“It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he giveth his beloved sleep.” Psalm 127:2
If we take the words of our text just as they stand, they are charged with deep and beautiful significance. They tell us what our own experience confirms, that sleep is the gift of God. The world has gifts which it gives to its favourite children. It loads them with wealth or honour or fame. But God deals otherwise with His beloved, for “He giveth to his beloved sleep.”
It would, of course, be very wrong to say that sleeplessness is a mark of the divine displeasure. A man may be wrapt in the gracious peace of God, yet seek in vain the refreshment of sleep. Yet it is true that sleep, when it is given, is such a medicine for the weary and worn, that it can be nothing less than the gift of love. I think of Jesus in the storm-tossed boat, asleep on the pillow when everyone else was running around in wild alarm. I think of Peter fast asleep in prison when the coming morning was to bring his execution. I think of the tired worker when nightfall comes, and the sufferer who has been racked with pain through weary hours, and I learn how tenderly and deeply true it is that “He giveth his beloved sleep.” Nor can anyone ever ignore that sweetest of all suggestions wherein the word is whispered over the sleep of death. A thousand memories of shadows and tears have clustered around that interpretation. It is when the fever breaks that one sleeps well, and when the struggle of life has ended and quiet peace has fallen, then love, through the mist of weeping, murmurs: “So he giveth his beloved sleep.”
The Stress and Strain of Life
But though that is a comforting and blessed truth, it is not the true interpretation of the words. If you read the verse in relation to its context, you will see that that could hardly be the meaning. The Psalmist is warning against overwork which degenerates into worry. He is picturing the man who overdrives himself until he has no rest and no peace. And all this pressure and nervous activity is not only a sin in the sight of God, it is also, says the Psalmist, a mistake. It is vain for you to rise up early and to sit up late. You will never gain the choicest things that way. Let a man be nervous, overworked and tired, and he is sure to miss the worthiest and the best. God giveth to His beloved in sleep–when they are at rest like a child within its cradle when they are free from that turbulence of wild desire in which the still small voice is quite inaudible.
Remember that the Psalmist never dreamed of casting a slur on honest, manly labour. He knew too well the blessings that we gain, and the sins that we are saved from, by our work. What was borne in on his soul was that by overwork we lose more than we gain, for many of the richest gifts of heaven only approach us through the path of slumber. It is imperative that the soul should be held passive if we are to have the inflow of His grace. It is imperative that its uproar should be hushed if we are to hear the still, small voice. And it is that which the Psalmist hints at here, when, in the intense language of a poet, he cries to men, “Your stress and strain are vanities; God giveth to His beloved in sleep.”
The Blessings of Infancy
There is a world of love encompassing an infant, yet how unconscious the baby is of it all! When our Saviour was drawing near the cross, He said to His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you,” and they knew from that hour that when they awoke in glory, they would find that all was ready for their coming.
But not only in the land beyond the river is a place prepared for everyone God loves. When into this present life a child comes, hearts have been busy with preparation. Stooping over the little one is a mother’s love and all the splendour of a mother’s patience. Shielding it is a father’s strength and eagerness to provide for all its needs. And it is clothed and fed with food convenient and rocked to sleep and sheltered from the storm. And should it become ill, the best skill in the city is not good enough for the tiny sufferer. What a wealth of love and care is here, yet what is more passive than that little infant! Have these small hands helped in the preparation? Has that little mind done any of the planning? Helpless it lies and doomed to certain death if life depended on its puny efforts. But “God giveth to his beloved in sleep”; He has prepared for His children, too.
The Pursuit of Happiness
If anywhere in life, it is in pleasure-seeking that it is vain to rise up early and to sit up late. Not when we are determined, come what may, to have a pleasant and a happy life does God bestow the music of the heart. He gives it when there is forgetfulness of self and the struggle to be true to what is highest through the path be through the valley of the shadow. The one sure way to miss the gift of happiness is to rise early looking for it and to sit up late waiting for it. To be bent at every cost on a good time is the sure harbinger of dreary days. It is when we have the courage to forget all that and to lift up our hearts to do the will of God that, like a swallow darting out from under the eaves, happiness falls upon us with glad surprise. Had Jesus lived just that He might be happy, He certainly would have escaped the cross. No one would have laughed Him to scorn in Jairus’ house; no one would have pierced His hands and feet. But He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give His life a ransom for many, and so you find Him talking of His joy. Brethren, remember that nine-tenths of our unhappiness is selfishness and is an insult cast in the face of God. But the way to be happy is not to seek happiness. It is to be awake to what is higher and asleep to self-satisfaction. And then, as time passes, comes the discovery that God giveth to His beloved in sleep.
Heaven, the Gift of Sleep
The last gift of a kind God is heaven and God giveth it to His beloved in sleep. We can never know how it would have been had a man not sinned and fallen. Like Enoch, man would have walked with God till his never-halting footsteps brought him home. But death has passed upon all men for that all have sinned; yet “O death, where is thy victory?” God makes death’s foul embrace His opportunity; He giveth to His beloved while they sleep. As one stands with a sorrowing heart beside the dead and looks on him from whom the breath has flown, it is very strengthening and soothing to say, “God giveth sleep to his beloved.” But isn’t it better to lift our eyes to heaven and, thinking of its liberty and joy, say, “He giveth to his beloved in sleep.”