"It is in vain to rise early;
To delay the hour of rest,
To eat the bread that has been won by toil;
At His pleasure He giveth to His beloved (in) sleep."
As to the last clause, it seems right, from its use in Genesis 1, "it was so," to give so the sense "at His pleasure," this being also indicated by the general drift of the psalm. The word "sleep" may be either the direct object, as in the LXX. and Vulg., or the accusative used adverbially, "in sleep," "while they sleep." That the latter suits the context best there can be no question. The whole intention of the psalm is to assert the truth which the Book of Proverbs sums up in one sentence (Proverbs 10:22): "The blessing of Jehovah maketh rich, and toil can add nothing thereto," the truth which was so impressively taught in the Sermon on the Mount, by the contrast of man's restless ambition with the unconscious dependence on the Divine bounty of birds and flowers. To say that what others toil for from morning till night in vain, God gives to His beloved without all this anxiety and exertion, while they sleep, puts this truth forcibly, and with that disregard of apparent paradox which was natural to a Hebrew, and which appears so prominently in our Saviour's treatment of the subject. Labour is decried as unnecessary neither here nor in the Sermon on the Mount, but "carking care" is dismissed as unworthy those who, from past experience, ought to trust the goodness of the great Provider. The Greek proverb, "The net catches while the fisher sleeps," and the German, "God bestows His gifts during the night," bring common expressions to confirm this voice of inspiration, which was, in almost so many words, recalled in our Lord's parable (Mark 4:27). But old association pleads for the equally true and equally beautiful rendering which makes sleep the gift of God. If there is one thing which seems to come more direct from Heaven's bounty than another, that in its character is more benign, in its effects more akin to the nature of God, it is the blessing of sleep. In all times men have rendered thanks to Heaven for this boon. The ancients not only spoke of sleep as "most grateful of known gifts," but made itself a god. The psalmist unconsciously, but most truly, teaches us the further lesson that it is not only a Divine blessing, but a proof of Divine love:
"Of all the thoughts of God that are
Borne inward unto souls afar,
Across the psalmist's music deep,
Now tell me if that any is
For gift or grace surpassing this--
He giveth His beloved sleep."
to eat the bread of sorrows; that is, to eat bread gotten with much sorrow and labour; such get bread, and that is all, and not that without the providence of God;
for so he giveth his beloved sleep; that is, the Lord: such who are partakers of his grace, that fear and love him; to them, thus diligent and industrious, he gives not only bread to eat, but sleep, which to a labouring man is sweet; and having food and raiment, he gives them contentment, quietness, and satisfaction of mind, which is the greatest blessing of all. Sleep, even bodily sleep, was reckoned with the very Heathens a divine gift (x). Some think respect is had to, Solomon, whose name was Jedidiah, and signifies the beloved of the Lord, 2 Samuel 12:24; to whom God gave peace, rest, and safety all around; or, as others, the kingdom without labour, when Absalom and Adonijah toiled for it: Christ, who is the Beloved of the Lord, the Son of his love, his well beloved Son, may be thought of, whose rest is glorious; his sleep in the grave, where his flesh rested from his labours and sufferings, in hope of the resurrection of it: and it may be applied to all the Lord's beloved ones; to whom he gives spiritual rest in this world, sleep in the arms of Jesus at death, and an everlasting rest in the world to come; all which depends not on their endeavours, but on his grace and goodness.
(x) "----prima quies--dono divum gratissima serpit", Virgil. Aeneid. l. 2. v. 264, 265. , Homer. Iliad. 7. v. 482. & 9. v. 709. & Odyss. 16. v. ult.