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What the Bible says about Sleep as Euphemism for Death
(From Forerunner Commentary)

2 Kings 4:31

The biblical writer uses an interesting clause to relate the child's continued state of death: "there was neither voice nor hearing." Today, we would say, "There was neither pulse nor breathing," but the Hebrew author highlights speaking and hearing as signs of life. Why?

Obviously, the Israelites knew that "the life of the flesh is in the blood" (Leviticus 17:11; see Genesis 9:4), and that God "breathed into [Adam's] nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7). The writer of II Kings, then, is not giving medical or clinical proof of the child's death but commenting on the state of death. When someone is dead, they can no longer speak or hear; communication is impossible.

What makes this especially interesting is that God frequently speaks of spiritual enlightenment as "life" and spiritual darkness or degeneracy as "death." Speaking of the uncalled, Jesus tells a potential disciple, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead" (Matthew 8:22). He tells the church in Sardis, "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" (Revelation 3:1). Paul writes, "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). In Ephesians 5:14, he says, "Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."

The child typifies the individual Christian. He is dead and can neither speak nor hear. What happens to the Christian who dies spiritually? No longer does he communicate God's way in any fashion—by deed or speech; he cannot "talk the talk" or "walk the walk"! Nor are his ears open and attentive to God's Word. As Jesus says in Matthew 13:15:

For the heart of this people has grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their heart and turn, so that I should heal them.

A biblical euphemism for death is sleep. For instance, in I Corinthians 11:30, Paul explains that many had died for taking the Passover unworthily: "For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep." He uses this euphemism similarly in Acts 13:36: "For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption" (see also Daniel 12:2; I Corinthians 15:20, 51; I Thessalonians 4:14).

Because the Bible connects death and sleep so closely, it also uses the metaphor of sleep for spiritual decline. The best known example of this is the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. The lesson is that we must stay spiritually alert, especially as Christ's return nears, but Jesus prophesies that all of God's people will fall asleep on their watch! On this point, Paul advises us:

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12)

In II Kings 4:31, Gehazi reports to Elisha and the Shunammite woman, "The child has not awakened." Like the individual Christian at the end time, this child is "dead"—he "sleeps" because of overlong exposure to the "fiery darts of the wicked one" (Ephesians 6:16), from which he had no protection. His only hope of revival lies in the mercy and power of God and the faithfulness of His true minister.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Elisha and the Shunammite Woman, Part II: Serving God's Children

2 Kings 4:32-35

When Elisha arrives at the Shunammite's home, the situation has not changed: The boy lies dead on the prophet's bed (II Kings 4:32). Even this fact is significant in that, though the boy is "with" the prophet and even has close contact with the prophet's possessions, it does him no good—he is still dead. How many Christians are in the church, hearing the truth every week, fellowshipping with God's people, yet remain asleep to their perilous spiritual condition?

Unlike Gehazi, Elisha throws himself into the work of reviving this child. First, he closes the door to his room, shutting everyone else out (verse 33). This kind of work is private, not public. Next, he invites God in through prayer. Elisha knows that he is only a vessel through whom God would work, so he immediately seeks the only true help for the situation. He understands that his relationship with God is the basis for any resuscitation of the boy.

These two points are appropriate spiritually as well. Awakening sleepy Christians is a private affair; it would be shameful and unloving to blare the individual church member's spiritual weakness to the world! What a horrible witness for God this would be! Paul excoriates the lawbreaking Romans: "For 'The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,' as it is written" (Romans 2:24). It is far better for the church to reduce its public exposure during its revival until it can again represent God properly. Once God is satisfied with the church's spiritual state, He will open doors to proclaim the gospel publicly again.

It is also true that spiritual revival rests on the relationship between God and His true ministers, for the latter are the individuals through whom He works to effect the waking up of others. The preachers drive the revival! If the ministry is not close to God, they will not preach the truth, and revival will never make much headway. However, if the ministry's relationship with God is solid and growing, God will inspire them to preach His Word powerfully, and "those who have ears to hear" will listen and respond.

Notice the effort Elisha makes to heal this child. He stretches himself out on the child, eye to eye, mouth to mouth, hand to hand (II Kings 4:34), picturing total identification between the prophet and the child: They see eye to eye, speak mouth to mouth, act hand in hand. This is a metaphor for unity in understanding, teaching, and works. The ministry and the membership must be unified and work together to cause revival.

But this is still not enough. The flesh of the child warms up, but he is not yet truly alive, awake, and active. He hovers, coma-like, between death and life. Seeing this, Elisha gathers himself and plunges back into his work (verse 35). His walking "back and forth in the house" describes his efforts to restore his warmth after giving all of his to the child. Spiritually, this equates to the ministry preparing themselves for even more intensive work as they "try, try again" to effect revival. A true minister, through all the setbacks and discouragements, never gives up the fight to bring God's people "back to life."

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Elisha and the Shunammite Woman, Part II: Serving God's Children

Ecclesiastes 7:1-4

If we believe these verses, we must accept that death must have its "better" points. We are all well aware of the reasons why we think of death as a negative thing, but how can we think of such an event and condition as positive?

We must always remember that our Creator, the Master Craftsman who made everything of the highest quality (Genesis 1:4-31), built death into man's design. He did this for good reasons. Surprisingly, there really are good and positive purposes behind both the "first death" and the "second death" (Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). The first death is the one with which every person is familiar—the one everyone must face. This death terminates the physical life of every human being who lives during the 6,000 years allotted to man.

Before the Flood, even though many people lived for multiple hundreds of years, they all still died. Afterward, God gradually shortened man's average lifespan to 70 years (Psalm 90:10). Perhaps He did this to show us the results of long lives of disobedience to God's law, such as we see in the record of the pre-Flood world, the Tower of Babel, and Sodom and Gomorrah. What would the world be like if it were filled with immortal, law-breaking humans?

God is reproducing Himself. He wants children who will not turn to lives of sin. Death is the wages of sin for human beings; death, the wages of sin, is our penalty for failing to live God's way (Romans 6:23).

Is death, the just penalty for sin created by God, really the "bad thing" in this equation? Is it not rather sin, which causes the death penalty to be incurred, that is really bad?

God does not want one of us to live a miserable, sinful existence for all eternity. He wants children who will learn to obey Him willingly, who will learn to reject sin and reap the positive results throughout eternal lives of joy. He has promised to give every human an opportunity to receive His gifts of salvation and eternal life in His Family and Kingdom. However, if any of His regenerated children insist on continuing in sin after they have been given adequate time to learn, weigh, and understand the consequences of each alternative, they will incur the penalty of thesecond death, God's loving and merciful penalty of eternal sleep (Revelation 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). Romans 6:23 can be paraphrased as, "The wages of sin is death! Eternal death! Not eternal life in hell-fire, agony, and misery!" We can see by this merciful method of final punishment that, when God tells us to love our enemies, He is not asking us to do something that He is not willing to do Himself. What a loving and merciful God we have!

We believe and hope that Jesus Christ will return very soon to straighten out the mess that man has made of His creation. However, if He does not return before our allotted time expires, we will experience the dreamless sleep of the first death as He did. Jesus' sleep lasted only 72 hours. We should not be concerned that ours will probably last longer because, when we are in a deep, sound sleep, we are unaware of time passing (Ecclesiastes 9:5).

Staff
Death of a Lamb

Matthew 9:24

In that culture, crowds of relatives and neighbors commonly showed up at the dwelling of the deceased to mourn. In the midst of this confusion and noise, Jesus declares, "The child is not dead but sleeping." Being ignorant of His use of "sleep" for death, the mourners deride Him.

Christ says the same of His dead friend, Lazarus, in John 11:11. Death as sleep is a euphemism common to many nations. It intimates that, even more sure than morning comes to a sleeper in bed, an everlasting morning will be provided for the righteous dead waiting in the grave for the resurrection. Jesus views death as a temporary sleep because His Father has the power to resurrect anyone from death. God can resurrect whom He wants when He wants, but He has an organized plan, purpose, and schedule for resurrections (I Corinthians 15:20-24; Revelation 20:5-6).

Martin G. Collins
The Miracles of Jesus Christ: Resurrecting Jairus' Daughter


 




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