Job laments that human beings are not like trees. A tree may be cut down, but given the right conditions, it may sprout back again from the apparently dead stump. But, Job complains, human beings are not like that. When a man’s life comes to an end, he lies down and sleeps, not to wake up again.
Job is not arguing against the concept of the resurrection. Even in this chapter, he pleads with God to hide him in Sheol (death) until his wrath is past, and then remember him, causing him to live again (13-14). One cannot ask for a more clear statement of the hope of resurrection. Later, Job asserts that he has a Redeemer who lives, and that he (Job) will see God in a resurrected body, long after his present body has been consumed.
So, since Job is not arguing against the notion of a resurrection, why does he insist that death is a sleep that one does not wake up from? He is contrasting the fate of humans with that of trees. Trees have something within their nature that allows them to bounce back from apparent death. God has not put such a nature within us. If we want to live again, we will need a resurrecting God. Sleep is an appropriate metaphor for death because if you see people sleeping, you expect them to wake up. Think about that the next time you walk through a cemetery. These “sleeping places” are monuments to the fact that we all depend upon God for our future life.
LORD, thank you for the hope of the resurrection.
(this section adapted from my article: Did You Say “Sleep”?)