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Bible references are to the Anglicised New International Version (NIV-UK) unless noted otherwise.


[S]o man lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, men will not awake or be roused from their sleep. If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me! If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come. You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made.

Job 14: 12-15

‘BLESSINGS LIGHT ON him that first invented sleep! It covers a man all over, thoughts and all, like a cloak; it is meat for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, heat for the cold, and cold for the hot. It is the current coin that purchases all the pleasures of the world cheap, and the balance that sets the king and the shepherd, the fool and the wise man, even.’ – Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, 1605.


And who invented sleep? Can it be regarded as a brilliant evolutionary development, a process devised by increasingly intelligent life forms over countless millennia? While the benefits of sleep are universally recognised and the vast majority take it for granted, philosophers, neuroscientists and other researchers have struggled with this seemingly simple question for centuries. Obviously a night of sleep helps the body to recover from a day of physical activity, but what about our minds and emotions? Does sleep also affect these vitally important aspects of human nature? Experience does indeed assure us that a night’s undisturbed sleep has a blessed restorative effect on a troubled mind. Worrying problems are less daunting in the morning, and renewed optimism often comes with the new day.


To regard sleep as a stage in some evolutionary process is utterly incompatible with the Bible account of man’s creation. When God created Adam from the elements of earth ‘the dust of the ground’ he would come to consciousness in a world with night and day, waking and sleeping. The hours of darkness were not the time for labour, but for physical renewal, and perhaps for the unconscious absorption and ordering of information imparted during waking hours.


Adam’s early days introduced to him the wonders of his environment, and God made him responsible for naming the multitude of living creatures, his earliest companions (Genesis 2: 19). What pleasure and satisfaction! Yet life’s joys are always the greater when shared, and when the Lord declared ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’, He performed what might be described as the first ever surgical operation, and provided an ideal companion for the man. Genesis 2: 21,22 describes it in simple terms:


The LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.


The benefits of modern anaesthesia are obvious and the deep sleep, the unconscious condition, enables surgery of amazing complexity to be performed successfully in today’s world. Is it not therefore reasonable to believe that natural sleep also has a restorative, healing and salutary function in the human condition, and in the various life forms on earth? Scripture certainly testifies to this conclusion as it relates to mankind.



A colloquial expression of the import of Psalm 127: 2 tells us that it is useless to work so hard for a living by getting up early and going to bed late, as the Lord provides for those He loves while they are asleep. With no effort on our part, a fresh supply of energy is built up within us and we wake with renewed vigour and optimism. The problems that plagued us before are viewed more rationally with the new day, and may even be resolved. It is as if the Lord sees the wisdom of working His good will in us when our tendency to ‘go it alone’ is switched off. What a kind, merciful God we worship!


The utter trust of Jesus in the Father’s care was demonstrated when He and His disciples were caught in a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee, threatening to capsize the vessel. Amazed that Jesus lay sleeping peacefully in the stern, while they were driven to frantic fear, the disciples wakened Him, asking ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ Jesus got up, calmed the storm, and asked them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ (Mark 4: 38, 40).


Interestingly, a touching event is recorded in Matthew 26: 38-40, revealing the frailty of Jesus’ closest Apostles. Shortly before His arrest, desiring human sympathy and support He said to them,


‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’ Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter.


The Apostle Paul refers to sleep in a figurative sense in Romans 13: 11, 12. The passing years may have slackened the zeal of many, and a degree of complacency dimmed their prospects in Christ’s coming Kingdom. So he exhorted them, and us:


The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.




And why do we do it? Adults sleep an average of eight hours a day, so that by the time we reach seventy or so, we have actually slept for twenty-five years. There is continuing debate about the need for sleep, and while much has been learned and generally accepted as factual, scientists still search for answers. Brain activity during sleep can be observed by the use of an electroencephalograph (EEG), an instrument for recording the electrical activity of the brain, usually by means of electrodes attached to the scalp.


Physical energy and mental efficiency is clearly restored by periods of sleep, and doctors may prescribe sedatives to alleviate stress and promote recovery from surgery or other trauma. But the unconscious brain is shown to be surprisingly active, and some neuroscientists argue that another function of sleep is concerned with learning and memory. The theory is controversial, and some scientists insist that it is still far from clear whether the sleeping brain can do anything with memories that the waking brain processes by conscious effort.


Sleep is evidently a far more complex phenomenon than once thought. Though we may be lying in bed sleeping (and dreaming), our brains may nonetheless be actively consolidating and organising the random bits of information that escape our full attention during waking hours. Dreams have fascinated philosophers for thousands of years, but only recently have they become the subject of concentrated scientific study. So, why do we dream? What purpose do they serve? While many theories have been proposed, no single consensus seems to have emerged.


The Bible evidence is that dreams feature prominently in God’s imparting of information and instructions to His servants. In Numbers 12: 6 the Lord’s own statement is clear:

Listen to my words: When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.

And the words of Elihu in Job 33: 14, 15 probably reflect the general understanding of the matter in ancient times:


For God does speak now one way, now another though man may not perceive it. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep falls on men as they slumber in their beds, he may speak in their ears . . . .


Perhaps to those who believe in the Bible such statements might support the scientific conjecture that the human brain during sleep, free from the distractions of daytime, is capable of assimilating and storing information which will be available to the waking mind. Well might we echo the declaration of David in Psalm 139: 14: ‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’



When Lazarus of Bethany died, Jesus told His disciples that their friend was ‘asleep’. At first they failed to grasp His meaning, thinking that Lazarus had recovered and was sleeping naturally. Jesus told them bluntly, ‘Lazarus is dead’ (John 11: 11-14).


Why is death figuratively depicted as sleep? There is of course a common appearance between a sleeping body and a dead one, and the presence or absence of the signs of life is of fundamental importance. For, as the Scriptural record tells us, it was not until God imparted life into Adam, poetically expressed by ‘breathed into his nostrils the breath of life’, that Adam became a living soul (Genesis 2: 17, King James Version). The soul is therefore clearly seen to be the union of the physical organism with the spark (‘breath’) of life. Contrary to long-held beliefs, the soul is not a separate, invisible entity.


Adam’s existence was conditional on his meeting the reasonable terms of obedience to the Divine law which he failed to do. The oft-repeated Biblical statement ‘the soul that sinneth, it shall die’ serves to emphasise the fact that since the curse of sin and death, life has been forfeited, and the ‘breath’ or vitality is withdrawn and the soul no longer survives, and man dies. Yet God has great compassion for the plight of humanity and assures us that in due time there will be a great awakening from the sleep of death. ‘A second Adam to the fight and to the rescue came.’ [fn1]



When breath leaves the body nothing is left except the record of that life in God’s memory. Job relied on God’s remembrance of him to raise him to a new life in due time, as expressed in the text quoted at the head of this article. Job apparently did not expect to live in heaven. In common with the faithful men and women of Old Testament times, he looked for a resurrection on earth, a restoration to the familiar earthly environment.


God had foreknowledge of mankind’s fall into sin and death and knew the value of permitting the race to experience the dire consequences of violating His laws. He so loved the world that He sent Jesus, His only-begotten Son, to pay the ransom-price for Adam, the original sinner, to release his entire family from condemnation and therefore from the long sleep of death. The Saviour, referring to Himself as the ‘son of man’, said ‘Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out’ (John 5: 28, 29).


What a blessed hope! Though long delayed, one sweet day we shall stir from our slumber of death and be revived to amazing consciousness, when the call comes, WAKE UP! WAKE UP! It is the Resurrection Morning!



[fn1] John H. Newman, ‘Praise to the Holiest in the Height’





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