Yashen/Radam/Num: SLEEP- Laying Down and Rising Up!

SLEEP: Yashen, verb (Strong’s 3462). Shaynah, feminine noun (Strong’s 8142).  DEEP SLEEP: Radam, verb (Strong’s 7290). Tar’deymah, feminine noun (Strong’s 8639). SLUMBER: Num, verb (Strong’s 5123)

There are a few different synonyms for the concept of “sleep” in the Hebrew Bible. There is shaynah (sleep as a noun); there is yashen (the verb “to sleep”). Radam is often translated as the verb  “to sleep deeply” or be in a trance, and out of the root of radam (rdm) comes the noun, tardeymah, also meaning a “deep sleep”.

Sleep is essential to human existence. We cannot survive without it. Our bodies need rest to regenerate… a time when we can stop and let go of whatever consistently drives us forward, whether it be work, chores, appointments, exercise, meetings, hobbies or family gatherings. 

Sleep is ours alone… we end our day by closing our eyes and letting go. That’s harder for some of us than others, but it is necessary for every one of us.

Falling Asleep in Church

I think every church and synagogue assembly has had that one elderly congregant who has fallen asleep in the back pew. Even the great preacher Paul had a few pew snoozers in his day. One of my favourite stories in the B’rit Chadashah (New Testament) was the story of the sleepy young man, Eutychus. 

Paul tended to be a little long winded; (if you’ve read any of his letters you get a sense of that). Although he had wonderful things to say, the term “short and sweet” could not really be applied to Paul. One night he gave a sermon later in the evening, and it went on for quite some time:

Acts 20:9-10

And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, Eutychus was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor, and was picked up dead. 

But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, “Do not be troubled, for he is still alive.” 

You would think such a shocking turn of events would stop the sermon, but not for Paul. Immediately after Eutychus was announced “alive”, they went back upstairs and Paul kept on talking until daybreak! There would be no sleeping that night… not even for Eutychus!

We need our sleep… and if we don’t get enough, our bodies will make us sleep, even in the most awkward of places.

YHWH used Sleep to Get things Done

But, while we let go and wander off to sleep, we get a sense that YHWH has always been busy during our sleeping hours. He used sleep to accomplish His mission. The very first mention of sleep came when YHWH created Life (Eve) out of Human (Adam). YHWH caused Adam to go into a deep sleep:

Genesis 2:21a

So YHWH God caused a deep sleep [tar’deymah] to fall upon the man, and he slept [wai-yishawn].

As Adam (human) slept, YHWH created a being out of the side of Adam and called it Life (khava/Eve)… and then Adam awoke and met Eve. Human awoke and found Life. 

Humans weren’t meant to witness the incredible creation of the human race. It was to be a mystery. At one point we did not exist. And then we did. WHEN and HOW was meant to be a mystery to us, because the only important thing was WHY. 

God created humans to be His reflection on earth. Humans were to help the planet grow and flourish; they were to lead with kindness and compassion among all of YHWH’s Creation. To go into great detail about the when and the how would only overshadow what was really important to God… that we reflect His Love onto this beautiful, sustainable, planet. 

We are to reflect YHWH through our waking hours, and then we are to rest and let God look after (literally) the rest.

YHWH used sleep to guide His mission forward. Sleep brought Jacob many prophetic dreams (Genesis 28:16); and sleep brought trouble to Samson (Judges 16:14, 19, 20). 

YHWH even used dreams to speak to the enemies of the Hebrew people. Pharaoh dreamt after falling asleep (Genesis 41:6) and called on Joseph to interpret his dream; the result elevated Joseph to a high social standing in the Egyptian court where Joseph could later help save his own family… the same family that would one day bring about the Messiah for the earth.

Even Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, dreamt and called on Daniel to interpret his dream. Because of disturbing dreams, which resulted in sleeplessness, YHWH changed Nebuchadnezzar’s heart:

Daniel 2:1-2

Now in the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; and his spirit was troubled and his sleep [u-sh’natow] left him. Then the king gave orders to call in the soothsayer priests, the conjurers, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans, to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king.

Eventually only Daniel could interpret the dream and it changed Nebuchadnezzar’s perspective on God:. 

Daniel 2:46-48

Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell on his face and paid humble respect to Daniel, and gave orders to present to him an offering and incense. The king responded to Daniel and said, “Your God truly is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of secrets, since you have been able to reveal this secret.” Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon, and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.

YHWH also waited for Elijah to sleep before sending an angel to him. Elijah was in trouble. Queen Jezebel hated him because; he had humiliated her pagan belief system and made her look bad. In a rage she  sought to kill him and fearing for his life, Elijah ran away: 

1 Kings 19:4-8

But he [Elijah] himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree; and he asked for himself to die, and said, “Enough! Now, YHWH, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” 

Then he lay down and fell asleep [wai-yi’shawn] under a broom tree; but behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat!” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a round loaf of bread baked on hot coals, and a pitcher of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again

But the angel of YHWH came back a second time and touched him, and said, “Arise, eat; because the journey is too long for you.” 

So he arose and ate and drank, and he journeyed in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Elijah wanted to die, but the angel had him “rise up” and take sustenance. For forty days and forty nights he wandered in the wilderness until he reached Mount Horeb, and there he spoke to YHWH and received a mission. YHWH had roused Elijah out of his sleep in order to raise him up so that he could walk for God and fulfill his mission.

Does YHWH Need Sleep?

Humans need sleep, and YHWH uses our sleep to bring the Kingdom closer. But does YHWH need sleep for Himself? The Bible gives us the impression that God never slept because He was always watching His Creation:

Psalm 121:1-4

I will raise my eyes to the mountains; from where will my help come? My help comes from YHWH, who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to slip; He who watches over you will not slumber [al yanum]. Behold, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep [lo yanum w’lo yishan].

It was understood that God was always watching, always alert for His people, but when the people struggled under oppression they questioned this aspect of YHWH’s attributes:

Psalm 44:23-26

[Sons of Korah:] Wake Yourself up, why do You sleep [ti-shan], Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever.

Why do You hide Your face and forget our affliction and oppression? For our souls have sunk down into the dust; our bodies cling to the earth.

Rise up, be our help, and redeem us because of Your mercy.

The Psalmist called on YHWH to rise from His sleep and redeem them. YHWH was never asleep, but it felt like it. 

YHWH respected the people’s choice to reject Him, and as a result it felt like He had gone to sleep on them. But that was not the case. He was always ready to rise up, help, save, and redeem His people… but He would do it in a way no one ever expected.

YHWH would send His Son, (whose name Yeshua literally meant “Salvation”), to lay down and die, and then he would rise up and redeem!

Sleep-Death

In the Hebrew texts, sleep was frequently used as a euphemism for death. The ancient Hebrew people loved metaphors, similes and euphemisms. The Biblical writers frequently used “sleep” to indicate death:

Job 3:11-13

“Why did I not die at birth, come out of the womb and pass away? Why were the knees there in front of me, and why the breasts, that I would nurse?

For now I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept [yashan’ti] then, I would have been at rest…”

When God revealed what His judgement would be at Bablyon He announced that they would, sleep a perpetual sleep [w-yash’nu sh’nat olam] and not wake up”):

Jeremiah 51:55-57 (see also Jeremiah 51:39)

“For YHWH is going to destroy Babylon, and He will make her loud noise vanish from her. And their waves will roar like many waters; the clamour of their voices sounds forth.

For the destroyer is coming against her, against Babylon, and her warriors will be captured, their bows shattered; for YHWH is a God of retribution, He will fully repay.

I will make her leaders and her wise men drunk, her governors, her officials, and her warriors, so that they will sleep a perpetual sleep [w-yash’nu sh’nat olam] and not wake up,” declares the King, whose name is YHWH of armies. 

David knew the life-giving power of YHWH; without God he would sleep the sleep of death and be overcome by the enemy:

Psalm 13:3-6

[David:] Consider and answer me, O YHWH my God; enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep [eeshan] (the sleep of) the death, and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.

But I have trusted in Your faithfulness; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to YHWH, because He has looked after me.

David trusted in YHWH’s Salvation plan, and that’s how he could truly live.

Job, who suffered perhaps more than anyone in the Bible, felt the weight of depression, and he continually questioned the purpose of life and death (the eternal sleep):

Job 14:10-14a

“But a man dies and lies prostrate. A person passes away, and where is he?

As water evaporates from the sea, and a river becomes parched and dried up, so a man lies down and does not rise. Until the heavens no longer exist, he will not awake nor be woken from his sleep [mi-sh’natam].

Oh that You would hide me in Sheol, that You would conceal me until Your wrath returns to You, that You would set a limit for me and remember me!

If a man dies, will he live again?

Job’s question was answered by YHWH when He sent the Messiah to redeem HIs people. Would a man die and live again? Oh yes…one Man would so that all humans could!

By Yeshua’s day this euphemism may have been slipping away under the influence of Greek culture which focused on realism and philosophy and preferred to call a spade a spade. Yeshua used sleep as a euphemism for death with His disciples, but they just didn’t get it:

John 11:11-15

He [Jesus] said to them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep [Greek: kekoimetai]; but I am going so that I may awaken him.” 

The disciples then said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep [Greek: kekoimetai], he will come out of it.” 

Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about actual sleep [hypnou]. So Jesus then said to them plainly, “Lazarus died”…

Image by Hessam Nabavi (Unsplash.com)

Good Sleep, Bad Sleep

There were a few things that would help with good sleep. A hard days work brought on good sleep:

Ecclesiastes 5:12

The sleep [sh’nat] of the labourer is sweet, whether he eats little or much; but the full stomach of the rich person does not allow him to sleep [li-sh’ohn].

A sense of peace brought good sleep:

Psalm 4:8

In peace I will both lie down and sleep [w-eeshan], for You alone, YHWH, have me dwell in safety.

A strong faith in YHWH helped foster good sleep. The prophet Jeremiah slept and saw a vision where God promised to restore and refresh his weary followers. It renewed his faith and Jeremiah said:

Jeremiah 31:26

At this I awoke and looked, and my sleep [u-sh’nati] had been pleasant to me.

Fully trusting YHWH would also bring sound sleep:

Psalm 3:3-8

But You, YHWH, are a shield around me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying out to YHWH with my voice, and He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah

I lay down and slept [wa-eeshanah]; I awoke, for YHWH sustains me.

I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.

Arise, YHWH; save me, my God! For You have struck all my enemies on the cheek; You have shattered the teeth of the wicked.

Salvation belongs to YHWH; may Your blessing be upon Your people! Selah

Yeshua’s faith and trust in His Father certainly helped him sleep well. There’s a story where Yeshua and his disciples were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and a storm suddenly came up and rocked the sea:

Mark 4:37-39

And a fierce gale of wind developed, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling with water. And yet Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep [Greek: katheudon] on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him,

“Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 

And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.”

 And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

In His (potentially) groggy state Yeshua didn’t even respond to His disciples, He just heard the panic in their voices and then told the Sea to be still. Yeshua’s faith was so strong He could sleep through a storm… and that’s the kind of faith He hoped His followers would have.

Good sleep also came with sound wisdom. Solomon passed on his wisdom to his son:

Proverbs 3:21-24

My son, see that they [wisdom, understanding, knowledge] do not escape from your sight; comply with sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life to your soul and adornment to your neck. Then you will walk in your way securely, and your foot will not stumble.

When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep [sh’nateka] will be sweet.

In comparison, following evil instead of wisdom would result in restlessness:

Proverbs 4:14-19

Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not proceed in the way of evil people. Avoid it, do not pass by it; turn away from it and pass on.

For they cannot sleep [lo yish’nu] unless they do evil; and they are robbed of sleep [sh’natam] unless they make someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.

But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.

The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.

Do Not Oversleep!

Although sleep is good, the Bible does warn us to not oversleep. Too much sleep and one could become lazy, which could lead to poverty:

Proverbs 20:13

Do not love sleep [sheynah], or you will become poor; open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with food.

Laziness and oversleeping went hand in hand:

Proverbs 6:3-11 (see also Proverbs 24:33-34)

[Solomon:] Then do this, my son, and save yourself:

Since you have come into the hand of your neighbour, go, humble yourself, and be urgent with your neighbor to free yourself.

Give no sleep [sheynah] to your eyes, nor slumber [u-t’numah] to your eyelids; save yourself like a gazelle from the hunter’s hand, and like a bird from the hand of the fowler.

Go to the ant, you lazy one, observe its ways and be wise, which, having no chief, officer, or ruler, prepares its food in the summer and gathers its provision in the harvest.

How long will you lie down, you lazy one? When will you arise from your sleep [mi-sh’nateka]? A little sleep [shey’noht], a little slumber [t’numoht], a little folding of the hands to rest [li-sh’kav],”

Then your poverty will come in like a drifter, and your need like an armed man.

Yeshua also preached about staying alert and awake, for we would not know when He would come again:

Mark 13:32, 35-37

[Jesus:] Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone…

…Therefore, stay alert—for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— so that he does not come suddenly and find you asleep. What I say to you I say to all: ‘Stay alert!’”

Don’t Be Asleep on the Job

We are meant to be alert, to keep our eyes open. We are also meant to do the job we were created to do. We are to be YHWH’s Image Bearers… we His representatives on this broken planet. What He asks us to do, we are to accomplish.

Before Yeshua went to the cross He had an agonizing evening in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Matthew 26:36-46

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and told His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with Him, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”

And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” 

And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping [Greek: katheudontas], and He said to Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying, so that you do not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, “My Father, if this cup cannot pass away unless I drink from it, Your will be done.” 

Again He came and found them sleeping [Greek: katheudontas], for their eyes were heavy. 

And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more. Then He came to the disciples and said to them, Are you still sleeping [Greek: katheudete] and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let’s go; behold, the one who is betraying Me is near!”

The disciples were drowsy and not fulfilling their jobs to watch and be alert. Yeshua was about to go to the cross and change the course of history. It’s almost ironic that the disciples were dozy and couldn’t keep their eyes open. They were falling into a sleep-death, but that would change in a matter of moments. Yeshua was about to be betrayed by his friend and disciple, Judas. He would be arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. 

It was all in God’s plan for human salvation. Yeshua would lay His life down and sleep the sleep of death, but He would not stay there. Just as the angel prompted Elijah to rise up out of his sleep, Yeshua would rise up out of death. He would conquer death so that we could truly live!

When Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica he encouraged the people not to sleep like others sleep… drunk and in the darkness:

1 Thessalonians 5:4-10

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, so that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then, let’s not sleep [Greek: katheudomen] as others do, but let’s be alert and sober. For those who sleep [Greek: katheudontes}, sleep [Greek: katheudousin] at night, and those who are drunk, get drunk at night. 

But since we are of the day, let’s be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus the Messiah, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep [Greek: katheudomen], we will live together with Him.

There is no eternal sleep for the followers of YHWH… we live truly and freely because He died for us and conquered the grave. Now He lives and waits for us to come home to Him.

I’ve heard people describe the human experience as eat, sleep, poop… but life is so much more glorious than that. We are to be alive and awake, singing God’s praises, and sharing the Good News of His Salvation. We are to help the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, and the people who are displaced… and in doing so we reflect God directly onto the planet as we wait for His return. Let’s not be caught sleeping when He comes; let’s be awake and alive in our faith, so that we can rise up and joyously face our Creator!

Next week: The Inner Sanctuary

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