Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise, O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! Isaiah 26:19
To wrap up this series of reflections on resurrection, I will consider a few of the biblical references to it. As I mentioned in an earlier Life Note, I do not find the Bible very informative or definitive about issues of the afterlife and resurrection, outside of the resurrection of Jesus. It seems certain that these issues were not as top of mind to the biblical authors as they are for us today. Although I do not know the reason, I suspect it may have to do with our current obsession with ourselves as individuals, as opposed to our membership as part of a larger community. It is easier to see generations of people perpetuating into the future than it is for individuals. Two religious groups that Jesus often challenged, the Pharisees and the Sadducces, held opposite beliefs about the resurrection, with the Sadducces denying there was a resurrection. Clearly, humankind has disagreed about it for quite some time, and nothing I say here will resolve the disagreement.
The Isaiah passage, copied above, says the dead will rise, awaken, and sing for joy. The context of this passage is Isaiah’s message that the long string of defeats and history of oppression experienced by the Israelites will end in victory. God will neither forget nor fail to redeem the people. Taken literally, these words point to a bodily resurrection. Taken metaphorically, the passage might refer to those who have been so beaten down by their life circumstances that they act as if they were dead. God will awaken them from their deathly stupor and restore them to a happier, livelier state of being. Either interpretation indicates a resurrection, with the former pointing to a resurrection after our physical death.
In Psalm 49:15, it is written, “But God will ransom my soul from the powers of Sheol, for he will receive me.” Sheol is a frequent biblical reference to the place of the dead. It is not always referenced in either a positive or negative manner but as a place where the dead go. The context of this Psalm is that we should not trust in riches. The Psalmist seems to be saying that yes, we will go to Sheol, but that God will rescue or resurrect us.
In Hosea 6:2, the prophet writes, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” This verse is part of a call to repentance. It reminds us of how Jesus said he would be killed and raised on the third day. Later in Hosea, God, speaking through the prophet says, “Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death?” (Hosea 13:14a). The context of this latter verse is God expressing how Israel will be judged. It implies that God may or may not resurrect people from the power of death.
Finally, in the 12th chapter of the book of Daniel, it is written, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake” (12:2). This part of Daniel seems very much to address the resurrection of at least some of the dead, although not necessarily immediately after physical death. The section that precedes this one refers to “the time of the end” (Daniel 11:40). That “end” might be read as the end of time, the end of humanity, or the end of the reign of the ruling powers in Daniel’s time.
In most of the biblical references to resurrection, as with many passages in the Bible, it is left to the reader to discern whether to interpret the words literally or metaphorically. For me, I usually find the metaphorical readings more informative and helpful. It is further left to the reader to decide if the resurrection is that of individuals or of a collective of people, like a race or a nation.
As threatening and frightening as many of the Bible’s references to the end times and to our individual deaths are, there is good news in the readings. All the Bible’s stories of death, judgement, and various threats of punishment end with God’s assurance of forgiveness. No matter how frustrated or angry God becomes with the Israelites, God always offers a way out, a hand up, a loving acceptance back into the fold. Therein lies our hope for resurrection, regardless of its exact nature. Using the biblical stories of the nation of Israel as a metaphor for our lives today, God eventually rescues us from our trespasses and assures our continuance.
This is the 10th in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.
Prefer to listen? Subscribe to Life Notes Podcasts at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/life-notes-podcast/id1403068000