I’m working through the Abraham toledot in our Lord’s Day morning sermon series “The Gospel According to Abraham,” and recently was looking at Genesis 15:12, “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram…”
The word tardemah translates the “deep sleep” that Abram experienced, and nearly every time it is used it takes some special significance.
So the LORD God caused a deep sleep (tardemah) to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.
1 Samuel 26:12
So David took the spear and the jar of water from Saul’s head, and they went away. No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep (tardemah) from the LORD had fallen upon them.
Amid thoughts from visions of the night, when deep sleep (tardemah) falls on men…
In a dream, in a vision of the night, when deep sleep (tardemah) falls on men, while they slumber on their beds…
Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep (tardemah), and an idle person will suffer hunger.
For the LORD has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep (tardemah), and has closed your eyes (the prophets), and covered your heads (the seers).
A few things stand out pretty quickly. The “deep sleep” isn’t usually brought about by an Ambien; in fact, it isn’t a sort of voluntary sleep at all. Four of the references attribute the tardemah to the Lord, and slothfulness plays a role in Proverbs. Its nearly trance-like. Michael Horton somewhere points out God’s sovereignty by noting that all the most important things happen to the patriarchs while they are asleep!
Further, this tardemah often serves to advance an important plot. Twice the protagonist is sleep induced for their good: Adam receives Eve, and the covenant ceremony is ratified for Abram. Twice the Lord uses a tardemah against antagonists: Saul, when David raids his camp; and the false prophets/seers of Israel. A deep sleep is just one of the many tools the Lord uses to advance His decrees. It would be worthwhile to look for connections between this “deep sleep” and a death/resurrection parallel (especially with Adam/Abram), but it seems less likely.
I had struggled with Abram undergoing the tardemah, since it seems like one of the main points of Genesis 15 is that he is to witness God passing between the severed carcasses to reassure his own faith (Genesis 15:8). How could he witness God’s divine actions (visualized by the smoking pot and flaming torch) if he was unconscious for it? (Saul didn’t even detect David’s presence under the tardemah; how could Abram comprehend the Lord’s actions?) But I think the Wisdom Literature solves this difficulty: dreams and visions accompany this deep sleep, and so Abram can witness the covenant ceremony in a hyper-reality.
It would be prudent for husbands to remember that the same device that God used to advance His sovereign plans of redemption in Genesis 15 brought Adam his wife in Genesis 2. This certainly isn’t to suggest that the Covenant of Grace is on par with who we are to marry, but it certainly hints at God’s elaborate care and goodness to both the grand sweep of the history of redemption as well as our personal narratives.