Eternal Hope – Part 3

Eternal Hope – Part 3

Eternal Hope
Part 3


In the material contained in this study, I have endeavored to present as accurately as I can the conclusions of my research. Obviously, this does not mean that I haven’t made mistakes. One of the blessings in sending this to those who love me and seek my good is that you may see something I missed and call it to my attention. I encourage you to do this if you see anything you feel is wrong, or that I missed, or that you feel was inadequately explained.

Man has always wrestled with possibly the most perplexing question in life: What is our reason for existence? The first duty of any religion is to define purpose, not to provide salvation. From this question of purpose flows questions regarding our mortality and our desire for immortality. Most people love their lives and therefore do not want to die. Ponce de Leon’s quest for the Fountain of Youth illustrates this. Additionally, people have recognized that they have at least two parts to them: soul and body. When the body dies, what happens to the soul?

“Religion surely is like an arch resting on one pillar, like a bridge ending in an abyss. It is very gratifying, therefore, to the believer, and a fact worthy of notice, that the affirmative on this question [i.e. defining purpose] is assumed more or less by all the nations of earth, so far as our information reaches at the present day, although, it is true, their views often assume very vague and even materialistic forms….

Bishop Warburton, on the other hand, derived one of his main proofs of the divine mission of Moses from this supposed silence on the subject of immortality. ‘Moses,’ he argues, ‘being sustained in his legislation and government by immediate divine authority, had not the same necessity that other teachers have for a recourse to threatenings and punishments… in order to enforce obedience’…. Moses and Confucius did not expressly teach the immortality of the soul, nay, they seemed purposely to avoid entering upon the subject; they simply took it for granted.” The article concludes: “But, although the position here assumed seems very tenable, it is nevertheless true that the Israelites certainly did not have a very clear conception of the future existence of the soul, and ‘that life and immortality’ were not brought to light very distinctly before Christ came, for whom the office was reserved of making clearly known many high matters before but obscurely indicated.”[1]

Yom Kippur in Israel’s History

In order to understand Yom Kippur, it is necessary to divorce it from New Testament concepts of sin and grace. For example, in the Old Testament God linked illness and disease to sinfulness. Diseases such as leprosy were included under God’s broad category of impurity. Leviticus 14 (cf., esp. v. 7) instructs the priest to take a bird and offer it as expiation for the individual’s uncleanness, while setting another bird free, to communicate the idea of riddance. The scapegoat was also set free, and in bearing the sins of the nation it played a central role in the ritual of Yom Kippur.[2] As Hebrews 9 (cf., esp. v. 7) reminds us, Yom Kippur could not atone for willful sins committed by an individual, only sins committed in ignorance; it was a national rather than an individual expiation. “… Yom Kippur became the major occasion for communal penitence.”[3]

By way of illustration, let’s say that on the Day of Atonement recorded in Leviticus 16, ten people from among the tribes sinned without being exposed. Two of the ten committed adultery, one stole from his neighbor, etc. The nation, ignorant of these sins, offers Yom Kippur in order to assure God’s continued presence with Israel. Although Israel had sinned, the nation’s guilt was expunged by the sacrifice simply because the nation had no way of determining the individual guilt of the law-breakers. If, after Yom Kippur, one who committed such a crime was discovered, he still had to be either expelled from the community or put to death.

When the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of a bull, he sprinkled the blood on the Mercy Seat for his own sins committed in ignorance. If he had committed willful sin, he could not have functioned as High Priest. If he was aware of the sins committed in ignorance – i.e., he became impure and learned after the fact that he had done it – he would have offered the appropriate sacrifice at the time. Thus, this sacrifice in the Holy of Holies deals with those sins committed unintentionally and without awareness. Because God ties impurity with sin, the priest would not be acceptable to God without this sacrifice of purification at the beginning of the Yom Kippur ritual.

“That repentance by itself in Numbers (and in the preceding Torah books) is incapable of shriving sin is evident from the fact that Moses never asks God for forgiveness nor his people for repentance. He takes for granted that punishment is the ineluctable consequence of sin. True, he asks for reconciliation (salah, 14:19); however, this means only that God should not abandon Israel but should continue to maintain His covenant with them.”[4] Questions of sin, atonement and retribution in the Torah are always temporal. To the extent the Israelites lacked an eternal hope they must also have lacked a fear of hell.

As noted earlier, God says that He is a “’God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth; keeping mercy unto the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and unto the fourth generation.’”[5] Note that God begins by promising mercy and then calls attention to the fact that mercy does not cancel justice: He merely postpones both to future generations. Thus, God says, “And your children shall be wanderers in the wilderness forty years, and shall bear your strayings, until your carcasses be consumed in the wilderness.”[6] We note the same principle in God dealing with David’s sin – He killed David’s son. God does not bind Himself to individual retribution prevalent in human justice.

After the golden calf incident at Mt. Sinai, note Moses’ intercession and God’s response: “And he said, If now I have found favor in thy sight, O Lord, let the Lord, I pray thee, go in the midst of us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance. And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been wrought in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of Jehovah; for it is a terrible thing that I do with thee.”[7] Moses does not intercede for sinful individuals, but for the nation – that God will fulfill His gracious covenant with Israel. In response to Moses’ prayer, God does just that; He reaffirms His inviolable commitment to Israel.

God does not offer any individual eternal hope, and God does not promise to pardon the individual for willful sin. He pardons the individual committing sins in ignorance as illustrated by: “And all the fat thereof shall he make smoke upon the altar, as the fat of the sacrifice of peace-offerings; and the priest shall make atonement for him as concerning his sin, and he shall be forgiven.”[8] But when Moses struck the rock, after being told to speak to it, God would not pardon him, even though he pled with God: “But the LORD was wroth with me for your sakes, and hearkened not unto me; and the LORD said unto me: ‘Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto Me of this matter.’”[9]

Although you find ample evidence of people confessing and repenting as a condition for forgiveness in the literature following Deuteronomy, you will not find it the first five books of the Bible. Not only so, nowhere in the Torah will you find God calling upon man to repent, or His representative calling the people to repentance. Israel may commit apostasy, as when the spies reported on the Promised Land in Numbers 14, but God never calls upon the nation to repent. When violating the expectations of God, Israel could expect God’s retribution. In this material, when repentance occurs, people rather than God initiate it. Moses may intercede for the nation, seen in the passage discussed above when Aaron made the golden calf, and he may intercede for an individual, such as his sister Miriam: “’Let her not, I pray, be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother’s womb.’ And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying: ‘Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee,’”[10] but God does not expect Moses to call the people to repentance in order that they may taste of His grace.

Even in the post-Torah literature, forgiveness of willful sin remains uncertain for both the individual and the nation. For example: “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God; for He is gracious and compassionate, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy, and repenteth Him of the evil. Who knoweth whether He will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him…”[11] God does not enact the full force of the law on David for his crimes, but he does taste the terrible consequences of his sin.[12] After God pronounced judgment on the nation, God told Jeremiah not to pray for her.[13]

Israel as a Missionary Nation

We will note, as we process the data contained in Scripture, that the calling of the nations to follow Yahweh without an individual eternal hope, lacks the basis for an individual purpose. God chose Israel, not vice versa. What would a people like the Philistines accrue from following the Lord? They were not chosen, and when comparing the chosen Israel with the surrounding nations, we see that during most of her history Israel enjoyed less temporal blessings than her neighbors, recalling the “terrible thing” of Exodus 34:10.

“It must be remembered that the ger, the resident alien of biblical times, is a far removed from the ger, the convert of rabbinic times. Conversion as such was unknown in the ancient world. Ethnicity was the only criterion for membership in a group. The outsider could join only by marriage (e.g., Ruth). In fact, it was not those who intermarried but the subsequent generations that succeeded in assimilating and even then not always (e.g., Deut. 23:1-9). Some gerim, like the Kenites (Moses’ family; Judg. 1:16), were ultimately absorbed into Israel, presumably by marriage. Others, like the Gibeonites, maintained their slave status throughout the biblical period (Josh. 9:27; cf. Ezra 2:58).

The first glimmer of a new status for the ger is found in the words of the Second Isaiah at the end of the sixth century B.C.E. In the Babylonian exile, non-Jews had been attracted by the Jewish way of life, particularly by the Sabbath. Isaiah calls upon these would-be proselytes to ‘make ‘aliyah’ with the Israelites; and although he cannot promise them that they will be part of the ‘am, the peoplehood of Israel – conversion as such was unknown – he assures them that the Temple service will be open to them because ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples’ (Isa. 56:7). The way is now open to the next stage of religious conversion, a stage already reached by the year 200 B.C.E. At that time Antiochus III issued a decree fining any foreigner who entered the Israelite court of the Temple (equivalent to ‘the entrance of the Tent of Meeting’) the sum of 3,000 silver drachmas, payable to the priests – a far cry from the biblical ger who could enter the Tabernacle court to offer his sacrifices. Clearly, the Jews of the third century B.C.E. were not in violation of the Torah for by then they had reinterpreted the Torah’s ger to denote the convert.”[14]


Before bringing this issue to a close, let me share an observation for the purpose of application. We notice a striking contrast in attitude toward barrenness in the Old Testament vis-à-vis the New Testament. When Rachel could not conceive children, she complained to her husband Jacob that without the ability to have children life was not worth living.[15] The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, encourages women not to marry and have children.[16] In the Old Testament, God did not encourage people to see this life as preparation for eternity; in the New Testament He does.

We must be careful when studying and applying Scripture that we maintain this distinction, lest we invest our time and energy in the temporal – in violation of Jesus’ command to labor for the eternal.[17] God gave His Old Testament saints the task of creating a Theocratic Kingdom in Israel. In the New Testament He charges His people with the task of depopulating hell and populating heaven.

His to command,


[1] McClintock, John and Strong, James, general editors, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, 10 volumes, “Immortality,” Baker, Grand Rapids, 1981.
[2] Cf. Leviticus 16:20-22
[3] Op Cit. Levine, Baruch, The JPS Torah Commentary on Leviticus, page 235.
[4] Milgrom, Jacob, The JPS Torah Commentary on Numbers, Nahum M. Sarna, general editor, The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1989, pages xxxix, xl.
[5] Exodus 34:6-7, JPS
[6] Numbers 14:33, JPS
[7] Exodus 34:9-10, JPS
[8] Leviticus 4:26, JPS
[9] Deuteronomy 3:26, JPS
[10] Numbers 12:12-13, JPS
[11] Joel 2:13-14, JPS
[12] E.g., his son dies, another son rapes a daughter, a son rebels forcing David to flee.
[13] Cf. Jeremiah 7:16
[14] Sarna, Nahum, General Editor, The JPS Torah Commentary, Milgrom, Jacob, Numbers, The Jewish Publication Society, New York, 1990, pp. 398-402
[15] Cf. Genesis 30:1ff.
[16] Cf. 1 Corinthians 7:34-38
[17] Cf., e.g., John 6:27, Matthew 6:19-20, Mark 8:36-37