Eternal Hope – Part 21

Eternal Hope – Part 21

Eternal Hope
Part 21


In the last issue, we looked at how apocalyptic literature, having been born in a Jewish ethos, was rejected by its mother because of the prominent role an eternal hope played in Christendom. In this issue, we will explore more fully the dynamics that brought this to pass.

Evolution of Apocalyptic Literature and an Individual, Eternal Hope

Understanding the development of an eternal hope in the Old Testament requires a brief look at how God revealed Himself to His ancient people. Genesis 4: 26 tells us, “At that time men began to call upon the name of the LORD.” Exodus 6:2-3 says, “And God said to Moses, ‘I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them.’” In both passages, the word LORD is Yahweh. In whatever way you seek to reconcile the seeming discrepancy, you have to conclude that a continuity of revelation exited between Abraham and Moses.

To Moses God revealed Himself as One who is ethical and experiential rather than metaphysical and dogmatic, allowing for an unhampered growth of piety;[1] when Yahweh revealed Himself, He combined the Law with the promise of His perpetual presence. You find the opposite with Abraham: God did not give Abraham ethical rules, and He did not constantly abide with Abraham. God claims in Exodus 20:2, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” an assertion He makes repeatedly to the nation of Israel. Israel worships a God of national redemption. A God of justice and purity, He insists that Israel adhere to His expectations to the exclusion of all other allegiances. Israel exists for Yahweh, not vice versa.

“Through their living communion with God, the prophets made it known, in terms that could never be forgotten, that Yahweh pursued His own righteous purposes independently of Israel. Thus it was that Yahwism did not perish with the nation, and that true religion survived the destruction of the state. In the religion thus enfranchised from national limitations, the individual becomes the religious unit, and is brought into immediate communion with God. Thus the way is prepared for the coming of Christianity…In the parallel development initiated by Ezekiel, monotheism is a living and fruitful doctrine for Israel, but not for the nations…Such a false conception of Yahweh’s relation to the nations in due time reacted on Judaistic monotheism, and explains in large measure its subsequent barrenness.”[2]

Prior to the Babylonian Captivity, God revealed Himself primarily as One who is committed to the nation, not the individual. “…though an organic connection exists between its theology and the eschatology of the nation as a whole, this connection does not extend to the eschatology of the individual Israelite…Thus it is only in respect of the nation that Yahwism can be said to have possessed a definite eschatology till long after the return from Exile.”[3] Charles conjectures that because God committed Himself to the nation of Israel but offered no eschatological hope for the individual, the Hebrews filled in the gap by returning to their heathen belief in Ancestor Worship.

To substantiate his claim, Charles calls attention to Genesis 31:1, 35:4, and I Samuel 19:13, 16, which reference the teraphim, and which Charles says refers to the worship of ancestors. In Deuteronomy 26:14 God instructs His people to say, “I have not eaten of the tithe while I was mourning, or removed any of it while I was unclean, or offered any of it to the dead; I have obeyed the voice of the LORD my God, I have done according to all that thou hast commanded me.” God prohibiting His people offering to the dead may imply that such practices were common.

From the beginning, God revealed Himself as a God of righteousness, justice, and purity. In this, He differed from all other gods. “As a national God…He was popularly conceived as being concerned only with the well-being of the nation, and as possessing neither interest nor jurisdiction in the life of the individual beyond the grave.”[4] God evaluated the righteousness of the nation, however, by the behavior of the people. When Achan took of the spoils of Jericho God defeated the nation at the battle of Ai. “Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. And they have even taken some of the things under the ban and have both stolen and deceived. Moreover, they have also put them among their own things.”[5] It only took the sin of one man to bring God’s retribution upon the nation. Israel could never know how many people had to sin, nor how unrighteous their behavior had to be, before God would bring judgment on the nation. Note that God did not kill Achan at the battle of Ai, something He could have easily done. Instead, He killed other soldiers to drive home the point that He holds the nation accountable for the sin of one man.

God’s covenant with the nation assured Israel that no matter how severe His judgment, His commitment to her was inviolable. When God said to Abraham, “And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God,”[6] He introduced an eternal dimension into His relationship with the nation, but not with the individual. As the early parts of this series have demonstrated, I have found no place in the Old Testament where God offers an eternal covenant of grace to an individual. Because Achan sinned, he and his family were executed. God offered no hope of salvation for the individual who willfully sinned.[7]

As noted earlier, Moses and David are the only two individuals who maintained a relationship with God after God accused them of evil. Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it, and God said he could not enter the Promised Land.[8] Nothing in the Old Testament indicates that Moses died with an eternal hope. David committed murder and adultery[9] and God forgave him; instead of executing David, God executed David’s son. When David says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise,”[10] he introduces a completely new idea. For the first time we learn that a flagrantly guilty person can be reconciled to God. Still, nothing in the Old Testament indicates that David died with an eternal hope. As far as I can tell, God never charged others whom Scripture indicates had a relationship with God, with violating His expectations.[11]

From the time Judah went into captivity (the ten northern tribes had disappeared after God dispersed them among the nations via the Assyrians) until the present, Israel ceased functioning as a nation ruled by God.[12] Thus, the emphasis naturally turned from the nation to the individual. By the time you reach the New Testament, you discover a fully developed individual eschatological hope evidenced by passages such as: “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,”[13] and “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.”[14]

Sheol, as the abode of the dead, naturally conflicts with an eternal hope. From wherever Israel obtained her belief in Sheol, people came to realize that individual hope required a distinction between the destinies of the righteous and unrighteous. Yahweh’s revelation of Himself as righteous, just, and pure, combined with conscience, forced this distinction.


One of the marks of God’s image that man bears is a sense of justice; each person ought to reap what he sows. This life empirically demonstrates that people do not necessarily experience justice: The righteous suffer and the ungodly prosper.[15] Eternal accountability answers this question of fairness. Justice may not happen in this life, but will for sure take place in the life to come. Because of the lack of emphasis on eternal hope in the Old Testament, this question of justice remained answered.

Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-30 contain a series of promises pertaining to this question of justice – applied to the nation rather than the individual. Two important principles of biblical religion appear in these passages: free will and accountability expressed in rewards and punishments. Thus, God affirms His justice as He deals with national Israel, while leaving un-addressed how this indispensable principle of justice applies to the individual. Eternal accountability for the individual may be assumed in the Old Testament; only in the New Testament is it explicitly taught.

In the Old Testament man acknowledges his need to repent and asks for God’s forgiveness. By the time you reach the prophets, repentance with a heart for change becomes the sine qua non for securing God’s forgiveness; man must humble himself, acknowledge his sin, purpose to make restitution, and change – as seen in passages such as: “Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before Mine eyes, cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”[16] In the Old Testament, as well as the New, the writers considered it unthinkable that a person can receive forgiveness from God without remorse translated into deeds.

Committed to a life of brokenness and dependence,


[1] Ibid, page 7 [I think when you start a new letter, you need to regive the cite – I don’t remember who you’re quoting.]
[2] Ibid, page 17.
[3] Ibid, page 18.
[4] Ibid, page 52
[5] Joshua 7:11 NASB
[6] Genesis 17:8 KJV
[7] Cf. e.g., Numbers 15:30-31
[8] Numbers 20:8-11
[9] I Samuel 11
[10] Psalm 51:17. Cf. also Psalm 34:18.
[11] Samson may be another exception, although God does not call his licentious living sin (cf. Judges 14-16 and esp. 14:4).
[12] From 1948 forward, although Israel exists as an autonomous nation, she cannot fulfill the Law’s requirements as long as a Mosque sits on the dome of the rock.
[13] John 3:3 KJV
[14] Matthew 6:20 KJV
[15] Job explores this theme as he argues with his friends that there is no necessary relationship between righteous living and prosperity. The book concludes without answering this conundrum of how we can call God just when righteous people suffer.
[16] Isaiah 1:16-18, JPS