As we noted in the last issue, no general word exits for time in Hebrew, nor for ideas like past, present, future, and eternity. From this we noted that the context seldom helps; mostly you must decide on the basis of your theological bias.
Beginning with this issue we will briefly look at the book of Esther, and then the devotional literature of the Old Testament – Job through Ecclesiastes.
Reflections on Esther
Many have questioned the presence of the book of Esther in the Old Testament. You find no mention of God in the book. Words like “forever, everlasting, eternal, redemption, forgiveness, forgive, brokenness, dependence, contrite, spirit,” cannot be found. You find no reference to relating to God, either as a nation or as an individual, much less expressing an eternal hope.
Mordecai required the daughter of his uncle to compete for the hand of a pagan monarch in a beauty contest in which each contestant spent one night with the king, after which, if she did not “win,” she spent the rest of her life in his harem. God had expressly forbidden Jews marring outside of their race, as so forcefully illustrated in both Ezra and Nehemiah. Nothing about Mordecai affirms that he followed Yahweh in any meaningful way. Esther makes no reference to her own faith in God. The most you can say about her is she obeyed Mordecai, her authority figure.
Reflections on Job
Although the authorship and date of Job remain a mystery, the following can be deduced from internal evidence: Job wishes to engage God in conversation, expecting such to be possible, and shows no surprise when God at last comes to him. You find a highly developed moral code throughout the book; the author makes frequent reference to not abusing the widow, orphan and poor. We see in the book that Job was not deceitful and walked in integrity, and considers adultery wrong. Bildad says: “How then can man be righteous before God? How can he who is born of woman be clean? Behold, even the moon is not bright and the stars are not clean in his sight; how much less man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!” In this he shows that he believes in the depravity of man. No reference is made to the Mosaic Law, and Job offers sacrifices for his family. Still, you find no unclean animals (such as pigs) in his flocks, nor are any mentioned in the book. In light of this, Job probably takes place sometime between the Flood and the Exodus, and may have been written by Moses whose education in Pharaoh’s court prepared him for his literary work.
One of the most familiar passages in Job dealing with an eternal hope comes from the mouth of Job himself: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then from my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!” Because this seems to be an oasis in a desert of eternal hopelessness, I spent time trying to decipher what Job says. Keil-Delitzsch seems to give the best interpretation: “God Himself will avenge Job’s blood, i.e. against his accusers, who say that it is the blood of one who is guilty… We cannot in this speech find that the hope of a bodily recovery is expressed… he looks for certain death, and will hear nothing of the consolation of recovery (ch. xvii. 10-16), which sounds to him as mere mockery; that he, however, notwithstanding, does not despair of God, but by the consciousness of his innocence and the uncharitableness of the friends, is more and more impelled from the God of wrath and caprice to the God of love, his future Redeemer; and that then, when at the end of the course of suffering the actual proof of God’s love breaks through the seeming manifestation of wrath, even that which God had not ventured to hope is realized: a return of temporal prosperity beyond his entreaty and comprehension.” However, even if we take exception with this Old Testament commentator, we still find no promise of an eternal hope given by God.
Let’s look at another passage needing analysis: “If a man die, may he live again? All the days of my service would I wait, till my relief should come.” Again Keil and Delitzsch say: “…Job wishes that Hades (Sheol), into which the wrath of God now precipitates him for ever, may only be a temporary place of safety for him, until the wrath of God turn away… that God would appoint to him… and when this limit should be reached, again remember him in mercy. This is a wish that Job marks out for himself. The reality is indeed different: ‘if a man dies, will he live again?’ The answer that Job’s consciousness, ignorant of anything better, alone can give is: No, there is no life after death. It is, however, none the less a craving of his heart that gives rise to the wish; it is the most favorable thought, – a desirable possibility, – which, if it were but a reality, would comfort him under all present suffering: ‘all the days of my warfare would I wait until my change came.’” As Job says in a rhetorical question, “But man dieth, and lieth low; yea, man perisheth, and where is he?” The context of his remarks suggests that he would answer, “he doesn’t continue to live!”
The thesis of the book requires a belief in judgment and accountability after death. The argument of Bildad, Zophar and Eliphaz centers on the idea that Justice demands accountability and that right verses wrong is more than an abstract concept in the mind of man. Job does not argue against such reasoning, but rather that you cannot guarantee that you can find it in this life. The Law of the Harvest requires an afterlife where the just and unjust reap what they have sown.
If Job in fact had an eternal hope, evidenced from these verses, it seems to me that its significance would have been so overwhelming that he would not have ignored it through the rest of his discourses. Instead, Job says, “When a cloud vanishes, it is gone, So he who goes down to Sheol does not come up.”
The word “conscience” does not appear in Job. Still, he appeals to his conscience when defending himself against Providence, and uses this in rebutting his three friends.
When Elihu enters the dialogue late in the book, he says: “Then He is gracious unto him, and saith: ‘Deliver him from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom.’ His flesh is tenderer than a child’s; he returneth to the days of his youth; He prayeth unto God, and He is favourable unto him; so that he seeth His face with joy; and He restoreth unto man his righteousness. He cometh before men, and saith: ‘I have sinned, and perverted that which was right, and it profited me not.’ So He redeemeth his soul from going into the pit, and his life beholdeth the light.” Note Elihu’s use of words in these verses: “ransom” and “redeemed.” The context appears to be temporal rather than eternal; God will deliver Job from his temporal consequences. The word “redeemer” appears only in Job 19:25, discussed above, and “redeem” as follows: “In famine He will redeem thee from death; and in war from the power of the sword.” Here Eliphaz, in seeking to show that you can apply the Law of the Harvest to the temporal, argues that God will redeem the righteous from premature death. “’Deliver me from the adversary’s hand’? or: ‘Redeem me from the hand of the oppressors’?” In his rebuttal to Eliphaz, Job questions the assertion that God redeems people from temporal circumstances.
For years I assumed the presence of an eternal hope in the Old Testament based on passages such as those discussed above. When I strip my mind of all assumptions, seeking to resist reading back into the Old Testament the hope proffered in the New Testament, I find the eternal hope evaporating. I don’t mean by this that the Old Testament saints necessarily lacked an eternal hope, only that God did not offer them an eternal hope.
As stated in the first issue, Hebrews 11 clearly teaches that the Patriarchs had an eternal hope. However, with the frequent expression of God’s people anticipating Sheol, I am left wondering if the Old Testament saints actually had an eternal hope, or whether the New Testament imputes such a hope to them.
Consider the three words “selfless,” “selfish,” and “self-interest.” The New Testament encourages “self-interest;” it discourages “selfishness.” You manifest “selfishness” vis-à-vis “self-interest” when resources are limited. Because the resources of heaven are inexhaustible, God motivates the believer with “self-interest.”
Because, in the Old Testament, God makes no promise of eternal life to the individual, He admonishes His people to be “selfless” rather than “selfish.” Combined with this you note in the Old Testament the absence of the worth of the individual and the presence of an emphasis on the communal good as an end in itself rather than as the means by which to accrue eternal gain.
Man has always perceived that he can escape the temporal consequences of his behavior, if he does not overdue it. What person has not exceeded the speed limit? Of course, the more successful you are in escaping such consequences, the more bold you become in stretching your luck. You can see why, to the degree that a person does not believe in eternal consequences for temporal behavior, he will make morality relative in his own life, committing all manner of evil. This appears to be the case with the Hebrews in the Old Testament. Their behavior was not all that different from that of their pagan neighbors, simply because they saw no temporal benefit from obeying God. As we will note in the next issue, in David’s Psalms he talks about such people, and how they don’t appear to be held accountable.
Seeking to be His obedient servant,
 Job 25:4 – 5
 Job 19:25-27, RSV
 Keil, C.F. and Delitzsch, F., Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1976, vol. 4, pp. 354-357
 Job 14:14, JPS
 Op cit. Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary of the Old Testament, vol. 4, pp. 230-231
 Job 14:10, JPS
 The belief that a person will reap what he sows
 Job 7:9, NAS. Cf. also Job 10:21-22.
 Job 33:24-28, JPS
 Elihu uses the word again in Job 36:18; these are the only two times in Job.
 Job 5:20, JPS
 Job 6:23, JPS
 Cf., e.g., Psalm 6:5