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3 4 . LIFE, DEATH, AND RESURRECTION We have Seen that in the apocalyptic vision human history moves toward the inevitable triumph of the dominion of God over all the forces of evil. Discussion of the grand finale would be incomplete without considering one of the major con­ tributions of apocalyptic literature to biblical theology: the hope for the resurrec­ tion of the dead. This theme, of course, dominates the whole New Testament. Indeed, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is proclaimed to be the sign of God's apoc­ alyptic triumph over the powers of sin, darkness, and death, as we shall see later. Apocalyptic interpreters announced that in the justice of God a place will be prepared for the martyrs who die before God's final triumph. They have not died in vain, for at the consummation God will raise them up in transformed bodily form to take part in a new community. Making One's Grave in Sheol This apocalyptic hope was a deviation from the traditional view in ancient Israel that there is no real life after death, except in the minimal sense of a shadowy exis­ tence in Sheol, the land of the dead. According to the ancient pictorial view of the universe, Sheol is located beneath the earth in the subterranean waters of chaos.1 In Sheol there is no sense of community, no memory, no activity, and hence no praise of God (Ps. 115:17)—all that invests life with meaning. In a lament, where faith sinks into despair, a suppliant asks God: Who among the dead celebrates Your miracles? Do shadows2 rise to praise You? Do those in the Grave tell o} Your kindness? Is Your love proclaimed in Ruin? Are your wonders declared in Darkness? Is Yourjustice announced in fbe Land oj Forget? —Ps. 88:10-12 (trans. Steven Bishop) A psalm found in the book of Jonah (chap. 2) pictures the experience of approaching death as a person sinking into the deep waters of Sheol (w. 3-6), 1. See the sketch of the ancient pictorial view of the universe by Joan Anderson in my Understanding (fee Old Testament (abridged paperback ed.; Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1997), 408, and the adaptation of that sketch here, fig. 6 in chapter 23. 2. NRSV, NJPSV, and others translates "shades." A shade is a disembodied spirit or ghost—a shadow of one's former self. 312 Life, Death, and Resurrection 313 when "life was ebbing away",- and other psalms describe deliverance from death as being rescued from the "mighty waters" (Ps. 18:16) and being restored to "the land of the living" (Ps. 27:13,- 116:9). Psalm 18 (=2 Samuel 22), a royal thanksgiving, portrays deliverance from the threat of death in this powerful, mythopoetic lan­ guage (w. 4-18). Among Israel's neighbors was a cult of the dead, including the practice of necromancy—communication with the spirits of the dead (Deut. 18:11). In the land of Israel necromancy was officially scorned, and was emphatically negated in the book of Ecclesiastes (9:5-6). There were, however, exceptions at the level of popular religion, as illustrated by the story of Saul's consulting the medium of Endor, who brought up the shade (ghost) of Samuel to forecast the outcome of the battle of Gilboa (1 Samuel 28). The description of Saul's visit as clandestine, by night, implies that such occult practices were banned (1 Sam. 28:3). Faith in Yahweh, the Lord of life, was characterized by a healthy this-worldliness. Death, especially at a ripe old age, was regarded as an aspect of the goodness of God's creation. The Dynamic View of Life and Death Some of Israel's psalms indicate that death is something more than a biological event that occurs when the heart stops beating and consciousness is extinguished. Life is constantly a struggle with the power of death, which threatens an individ­ ual and reduces the vitality of the nephesh ("self"—not "soul" in the Greek sense) almost to the vanishing point. Most people today think of death as an event that occurs at the end of life,- but in the view of Israel's psalmists, death's power is at work in us now, during our historical existence. Death's power is felt in the midst of life to the degree that one experiences any weakening of personal vitality through illness, bodily handicap, imprisonment, attack from enemies, or advanc­ ing old age. Any...


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