Eternal Hope – Part 6

Eternal Hope – Part 6

Eternal Hope
Part 6


In this series, we have been looking at what the Old Testament teaches about eternity, and thus, trying to understand how the nation of Israel viewed issues of salvation and the hope of heaven. As noted in an earlier issue, at least 17 times from Judges to Nehemiah, God makes reference to the fact that He delivered Israel from Egypt. The word “salvation” appears about 63 times in Psalms, and most, if not all of these references, apply to temporal salvation. At least 56 times “deliver/deliverance” appears, but I am less certain about the eternal/temporal distinction; I am not sure if the phrase “deliver my soul” refers to the temporal or the eternal.

Note the response of Israel to Joseph’s request regarding his bones: “And the bones of Joseph, which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for an hundred pieces of silver: and it became the inheritance of the children of Joseph.”[1] It is said of Jacob: “And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for an hundred pieces of money.”[2] In Genesis 34 Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi killed all the males in Shechem because of what they did to their sister. When Joseph died, he wanted his bones buried in the parcel of ground owned by his father; this “and the field of Ephron, which was in Machpelah, which was before Mamre,” were the only two parcels Israel owned before the conquest of Joshua. When Abraham and Jacob bought these two parcels, no mention was made of an eternal hope; Joseph did not say that his desire to be buried in the Promised Land was linked to an eternal hope. The generations of people living between Abraham and Joshua never realized the fulfillment of God’s promise: “In that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.”[3]

References to Eternity in I Samuel through II Kings

1 Samuel – You will find the word “heaven” mentioned twice[4] in this book, neither of which refers to where people go, but rather to where God goes. “Sheol” is mentioned once, in the psalm of Hannah (after God gave her Samuel): “The LORD killeth, and maketh alive; He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up.”[5]

God rejects Saul as king of Israel, after which Saul fights the Philistines. Distraught because God refuses to give Saul counsel, the king goes to the Witch of Endor. God had commanded that all witches, fortune-tellers, etc. be executed,[6] and Saul had placed such an indictment on them.[7] This Witch of Endor, though the anathema to God, had the ability to call Samuel, the prophet of God, back from the dead. Samuel protests, “Why have you disturbed me and brought me up?” Where was Samuel after he died, and how did the witch garner the authority to call him back from the grave?

2 Samuel – David mentions neither “heaven” nor “Sheol” in his dirge after the death of Saul and Jonathan.[8] At the end of his life, David uses the word “Sheol” (the only time the word is used in 2 Samuel) in his psalm: “The cords of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of Death confronted me.”[9] This book mentions “heaven” four times, and in each case “heaven” probably refers to the sky rather than to the abode of God; I can find no mention of “heaven” referring to where people go after death.[10]

David commits adultery and murder, after which Nathan the prophet confronts David with God’s judgment; He will kill the child of this adulterous relationship. (Interesting – The Law says adultery is a capital offense,[11] and so God kills the child rather than the adulterer.) David pleads with God for the life of his son, and when the child dies, David says, “I shall go to him, but he will never come back to me.”[12] Those of us who tend to interpret such passages from a New Testament perspective conclude that the child went to heaven and David, when he died, followed him there. But the passage can as easily be interpreted to mean, “I shall join the child in Sheol.”

Returning to David’s psalm at the close of his life, he says: “For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all His ordinances were before me; and as for His statutes, I did not depart from them. And I was single-hearted toward Him, and I kept myself from mine iniquity. Therefore hath the LORD recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in His eyes.”[13] Evidently, David’s relationship with God was such that even though he committed murder and adultery, God viewed him as a righteous man, one who had not “departed from” Him. As we will note in the Psalms, David’s confidence in God’s acceptance of “a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart”[14] in light of such reprehensible behavior, constitutes entirely new revelation.

1 Kings – The word “Sheol,” used in the RSV and translated “grave” in the KJV (and sometimes “hell”) and NAS, appears 65 times in the Bible. When David prepares to die, he says to Solomon, “I am about to go the way of all the earth… Then David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David”.[15]” He expresses no hope of being with God or going to heaven. In 2 Samuel 7, David hopes in the perpetuation of His kingdom, not eternal life for himself.

When David counsels his son Solomon, he tells him, “Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace,”[16] referring to Joab, the commander of Israel’s armies. There are only two references[17] to “Sheol” in 1 Kings. Of the fifteen references to “heaven” (most found in Solomon’s prayer dedicating the Temple), all pertain either to where God lives or the sky above, and none to where man goes. I can find no reference to the eternal, with the possible exception of God’s promise to Solomon regarding the nation, “If you will keep my laws… I will abide among the children of Israel, and I will never forsake My people Israel.”[18] Nothing in this material suggests that God committed Himself eternally to the individual.

In Solomon’s dedication of the Temple he says, “If they sin against thee — for there is no man who does not sin — and thou art angry with them, and dost give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near.”[19] This is the first indication that I have found that God’s people in the OT called themselves sinners.[20] (As noted above, David considered himself a righteous man, even though he committed murder and adultery.) This, of course, does not include the Psalms, Proverbs, or Ecclesiastes. Solomon may be referring to “sins committed in ignorance,” for which sacrifice had to be made.

From 1 Kings 13 forward, during the time of the divided kingdom, God displays His supernatural power through a series of miracles, including raising the dead,[21] all performed by His prophets. From these the people can clearly see that Yahweh rules the world. But could they legitimately conclude that they would be with Him when they died? I can find no commitment from God to this effect in the Old Testament.

God, speaking to Solomon, said: “But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land which I have given them; and the house which I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight; and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples.”[22] Prior to the Monarchy, God held the people accountable for keeping the law and receiving His favor. Now, God holds the king accountable. If the king sins, the people suffer. This pattern can be seen throughout the time of the Monarchy.

2 Kings – The phrase “slept with his fathers” appears eleven times in 1 Kings, fourteen times in 2 Kings, eleven times in 2 Chronicles, and not at all in 1 Chronicles. Each time the phrase refers to the destiny of a king, irrespective of whether he was good or bad.

Earlier we noted that the departure of Elijah in a fiery chariot was one of the evidences of an individual eternal hope in the Old Testament. “And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, which parted them both assunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”[23] We can only guess at what the people of Elijah’s day thought had happened to him (did the prophet Samuel go to a different place?), but Malachi the prophet promises Elijah’s return in the last days: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD.”[24]

Isaiah the prophet came to Hezekiah, one of Judah’s good kings, with news that he was about to die. “Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying: ‘Remember now, O LORD, I beseech Thee, how I have walked before Thee in truth and with a whole heart, and have done that which is good in Thy sight.’ And Hezekiah wept sore.”[25] We of course cannot know whether King Hezekiah had an eternal hope, but his view of death indicates that he did not. The Apostle Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”[26]

Closing Comments

In Matthew 18 Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive – seven times? Jesus responds to this magnanimous gesture on Peter’s part with “seven times seventy.” I think all would agree that He did not mean after 490 times we would be through. Nothing in revealed religion up to this point would have suggested that such a thing is possible – that God will forgive us an unlimited number of times. Numbers 15:30-31 tells us that God will not forgive willful sin. When Moses sinned (the only recorded time of his sinning) God denied him entrance into the Promised Land. When David committed murder and adultery, although God forgave him, David paid dearly for his crime. It would be preposterous to assume that David, on the basis of God’s forgiveness, could have committed those crimes again and again be forgiven by God! As I said, nothing up to this time would have led a person to conclude that God will forgive seven times, much less seven times seventy.

Never lose your sense of awe that God, irrespective of the number of times the believer sins, will nonetheless forgive the broken and contrite heart. Charles Wesley, the hymn writer, wrote: “And can it be that I should gain an interest in my Saviors blood? Died He for me who caused His pain, for me whom Him to death pursued? Amazing grace. How can it be that Thou my God should die for me?” Likewise, never lose sight of the fact that God’s forgiveness does not eliminate eternal accountability for those sins.

His… Yours,


[1] Joshua 24:32
[2] Genesis 33:19
[3] Genesis 15:18
[4] 1 Samuel 2:10 and 5:12
[5] 1 Samuel 2:6, JPS
[6] Cf. Exodus 22:18, KJV
[7] 1 Samuel 28:9, KJV
[8] 2 Samuel 1:19-27
[9] 2 Samuel 22:6, JPS
[10] God established with David an everlasting covenant, pertaining to his descendents rather than an eternity with God for David (cf. 2 Samuel 7:13, 23:5).
[11] Cf. Leviticus 20:10
[12] 2 Samuel 12:23, JPS
[13] 2 Samuel 22:22-25, JPS
[14] Cf. Psalm 34:18 and 51:17
[15] 1 Kings 2:2, 10, JPS
[16] 1 Kings 2:6, JPS
[17] The second reference is 1 Kings 2:9 where David counsels Solomon not to allow Shimei to die in peace.
[18] 1 Kings 6:12-13, JPS (Cf. also 1 Kings 9:4-5, 10:9)
[19] 1 Kings 8:46, JPS
[20] Before God destroyed the earth with a flood, the Bible says, “And the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
[21] Cf., e.g., 1 Kings 17:17-24, 2 Kings 4:32-37
[22] 1 Kings 9:6-7, JPS
[23] 2 Kings 2:11, JPS
[24] Malachi 4:5, JPS
[25] 2 Kings 20:2-3, JPS
[26] Philippians 1:21, KJV