Eternal Hope – Part 9

Eternal Hope – Part 9

Eternal Hope
Part 9


In our study of Genesis through Job we note that God never offered to the individual the promise of spending eternity with Him, and no individual expressed the hope of eternal life. God committed Himself with a gracious covenant to the nation of Israel, and He gave the Law, through Moses, establishing the basis on which the nation should be governed. When He gave the Law, God did not entertain the possibility that the individual could not meet His expectations, and thus He offered no expiation followed by restoration.[1]

Reviewing what we found in the first five books (Torah), we note: “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 (cf. Numbers 14:19); however, this means only that God should not abandon Israel but should continue to maintain His covenant with them.”[2]

Continuing through the Old Testament, justification through the propitious work of Christ finds no place. Consequently, no one thought of relating to God on the basis of grace rather than works. Up to this point, only Moses breaks the Law without forfeiting his relationship with God. He is an anomaly in that Scripture never addresses why God didn’t exact justice from him.[3] From the perspective of the Old Testament saint, if he kept the Law, he was assured of being part of that group to whom God graciously committed Himself; if he willfully violated the Law he was either exiled or executed.

When the church embraced the view that it replaced Israel, you can easily see how they incorporated into their dogma a works-righteousness as the path to salvation. “The Church offered many ways of bridging the gap between God the Holy and man the wrongdoer. The first is the way of self-help. This was the point at which monasticism, as already indicated, afforded the greatest opportunity. As contrasted with life in the world, any form of monasticism appeared more rigorous and worthy of reward.”[4]

So too, Pope Gregory, who died in 605, said: “My pastoral responsibilities now compel me to have dealings with worldly men, and after the unclouded beauty of my former peace, it seems that my mind is bespattered with the mire of daily affairs.” [5] Just as the people of Israel were to have no dealings with the world, and especially the Levitical High Priest kept himself pure and unpolluted, so the Pope and all who wished to attain a holy life. The secular/spiritual distinction was absolute.

If Israel is the church in the Old Testament, and if the continuity of God’s program flows unchanged from the Old to the New Testament, then you have to find the offer of eternal hope and personal salvation in the Old Testament. Otherwise, what does the Old Testament Church look like? John says, “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”[6] Even apart from “His Son,” where in the Old Testament do you lead me to see this “record that God hath given to us eternal life?”

Reflections on the Psalms

A bit of background on the exposition of the Psalms may be in order as we begin: “Our Lord Himself, both before and after His resurrection, unfolded the meaning of the Psalms from His own life and its vicissitudes… He opened up to the disciples the meaning of the Psalms. How strongly they were drawn to the Psalms is seen from the fact that they are quoted about seventy times in the New Testament, which, next to Isaiah, is more frequently than any other Old Testament book… The interpreters of the early church with the exception of Origen and Jerome possessed no knowledge of the Hebrew tongue, and even these two not sufficient to be able to rise to freedom from a dependence upon the LXX, [7] which only led them into frequent error… The mediaeval church exposition did not make any essential advance upon the patristic… If you know one of these expositors, you know them all. The most that they have to offer us is an echo of the earlier writers. By their dependence on the letter of the Vulgate, and consequently indirectly of the LXX, they only too frequently light upon a false track and miss the meaning… The mediaeval synagogue exposition is wanting in the recognition of Christ, and consequently in the fundamental condition required for a spiritual understanding of the Psalms. But as we are indebted to the Jews for the transmission of the codex of the Old Testament, we also owe the transmission of the knowledge of Hebrew to them. So far the Jewish interpreters give us what the Christian interpreters of the same period were not able to tender… It is only since about 900 A.D., when indirectly under Syro-Arabian influence, the study of grammar began to be cultivated among the Jews that the exposition and the application of Scripture began to be disentangled… Their knowledge of the Hebrew gives all these expositors a marked advantage over their Christian contemporaries, but the veil of Moses over their eyes is thicker in proportion to the conscious opposition to Christianity… When a new light dawned upon the church through the Reformation – the light of a grammatical and deeply spiritual understanding of Scripture – then the rose-garden of the Psalter began to breathe forth its perfumes… Since the time of the Reformation the exegetical functions of psalm-exposition have been more clearly apprehended and more happily discharged than ever before… After 1750, the exposition of Scripture lost that spiritual and ecclesiastical character which had gained strength in the seventeenth century, but had also gradually become torpid…”[8]

This rather long quote calls attention to a quandary the expositor of Psalms faces. The expositor seeks to decipher the intent of the author in light of the historical, cultural milieu in which it was written. Our Lord Jesus and the New Testament writers, however, used the Psalms, as a means of authenticating the gospel message. We, of course, agree that the interpretation of the Psalms given in the New Testament is the correct one, but can the interpreter use this same methodology in interpreting the rest of the Psalms? If so, this inevitably leads to an allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament. If we seek to understand the Psalms as the Jews before Christ saw them, we will not necessarily come to the same conclusions as the New Testament writers. Since my object in this series is to seek to decipher what the Old Testament readers could legitimately conclude on the basis of Revelation, I will seek to interpret the Psalms from a more “objective” perspective than might be found justifiable from a New Testament interpretation.

I make no claim that my study of Psalms is exhaustive on this important subject. If, in your study of the Old Testament in general, and the Psalms in particular, you find evidence that suggests the opposite of what I am saying, I hope you will call it to my attention.[9] I will not endeavor to address each Psalm, only those that seem relevant to an eternal hope.

“For in death there is no remembrance of thee; in Sheol who can give thee praise?”[10] No reference to life after death so far in the Psalms; this verse seems to suggest the opposite.

“For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the Pit. Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence there is fulness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.”[11] Many have seen in this Psalm of David a beautiful reference to life after death, and have thus concluded that it offers the Old Testament saint an eternal hope. Let’s take a closer look at what David says: David does not use the Hebrew word olam[12] in verse 11. The word used by David (nesah) means, “eminence, perpetuity, strength, victory, enduring, everlastingness, endurance in time, perpetual, continual, unto the end, ever.” From this definition we see that the word can mean something different from eternal life in the Presence of God. Not only so, but Charles says, “There is nothing that necessarily relates to a future life in Psalm 16, which expresses the fears and hopes not of the individual but of the community.”[13] If the Psalmist expresses hope in eternal life, as this and other Psalms may suggest, we have to conclude that God did not support such a hope with a promise.

“As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with Thy likeness.”[14] The RSV translates this: “As for me, I shall behold thy face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding thy form.” The NAB translates it: “I am just– let me see your face; when I awake, let me be filled with your presence.” The word for “awake” (qis) means, “awake from seep, awaken from the dead (used four times).” Daniel uses qis in his famous statement on the resurrection of the dead.[15] Many Jews understood this verse to mean that “the awaking” here mentioned means nothing more than the awaking next morning, when the psalmist will join afresh in the temple worship.

“He asked life of Thee, Thou gavest it him; even length of days for ever (olam) and ever (ad). His glory is great through Thy salvation; honour and majesty dost Thou lay upon him. For Thou makest him most blessed for ever (ad); Thou makest him glad with joy in Thy presence.”[16] This verse, like Psalm 17:15, may express an eternal hope, depending on what the author means by words like olam and ad. We will note, as we move through this material, that if God granted the Psalmist an eternal hope, you find no record of His promise or the conditions that have to be met in obtaining it.


After His resurrection, Jesus walked with some people from Jerusalem to Emmaus, and en route “… beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.”[17] What exactly did Jesus say? If He came to provide a propitiation in order that God might “be just and justifier of him that believeth,”[18] why didn’t anyone up to this point understand that the Old Testament taught this? Why didn’t those who were closest to Jesus during His public ministry understand His mission?

We will continue in the Psalms in the next issue.

Grateful for His promises,


[1] Note the discussion of this under Leviticus in the second issue of “Eternal Hope.”
[2] Milgrom, Jacob, The JPS Torah Commentary, Numbers, Sarna, Nahum M., General Editor, The Jewish Publication Society, New York, 1990, page xli.
[3] When Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it, as commanded, God bared Moses from entering the land, but did not sever the relationship.
[4] Bainton, Roland H., The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, The Beacon Press, Boston, 1956, page 28.
[5] Bede, A History of the English Church and People, Barnes and Noble, New York, 1993, p. 95.
[6] 1 John 5:11, KJV
[7] The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, probably done in Alexandria, Egypt about 284-247 B.C.
[8] Op cit, Keil and Delitzsch, vol. 5, pp. 47-64
[9] You may email me at:, or fax: 619-599-5870.
[10] Psalm 6:5, RSV
[11] Psalm 16:10-11, RSV
[12] The word olam, often translated “everlasting” or “forever”, is considered in Part 7 of this series.
[13] Op cit, Charles, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life, page 72.
[14] Psalm 17:15, JPS
[15] Daniel 12:2-3
[16] Psalm 21:4-6, JPS
[17] Luke 24:27, RSV
[18] Romans 3:26, KJV