God calls upon people to believe, as first evidenced in Abraham. Although the Lord never promises that those who violate the Law have any chance for a relationship with Him, you must consider David’s insight that God will not reject a broken spirit and contrite heart. As far as I can discover, the first time God takes the initiative to forgive willful sin is when in the gospels Jesus forgives the sinner. As noted earlier, Moses and David are the only two examples, of which I am aware, in which God gives reason to be assured that one who commits willful sin can still maintain a relationship with Him.
Continuing Reflections on the Minor Prophets
Obadiah – In this short book of 21 verses, the prophet rebukes Edom for her sin against Israel, promising: “For the violence done to thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever (olam).” This is the only possible reference to the eternal that I can find.
Jonah – God’s prophet sent to warn Nineveh of Judgment, makes no mention of the eternal destiny of people. In seeking to understand the message of Jonah a Jewish commentary notes: “If Jonah is to be rid of the notion that divine compassion expresses weakness of mind and softness of heart, he must experience the Lord’s heavy hand directed against himself. He must realize that the God who shows clemency to malefactors makes no concession to His prophet – who pretends to know better than his God how the world should be conducted… Only when the proponent of strict justice realizes his own humanity can he understand the fundamental dependence of mortals on human and divine mercy.” Note that Dr. Simon does not know how to reconcile God’s justice with His mercy; he does not see the solution to this dilemma in God’s wrath against His Son so that He can be both just and merciful.
God’s commitment to the nation of Israel does not necessitate the death of Christ, for the institution does not need propitiation. Dr. Simon assumes God’s commitment to individuals in the OT – i.e., God promises the individual eternal salvation – and thus he faces the dilemma of how God can be both “just and the Justifier.”
Micah – a contemporary of Isaiah, Micah prophesied in Judah. He is quoted in the Gospels: “But thou, Beth-lehem Ephrathah, which art little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall one come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, from ancient days (olam).” Here you have Messiah with a possible eternal past, but no reference to the future. Micah uses olam in reference to the temporal, as illustrated by: “The women of My people ye cast out from their pleasant houses; from their young children ye take away My glory for ever (olam).” Thus, it is hard to determine what God has in mind when He promises: “For let all the peoples walk each one in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God for ever (olam) and ever (ad).” It seems certain that He has in mind His Messianic Kingdom when He promises: “In that day, saith the LORD, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven away, and her that I have afflicted; 7 And I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a mighty nation; and the LORD shall reign over them in mount Zion from thenceforth even for ever (olam).” So too, He seems to have in mind the nation of Israel when He says, “Who is a God like unto Thee, that pardoneth the iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He retaineth not His anger for ever (ad), because He delighteth in mercy. He will again have compassion upon us; He will subdue our iniquities; and Thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. Thou wilt show faithfulness to Jacob, mercy to Abraham, as Thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.” I can find no promise of eternal salvation made to the individual.
Nahum – Jonah brought to Nineveh a message of repentance; Nahum prophesied God’s Judgment on Nineveh. I could find no reference to the eternal in this short book.
Habakkuk – God raised up Babylon to bring God’s judgment upon Judah. Habakkuk acknowledges Judah’s sin, but complains that Babylon is worse. How can a just God use Babylon to bring judgment on God’s people? Habakkuk ends in a note of hope, but not a hope rooted in the eternal.
Zephaniah – The prophet calls upon the people to return to the Lord. God looks for “righteousness and humility,” the two key ingredients necessary to please Him. “In that day shalt thou not be ashamed for all thy doings, wherein thou hast transgressed against Me; for then I will take away out of the midst of thee thy proudly exulting ones, and thou shalt no more be haughty in My holy mountain. And I will leave in the midst of thee an afflicted and poor people, and they shall take refuge in the name of the LORD. The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies, neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth; for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make them afraid.” God promises that the restored nation shall be righteous because He will remove all proud, unrighteous people. The nation is righteous, not because God imputes righteousness to the individual, but because He removes unrighteous people. Apart from this blending of the temporal and eternal in the restored nation, I find no reference to the eternal, and no individual, eternal hope.
Haggai – a post-exilic prophet, called by God to motivate the people to rebuild the temple. In rebuking the nation for their neglect, Haggai makes a direct connection between obedience and temporal prosperity: “Ye have sown much, and brought in little, ye eat, but ye have not enough, ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink, ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages for a bag with holes.” This sorry condition can only be rectified by obeying God and rebuilding His Temple. Mysteriously, he closes his prophecy with the promise that sometime in the future God will bring judgment to “the heavens and the earth.”
Zechariah – Many Messianic passages fill the pages of this prophecy. He clearly has in mind the fulfillment of God’s promise to the nation when he says: “For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, but the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city. Then shall the LORD go forth, and fight against those nations, as when He fighteth in the day of battle. And His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleft in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, so that there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south… And the LORD shall be King over all the earth; in that day shall the LORD be One, and His name one… And it shall come to pass, that every one that is left of all the nations that came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles.” Zechariah doesn’t discuss the eternal dimension of this kingdom, nor does he offer an eternal hope to the individual.
By way of application, God says, “And it came to pass that, as He called, and they would not hear; so they shall call, and I will not hear, said the LORD of hosts.” When God speaks to us and we neglect His word, He says he will ignore us when we find the need to call for Him. You cannot expect God to come to you in the hour of your need if you fail to respond properly to Him when He speaks.
Malachi – The last of the prophets to the restored remnant after the Babylonian Captivity, Malachi contrasts the love of God with the sins of the people, and warns of the coming Day of the Lord: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.” I could find no reference to an eternal hope offered to the individual, nor could I find an individual expressing an eternal hope.
Faith in a future life plays so important a part in our religion that we are surprised to find it appearing with so little explicitness in the religious thoughts of the Old Testament saints. When we ask why this lack of emphasis on the afterlife exists in the Old Testament, our answer will reflect our understanding of the purpose of the Bible. Our answer cannot be based on the supposition that the ancients did not think of it: death and immortality occupied a prominent and engrossing place in the minds of other nations, such as the Egyptians.
Davidson argues, “In the present day we are more inclined to conclude that the methods pursued by revelation were simple, and, if we can say so, natural; that is, that its great object was to enable men in each age practically to live unto God, and that at all times it gave them light sufficient for this; but that on other subjects it left them very much with the ideas which they had.” It may be that God left the Old Testament saints with their own ideas of eternity, shaped by their culture, much like He leaves the New Testament saints to conclude for themselves how the Sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man blend.
Genesis records God’s dealing with individuals, not the nation of Israel. Yet, in this first book of the Bible, God records no eternal hope on the part of His people, with the possible exception of Enoch.
I prefer to believe that God’s purpose in revealing Himself, first to individuals, then to Israel, and finally to the world, was to demonstrate the futility and stupidity of rebelling against Him. As already noted, God’s commitment to Israel arguably demonstrates His grace more clearly than any other method. His purpose, therefore, resides not so much in our best interest, but rather His own; through creation and revelation He glorifies Himself.
This will close the first major section of this study: exploring the presence of an eternal hope in the Old Testament literature. Next, we will look at the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha. The former was written between the closing of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. We are less certain regarding when the Pseudepigrapha was written; much of it paralleled the writings of the New Testament, and some of it may have followed. I hope it will prove to be as interesting a study for you as it was for me.
Grateful for our eternal hope,
 Cf., E.g., Genesis 15:6 quoted by Paul in Romans 4:2.
 Cf., Psalm 34:18, 51:17.
 Cf., John 8:1-11. Note the paucity of references in the gospels to God forgiving sin, especially willful sin such as the case of the woman taken in adultery.
 Obadiah 10, JPS
 Simon, Uriel, Jonah, The JPS Bible Commentary, Sarna, Nahum, The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1999, p. xii.
 Romans 3:26, KJV
 Micah 5:2, JPS
 Micah 2:9, JPS
 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.
 Micah 4:5, JPS
 Micah 4:6-7, JPS
 Micah 7:18-10, JPS
 Zephaniah 2:3
 Zephaniah 3:11-13, JPS
 Haggai 1:6, JPS
 Haggai 2:21
 Zechariah 14:2-4, 9, 16, JPS
 Zechariah 7:13, JPS
 Malachi 4:5, JPS
 Davidson, A.B., The Theology of the Old Testament, T & T Clark, Edinburgh, 1955, page 405.