Death without Frills
Job finds himself in an impossible situation. The proverbial Catch 22. His suffering is so great that one of the few thoughts that bring him any comfort is the thought of death. Yet, even death holds no comfort since he knows that it will only leave him worse off than before. Think about it. On the one hand, there are times when he passionately longs for the grave, extolling it as a realm of “peace” where “the weary are at rest.” (Job 3:13) But on the other hand, he knows in his heart of hearts the grave is the one thing to be feared more than anything else, because it is the “place of no return . . . of deep shadow and disorder” (Job 10:21-22).
What a grim realist Job is! He knows there must be some way out of this impasse, and yet he also knows that whatever the answer is, it is something dark and obscure. As we have seen, even in conventional Israelite theology there was no reason to look forward to anything good after death. For everyone who died, there was one common destiny. As David lamented to the Lord in Psalm 6:5, “No one remembers you when you are dead. Who praises you from the grave?” As the author of Ecclesiastes observed, “All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward?” (Ecclesiastes 3:20-21).
For those of us who live in the “age of grace,” it is very difficult to understand how Old Testament believers could ever have sustained their faith in God. Remember that after Jesus died the “veil separating the Holiest place in the Temple was split from top to bottom.” It says, “The earth shook, rocks split and graves where opened. It then goes on to say, “Tombs were opened. (A number of bodies of holy men who were asleep in death rose again. They left their graves after Jesus’ resurrection and entered the holy city and appeared to many people).” The rending of the curtain meant several things. For one thing, it meant that full atonement had been made and that Christ had gone through the veil into the presence of the Father. It meant that the high priestly ministry of Jesus made a human priesthood unnecessary between man and God and that all Christians have immediate access to God the Father, without any intermediaries except Christ himself. On top of all that, it meant that those who had died were ushered into the presence of God! (see Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:18; 3:12; Hebrews 7:23-28; 9:12, 24; 10:19, 20). Sheol was no more, and Heaven became our destiny!
This was not the case for Job and the believers of old. If you think of it, what possible hope was there for the dying? We can sidestep this question by dismissing pre-Christian views of the afterlife as simply being vague and indistinct. If anything, the Old Testament writers saw very clearly into this matter. What they saw was totally different from what any of the other cultures all around them saw. They saw in death the great, gaping, terrifying opposite of everything that was good in this present life. For the most part, they never talk about the “hereafter” much. What was there to say? Unlike the Egyptians, for example, pious Jews had no interest in spiritualism or the occult or in any esoteric knowledge of Heaven or the underworld. They also did not have anything to do with elaborate funeral rituals designed to expedite the soul on its “final journey.” Actually, their death was a death without frills. It is one of the great distinguishing marks of the Hebrew Bible that it refuses either to idealize or to mythologize death. It shows absolute scorn for any attempt to fill in the intolerable blank of the grave with man-made fantasies.
Soon we will see the Lord admonish Job in His great speech out of the whirlwind, “Have the gates of death been shown to you? Have you seen the gates of deep shadows?” (Job 38:17). If the Old Testament prophets had little to say on this issue, it was simply because little had been revealed to them by God. They said what they had been authorized to say, and no more. Like Job himself, they saw death for exactly what it was—a “land of gloom and deep shadow” where “the dead are in deep anguish.”
Without an understanding of Job’s view on death, we will never be able to understand the sheer boldness and originality of Job’s proposed solution. Job suggests in 14:3 that he might be “hidden in the grave” until God’s “anger has passed” and then, at a set time, be “remembered.” Think about it, isn’t this the plan of resurrection which began to be fulfilled on Easter morning?
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