CHAPTER 5

JEWISH ORIGIN OF THE DOCTRINE OF FUTURE RETRIBUTION

 

Standing at our point of vision, in the age of the Maccabees, we have seen a great river of belief and emotion as to the retributions of a future life flowing by us. It is not, however, merely belief in a future life and future retributions, but still more specifically in a resurrection of the body. We have also considered an effort to find the great fountain-heads of this river in Persia, and not in Judea. This view we have declined to accept. We are willing to concede that not only the Persians, but also the Egyptians and the Greeks, did exert an influence on Jewish thought and belief. Of what kind it was, and to what degree exerted, will be considered elsewhere. But that the original, main, deep current of thought and belief as to a future life and its retributions originated with any of these nations, there is no good reason to believe.

On the other hand, there is decisive evidence that it originated from the divine system disclosed in the Old Testament, and the beginnings of which long preceded the law of Moses.

Historical Positions.

In opposition to the theory of Persian origin, we lay down these historical positions:

1. The idea of a future life and of its retributions is wrought, in the most impressive manner, into the fundamental history of the Old Testament, a history ever before the mind of the Jews, while that of Persia was remote and unknown.

2. The belief in a future life and its retributions is implied and assumed in the covenant with Abraham and his descendants, which preceded the law of Moses by four hundred and thirty years.

3. This belief was cherished and avowed by the patriarchs before they went down toEgypt, and in Egypt. Moses also in Egypt cherished the same.

4. This belief was clearly and fully developed in the religious experience recorded in the book of Psalms, long before the Jews had come in contact with the Persians.

5. The covenant with the patriarchs as to their personal possession of the land of Canaan was such as to suggest to them the doctrine of the resurrection.

6. The most ancient and influential Jewish Rabbis, and among them Gamaliel, the teacher of Paul, positively and decidedly assert that the doctrine of the resurrection did arise from this source, thus, in effect, positively denying its Persian origin.

7. The doctrine was taught in the book of Psalms, and by Isaiah and Hosea, before the Jews came in contact with the Persians, as well as by Daniel, after the captivity in Babylon.

8. The tendency of the Jews in all ages to necromancy, and the need of laws against iteven in the time of Moses, is decisive proof of the popular belief of the survival and activity of the soul, and, of course, of a life after death and its retributions.

The most interesting part of this array of historical positions, and perhaps as conclusive and unanswerable as any, is found in the first great fact, that the idea of a future life, and of its retributions, is wrought in the most impressive manner into the history of the Old Testament.

Power of the Teaching of Facts.

Doctrines are never so powerful to affect the popular mind as when embodied in some great historical event. Thus the doctrine of the resurrection was invested with an all-pervading popular power when embodied in the resurrection of Christ.

Was there, then, any embodying of the doctrine of a future life and its rewards in any great act by which the popular mind could be affected under the Old Testament dispensation? There was.

Influence on the Maccabees.

And this great act is invested with peculiar interest by the certainty with which we are assured that it was a main element in kindling the hope of eternal life in the minds of the Maccabees themselves, in the very crisis of their struggle against Antiochus Epiphanes.

There is not perhaps in history a more interesting scene than the death-bed of Mattathias, the father of the Maccabees. No scene more deserves the highest efforts of an inspired painter.

Mattathias began in Modin, single-handed, the war for the law of God against the king. Fired with zeal, he slew the king'’ officer, who was endeavoring to enforce the offering of sacrifice to the gods of Greece. Then he fled to the mountains with his sons, and rallied to his standard all who were true to the law of God from all the land of Judea. His followers at first were few and heroic. But he led them to victory, and emboldened and aroused the nation. But the infirmities of age were upon him, and death drew near. Then, upon his death-bed, he gathered around him his sons, and nominated the hero Judas Maccabeus to take his place, and delivered a parting address, in which he endeavored to embolden his sons by holding up before them the great heroes of Jewish history.

Translation of Elijah.

But among them all there was no one whose example seemed so much to inspire him as that of the great prophet Elijah, who, like him, had periled his life in defending the law of God against an idolatrous king and queen. This example, with glowing words, he held up before his sons, and with it the glorious reward of his fidelity. He says (1 Mac. xlviii. 61), after mentioning other heroes, “consider that Elijah, for being zealous and fervent for the law, was taken up into heaven.” In effect, he says: Remember the great prophet Elijah. Remember his zeal for the law of God in the face of danger and death, and remember his reward. He was taken up even into heaven into the presence of God. Doubt not, then, that eternal life is in reserve for you, if you, in like manner, are faithful to god and to his law.

The Popular View.

That this view of that great event was not peculiar to him is plain from the manner in which the son of Sirach thus apostrophizes the great prophet (Ecc. xlvii. 4, 9, 11): “How wast thou glorified, O Elijah, in the wondrous deeds, who wast taken up in a whirlwind of fire and in a chariot of fiery horses! Blessed are we who behold thee, and are adorned with love, for we too shall surely live.” That this was the popular view of the case is perfectly plain from these facts, and thus we come at least to one fountain-head of that river of belief and emotion which we are endeavoring to trace upward to its sources. We find it flowing not from Persia, but from the mountains of Judea, where Elijah was very zealous for the law of God, and as a reward was taken up to heaven.

Translation of Enoch.

But this is not the highest source of the river. There is still another in times still more remote, and before Persia had ever been heard of. A similar transaction is recorded, even before the flood, in the case of the great prophet Enoch. An inspired writer makes his case the centre of the great doctrine of retribution (Heb. xi. 5, 6).

The Septuagint Version.

But before we advert to his remarks it is necessary to give the Septuagint version of the passage upon which they are based (Gen. v. 24). Our translation is this: “Enoch walked with God and he was not; for God took him.” Of this the Septuagint translation is, “Enoch pleased God, and was not found, for God translated him.” So, also, where our translation says, “Enoch walked with God three hundred years,” the Septuagint translators say, “Enoch pleased God three hundred years.” This is no doubt, in essence, the same idea as is implied in walking with God, but to see the full force of the words of the inspired writer we must have before us the very words of the translation to which he was appealing. Looking at and using this version he thus speaks when properly translated: “By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death, and was not found, because God had translated him; for he had this testimony, that before his translation he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” The translation of the Septuagint was made under the early Ptolemies, long before the days of the Maccabees, and is an unanswerable proof of the manner in which the account of the translation of Enoch was then regarded by the Jews. The translation of Enoch is also referred to in the Wisdom of Solomon, as a reward for his pleasing God (iv. 10, 100). “He pleased God, and was beloved of him, so that living among sinners he was translated.”

The Fountain-Head

This great event, then occurring before the flood, as shone as a light through the ages, disclosing the real existence of the spirit-world, and of a life with God with its retributions before the present. This great event, like the sun, has shone through each succeeding generation, and in the days of the Maccabees it was appealed to as a proof of a future life and its retributions, in the same way in which the translation of Elijah was appealed to, as we have seen. Indeed, no character of the Old Testament seems more powerfully to have affected the Jewish mind and imagination in every age than Enoch. He was regarded as an eminently holy man, taken into the immediate counsels of God, and as, therefore, the fittest person to unfold the destinies of coming ages.

The Book of Enoch.

Upon this conception the book of Enoch is based. There is no reason to doubt that this book contains many of the traditions of past ages as to this great prophet. One of these traditions is quoted in common by the apostle Jude and the author of the book of Enoch, unless we prefer to regard the apostle as quoting and sanctioning a part of that book. Certainly the prophecy occurs in the book of Enoch substantially as it is reported by Jude. “Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousand of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them, of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed against God, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

We have not time now to speak at length of the important and deeply-interesting contents of the book of Enoch. That it was written long before Christ, by a Jew, and that it was extensively read and exerted great influence among the Jews, are the important facts of the case. Thus viewed, one thing it makes sure, that the river of Jewish belief as to a future life and its retributions did not originate in Persia, but in the earliest narratives of the Mosaic record. This the whole book, full of eternal retributions, clearly proves.

Magnitude of These Events.

Let us now pause and reflect. No one, we suppose, will deny that, next after Moses, the prophet Elijah is the greatest and most impressive character of the Old Testament record. Nowhere are there such brilliant and intense lights and shades as in his history. The scene on Carmel, when he stood up alone for God against the three hundred prophets of Baal, and called down fire from heaven to testify for God, and to turn back the people to his service, has never been exceeded in grandeur, sublimity,[sic] and thrilling power. Of the place occupied in the mind of the Jewish nation by Enoch, we have already spoken. These two great men had probably never heard of Persia, and in their days Persia had no connection whatever with the Jews. And yet the idea of a future life and of its retributions is wrought in the most impressive manner into their lives, and thus into the fundamental history of the Old Testament, a history ever before the mind of the Jews, while that of Persia was remote and unknown.

Denial by Mr. Alger.

We are aware that Mr. Alger earnestly insists that these narrations do not teach what they are supposed to teach. But it is a manifest historical fact, as we have shown, that the Jews did so understand them, and that is sufficient for our purpose; we have historically traced their opinions to their real sources, even if the Jews erred in their philology. But they did not err. The more thoroughly these records are studied, the clearer will it become that the Jews truly understood them, and that they really teach what they have ever held them to teach. To the Jewish writers already quoted may also be added Philo, the distinguished commentator on the books of Moses. In his questions on Genesis, he derives from this passage the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, of the reward of Enoch for a holy life, and of his translation to live and act in the spirit-world. From this reward of Enoch for a holy life, from which he never receded, Philo derives encouragement for the good, in all ages, to expect divine rewards in the life to come.

The Patriarchs and Moses.

The case of the patriarchs and of Moses next demands our consideration. So far as they are concerned, no connection with Persia can be alleged. Their relations to Egypt, however, will deserve careful consideration, for, among the Egyptians, ideas of a future state and its retributions were fully developed. We shall make it plain, however, that they did not adopt the Egyptian system, but that, nevertheless, they were excited and stimulated by it to develop such a system of a future life and its rewards as would grow naturally out of their own covenant with the God of the Bible. 

For we must never forget that the great covenant of god was formed with Abraham and his posterity long before they went down into Egypt. The promise of a land and of a posterity, in whom all future ages and all the families of the earth should be blessed, had been made to them. And Christ assures us that Abraham looked forward to his day with peculiar joy. The character of the one God, the Holy One, the Creator of all things, acting on an eternal plan, had been fully revealed to them. From this we shall find that they did not recede, but developed their ideas of future rewards beyond this life in accordance with this plan. The ideas of the Egyptians on future retributions, as we shall see, did not corrupt them, but rather stimulated them more fully to develop their own system. 

FORWARD>> (Next Chapter: VIEWS OF THE PATRIARCHS AND OF MOSES )

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