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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Physiological and Figurative View
The word "Death " is used in the sense of (1) The process of dying (Genesis 21:16 ); (2) The period of decease (Genesis 27:7 ); (3) as a possible synonym for poison (2 Kings 4:40 ); (4) as descriptive of person in danger of perishing (Judges 15:18; "in deaths oft" 2 Corinthians 11:23 ). In this sense the shadow of death is a familiar expression in Job, the Psalms and the Prophets; (5) death is personified in 1 Corinthians 15:55 and Revelation 20:14 . Deliverance from this catastrophe is called the "issues from death" (Psalm 68:20 the King James Version; translated "escape" in the Revised Version (British and American)). Judicial execution, "putting to death," is mentioned 39 times in the Levitical Law.
Figuratively: Death is the loss of spiritual life as in Romans 8:6; and the final state of the unregenerate is called the "second death" in Revelation 20:14 .
1. Conception of Sin and Death
According to Genesis 2:17 , God gave to man, created in His own image, the command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and added thereto the warning, "in the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die." Though not exclusively, reference is certainly made here in the first place to bodily death. Yet because death by no means came upon Adam and Eve on the day of their transgression, but took place hundreds of years later, the expression, "in the day that," must be conceived in a wider sense, or the delay of death must be attributed to the entering-in of mercy (Genesis 3:15 ). However this may be, Genesis 2:17 places a close connection between man's death and his transgression of God's commandment, thereby attaching to death a religious and ethical significance, and on the other hand makes the life of man dependent on his obedience to God. This religious-ethical nature of life and death is not only decidedly and clearly expressed in Gen 2, but it is the fundamental thought of the whole of Scripture and forms an essential element in the revelations of salvation. The theologians of early and more recent times, who have denied the spiritual significance of death and have separated the connection between ethical and physical life, usually endeavor to trace back their opinions to Scripture; and those passages which undoubtedly see in death a punishment for sin ( Genesis 2:17; John 8:44; Romans 5:12; Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:21 ), they take as individual opinions, which form no part of the organism of revelation. But this endeavor shuts out the organic character of the revelation of salvation. It is true that death in Holy Scripture is often measured by the weakness and frailty of human nature (Genesis 3:19; Job 14:1 , Job 14:12; Psalm 39:5 , Psalm 39:6; Psalm 90:5; Psalm 103:14 , Psalm 103:15; Ecclesiastes 3:20 , etc.). Death is seldom connected with the transgression of the first man either in the Old Testament or the New Testament, or mentioned as a specified punishment for sin (John 8:44; Romans 5:12; Romans 6:23; 1 Corinthians 15:21; James 1:15 ); for the most part it is portrayed as something natural (Genesis 5:5; Genesis 9:29; Genesis 15:15; Genesis 25:8 , etc.), a long life being presented as a blessing in contrast to death in the midst of days as a disaster and a judgment (Psalm 102:23 f; Isaiah 65:20 ). But all this is not contrary to the idea that death is a consequence of, and a punishment for, sin. Daily, everyone who agrees with Scripture that death is held out as a punishment for sin, speaks in the same way. Death, though come into the world through sin, is nevertheless at the same time a consequence of man's physical and frail existence now; it could therefore be threatened as a punishment to man, because he was taken out of the ground and was made a living soul, of the earth earthy (Genesis 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:45 , 1 Corinthians 15:47 ). If he had remained obedient, he would not have returned to dust (Genesis 3:19 ), but have pressed forward on the path of spiritual development (1 Corinthians 15:46 , 1 Corinthians 15:51 ); his return to dust was possible simply because he was made from dust (see ADAM IN THE NEW TESTAMENT ). Thus, although death is in this way a consequence of sin, yet a long life is felt to be a blessing and death a disaster and a judgment, above all when man is taken away in the bloom of his youth or the strength of his years. There is nothing strange, therefore, in the manner in which Scripture speaks about death; we all express ourselves daily in the same way, though we at the same time consider it as the wages of sin. Beneath the ordinary, everyday expressions about death lies the deep consciousness that it is unnatural and contrary to our innermost being.
2. The Meaning of Death
This is decidedly expressed in Scripture much more so even than among ourselves. For we are influenced always more or less by the Greek, Platonic idea, that the body dies, yet the soul is immortal. Such an idea is utterly contrary to the Israelite consciousness, and is nowhere found in the Old Testament. The whole man dies, when in death the spirit ( Psalm 146:4; Ecclesiastes 12:7 ), or soul (Genesis 35:18; 2 Samuel 1:9; 1 Kings 17:21; Jonah 4:3 ), goes out of a man. Not only his body, but his soul also returns to a state of death and belongs to the nether-world; therefore the Old Testament can speak of a death of one's soul (Genesis 37:21 (Hebrew); Numbers 23:10 m; Deuteronomy 22:21; Judges 16:30; Job 36:14; Psalm 78:50 ), and of defilement by coming in contact with a dead body (Leviticus 19:28; Leviticus 21:11; Leviticus 22:4; Numbers 5:2; Numbers 6:6; Numbers 9:6; Numbers 19:10; Deuteronomy 14:1; Haggai 2:13 ). This death of man is not annihilation, however, but a deprivation of all that makes for life on earth. The Sheol (
3. Light in the Darkness
The dread of death was felt much more deeply therefore by the Israelites than by ourselves. Death to them was separation from all that they loved, from God, from His service, from His law, from His people, from His land, from all the rich companionship in which they lived. But now in this darkness appears the light of the revelation of salvation from on high. The God of Israel is the living God and the fountain of all life (Deuteronomy 5:26; Joshua 3:10; Psalm 36:9 ). He is the Creator of heaven and earth, whose power knows no bounds and whose dominion extends over life and death (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6; Psalm 90:3 ). He gave life to man (Genesis 1:26; Genesis 2:7 ), and creates and sustains every man still (Job 32:8; Job 33:4; Job 34:14; Psalm 104:29; Ecclesiastes 12:7 ). He connects life with the keeping of His law and appoints death for the transgression of it (Genesis 2:17; Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 30:20; Deuteronomy 32:47 ). He lives in heaven, but is present also by His spirit in Sheol (Psalm 139:7 , Psalm 139:8 ). Sheol and Abaddon are open to Him even as the hearts of the children of men (Job 26:6; Job 38:17; Proverbs 15:11 ). He kills and makes alive, brings down into Sheol and raises from thence again (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6; 2 Kings 5:7 ). He lengthens life for those who keep His commandments (Exodus 20:12; Job 5:26 ), gives escape from death, can deliver when death menaces (Psalm 68:20; Isaiah 38:5; Jeremiah 15:20; Daniel 3:26 ), can take Enoch and Elijah to Himself without dying (Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11 ), can restore the dead to life (1 Kings 17:22; 2 Kings 4:34; 2 Kings 13:21 ). He can even bring death wholly to nothing and completely triumph over its power by rising from the dead (Job 14:13-15; Job 19:25-27; Hosea 6:2; Hosea 13:14; Isaiah 25:8; Isaiah 26:19; Ezekiel 37:11 , Ezekiel 37:12; Daniel 12:2 ).
4. Spiritual Significance
This revelation by degrees rejects the old contrast between life on earth and the disconsolate existence after death, in the dark place of Sheol, and puts another in its place. The physical contrast between life and death gradually makes way for the moral and spiritual difference between a life spent in the fear of the Lord, and a life in the service of sin. The man who serves God is alive (Genesis 2:17 ); life is involved in the keeping of His commandments (Leviticus 18:5; Deuteronomy 30:20 ); His word is life (Deuteronomy 8:3; Deuteronomy 32:47 ). Life is still for the most part understood to mean length of days (Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 10:30; Isaiah 65:20 ). Nevertheless it is remarkable that Prov often mentions death and Sheol in connection with the godless (Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 5:5; Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 9:18 ), and on the other hand only speaks of life in connection with the righteous. Wisdom, righteousness, the fear of the Lord is the way of life (Proverbs 8:35 , Proverbs 8:36; Proverbs 11:19; Proverbs 12:28; Proverbs 13:14; Proverbs 14:27; Proverbs 19:23 ). The wicked is driven away in his wickedness, but the righteous hath hope in his death (Proverbs 14:32 ). Blessed is he who has the Lord for his God (Deuteronomy 33:29; Psalm 1:1 , Psalm 1:2; Psalm 2:12; Psalm 32:1 , Psalm 32:2; Psalm 33:12; Psalm 34:9 , etc.); he is comforted in the greatest adversity (Psalm 73:25-28; Habakkuk 3:17-19 ), and sees a light arise for him behind physical death (Genesis 49:18; Job 14:13-15; Job 16:16-21; Job 19:25-27; Psalm 73:23-26 ). The godless on the contrary, although enjoying for a time much prosperity, perish and come to an end (Psalm 1:4-6; Psalm 73:18-20; Isaiah 48:22; Malachi 4:3 , etc.).
The righteous of the Old Testament truly are continually occupied with the problem that the lot of man on earth often corresponds so little to his spiritual worth, but he strengthens himself with the conviction that for the righteous it will be well, and for the wicked, ill (Ecclesiastes 8:12 , Ecclesiastes 8:13; Isaiah 3:10 , Isaiah 3:11 ). If they do not realize it in the present, they look forward to the future and hope for the day in which God's justice will extend salvation to the righteous, and His anger will be visited on the wicked in judgment. So in the Old Testament the revelation of the new covenant is prepared wherein Christ by His appearance hath abolished death and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10 ). See ABOLISH . This everlasting life is already here on earth presented to man by faith, and it is his portion also in the hour of death (John 3:36; John 11:25 , John 11:26 ). On the other hand, he who lives in sin and is disobedient to the Son of God, is in his living dead (Matthew 8:22; Luke 15:32; John 3:36; John 8:24; Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13 ); he shall never see life, but shall pass by bodily death into the second death (Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:6 , Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:8 ).
5. Death in Non-Christian Religions and in Science
This view of Scripture upon death goes much deeper than that which is found in other religions, but it nevertheless receives support from the unanimous witness of humanity with regard to its unnaturalness and dread. The so-called nature-peoples even feel that death is much more of an enigma than life; Tiele ( Inleiding tot de goddienst-artenschap ,
Finally, Scripture is not the book of death, but of life, of everlasting life through Jesus Christ our Lord. It tells us, in oft-repeated and unmistakable terms, of the dreaded reality of death, but it proclaims to us still more loudly the wonderful power of the life which is in Christ Jesus. See also
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Death'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/d/death.html. 1915.