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Bible Dictionaries

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology


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Place where the physical remains of a deceased person are interred. It is "the place appointed for all living" (Job 30:23 ). It is where all go, even animals (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 ). It is a place with no class distinctions (Job 3:14-19 ).

In Old Testament times, a person who touched a grave was unclean (Numbers 19:16-18 ). Thus almost all burials took place outside the city except for certain kings. Ezekiel prophesies that Judah will never again defile God's name with the corpses of their kings. The grave became a metaphor for human depravity. Paul quotes Psalm 5:9 ("their throat is an open grave") as part of his scriptural basis that all people are under sin ( Romans 3:9,13 ). Jesus compares some people in his day to whitewashed tombs that are beautiful on the outside but "full of dead men's bones and everything unclean" on the inside (Matthew 23:27 ). They are only outwardly righteous.

A grave could be a symbol of pride. Absalom followed the practice of ancient Near Eastern kings when he built himself a monument (2 Samuel 18:18 ). Isaiah proclaimed that no one had the right to build such arrogant structures. Shebna, the royal steward, was told that he would be hurled out of the country for chiseling out a resting place for himself on the high rock (Isaiah 22:15-19 ).

A grave might be a symbol of respect. Nehemiah remembered Jerusalem as the place of his father's grave (Nehemiah 2:5 ). Jacob set up a pillar to mark Rachel's tomb (Genesis 35:20 ). Not being interred in the family tomb was considered unthinkable. The anonymous prophet was punished in this way (1 Kings 13:22 ). Josiah did not desecrate this tomb out of respect for him (2 Kings 23:15-18 ). Jeroboam's baby was the only one good enough to deserve a burial (1 Kings 14:13 ).

To show disrespect for idolaters the dust of broken cult symbols was scattered over their graves (2 Chronicles 34:4 ). Josiah broke into the tombs at Bethel and burned the bones of the idolatrous priests upon the altar there to defile it (2 Kings 23:15-17 ). In Revelation 11:9 men do not bury the two witnesses to show contempt for them.

Graves at times symbolized hopelessness. The Gadarene demoniac made his home among the tombs (Mark 5:2 ). It is a place of no return, where there is gloom, deep shadow, and disorder (Job 10:21-22 ). There is no activity there (Psalm 88:5,16; Ecclesiastes 9:10 ). But it is not necessarily a final resting place. Human beings will lie there until the heavens are no more (Job 14:12 ). The tomb is not an "eternal home" but a "dark house" (Ecclesiastes 12:5 ).

A grave is also a symbol of hope, however. With the resurrection of Christ tombs in Jerusalem were opened and the dead came out (Matthew 27:52 ). When people threw a body into Elisha's grave, it came back to life (2 Kings 13:21 ). David's tomb reminded Peter of his prophecy that says, "You will not abandon me to the grave" (Acts 2:27-29 ). Jesus said that "all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out" (John 5:28-29 ). Christianity is still best represented by the empty grave (John 20:1-9 ).

Paul Ferguson

See also Burial; Death, Mortality; Funeral; Hell

Bibliography . W. Coleman, Today's Handbook of Bible Times and Customs; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel, vol. 1; N. J. Tromp, Primitive Conceptions of Death and the Nether World; H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament; R. Youngblood, A Tribute to Gleason Archer .

Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Grave'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 1996.

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