Blessings and Curses in the Bible in the Ancient Near East

We may not believe it, due to our materialistic bent, but blessings and curses are real and powerful in the 21st century. 

Blessings and curses were very personal acts.  Hebrew words translated as bless occur 131 times in 121 verses in the NASB translation of the Old Testament. Hebrew words translated as curse occur 105 times in 94 verses in the NASB translation of the Old Testament.

Blessings and curses were considered to release a very real power which could determine the character and destiny of the recipient (Genesis 27:12).  A blessing was considered to be a visitation of the grace of a god and a curse was considered to be the visitation of the judgment of a god.  Polytheists such as the Babylonians and Egyptians believed that pronouncing a blessing or curse could force the deity to do the will of the one who was performing the act. Monotheists such as the Jews (in their better days) believed that a blessing or curse simply reflected the future that the sovereign God had ordained.

Continue reading “Blessings and Curses in the Bible in the Ancient Near East”

Some Differences between Oral Societies in the Ancient Middle East and Modern Literary Societies.

Western societies are largely literary, while all societies in the past and many in the present, are largely oral. What is the difference?

The Near East in the late Bronze Age (3300 to 1200 BC) was composed of verbal, as opposed to literary, societies. Very few people could read or write and those who could were highly paid for their services. Communication, therefore, was predominately person to person without the intermediaries of books, recordings, and other media so prevalent today.

Continue reading “Some Differences between Oral Societies in the Ancient Middle East and Modern Literary Societies.”

What Happens When a Person Dies?

A Christian perspective on what happens to a person’s spirit when they die. 

Our family enjoyed Christmas vacation 2011 in Cordova Alaska with my mother in law, Susan.  She serves in the Cordova Community Baptist Church, the place where her late husband Richard pastored for 25 years and her son John pastored for 10 years.  She is deeply loved and respected and provides Bible knowledge and compassion to the Christians there.  Many people recently have asked her “what happens when a person dies?” and she posed the question to me.  Operating from the Christian context and under the assumption of the reliability of the Bible as the word of God, I will address it.

The evidence of what happens after death is sparse in the Old Testament and more complete in the New Testament.  The first question is what is the nature of man?  Biologically it is clear that the body deteriorates after death and its elements are taken up to be used by other living organisms.  If humans are merely physical it is hard to deny the fact that after death we simply cease to exist.  There is no other option.  Some may argue that we are reincarnated, but reincarnation presupposes that there is something in us besides the matter and energy that forms our bodies.  If we are nothing more than the carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements that are our building blocks, there is nothing to reincarnate.

If humans are a combination of physical and spiritual (material and immaterial) elements then while the body recycles to be used by another, the spiritual part either dies with the body or remains somewhere.

The Nature of Man – a hybrid of Material and Immaterial

Passage Notes
Genesis 2:7 God formed man out of the dust of the earth and breathed into him and he became a living soul (נפש nephesh – life, person, mind, living being).  This “breath of God” suggests that man has a non-material element
Job 32:8 There is a spirit (רוח ruwach – breath, wind, spirit) in man
Matthew 10:28 Do not fear him who can only kill the body but fear Him who can cast the soul into hell
Luke 1:46-47 In Mary’s Magnificat, she mentioned her soul (ψυχή psychē) and spirit (πνεῦμα pneuma)
Romans 8:16 The Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit
1 Thessalonians 5:23 Spirit (πνεῦμα pneuma), soul (ψυχή psychē) and body (σῶμα sōma) be preserved blameless
Hebrews 4:12 Word of God separates body and soul

The Old Testament passages suggest that the Hebrews seemed to have a vague concept of man having material and immaterial parts but saw man as essentially inseparable, with the body residing in Sheol (the grave) after death until it finally deteriorated into nothing.  Until late in the OT there is little concept of a bodily resurrection.  The fate of the immaterial part of man is not clear in the OT.  The New Testament Scriptures clearly describe the material and immaterial aspects of the man. Even the words of Jesus Himself teach that man has a body and a soul.

What Happens After Death

Passage Notes
Job 19:25-26 After my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh (בשר basar) I will see God
Psalm 16:9-11 God will not let His Holy One rot in the grave
Psalm 49:13-15 God will redeem His people from the realm of the dead
Isaiah 26:19 Your people have died but they will live again
Ezekiel 37:1-14 God took Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones and made the men live again.  This directly referred to the restoration of Israel but also implied the resurrection of the body.
Daniel 12:2 Many people who have already died will live again
Hosea 6:1-2 The people will be raised after two days.  This was also a prophecy of Christ.
Matthew 25:31-46 At the final judgment both the sheep and the goats will stand before God.
Mark 9:2-9 The Transfiguration
Luke 16:19-31 A rich man and a poor man (Lazarus) both die.  The rich man went to hell (ᾅδης hadēs) and saw Lazarus in heaven.
Luke 23:32-43 Jesus told the thief on the cross “Today you will be with Me in paradise.”
John 20, 21
1 Corinthians 15:12-58 One of the longest Bible passages on resurrection
2 Corinthians 5:8 To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord
Philippians 1:23 I desire to depart and be with Christ
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 The resurrection of the dead in rapture
Hebrews 9:27 It is appointed for a man once to die and then comes judgment

Both the Old and New Testament teach that the dead will be raised again, both the righteous and the unrighteous, but the NT teaching is much clearer.  The clearest proof that our bodies will be raised again is that Jesus’ body was raised again.  Therefore we may conclude that man is composed of both material and immaterial parts (body and spirit/soul).  He may have body, spirit and soul (three parts) but that question is not the focus of this work.  After the body dies it will eventually be reconstituted and raised again to eternal life, either with the Lord (which is Paradise) or without Him.  According to the Scriptures, reincarnation is not an option.

But what of the immaterial part of man?  Based on the Scriptures above we can be confident that the immaterial part of man is not destroyed with the body; it is immortal.  After physical death the immaterial part of each follower of Jesus goes immediately to be with the Lord and await the reunification with its body at the resurrection.  The immaterial part of those who do not know the Lord will be separated from the Lord and await the reunification with its body at the resurrection.  When the material and immaterial parts are reunited, each man will stand complete (body and spirit) before God to undergo judgment.  Those who accepted the Lord in this life will get their wish.  They will go into eternity with God. Those who rejected the Lord in this life will also get their wish.  They will go into eternity without Him.

One other note.  There seems to be a rumor circulating that people will be unrecognizable in heaven; therefore family members and spouses will not even know each other.  This is not biblical.  Peter recognized Moses and Elijah at the mount of the Transfiguration, the rich man recognized Lazarus and the disciples recognized Jesus after His resurrection.

Critical Methods and the Bible

Historical, literary, and form criticism can help us understand the Bible if we use them as tools and see ourselves as students, not judges.

Christians brought up believing that the Bible is not only a valid historical document but also the inspired and inerrant word of God may have a natural tendency towards disgust when they think about “higher criticism” of the Bible. “Higher” critics’ dissection of the Bible and search for the “Historical Jesus” seem to really have been an attack on the faith by godless men who in their vainglory thought that they were smarter than millions who had accepted the Bible for the previous 1900 years.  Looking through a paradigm of antisupernaturalism, Darwinism, mechanistic rationalism, and humanism, and knowing that these charlatans had derailed the Christian faith of many over the centuries, many may feel that these men who had caused so many to stumble would be better off having “milestones around their necks” and “being dropped into the depths of the sea.”

Continue reading “Critical Methods and the Bible”