Eternal Hope – Part 11

Eternal Hope – Part 11

Eternal Hope
Part 11


God faults the nation of Israel for many things, but I know of no place where He charges them with a lack of faith. God never required the nation to believe. For this reason, OT Israel becomes a better illustration of grace than God’s commitment to the individual in the NT, in as much as the individual must meet the condition of believing or having faith. He placed no such condition on the nation.

Continued reflections in Psalms

“The LORD knoweth the days of them that are wholehearted; and their inheritance shall be for ever (olam)… Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore (olam).[1] For the LORD loveth justice, and forsaketh not His saints; they are preserved for ever (olam); but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off. The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever (ad).”[2] This illustrates the dilemma facing the interpreter; he knows that words like olam and ad don’t necessarily carry the same connotation they do with our English equivalent. As noted in Part 6 of this series, no general word exits for time in Hebrew, nor for ideas like past, present, future, and eternity.

“LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; let me know how short-lived I am.” Then David prays: “Look away from me, that I may take comfort, before I go hence, and be no more.” [3] In this Psalm David expresses no eternal hope.[4] From this we see that although David may have meant “eternal”[5] in the sense we use that word, from this Psalm we learn that he in fact lacked an eternal hope. Possibly, in Psa. 37:18 his hope was in an inheritance for his children, but not for himself. In II Sam. 7 God tells David that he will always have a descendent sitting on the Throne of Israel.

“And as for me, Thou upholdest me because of mine integrity, and settest me before Thy face for ever (olam).”[6] This and Psalm 37 face the same problem when it comes to interpreting olam.

“Truly no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of his life is costly, and can never suffice, that he should continue to live on for ever (nesah), and never see the Pit.” “No man can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him – For too costly is the redemption of their soul, and must be let alone for ever (olam) – That he should still live always (nesah), that he should not see the pit.”[7] Although “the sons of Korah” use the phrase “no man can ransom himself,” they make a distinction between the just and unjust: “Like sheep they are appointed for the nether-world (Sheol); death shall be their shepherd; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their form shall be for the nether-world (Sheol) to wear away, that there be no habitation for it. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the nether-world (Sheol); for He shall receive me.”[8] Since v. 14 represents Sheol as a place where the wicked are punished, it seems to suggest that the righteous do not go there; God “ransoms” them from Sheol’s power. In this Psalm God reserves Sheol for the wicked in contradistinction to His “receiving” the righteous. This seems to teach an eternal difference between the just and unjust, but a difference determined by the merit of man rather than the grace of God.

Psalm 73 marks the end of David’s Psalms and the beginning of those composed by Asaph. Asaph calls attention to the fact that the righteous seem to suffer and the unrighteous prosper…” Until I entered into the sanctuary of God, and considered their end. Surely Thou settest them in slippery places; Thou hurlest them down to utter ruin.” Then he says: “Thou wilt guide me with Thy counsel, and afterward receive me with glory (kabod).”[9] The word for “glory” (kabod), when referencing God calls attention to His presence, usually in the Tabernacle or Temple.

Three thoughts on this:

1 – Frequently in the Psalms the writer calls attention to the fact that because God is righteous, He will bring the unjust down in ruin and lift up those that trust in Him. If the Psalmist has in mind the temporal, this would call into question the message of Job.[10] But in truth, I gain the impression that the Psalmist does in fact have in mind the temporal – at least most of the time.

2 – When Asaph says, “Thou dost guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory,” I am not sure if “afterward” refers to eternity or after guiding with His counsel. With my NT worldview, it is easy for me to conclude the former.

3 – The Psalmist contrasts the fate of the righteous and wicked: “My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the rock of my heart and my portion for ever (olam). For, lo, they that go far from Thee shall perish; Thou dost destroy all them that go astray from Thee.”[11] Thus, the righteous are received to “glory,” while the wicked “perish.” This seems to suggest an eternal hope. Does olam in v. 26 suggest that the soul lives on after the body is destroyed?

Throughout Psalm 88 the author, Herman the Ezrahite, writes in terms of this life being all there is; it is as though he is rejecting the notion of the resurrection – as illustrated in: “Wilt Thou work wonders for the dead? Or shall the shades arise and give Thee thanks? Shall Thy mercy be declared in the grave? or Thy faithfulness in destruction? Shall Thy wonders be known in the dark? And Thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?”[12] The word “shades” means, “’the dead inhabitants of the netherworld’… appears exclusively in poetic passages… ‘ghosts (of) Sheol.’”[13] Thus, the Psalmist may believe that the spirit lives beyond the grave, but he offers no hope of it being a happy destiny.

“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.”[14] This passage does not teach eternal life for God’s people, but by inference one may conclude that since God considers the death of His saints precious, it must mean that they go from this life to live with Him.

“If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in the nether-world, behold, Thou art there.”[15] The Psalmist recognizes the possibility of a person going to heaven, but does not say that is where people go. Heaven, in this verse, is a different location from Sheol, although we cannot be certain that it is the presence of God. Finally, when the Psalmist says, “Who redeemeth Thy life from the pit; who encompasseth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies,”[16] it probably has the same meaning as Jonah 2:7, when God saved His prophet from the belly of a fish.

Reflections on Proverbs

“I was set up from everlasting (olam), from the beginning, or ever the earth was.”[17] “When the whirlwind passeth, the wicked is no more; but the righteous is an everlasting (olam) foundation.”[18] “The lip of truth shall be established for ever (ad); but a lying tongue is but for a moment.”[19] “A false witness shall perish; but the man that obeyeth shall speak unchallenged (nesah).”[20] “For riches are not for ever (olam); and doth the crown endure unto all generations?”[21] “The king that faithfully judgeth the poor, his throne shall be established for ever (ad).”[22] These are the only verses I can find dealing with “eternity/forever/everlasting/eternal/ancient/always.” Even the context makes it difficult, if not impossible, to determine if any of them refer to an eternal hope.

“The nether-world (Sheol) and Destruction (Abaddon) are before the LORD; how much more then the hearts of the children of men!!”[23] “Abaddon,” the same in Hebrew (abaddon) means, “to die, pass away, destruction. Probably the main theological question about this root is whether it refers merely to physical death or also to eternal punishment. It is not an easy question… One’s conclusions will doubtless be influenced by general considerations.”[24] In other words, your theological bias will be a determining factor in coming to a conclusion. Revelation 9:11 uses “Abaddon” as a name of the devil, called in Greek “Apollyon.”

“The path of life goeth upward for the wise, that he may depart from the nether-world (Sheol) beneath.”[25] The Hebrew word for “depart” (soor) is the general word for “to turn aside, depart.” RSV translates “avoid” and the NAS “keep away.” The wise man can follow the path of life, avoiding Sheol in the process.

Twice Proverbs tells us that Sheol can never be full/satisfied: “The nether-world (Sheol) and Destruction are never satiated; so the eyes of man are never satiated.”[26] “There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four that say not: ‘Enough’: The grave (Sheol); and the barren womb; the earth that is not satisfied with water; and the fire that saith not: ‘Enough.’”[27] Interestingly, Proverbs never says that heaven is not full/satisfied. In Proverbs people go to Sheol, but I can find no reference to people going to heaven, with the possible exception of Proverbs 15:24.


Proverbs, as the word suggests, is a book of non-obligatory truths. Something may be true without obligating a person to apply it. For example, Solomon says, “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”[28] Although this is true, it does not mean that the rich should not rule the poor or that a person should not borrow. God expects His people to be instructed by them, but their application has to remain an individual matter. Not all truth is law.

Starting with the poetic or devotional literature there emerges the beginning of an eternal hope, based not on the promise of God’s future Propitiation, but rather on the deeds of man. We see this hope, not offered by God, but declared by the saints. The authors legitimately had this hope because they wrote by inspiration of God. However, nowhere in this literature does God make a promise of eternal life to any individual or group of individuals.

Grateful for His promise of eternal life,


[1] As noted in Part 6 of this series, nesah, olam, ad, and alam, all words referring to “forever, eternal, everlasting, etc.,” can refer to anything between remote time and perpetuity. No general word exits for time in Hebrew, nor for ideas like past, present, future, and eternity
[2] Psalm 37:18, 27-29, JPS
[3] Psalm 39:4, 13, JPS
[4] It is inconceivable to me that one of the New Testament Apostles would make such a statement.
[5] Cf. Psalm 37 above
[6] Psalm 41:12, JPS
[7] Psalm 49:4-9, JPS
[8] Verses 14-15, JPS
[9] Psalm 73:17-18, 24, JPS
[10] In Job 4:8 Eliphaz reflects the thinking of Job’s friends when he says, “According as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow mischief, reap the same.”
[11] Psalm 73:26-27, JPS
[12] Psalm 88:10-12, JPS
[13] Op cit, Laird, Harris, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p. 858
[14] Psalm 116:15, JPS
[15] Psalm 139:8, JPS
[16] Psalm 103:4, JPS
[17] Proverbs 8:23, JPS – speaking of wisdoms’ part in creation
[18] Proverbs 10:25, JPS
[19] Proverbs 12:19, JPS
[20] Proverbs 21:28, JPS – nesah: NAS – forever; KJV – constantly; ASV – endure. Cf. footnote 152.
[21] Proverbs 27:24, JPS
[22] Proverbs 29:14, JPS
[23] Proverbs 15:11, JPS
[24] Op cit, Laird, p. 3
[25] Proverbs 15:24, JPS
[26] Proverbs 27:20, JPS
[27] Proverbs 30:15-16, JPS
[28] Proverbs 22:7, JPS