By Britt Mooney, Crosswalk.com
We spend roughly one-third of our lives sleeping, based on a common eight-hour-a-night standard. Children require far more sleep, and surely most adults get less than eight hours, but sleep is a fundamental need of every man and woman.
Going without sleep is like going without food or water. After a certain amount of time, it becomes deadly.
As people made in the image of God, he has designed us as people who require sleep. God himself rested on the seventh day of Creation. Sleep is part of our mental, emotional, and physical health.
Certainly, since this has been by God’s design, the Bible has much to say about sleep. And like food and water, the passages cover the physical, emotional, and spiritual metaphorical aspects of sleep. What does the Bible say about sleep?
Rest and Renewal
The Bible underscores the physical and emotional restorative aspect of sleep, recognizing its importance in maintaining overall well-being and resilience. Throughout the scriptures, we find several references and narratives that emphasize the restorative power of sleep.
From the very beginning, in the creation narrative, God established a pattern of work and rest. In Genesis 2:2-3, we read that “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so, on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” This divine example sets the foundation for the importance of rest in human life.
The Bible repeatedly acknowledges God as the provider of rest. In Psalm 23:2, the famous passage says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters.”
This imagery portrays God as a shepherd who leads His sheep to places of rest and tranquility, ensuring their physical and emotional well-being.
The Bible often portrays sleep as a divine gift, a source of physical and emotional restoration. Psalm 127:2 states, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”
Here, sleep is characterized as a precious blessing, a time when God bestows rest upon His beloved.
In the context of physical healing, sleep is seen as a critical component of recovery. Proverbs 3:24-26 states,
When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.
Sleep, characterized by peace and trust in God, contributes to emotional and physical restoration.
Sleep also plays a vital role in emotional well-being. In the midst of challenging circumstances or emotional turmoil, restful sleep can offer solace and healing.
Psalm 4:8 says, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” This verse highlights the emotional peace and security that sleep can bring, particularly when one places their trust in God.
Trust in God’s Peace
The Bible often employs sleep as a metaphor to convey the idea of trusting in God. This metaphorical usage underscores the notion that just as individuals find physical rest and security in sleep, they can also find spiritual peace and trust in God.
“I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.” This verse from Psalm 3:5 encapsulates the theme of trust in God during times of adversity.
The psalmist’s ability to sleep peacefully, even in the face of dangers and enemies, illustrates unwavering trust in God's protection.
Psalm 4:8 emphasizes the connection between peace, sleep, and trust in God. “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
Trusting in the Lord allows one to lie down in safety and experience peaceful rest. It highlights the idea that when we trust God, we can find emotional and spiritual rest.
Isaiah 26:3 highlights the link between trust in God and perfect peace. “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you because he trusts in you.”
Trusting in the Lord is depicted as a way to maintain a peaceful mind, akin to the tranquility experienced in sleep. The metaphor of God as an everlasting rock signifies stability and security.
In a famous gospel story, Jesus was asleep during a deadly storm. From Matthew 8:24-26: “And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, ‘Save us, Lord; we are perishing.’ And he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’ Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.”
These were extremely experienced fishermen and sailors. Their diagnosis of a deadly storm was legitimate, and they were angry at Jesus like he didn’t care.
Yet Jesus’ peaceful sleep in the middle of a raging storm serves as a metaphor for living by faith, even during trying circumstances.
Christ rebukes the disciples for their fear, and he more than implies their trust in God should have been strong enough to allow them to rest peacefully in the face of danger.
The Bible uses sleep as a metaphor for spiritual indifference or lethargy to convey the idea of spiritual complacency, apathy, or neglect. This metaphor underscores the importance of remaining spiritually vigilant and active rather than becoming spiritually dormant.
In Proverbs 6:9-10, sleep represents laziness and spiritual indifference. “How long will you lie there, o sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest.”
The “sluggard” is metaphorically asleep, failing to engage in productive or spiritually meaningful activities. The passage emphasizes the need for spiritual diligence and proactive engagement in one's faith.
In Romans 13:11-12, the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome, and here sleep signifies spiritual unawareness or indifference.
Believers are encouraged to “wake from sleep” and be spiritually alert, recognizing that the time for salvation and spiritual awakening is near. It emphasizes the urgency of active faith and discipleship.
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Again, in 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8, Paul uses sleep to show how to live and remain aware of the spiritual state for themselves and others,
So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
He likens spiritual sleep to being spiritually unprepared and unaware. Believers are encouraged to stay awake and vigilant, putting on the armor of faith, love, and hope. It highlights the contrast between those who are spiritually awake and those who are spiritually indifferent.
Dreams and Visions
God even speaks to us in our sleep. The Bible often discusses dreams and visions during sleep as a means through which God communicates with individuals and conveys important messages, guidance, and insights.
These dreams and visions play a significant role in the biblical narrative, and they highlight the spiritual and prophetic dimensions of sleep.
One of the earliest instances of dreams in the Bible is the story of Joseph, who received two prophetic dreams. In these dreams, he saw himself as a ruler, and his brothers and parents bowing down to him.
These dreams eventually led to Joseph’s journey to Egypt and his rise to power, which fulfilled the dreams and served as God's plan for the future of Israel (Genesis 37).
Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, had two vivid dreams that troubled him. He dreamt of seven fat cows being devoured by seven lean cows and seven plump ears of corn being consumed by seven withered ears.
Joseph, who was known for interpreting dreams, explained that these dreams foretold seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. This interpretation saved Egypt and Joseph’s family during a time of great need (Genesis 31).
The Book of Daniel is filled with prophetic dreams and visions that Daniel received during the Babylonian exile.
These visions included the interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar's dream about a colossal statue and Daniel’s own visions of future empires and the coming Messiah.
These dreams and visions served as divine revelations regarding the unfolding of history and God's plan for salvation.
In the New Testament, Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, had a dream in which an angel appeared to him and explained that Mary's pregnancy was the result of the Holy Spirit's work. This dream reassured Joseph and confirmed the divine nature of Jesus’ birth.
These are only a few of the many examples from the Bible where God speaks to believers and nonbelievers alike in dreams.
The Sleep of Death
The Bible employs sleep as a metaphor for death in various passages, emphasizing the idea that death is not the end but a transition from one state of existence to another.
This metaphor offers hope and comfort to believers by framing death as a temporary rest, with the promise of awakening in the presence of God.
In one of the most well-known instances, Jesus used the metaphor of sleep to describe Lazarus’ death. When told of Lazarus’s illness, Jesus said, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him” (John 11:11).
Later, He clarified that Lazarus had died and proceeded to raise him from the dead. This narrative illustrates Jesus' power over death and suggests that death is akin to a temporary slumber for believers.
The Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of sleep to describe the resurrection of the dead in Christ. He writes, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
Here, “sleep” represents physical death, and “being changed” refers to the transformation of believers when they are resurrected to eternal life.
These biblical references illustrate that sleep is a metaphor for death that is often used to convey the idea of believers' transition from this earthly life to the life to come, emphasizing the hope of resurrection and eternal life, offering comfort and assurance to those who have faith in Christ.
The metaphor of sleep for death reassures believers that, like a sleeper who eventually awakens, they too will rise to a new and glorious existence in the presence of God.
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Britt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.
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