in the Ephesian church with the following words. “…Awake thou that sleepest , and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” ( Eph 5: 14) Again to the church in Thessalonica he writes, “Therefore let us not sleep as do others; but let us watch and be sober” (I Thess 5: 6) Diligence and not slothfulness is promoted as a mental state for Christians. Whether handling the word or facing a spiritual challenge we must remember that God promises to reward those who diligently seek him. (Heb 11: 6)

So let your sleep be sweet, having been the result of labor. And let it be deep and worry-free because He who keeps watch over you, neither slumbers nor sleeps. If God is going to be up anyway then let Him deal with the cares. Stay awake spiritually. The enemy loves it when you sleep. He can’t sow his evil seeds in the soil of our hearts, unless we are lacking in keenness. Most of us will probably sleep in death unless Christ comes first in which case we will be changed instantaneously. The sleep of death will forever be abolished at that time.

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