No Sleep for the Wicked: Origins and Meaning

Young woman standing between the angel and the devil drawings ; no rest for the wicked concept.
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    At some point, you’ve probably heard the phrase no sleep for the wicked, or some variation of it. But while this phrase gets tossed around a lot, what exactly does it mean? And how in the world did this phrase come to be, anyway?

    Origins of No Sleep for the Wicked

    We hate to break it to you, but Cage the Elephant didn’t start the phrase in 2008 with their song “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked.” It wasn’t a year earlier, either, when Example released “No Sleep for the Wicked.” In fact, this phrase far predates contemporary pop music.

    The origins are actually biblical in nature. Many believe the expression is derived from a few passages. To see the passages that inspired it, you’ll have to crack open a Bible to the Book of Isaiah. From there, head on over to 48:22: “There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.” Now, hop on over to 57:20: “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.”

    It’s easy to see how both of these passages could blend together over time to form the phrase we now know. However, unlike the modern expression, these passages don’t place an emphasis on sleep at all. Rather, the focus is on certain individuals’ inability to achieve peace. Even the use of rest in 57:20 refers not to sleeping, but to relaxation and serenity.

    Meaning of No Rest for the Wicked

    Isaiah also gives us insight into the original meaning of this expression. Essentially, the core meaning refers to the fact that evil-doers and sinners cannot achieve peace or rest. After all, unrepentant souls are barred from eternal salvation, and no one is getting much rest in Hell.

    Now, however, this expression has taken on a secular meaning. Many often use this phrase to refer to the fact that some people’s work is never complete. With a contemporary societal emphasis on work and productivity, it’s no wonder that this phrase has been repurposed for continued use in the modern era.

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