Working While Sleeping
A song of ascents. Of Solomon.
Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to [a] those he loves.
[a] for while they sleep he provides for
Today’s psalm and Psalm 72 are the only two in the Book of Psalms written by Solomon, one of history’s most extraordinary figures. To this day Solomon’s wisdom is legendary with people longing for the “wisdom of Solomon” when faced with a difficult decision. Scripture testifies to his great wisdom telling how, “God gave Solomon wisdom…as measureless as the sand of the seashore” (I Kings 4:29). People “from all nations” and “all the kings of the world” sought out Solomon because his “wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East” (I Kings 4:34, 30). In today’s psalm text Solomon offers up some of his characteristic wise counsel regarding our work.
As one of the great builders of the ancient world (I Kings 7; II Chronicles 8:1-11), Solomon reflects in this text on lessons learned from the importance of always taking God into account: “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” Solomon knows from experience that whether building a house or protecting a city, our efforts are “in vain” unless we include God in our work. Trying to achieve in our own strength results in wrong priorities, wrong ambitions, and wrong methods. Note how, for emphasis, Solomon repeats “unless the LORD”, and hammers home the words “in vain” three times. He wants us to know that we must rely on God in our work and in our ambitions.
As Solomon warns against going to work early and staying late, he is not putting down hard work, but again advocating reliance on God as we work. In Solomon’s Book of Proverbs he has quite a lot to say about the virtues of hard work; for the sluggard who will not work, Solomon’s advice is blunt and to the point: “Get to work!” (Proverbs 26:13-16) But we go to work with a prayer and knowledge that God works as we work. We have the confidence that we are never in it alone.
As an example of God working with us, note in the lower margin of today’s text another possible translation of the last phrase of verse 2, God “grants sleep to those he loves.” This can be rendered, “for while they sleep he provides for them.” Solomon could be saying, “Even while you are sleeping tonight, God is providing for you. So rest. Sleep peacefully. God provides even while you rest in Him.”
I find it helpful to remember that in the Hebrew Scriptures the day begins not at sunrise when we go to work, but at sunset when our workday is finished (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23). In other words, when we rest God is working. So tonight as you lay your head on your pillow, remember that it’s not all up to you; the Lord provides for those whom He loves. And in the morning when you wake, God has already put in a full night’s work! Put your trust in Him.
Include God in your plans and ambitions, rely on Him as you work, and sleep as God stands watch and works.
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