child asleep

Psalm 127: Blessed in Sleep

 June 4, 2020

There was a time when a nap was a regular part of my day, back when my children were small. Then I seized every opportunity to nap, sneaking naps while they napped or when they were in school in preparation for evening meetings that were a regular part of parish ministry. Sleep, whether at night or during naps, is a gift from God, as Psalm 127 tells us.

Psalm 127

Psalm 127 is a wisdom psalm, teaching principles and practices that produce happiness in life. The message is a simple one:  without God, all of our work is in vain. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”(1)

The writer goes on to address the foolishness of going without sleep, “It is in vain that you rise up early to go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved in sleep.” (2)

What is this bread of anxious toil? We feed on our anxiety, thereby making it worse, when maybe what we need is to take a nap. We rush around trying to “do” everything we think we should do rather than ask God what God would have us do. This anxious toil wakes us up during the night, depriving us of necessary sleep. It is all rooted in foolishness, the belief that that we control our lives, when in reality, if God isn’t in our efforts, we are wasting our time. No amount of work on our part will make any difference. We do the best we can, then leave the rest to God.

God Gives While We Sleep

The last part of verse 2 has been translated as God gives sleep, or God gives in sleep. A small and yet significant difference. In one, sleep is a gift of God. Anyone who has experienced a sleepless night knows the truth of this. Sleep, a good night’s rest, is truly a great gift from our God. In the other, God gives to us while we sleep. At times I’ve gone to sleep with a problem weighing on my mind, only to awaken with new insights on how to deal with that problem. Sleep is not only a gift in and of itself, in sleep we are blessed with further gifts from God.

The second part of the psalm deals with family life, the blessing of children. “Lo, sons are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward.” (3) They ensure the survival of the family line and provide protection in old age. “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.” (4-5) His enemies will be hesitant to attack when confronted by an army of strong sons.

God Is the Surest Defense

While in today’s world we may not have the same need for strong sons to defend us in battles, we still need to rely on God. God is the surest defense. Faith in God, fear of the Lord, is the path to wisdom and happiness.

What is keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep? Are you eating the bread of anxious toil? Why not treat yourself to a nap today?!


This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of  Still Dancingthe second book in my Dancing through Life Series.      click here to sign up

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