Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Sleep is a wonderful blessing from God; it is one of the good things that He gives us as He lifts up His countenance upon us. He gives His beloved sleep after they have risen early and labored late (Ps. 127:2). Indeed, the workman needs sleep after the rigors of the day, so that he is refreshed in body and mind for the new day. We can both lie down and sleep when we know that God watches over us, when we have confessed our sins, when our consciences are at rest (Ps. 32:4, 5). The righteous meditate upon God’s law day and night (Ps. 1:2); they fall asleep counting God’s precious thoughts regarding them, and when they awake they are still with God (Ps. 139:18). All this makes sleep sweet for the laborer, but the abundance of the rich will not allow him to sleep (Eccl. 5:12).
As with vacations, recreation, and leisure, sleep serves the purpose of preparing for labor; it is not to be loved. Those that love sleep are called sluggards (Prov. 6:9); a sleep-loving son causes shame (Prov. 10:5) and will soon wear rags (Prov. 23:21); the slothful farmer, always folding his hands in sleep, will find his fields overgrown with thorns and his fences broken down (Prov. 24:30-34). Poverty comes upon lovers of sleep!
Scripture uses sleep as a symbol of death: Moses slept with his fathers (Deut. 31:16); Job will sleep in the dust (Job 7:21); and Lazarus slept (John 11:11). This usage does not teach “soul sleep” (the notion that between physical death and the resurrection of the body the soul is in limbo of idle repose) but rather indicates that the death of believers is not the final end, nor is it hopeless. Those that believe in Jesus and fall asleep in Jesus (I Thess. 4:14) shall be roused from the dead by the sound of the trumpet (I Cor. 15:51). Nor will those who are alive at the end of the world precede into glory those that sleep.
The Holy Spirit sounds the gravest possible warnings against spiritual drowsiness, slothfulness, indifference, unawareness, and sleep. The watchmen of Israel (officebearers) were blind, ignorant, as dumb dogs that cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber (Is. 56:10). It is the case that when God wants to punish a people, He gives them bad leaders and officebearers. With the passing of another year, we are reminded of the nearness of the end, of the fact that Jesus comes as a thief in the night, so that always we are to watch for the Master lest we be found sleeping (Mark 13:35, 36). Paul writes in an extended metaphor that it is high time to awake out of sleep, for the night is far spent. We are to put off our night clothes (works of darkness) and put on our work clothes (the armor of light). We are to walk honestly as in the day, not stumbling about in rioting, drunkenness, chambering, or wantonness. For now is our salvation nearer than when we first believed (Rom. 13:11-14). As children of light we are called to watch and be sober, for they that are otherwise are of darkness (I Thess. 5:6, 7).
As we ponder the above uses of the word “sleep” in the Bible, a truth of sublime beauty and significance comes to mind and steals over our souls: the LORD (Jehovah) never sleeps! “He that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:4). Though God rests (Gen. 2:2), and though He rouses Himself as one awakened out of sleep (a figure in Psalm 78:65 that sets forth God’s forbearance regarding the wicked and His longsuffering regarding His people), our God’s eyes are always open, full of mercy over His people. The worshipers of other gods must pray often and loudly, for their gods may be on a journey or asleep (I Kings 18:27), but God is always awake to our cries and alert to every danger that threatens us. The elect are graven upon the palms of His hands, they are ever before Him. Our lives throughout the new year shall be lives of comfort, safety, and blessing as we put our trust only in God!