In part 4 of this series we called attention to the fact that, although we have no way of knowing who did and who did not have an eternal hope during the Old Testament times, the author of Hebrews says that the Patriarchs (recorded in Genesis) had an eternal hope: “For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” I am not sure, however, how clearly the Patriarchs saw this hope. For example, Paul says, “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” Most agree that Paul defines the Gospel as: “For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” Can we conclude that God revealed the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to Abraham when Jesus said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.” What exactly did Abraham “see?” If we conclude from these verses that God revealed the propitious death of Christ to Abraham, then why didn’t Satan try to stop Christ from going to the cross?
Returning to Hebrews, the author says, “And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” Does this “promise” pertain to Christ? It probably does, but if so, what did the Old Testament saints understand about this promise? When God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel,’” did they see God sending His Son to destroy the work of Satan, and that in the process the Son would be “bruised?” We, in New Testament times, may look back at such promises and conclude that God spoke of His redemption in Christ, but this is different from saying that the Old Testament saints understood it this way. If you conclude that the above promises were clearly understood by the Old Testament people of God as His provision for their eternal hope, then why didn’t anyone in the New Testament prior to Christ’s resurrection, including His disciples, understand His mission?
Twice during the Exodus, when the people were thirsty, God provided water through a rock. The first time, God instructed Moses to strike the rock; the second time He told Moses to speak to the rock. Commenting on this, Paul says, “And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.” Evidently, the Rock was Christ, and He was to be smitten only once. Did Moses understand this? I cannot be sure, but I doubt it.
When Hebrews says the Patriarchs looked for a “heavenly country,” did they have in mind the land given to them and their progeny? I do not know. I am dubious however that God gave to those in the Old Testament a clear, eternal hope, when nothing in the record indicates that God revealed such a hope to them.
Reflections on Jeremiah
When God created Israel at Sinai, the people’s hopes were tied to the nation; when the nation prospered because of Providence, the people prospered, so also the opposite. Most of the pre-Exile prophets preach judgment for the nation, with little or no hope offered to the individual. During Jeremiah’s ministry, when the sun began to set on Israel, God initiated a shift from an emphasis on the nation to the individual. “In those days they shall say no more: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ But every one shall die for his own iniquity; every man that eateth the sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.” There was the time when God tied the fate of the individual with that of the nation. But now things change; each individual is responsible for his own relationship with God. Jeremiah lays the foundation for an emphasis on the individual as the nation slips into captivity; when God affirms his inviolable commitment to the nation, He also emphasizes the importance of the individual. While Isaiah blended the temporal and eternal in affirming God’s commitment to the nation, he did not place the emphasis on the individual that we see in Jeremiah and those prophets that followed him.
It is in this context that we read of the New Covenant: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; forasmuch as they broke My covenant, although I was a lord over them, saith the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the LORD, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying: ‘Know the LORD’; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more.” Note the following:
1 – Jeremiah taught the depravity of the individual. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceeding weak – who can know it? I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.” Man can no more reform his own life than a leopard can change his spots.
2 – The New Covenant will provide the individual with a new and supernatural ability to obey the Law, and thus the nation will be free of the unrighteousness that had earlier brought God’s retribution.
3 – This New Covenant will include both Judah (preparing to enter her exile to Babylon) and Israel (the ten northern tribes disbursed and seemingly lost through the Assyrian Captivity).
In Jeremiah, God continues to affirm His inviolable commitment to Israel: “Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever (olam) and ever (olam).” Eight times Jeremiah uses the word “repent,” and each time it refers to God as illustrated by: “If ye will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up; for I repent Me of the evil that I have done unto you.” Twice God says the people refused to repent. If I counted correctly “heaven” appears 24 times in this book, and none of them use “heaven” as the place where people go. I could not find the word “Sheol” in Jeremiah.
Reflections on Ezekiel
Ezekiel picks up where Jeremiah left off. As already noted in our study of Job, although God promises blessing on the righteous and retribution on the sinner, care must be taken in making application. From the perspective of those having an eternal hope, “the law of the harvest” can easily be applied: application may happen in the temporal, but will for sure happen in the eternal. In the Old Testament, where hope in life after death is at best oblique, application of “the law of the harvest” is a bit more difficult. God tells Ezekiel, “Son of man, when a land sinneth against Me by trespassing grievously, and I stretch out My hand upon it, and break the staff of the bread thereof, and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast; 14 though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord GOD.”
In Ezekiel 37:1-14 God’s prophet receives a vision in which a valley of dry bones comes to life. God says it is “the whole House of Israel” and that they will come out of their graves and inhabit the land. Read literally, this means the lost House of Israel could anticipate a time when they would be resurrected from the dead to inhabit the Promised Land – a resurrection, not to join God in heaven, but rather to join their people in a reconstructed nation. Would this physical resurrection mean that these people would never again die, or did the people of Israel read it to mean that after a period of time these people would again die?
Earlier in Israel’s history, when God found fault with the nation, all the people partook of the retribution. Often, a later generation suffers the effects of their father’s sins. Now God promises that men like Noah, Daniel, and Job will be delivered because of their own righteousness, even though their children will not be spared; God judges each person individually. In Ezekiel deliverance vs. retribution is temporal, and he makes no effort to reconcile this with the teaching of the Book of Job. In Ezekiel, however, God clearly deals with the individual and not just the nation. The individual has worth independent of the corporate whole: “All souls are Mine.”
As noted when looking at Isaiah, the Exile and post-Exile prophets call attention to Messiah governing a future Israel, characterized by righteousness, justice, and purity. At that time His rule will extend over all the nations of the earth. The objective of judgment is to purge Israel and prepare the way for the Messianic kingdom. Unlike the pre-Exile prophets, the post-Exilic prophets no longer emphasize doom and judgment, but rather a material recreation and with it the blessing of God. “And it shall come to pass in the end of days, that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many peoples shall go and say: ‘Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
Ezekiel teaches that after the establishment of the Messianic kingdom, a confederation under Gog, from the land Magog, will rise in rebellion. The exact place of this rebellion in the scheme of eschatology has generated a great deal of debate among Christians. John, in his Apocalypse, places it at the end of the millennium: “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, and shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”
Therefore, anticipating His early return,
 Hebrews 11:14-16, KJV
 Galatians 3:8, KJV
 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, KJV
 John 8:56, KJV
 Hebrews 11:39-40, KJV
 Genesis 3:15, RSV
 Exodus 17:6
 Numbers 20:8
 1 Corinthians 10:4, KJV
 Jeremiah 31:29-30 JPS
 Jeremiah 31:31-34 JPS
 Jeremiah 17:9-10 JPS
 Cf. Jeremiah 13:22-23
 Jeremiah 7:7, JPS Cf. also, Jeremiah 15:6; 17:25; 25:5; 31:40; 32:40
 Jeremiah 42:10, JPS
 Jeremiah 8:6; 20:16
 Ezekiel 14:13-14 JPS
 Ezekiel 18:4 JPS
 Isaiah 2:2-4 KJV.
 Cf. Ezekiel 38-39.
 Revelation 20:7-9 KJV