Human & Animal Existence
In the Old Testament Scriptures, people and animals who perished in the worldwide flood at the time of Noah, are joined together in the phrase “All in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life … died”.
This is a clear indication that the Word of God views the constitution of men and animals as fundamentally identical. The breath of life in every case appears to be the motive power of life, in both men and animals. It is as though there is no difference between the nature, or existence, of man or animals.
According to the Genesis account in the Bible, we are all alive in much the same way. This is so radically different a view from what is popularly conceived that we need to check up with other Scriptures, too. Here are a few statements about what death is like:
“Return, O Yahweh, deliver me! Oh, save me for your mercies’ sake! For in death there is no remembrance of you; In the grave who will give you thanks?” (Psalm 6:4,5);
“For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; nevermore will they have a share in anything done under the sun … Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going”
“Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish. Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in Yahweh his God” (Psalm 146:3-5);
“Sheol cannot thank you, death cannot praise you; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your truth. The living, the living man, he shall praise you, as I do this day; the father shall make known your truth to the children” (Isaiah 38:18,19).
After Death – What?
Thus, both in the wisdom and prophetic sections of the Bible, we see the same understanding expressed. Life is the time to serve the Lord, and Death is described as a state of unconsciousness and utter inactivity. Yet, it is also clear that faithful men, who had cause to think profoundly about the purpose of life, realized that things are in a sorry state indeed if there is nothing else after death – they would have no hope of continuance. Consider Job, who spoke in the extremity of his sufferings:
“Are not my days few? Cease! Leave me alone, that I may take a little comfort, before I go to the place from which I shall not return, to the land of darkness and the shadow of death, a land as dark as darkness itself, as the shadow of death, without any order, where even the light is like darkness” (Job 10:20-22).
“Hear my prayer, O Yahweh, And give ear to my cry; Do not be silent at my tears; For I am a stranger with you, a sojourner, as all my fathers were. Remove your gaze from me, that I may regain strength, before I go away and am no more” (Psalm 39:12,13).
Escape from Death
Both these faithful men came to realize that there is something that can happen after death, that the soul – the life force from God – need not be lost for ever. There were indications of that prospect. Both Job and David were inspired to utter words that looked forward to the prospect of resurrection. And, as God’s purpose unfolded, there were actual indications of people being brought back from the unconscious state of death, like the miracles done by the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
Events like that gave hope to people in the Old Testament who knew there was only one solution to the inescapable problem of death. But what other indications were there?
“Laid to Rest”
Some have seen the promise of continued life immediately after death in the expression concerning those in the Old Testament who were “gathered unto their fathers” when they died. But this is not a fair conclusion, for, as a little research will show, the expression means simply ‘to be buried’. For example, God said to faithful Abraham: “You shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age” (Genesis 15:15).
That could hardly mean that, after death, his soul would go to dwell in peace with his ancestors in heaven, for they were idolaters, who had worshipped strange gods. The true meaning of this is made clear in the New Testament where the apostle Paul, speaking in similar terms of King David, says:
“David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption” (Acts 13:36);
whilst the apostle Peter says:
“Let me speak freely to you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day … David did not ascend into the heavens” (Acts 2:29,34).
Plainly, going to one’s fathers means being buried in the grave, and that agrees precisely with the comment of Solomon that: “All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust” (Ecclesiastes 3:20).
Wherever you look in the Old Testament the message is the same.