What the Bible Says about Sleep

Bed

Sleep is one of the few activities in which all humans participate. Our health, mood, mental ability, and performance of tasks depend on the quantity and quality of our sleep.

The Bible speaks of sleep – both literally and figuratively. In this article, we are going to consider four types of sleep discussed in the Scriptures.

The Sleep of Physical Rest

The sleep of the working man is pleasant, whether he eats little or much…” (Ecclesiastes 5:12).

Sleep is good when it is used for its proper purpose – not for slothfulness [next point], but for us to be productive in carrying out the works God has given us to do. A lack of sleep is not pleasant, good, or desirable. Paul listed his “sleepless nights” as one of the burdens he faced in his work as an apostle (2 Corinthians 11:27).

It is important to note that Solomon talked about the sleep of a “working man” (Ecclesiastes 5:12). It is to be for rest from a day of productivity. There is an expectation in Scripture that able-bodied people ought to be working. Those who are “not willing to work” are “not to eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). One who “does not provide for his own…has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Even a woman in a role where she is primarily focused on the household is not to “eat the bread of idleness” (Proverbs 31:27). Godly people, if able-bodied, should be productive and hardworking. The wise man said, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). The fact that “the sleep of the working man is pleasant” (Ecclesiastes 5:12) implies contentment and peace (cf. Philippians 4:11-13; Matthew 6:34).

Sleep can also help one recover from an illness. Before Jesus’ disciples knew that Lazarus had died, they believed that his sleep would be help him to get better: “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover” (John 11:12). When we are sick, we need to take time to rest and recover. When Peter’s mother-in-law was sick, she stayed “in bed”; when she had been healed, she “got up and waited on [Jesus]” (Matthew 8:14-15). Taking time to rest in such cases may mean we have to give up on certain plans so we can be useful in the future. Trophimus was traveling with Paul, but the apostle had to leave him “sick at Miletus” (2 Timothy 4:20). Doing this would allow him to get better and be involved in other work at a later time.

The Sleep of Slothfulness

Laziness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle man will suffer hunger” (Proverbs 19:15).

The sluggard sleeps as well as the working man, but it is a different type of sleep. As we noticed in the previous point, the working man sleeps in order to help him continue to be productive in carrying out his responsibilities. The sluggard’s “laziness casts [him] into a deep sleep” by which he avoids fulfilling his obligations.

The wise man warned that slothfulness leads to poverty: “Do not love sleep, or you will become poor; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with food” (Proverbs 20:13). He used the example of the ant to teach the lazy person what he ought to be doing: “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest. How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?” (Proverbs 6:6-9). Sleep is good, but the sluggard sleeps too long (Proverbs 6:9). The result of him loving sleep (Proverbs 20:13) rather than effectively using sleep (Ecclesiastes 5:12) will cause him to experience poverty and suffer need (Proverbs 6:10-11).

Elsewhere, the wise man explained that slothfulness gets progressively worse: “The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road! A lion is in the open square!’ As the door turns on its hinges, so does the sluggard on his bed. The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is weary of bringing it to his mouth again. The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can give a discreet answer” (Proverbs 26:13-16). Notice the progression:

  • First, someone makes excuses as to why he cannot go out and work (a lion outside, v. 13).
  • Second, the sleep of slothfulness leads to even more sleep (he continues to turn over in his bed, v. 14).
  • Third, even the simplest tasks of caring for oneself become a burden (he cannot even feed himself, v. 15).
  • But all the while, the sluggard refuses to admit his foolishness or see his fault. Instead, he is “wiser in his own eyes” than others (Proverbs 26:16).

This type of sleep wastes what little time we have. Some things must be done now without being put off. The wise man said, “The sluggard does not plow after the autumn, so he begs during the harvest and has nothing” (Proverbs 20:4). If one does not plant during the time for planting, it will not do any good to intend to plant later because it will be the wrong season. We need to make the most of our time (Ephesians 5:16). This means working diligently from our youth (Lamentations 3:27) rather than squandering our time with “empty pursuits,” leading to poverty later (Proverbs 28:19).

The Sleep of Unpreparedness

I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. […] Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you” (Revelation 3:1-3).

This is not literal sleep like the first two points. Instead, this is the state of being oblivious to the dangers that threaten us. This was the condition of the church in Sardis in the passage above. They needed to “wake up” and if they did not, they would face the Lord’s judgment.

This could apply to many areas of life, but here we will focus on the spiritual dangers we face. There are several ways in which we could be asleep in this regard:

  • We may be unprepared for the threat of sin. Peter said we must be “on the alert” because the devil “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Sin can easily entangle us (Hebrews 12:1) if we allow it. We must be on guard.
  • We can be unprepared for the threat of false teachers. Paul warned the brethren in Rome of those who “cause dissensions and hindrances” by teaching something different from what the apostles taught (Romans 16:17). He then said that these false teachers would “deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Romans 16:18). If we are unsuspecting (unprepared), we can also be deceived.
  • We might also be unprepared for our own death. Jesus told a parable of a rich land owner who believed he had plenty of time before he needed to be concerned with the condition of his soul; however, the Lord called him a “fool” because his soul was required of him that night (Luke 12:19-20). Our life is “just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14). Therefore, our death could come at any time.
  • We could also be unprepared for Christ’s return. Paul said this day would come “like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). Therefore, we are to “be alert and sober” (1 Thessalonians 5:6) because that day – like the day of our death – could happen at any moment. We must always be on the alert.

When we are unprepared for something and then we encounter it before we are ready for it, we will often face serious consequences. When it comes to spiritual matters, these consequences can be eternal.

The Sleep of Death

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14).

Death is often described in the Bible as “sleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14; John 11:11-14). This emphasizes the temporary nature of it. This is why the Hebrew writer said, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Even after death, we will stand before the Lord in judgment (Revelation 20:11-13). This appointment is where we are all headed, unless the Lord returns first (1 Thessalonians 4:15).

For those who are faithful, this sleep provides rest from our labors: “And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, ‘Write, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!”’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them’” (Revelation 14:13). This means that our spiritual obligations last until death – we must continue to serve the Lord throughout our lives. It is important to note that this rest is for the faithful. “God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus,” but those who are not in Christ “have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). The faithful will enjoy “rest” (Revelation 14:13), but the wicked have a different fate: “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night…” (Revelation 14:11). The sleep of death provides rest if we are faithful to the Lord.

Conclusion

God designed us to sleep. We need to use it for good and not abuse it. Yet it is also an illustration to encourage us to be prepared for what comes after this life. Because death is temporary, we must be ready for what comes next. Paul wrote, “For this reason it says, ‘Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:14-16).


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Comments

  1. Wayne D. Teel says

    A straight forward concept. Physical or spiritual sleep. Good reasoning on these two types of sleep. Very important subject to consider. Thanks, for this reminder.