Relevant Verses: Deut. 4:5-8; 13-14; 5:22-33
Leading Question: “For you, what is most puzzling about human nature, the most difficult to explain?”
The official study guides defines the point of this week’s lesson as two fold: “This week we will consider how the Old Testament defines human nature and the condition of human beings at death”
To do that we have to make some comparisons between Genesis 1 and 2. I was drawn to this comparison by a question from an elderly Adventist pastor who was beginning to see things in the Bible that he hadn’t see before. Initially I didn’t understand the point of his question. But gradually the light began to dawn.
He was puzzled by the contrast between the story of creation in Genesis 1 and the description of how God created the first man in Genes 2:7. In Genesis 1, God didn’t touch anyone or anything: He just spoke things into existence (“Look, ma – no hands!”)
But in Genesis 2 God actively shapes the clay into a living being. Suddenly, some pieces fell together for me: “In Genesis , it was important to keep the distance between God and his creation. God did not touch anything or anyone.’
But the resulting picture of God was austere, and impersonal. So Scripture includes another story where God is personal and hands on. The pictures contrast with each other, but complement each other. We need both to make the scene complete
Question: Does the human being have a soul? Or is he a soul? The answer to that question is a hearty “yes!” The biblical words (Hebrew in the OT, Greek in the NT) for the parts of the human being are clear but puzzling.
In Genesis 1:2, the Hebrew word ruach is translated by the KJV as “spirit”: “The spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” The NRSV reads the “wind of God” as do several other translations. But the third meaning of ruach, “breath,” is vividly illustrated in the story of the crossing of the Red Sea. In the more historical narrative of the Exodus in Exod. 14:21, “The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind (ruach).” But in the poetic chapter, Exodus 15:8, the text speaks of the “blast (ruach) of your nostrils.”
In short, ruach simply refers to air in motion: wind, breath, or spirit. In the Greek NT the word pneuma (pneuma) covers the same ground: breath, spirit, wind.
The same applies to the word for soul. The Hebrew is nephesh, the Greek word is psyche, which English-speaking readers link with the word psychology, the study of the psyche. The KJV interprets the word most frequently as “life” (40x) or “soul” (58x). Where this becomes particularly interesting for our lessons this quarter is the use of these words to refer to the “immortal soul” or “spirit.” And when the Bible talks about the “spirit” returning to God who gave it, (Eccl. 12:7), it means nothing more than life! Never in Scripture is there something called the spirit or soul that has a conscious existence apart from the body!
Thus, in Ezek. 18:4, the soul (or person) that sins shall die! In the Bible we don’t have immortal souls we have dead souls! Ecclesiastes 9:5 gives us one of the most pointed statements about the human condition in death: “The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing” (NRSV).
Question: Where do people go when they die? Downstairs! Into the basement! The Hebrew word is sheol. In poetry, the picture of sheol is vivid. A good example is provided in Isaiah 14:9-11 as it describes the fate of the king of Babylon arriving in sheol. The translation here is CEV where sheol is translated as “the world of the dead”:
The world of the dead (= sheol) eagerly waits for you. With great excitement, the spirits of ancient rulers hear about your coming. 10 Each one of them will say, “Now you are just as weak as any of us! 11 Your pride and your music have ended here in the world of the dead (= sheol) Worms are your blanket, maggots are your bed.”
Question: Why are the OT patriarchs described as resting with their forefathers when they die?
The death and burial of Abraham (Gen. 25:8) is a classic OT description of the death of the aged and ties in with the picture of sheol.
Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. (ESV)