The question that the Skeptic Annotated Bible pose is this: “Does God sleep?”
According to the Skeptic Annotated Bible this is the answer they gave which supposedly indicates a contradiction:
God never sleeps.
He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121:3-4)
God sometimes sleeps.
Arouse Yourself, why do You sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not reject us forever. (Psalm 44:23)
(Note: Scriptural quotation comes from the New American Standard Bible. What is in bold is the emphasis by the skeptic webpage.)
Let’s take a closer look at whether or not there is a contradiction:
- If Psalm 121:3-4 teaches that God never sleeps while Psalm 44:23 teaches that God sometimes sleep, then formally it is a logical contradiction. However if it is demonstrated that at least one of these verses doesn’t support the propositions the skeptic claims the verse supposedly teaches, then we have removed the tension of a logical contradiction.
- Concerning the first view that “God never sleeps,” this seems biblical to hold as true.
- This is the obvious claim of Psalm 121:3-4.
- The position that God does not need sleep would be the expectation from a biblically based systematic theology. The Bible teaches the self-sufficient nature of God. God being self-sufficient and omnipotent means therefore there is no need for Him to sleep.
- Unlike the position that God never sleeps there are serious reasons to question whether Psalm 44:23 can be used as the proof-text for the claim that “God sometimes sleep.”
- Note that the mention of God sleeping in Psalm 44:23 is phrased as a question: “why do You sleep, O Lord?” A question is not always necessarily the same thing as a positive assertion that the answer in the affirmative is true.
- Biblically speaking from the larger canon of Scripture, it seems highly improbable that Psalm 44:23 is teaching us that God definitely does sleep since the idea of a sleeping God is a point in which the prophet Elijah mocked the false prophets of false religions.
- If the question in Psalm 44:23 is to be taken rhetorically, then we must ask how does Psalm 44:23 as a rhetorical question fit in the greater context of Psalm 44.
- First off we must consider the movement of Psalm 44. Psalm 44 begins with a rehearsal of what God has done for the fathers of Israel’s history in verses 1-3. Korah, who wrote this Psalm then proceeds to declare His trust in God against adversaries (v.4-8). Surprisingly, Korah then informs God that the adversaries of His people are committing abuses and attacks (see verses 9-16). The Psalmist pleads the people’s innocence in verses 17-22 which is followed by emotionally charged appeals to God to rescue His people (verses 23-26). Thus, Psalm 44:23 is situated in the section of the Psalm in which Korah is crying God for help out of desperation. Here Korah uses language rich in hyperbole. For instance, verse 25 the Psalmist says God’s people are sinking back to the ground. It’s not literal. Psalm 44:24 asks why is God hiding His face. No one can see God’s “face” and live, so again this is hyperbolic language. Thus to be consistent with the context that verse 23 is in, we should take Psalm 44:23 as a rhetorical question using hyperbolic language that is crying out to God for help. The point of verse 23 is not that it is literally true that God sleeps.
- We must also consider the context of Psalm 44 within the Psalter. Remember that Psalm 44 is situated in Book 2 of the Psalms (Psalm 42-72). Thematically Book 2 of the Psalms covers the troubled years of David’s kingdom. We are thus not surprised that three Psalms into Book 2, Psalm 44 describes suffering as penned by the author Korah. The other two Psalms before Psalm 44 also describe the struggle with God’s enemies and suffering. But the point of Book 2 is not a message of despair because these three Psalms (Psalms 42-44) is “answered” by the next four Psalms that celebrates God and the Messiah’s kingship (Psalm 45-48). While Psalm 44 ends with the rhetorical question of whether God is asleep, we know Psalms 45-48 gives us the answer: No, God is not asleep but rather He is reigning!
Sometimes the way some skeptics read the Bible you wonder if they are the very caricature they make fun of. You know: the ignorant Bible reader who is extremely literal when contextually the surrounding passage suggests there are rich literary devices being employed.