Note the contrast between the Hebrews at Kadesh Barnea and Muslim terrorists today: Numbers 14:2 records, “And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron; and the whole congregation said unto them: ‘Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would we had died in this wilderness!” Hardly a day passes without reading of a Muslim who destroys himself in a suicide attack against an opponent. Why does the Muslim freely destroy himself while the Hebrew longs to return to slavery rather than face his enemy? I suggest the difference resides in eternal hope. Islam assures the martyr perpetual bliss in eternity while God never offered the hope of eternal life to His people.
G.K. Chesterton notes, “The moment we care for anything deeply, the world – that is, all the other miscellaneous interests – becomes our enemy. Christians showed it when they talked of keeping one’s self ‘unspotted from the world;’ but lovers talk of it just as much when they talk of the ‘world well lost’… Thus Mr. Kipling… knows England as an intelligent English gentleman knows Venice. He has been to England a great many times; he has stopped there for long visits. But he does not belong to it, or to any place; and the proof of it is this, that he thinks of England as a place. The moment we are rooted in a place, the place vanishes. We live like a tree with the whole strength of the universe.”
I suggest that this describes the eternal hope of the follower of Christ: he is “rooted” in heaven. It matters not how much of this world’s good God has lavished upon him, only one longing occupies him; Christ is his life! “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Reflections on Ecclesiastes
Solomon’s Ecclesiastes seems to give conflicting evidence regarding the hope of life after death: “He hath made every thing beautiful in its time; also He hath set the world (olam) in their heart, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end.” I am not sure why the JPS and KJV translate olam “world;” the NAS and RSV use “eternity.”
“Even though he should live a thousand years twice told, yet enjoy no good — do not all go to the one place?” “For all this I laid to my heart, even to make clear all this: that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God; whether it be love or hatred, man knoweth it not; all is before them. All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean and to the unclean; to him that sacrificeth and to him that sacrificeth not; as is the good, so is the sinner, and he that sweareth, as he that feareth an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one event unto all; yea also, the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead. For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope; for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die; but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. As well their love, as their hatred and their envy, is long ago perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.” Solomon acknowledges the depravity of man, but seems to suggest the absence of hope beyond the grave. Does Solomon suggest that the fate of the individual is tied to the nation? “One fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil…” Without an eternal hope, corporate accountability destroys individual accountability – if the individual in question can hide his crime.
“In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God hath made even the one as well as the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.” This passage follows Psalm 88:10 in seeming to reject the idea of a resurrection.
“Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and terrors shall be in the way; and the almond-tree shall blossom, and the grasshopper shall drag itself along, and the caperberry shall fail; because man goeth to his long (olam) home, and the mourners go about the streets… And the dust returneth to the earth as it was, and the spirit returneth unto God who gave it… For God shall bring every work into the judgment concerning every hidden thing, whether it be good or whether it be evil.” Contrary to what he has said earlier, Solomon seems to suggest that the soul of a man does not perish. The “spirit returns to God” and “judgment” takes place after death.
Reflections on Song of Solomon
Like the book of Esther, Song of Solomon makes no reference to God. I can find nothing pertaining to life after death, judgment, sin, accountability, or godly hope. Read literally, it is a love poem between a man and woman. Those who find it edifying usually give it an allegorical interpretation – e.g., the relationship of the believer with Christ. In either case, I can find no reference to an eternal hope.
From here we move to the prophetic books of the Old Testament.
Reflections on Isaiah
The Israelites believe in a material recreation of the world. Much of their understanding comes from Isaiah. He prophesizes a time of universal peace: “And He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” This is a time when “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox; and dust shall be the serpent’s food. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, saith the LORD.” The prophets do not make clear how this eschatological hope unfolds, but from Isaiah you receive a clear picture of the temporal and eternal blending together.
Note another passage referring to this eschatological hope of a material recreation: “And He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering that is cast over all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever (nesah); and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of His people will He take away from off all the earth; for the LORD hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day: ‘Lo, this is our God, for whom we waited, that He might save us; this is the LORD, for whom we waited, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’” It is as though the temporal blends with the eternal; the distinction between the two vanishes.
“The sun shall be no more thy light by day, neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee; but the LORD shall be unto thee an everlasting (olam) light, and thy God thy glory. Thy sun shall no more go down, Neither shall thy moon withdraw itself; for the LORD shall be thine everlasting (olam) light, and the days of thy mourning shall be ended. Thy people also shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever; the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, wherein I glory. The smallest shall become a thousand, and the least a mighty nation; I the LORD will hasten it in its time.” This hope, offered to the nation of Israel, effortlessly combines the temporal and eternal in an eschatological promise.
In preparation for this time of renewal, God promises Judgment as a means of purging. This theme of judgment plays a prominent role in Isaiah. The people may perish, but God’s eternal commitment to the nation remains inviolable.
If God had not elected a nation such as Israel, the depravity of man is such that man would blot out any and all manifestations of God. As it was, Israel constantly played the whore with God, and only God’s persistent commitment to Israel kept her from totally stripping from her presence any and all manifestations of God. As He says: “O LORD our God, other lords beside Thee have had dominion over us; but by Thee only do we make mention of Thy name. The dead live not, the shades rise not; to that end hast Thou punished and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish. Thou hast gotten Thee honour with the nations, O LORD, yea, exceeding great honour with the nations; Thou art honoured unto the farthest ends of the earth.” What we know of God comes through the revelation of Himself to His elect nation, Israel.
In this context, Isaiah seems to speak of the resurrection: “Thy dead shall live, my dead bodies shall arise – awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust – for Thy dew is as the dew of light, and the earth shall bring to life the shades.” These are the bodies of Yahweh’s people. Note that Isaiah talks of the resurrection of the just, but makes no mention of the resurrection of the unjust. Evidently these righteous await the resurrection in Sheol.
Isaiah prophesizes: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting (ad) Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of [his] government and peace [there shall be] no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever (olam). The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” Notice how the JPS translates this: “For a child is born unto us, a son is given unto us; and the government is upon his shoulder; and his name is called ‘The Mighty God is planning grace; the Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler’ – In token of abundant authority and of peace without limit upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it through justice and through righteousness from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts doth perform this.” Although the two translations differ in regard to ascribing deity to the Son, both have in common that God will create a kingdom, with His anointed sitting on the throne of David.
As far as I can tell, the Old Testament saints never cried out to God that they could not properly relate to Him because of the inadequacy of the Law. I know of no place in the Old Testament where the author says his sins or the sins of others blocks the path to God – until we come to the sin of King David and his confession in Psalm 51. Also, Paul quotes David in Romans 4:7-8: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the sinner may be alienated from God, but such a person expresses no desire for a relationship with God. King David appears to be an anomaly in the Old Testament; he is the first to suggest that “a broken spirit and contrite heart” can bridge the gap between the sinner and God.
Eagerly awaiting His return,
 Chesterton, G.K., Collected Works, Vol. 1, Heretics, Orthodoxy, The Blatchford Controversies, Ignatious Press, San Francisco, 1986, pages 59-60
 Philippians 1:21, KJV
 Ecclesiastes 3:11, JPS
 Ecclesiastes 6:6, RSV
 Ecclesiastes 9:1-6, JPS
 Ecclesiastes 7:14, JPS
 Ecclesiastes 12:5, 7, 14
 Isaiah 2:4, JPS
 Isaiah 65:25, JPS
 Isaiah 25:7-9, JPS
 Isaiah 60:19-22, JPS
 “Shades” (repaim) refers to the spirits of the dead. This word repaim is also used in reference to the giants or Rephaim (cf., e.g., Deuteronomy 2:11).
 Isaiah 26:13-15, JPS
 Isaiah 26:19, JPS
 Isaiah 9:6-7, KJV
 Note in this translation, the son is not called “Mighty God, Everlasting Father,” but rather his name is “The Mighty God is planning grace, the Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.”
 Psalm 32:1-2, KJV
 Cf. Psalm 34:18 and 51:17