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 Vol. 8, No. 2 

February 2006

~ Page 11 ~

Does the Old Testament
 Promise a Future Life?

By Hugo McCord

Image If one restricts himself to some verses of the Old Testament, he could reasonably conclude that no future life beyond the grave is taught, for "man has no preeminence above the beasts" (Ecclesiastes 3:19). Human beings and "the beasts that perish" are equal (Psalm 49:12, 20). Both people and animals "all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again" (Ecclesiastes 3:20; cf. Genesis 3:19).

But there is something in a human that the above Old Testament verses do not mention, something that does not "turn to dust" when he dies. That something, invisible, intangible, unweighable, is called man's "spirit" (Isaiah 57:16) or "soul" (Leviticus 17:11). "As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all" ( Ecclesiastes 11: 5). All you know is that God "forms" ( yasar, as a potter) "the spirit" within the embryo (Zechariah 12:1).

The prophet Samuel "died" and was "buried" at Ramah (1 Samuel 25:1). But the spirit that God had formed within his embryonic self in Hannah's womb, being immortal, had not died (Matthew 22:32)! And, in his case, his spirit, his soul, returned from the spirit-world and had a conversation with King Saul (1 Samuel 28:8-19).

This information, that the spirits (souls) of people are alive and conscious after the death of their bodies, helps us to understand that when an Old Testament verse says that "the dead know not any thing" (Ecclesiastes 9:5) that the meaning is "the dead [bodies] know not anything."

Likewise, when an Old Testament verse says that "there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in Sheol" (Ecclesiastes 9:10, ASV), the meaning of sheol is the "grave" (as in the KJV).

Likewise, when an Old Testament verse says that "in death there is no memory" of God, and that "in the grave" there is no thanksgiving (Psalm 6:5 KJV), it is because a person's spirit (soul) has left the body. Similarly, "the dead [bodies]" do not "praise" God, nor corpses "that go down into silence" (Psalm 115:17 KJV; cf. Psalm 88:4-12; Job 10:21; 24:19-20; Isaiah 14:11; 38:18).

When "the dust" (the corpse) returns "to the earth as it was," then the undying spirit "returns to God who gave it" (Ecclesiastes 12:7). However, man's physical and spiritual natures do not forever stay separated! There is a resurrection A psalmist rejoiced: 'God will redeem my corpse (nephesh) from the grave, and he will receive me" (Psalm 49:15).

The usual translation of the Hebrew word nephesh is "soul," but in Psalm 49:15 that meaning is impossible because a man's soul, his spirit, never enters the grave. Another Old Testament meaning of the word nephesh is a dead body, a corpse (Numbers 5:2; 6:6; 9:6-7, 10; 19:11, 13), which meaning exactly fits Psalm 49:15. The psalmist is rejoicing that God will redeem his corpse from the grave and that he will have a future life beyond the grave, even with God!

David also looked forward to getting out of the cemetery: "You will rescue my corpse (nephesh) from the depths of the grave (sheol)" (Psalm 86:13). As in Psalm 49:15, the meaning "soul" for nephesh is impossible, for a man's soul, his spirit, never enters the grave. Furthermore, as in Psalm 49:15, the meaning corpse for nephesh, and the meaning grave for sheol, exactly fit Psalm 86:13.

The KJV translators, after using "grave" for sheol in Psalm 49:15, changed in Psalm 86:13 to use "hell" for sheol. This they did, not because they thought David was talking about the hellfire of eternal punishment, but because in 1611 the word "hell" (derived from the German (hohle), simply meant a hole, and so they used the word "hell" to mean the "grave" as they had done in Psalm 49:15.

Clear it is then that the psalmist (a son of Korah) and David are to be raised from the dead (Psalm 49:15; 86:13). But startling is another prediction, written by David, and written as if he was talking about himself, but he was not! He was talking about a conversation in heaven between Jesus and his Father, "when heavenly plans were made" ("My God and I") back in eternity (Ephesians 3:11) that after the cross "joy" would be "set before" Jesus of a happy resurrection (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus was thrilled that the plan called for such a short time in the grave that his flesh would see no decay:

My heart rejoices and my tongue is glad, and my flesh also will live in hope, for you will not abandon my corpse (nephesh) in the grave (sheol), and neither will you allow your holy one to see decay. (Psalm 16:9-10)

Though David used the first person, he could not have been talking about himself, for his "flesh" did not "live in hope" and it saw "decay." A thousand years after the words of Psalm 16:9-10 were written, Peter explained to Jews who had studied the Scriptures that the words of Psalm 16:9-10 were spoken by Jesus in heaven to his Father:

Men, brothers, it is necessary to speak boldly to you of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us this day. He was a prophet, and he. . .foresaw the resurrection of Christ and spoke of it, that he was not left in the grave, neither did his flesh see decay. (Acts 2:29-31)

Again, as in Psalm 49:15 and 86:13, the word nephesh in Psalm 16:10 cannot mean "soul," for the soul, the spirit, of Jesus, did not enter the grave (sheol). Just before he died, Jesus prayed, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46). Immediately his spirit, his soul, went to Paradise (Luke 23:43). Only his corpse went to the grave.

We rejoice that David could write about Jesus' resurrection (Psalm 16:9-10), as well as his own (Psalm 86:13), and we rejoice that the Old Testament gives promise of the resurrection of others: "Multitudes who sleep in the dust will awake" (Daniel 12:2).

After that general resurrection God has planned a judgment day: "God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14). To some people, that day will be the beginning of "everlasting life," during which "those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars ever and ever (Daniel 12:2-3). But, to others that day will be the beginning of "shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:3).

An admirable prayer and purpose in life is: "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his" (Numbers 23:10). Job asked, "If a man dies, will he live again?" (14:14), and then answered his own question:

But as for me I know that my Redeemer liveth, and at last he will stand upon the earth: and after my Akin, even this body, is destroyed, then without my flesh shall I see God; whom I, even I, shall see, on my side, and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger. (19:25-27 ASV)

Job could not have been referring to Jesus' appearance on earth at his first advent, for Job did not see him at that appearance. He must have been referring to the second coming of Christ. At Christ's second coming, Job's skin (where the boils had tormented him) would be no more, and Job would, without his fleshly body, lay eyes on Jesus, and not as a stranger, but like an old time acquaintance!

But how can it be that Job will see Jesus standing "upon the earth" when actually Job will "meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thessalonians 4:17)? First, one notices that the word "earth" ('ares) is not in Job's quotation. His word is "dust" ('aphar), which all corpses become (Genesis 3:19; Ecclesiastes 12:7). Job used the word "dust" as a synonym for the "grave" (7:21; 20:11; 21:26). Likely, Job meant that Jesus' standing "on the dust" was simply a figurative way of saying that Jesus would be the conqueror of all graves.

Apparently God wanted his teaching, even in the Old Testament, about a future life beyond death to be much emphasized:

As for me, I will see your face in righteousness. I will be satisfied when I awake in your likeness (Psalm 17:15). Weeping lingers over night, but, in the morning, a shout of joy (Psalm 30:5). You lead me by your counsel, and afterwards you will receive me in glory (Psalm 73:24). In the path of the righteous is life, and in its way is no death (Proverbs 12:28). [T]here is a hereafter, and your hope will not be cut off (Proverbs 23:18). He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces (Isaiah 25:8 NKJV). And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels (Malachi 3:17 KJV).Image

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