Eternal Damnation in the Old Testament

There are often progressing doctrines from the Hebrew Scriptures which are more fully developed by the time Matthew begins. While I will briefly explore that arena, I wanted to first focus on what we find in the Prophets which starts the speculation on the afterlife. I am at best, a beginning novice in New Testament Greek. I find Hebrew, however, a completely foreign concept, so I will try not to look too utterly deft while going through this. My goal is not to draw the conclusions for you or to tell you how I think you should think about what I think. Instead, I am presenting evidence the best way in which I can in order for us to discuss these issues.

The speculation comes from those writers writing with Babylon in mind which has led a few to connect the developed notion of eternal torment of later Judaism with Zoroastrianism’s Drûgâskan.

For this exercise, we will look at Jeremiah and Isaiah primarily.

Jeremiah 7.29-34;

New Living TranslationNew American Standard Version
29 Shave your head in mourning, and weep alone on the mountains. For the LORD has rejected and forsaken this generation that has provoked his fury.’

30 “The people of Judah have sinned before my very eyes,” says the LORD. “They have set up their abominable idols right in the Temple that bears my name, defiling it.

31 They have built pagan shrines at Topheth, the garbage dump in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, and there they burn their sons and daughters in the fire. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing!

32 So beware, for the time is coming,” says the LORD, “when that garbage dump will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. They will bury the bodies in Topheth until there is no more room for them.

33 The bodies of my people will be food for the vultures and wild animals, and no one will be left to scare them away.

34 I will put an end to the happy singing and laughter in the streets of Jerusalem. The joyful voices of bridegrooms and brides will no longer be heard in the towns of Judah. The land will lie in complete desolation.

29 ‘Cut off your hair and cast it away, And take up a lamentation on the bare heights; For the LORD has rejected and forsaken The generation of His wrath.’

30 “For the sons of Judah have done that which is evil in My sight,” declares the LORD, “they have set their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it.

31 “They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind.

32 “Therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when it will no longer be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of the Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place.

33 “The dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the earth; and no one will frighten them away.

34 “Then I will make to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; for the land will become a ruin.

The Valley of Ben-Hinnom, or Topheth, is what by the New Testament time, came to be known as Gehenna, or ‘hell.’ I find it odd here, and difficult to reconcile the revulsion of God at burning of Israelite children with that which is commonly assumed as the preferred state of the wicked in the after life. To the Israelites at this time, Gehenna was a cultic place in which parents would sacrifice children to appease an angry deity. It would become the graveyard of those who had done so, however.

19.6-9;

New Living TranslationNew American Standard Version
6 So beware, for the time is coming, says the LORD, when this garbage dump will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.

7 ” ‘For I will upset the careful plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will allow the people to be slaughtered by invading armies, and I will leave their dead bodies as food for the vultures and wild animals.

8 I will reduce Jerusalem to ruins, making it a monument to their stupidity. All who pass by will be astonished and will gasp at the destruction they see there.

9 I will see to it that your enemies lay siege to the city until all the food is gone. Then those trapped inside will eat their own sons and daughters and friends. They will be driven to utter despair.’

6 therefore, behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when this place will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-hinnom, but rather the valley of Slaughter.

7 “I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place, and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hand of those who seek their life; and I will give over their carcasses as food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth.

8 “I will also make this city a desolation and an object of hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and hiss because of all its disasters.

9 “I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they will eat one another’s flesh in the siege and in the distress with which their enemies and those who seek their life will distress them.”‘

I bring this up here to denote that while Jerusalem was placed in hell (Gehenna), but would later be resurrected (Ezekiel 39) and restored.

Isaiah 30.33;

New Living TranslationNew American Standard Version
32 And as the LORD strikes them with his rod of punishment, his people will celebrate with tambourines and harps. Lifting his mighty arm, he will fight the Assyrians.

33 Topheth– the place of burning– has long been ready for the Assyrian king; the pyre is piled high with wood. The breath of the LORD, like fire from a volcano, will set it ablaze.

32 And every blow of the rod of punishment, Which the LORD will lay on him, Will be with the music of tambourines and lyres; And in battles, brandishing weapons, He will fight them.

33 For Topheth has long been ready, Indeed, it has been prepared for the king. He has made it deep and large, A pyre of fire with plenty of wood; The breath of the LORD, like a torrent of brimstone, sets it afire.

Here, Gehenna is seen as the final resting place of the King of Assyria.

33.14;

New Living TranslationNew American Standard Version
10 But the LORD says: “I will stand up and show my power and might.

11 You Assyrians produce nothing but dry grass and stubble. Your own breath will turn to fire and consume you.

12 Your people will be burned up completely, like thornbushes cut down and tossed in a fire.

13 Listen to what I have done, you nations far away! And you that are near, acknowledge my might!”

14 The sinners in Jerusalem shake with fear. Terror seizes the godless. “Who can live with this devouring fire?” they cry. “Who can survive this all-consuming fire?”

15 Those who are honest and fair, who refuse to profit by fraud, who stay far away from bribes, who refuse to listen to those who plot murder, who shut their eyes to all enticement to do wrong–

16 these are the ones who will dwell on high. The rocks of the mountains will be their fortress. Food will be supplied to them, and they will have water in abundance.

17 Your eyes will see the king in all his splendor, and you will see a land that stretches into the distance.

10 “Now I will arise,” says the LORD, “Now I will be exalted, now I will be lifted up.

11 “You have conceived chaff, you will give birth to stubble; My breath will consume you like a fire.

12 “The peoples will be burned to lime, Like cut thorns which are burned in the fire.

13 “You who are far away, hear what I have done; And you who are near, acknowledge My might.”

14 Sinners in Zion are terrified; Trembling has seized the godless. “Who among us can live with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with continual burning?”

15 He who walks righteously and speaks with sincerity, He who rejects unjust gain And shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe; He who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed And shuts his eyes from looking upon evil;

16 He will dwell on the heights, His refuge will be the impregnable rock; His bread will be given him, His water will be sure.

17 Your eyes will see the King in His beauty; They will behold a far-distant land.

Here, Gehenna is seen as a temporary measure, until everything is completed. It fits well with the theory of annihilationism. Further, this refers to an earthly reward/punishment where the righteous will be take care of and see the coming King.

50.11

New Living TranslationNew American Standard Version
10 Who among you fears the LORD and obeys his servant? If you are walking in darkness, without a ray of light, trust in the LORD and rely on your God.

11 But watch out, you who live in your own light and warm yourselves by your own fires. This is the reward you will receive from me: You will soon fall down in great torment.

10 Who is among you that fears the LORD, That obeys the voice of His servant, That walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.

11 Behold, all you who kindle a fire, Who encircle yourselves with firebrands, Walk in the light of your fire And among the brands you have set ablaze. This you will have from My hand: You will lie down in torment.

Comporting well with Messianic Expectation, we find the Prophet writing of a Servant who will carry the light of God while the wicked will set up their own, causing them torment. I read the last line as a euphemism for death which means the torment is the afterlife; yet, there is no mention here of the length.

In the LXX, the word is λύπη, meaning something like sorrow (cf John 16.20). As a measuring exercise, the ‘torment’ spoken of in Luke 16 concerning the rich man’s final state is βασάνοις (Luke 16:23).

66.24;

New Living TranslationNew American Standard Version
18 “I can see what they are doing, and I know what they are thinking. So I will gather all nations and peoples together, and they will see my glory.

19 I will perform a sign among them. And I will send those who survive to be messengers to the nations– to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (who are famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to all the lands beyond the sea that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. There they will declare my glory to the nations.

20 They will bring the remnant of your people back from every nation. They will bring them to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD. They will ride on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD.

21 “And I will appoint some of them to be my priests and Levites. I, the LORD, have spoken!

22 “As surely as my new heavens and earth will remain, so will you always be my people, with a name that will never disappear,” says the LORD.

23 “All humanity will come to worship me from week to week and from month to month.

24 And as they go out, they will see the dead bodies of those who have rebelled against me. For the worms that devour them will never die, and the fire that burns them will never go out. All who pass by will view them with utter horror.”

18 “For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory.

19 “I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Rosh, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations.

20 “Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the LORD, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the LORD, “just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD.

21 “I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites,” says the LORD.

22 “For just as the new heavens and the new earth Which I make will endure before Me,” declares the LORD, “So your offspring and your name will endure.

23 “And it shall be from new moon to new moon And from sabbath to sabbath, All mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the LORD.

24 “Then they will go forth and look On the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die And their fire will not be quenched; And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.”

In Isaiah, we find much of the material which is feasted upon by the New Testament writers. This passage presents us with a rather graphic picture of the final Day, one in which God has brought all of humanity(v23) to worship Him, leaving only those who have rebelled against Him to rot eternally.

I draw a connect here to the last verses in Revelation 22 in which the kings of the nations, representing their nations (peoples) bring their glory into the city of God while the rebellious are without.

Daniel 12.2

New Living TranslationNew American Standard Version
2 Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace.2 “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.

Daniel 12 points us to the resurrection of the Righteous and the exclusion of prophetic interpretation until it begins to happen – rather, until after it starts to happen.

The phrase, in the Greek is, αἰσχύνην αἰώνιον. The adjective to shame, αἰώνιον, is used several times to modify both Gehenna  and the reward of the righteous in the New Testament.

But, what does αἰσχύνην mean? It is used for shame and humiliation. CF 2nd Samuel 20.30 and Hebrews 12.2.

Reading the entire chapter of Daniel, we find that the author is detailing a vision of a resurrection of Israel –

“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued…. “Many will be purged, purified and refined, but the wicked will act wickedly; and none of the wicked will understand, but those who have insight will understand. (Dan 12:1,10 NASB)

Throughout this series, we find that only a select group of people were sent to ‘hell’ namely those Jews who had rebelled against God, except in the case of the Assyrian King.

See James’ post on this.

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12 Replies to “Eternal Damnation in the Old Testament”

  1. Just interested in what you think … If doctrines are “progressing” how do you know when they are “fully” developed? I’m not sure I can think of many, if any, doctrines I believe were “fully” developed by Matthew’s time.

    1. I added a word to more fully express my thoughts here. Instead of fully developed, read more fully developed. Take the notion of Messiah. Not much in the OT which points to a divine Messiah, or demonology or really much on angels to the extent we have in the NT; yet, by the time Matthew opens, after Malachi closes, we have a clearer picture, so to speak of the divine Messiah, etc…

      So too of the afterlife. Not much in the OT really.

      If one does believe that doctrines develop after the NT, then I don’t understand why they believe that they stopped developing in the 3rd, 4th or 5th century, etc… But, I reckon that is another subject.

  2. “6 So beware, for the time is coming, says the LORD, when this garbage dump will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.
    7 ” ‘For I will upset the careful plans of Judah and Jerusalem. I will allow the people to be slaughtered by invading armies, and I will leave their dead bodies as food for the vultures and wild animals.

    8 I will reduce Jerusalem to ruins, making it a monument to their stupidity. All who pass by will be astonished and will gasp at the destruction they see there.

    9 I will see to it that your enemies lay siege to the city until all the food is gone. Then those trapped inside will eat their own sons and daughters and friends. They will be driven to utter despair.’”

    I don’t see this as a description of the after-life/hell/gehenna. This is what actually happened to Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in Jeremiah’s time. It is the basis for Lamentations….which laments all of these things actually happening.

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