“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a)
Benjamin Franklin said that there were only two things certain in life: death and taxes. People sometimes joke about this, but for most people, when it actually comes to death, either their own or a loved one’s, it’s no joke.
And David in Psalm 6:3-5 is one of these people. Listen to his words:
“How long until you take away this pain in my body and in my soul? Lord, I’m trembling in fear!
Turn back death from my door and deliver my life. Because I know you love and desire to have me as your very own.
How can I be any good to you dead? For those who are in the graveyards sing no songs. In the darkness of death who remembers you? How could I bring you praise if I’m buried in a tomb.”
Death is not a popular subject, but certainly a very relevant one!
Let me share with you a few insights on David’s words from a few commentators I have read.
Longman speaks of David appealing to God “on the basis of his unfailing love (Hebrew: hesed), which can also be understood as loyalty. This loyal love is based on the covenant, where God promises to be his people’s God and take care of them when they turn to him.” But he then makes an interesting statement: “The psalmist cajoles God to heal him now rather than let him die, on the grounds that a dead person can no longer praise God, this appealing to God’s self-interest.” He explains, “The psalmist’s argument makes sense based on the Old Testament saint’s limited understanding of the afterlife.” (see references # 30)
Now when I read these statements, they raised a number of questions in my mind. So, I turned to Broyles, who, speaking of the psalmist’s motivation says:
“Were Yahweh not to intervene [and rescue the psalmist from death], he would lose a worshiper and the speaker would lose God.” (see references # 4)
Then to Kidner, who gives a bit more explanation concerning “the Old Testament saint’s limited understanding of the afterlife”, as Longman put it. He speaks of the OT Hebrew word used for death, and that is “sheol”, meaning the “underworld of the dead.” He says, the words used were “not definitive language, but poetic and evocative…[highlighting] the tragedy of death as that which silences a man’s worship…shatters his plans…cuts him off from God and man…and makes an end of him…These are cries from the heart, that life is all too short and death implacable and decisive…[although] they are not denials of God’s sovereignty beyond the grave…”
He continues: “For the most part, the Old Testament emphasis falls on death as the great leveler…[and] at rare moments the Psalms have glimpses of rescue from Sheol, in terms that suggest resurrection.” An example of this being Psalm 16:10 which was ultimately fulfilled in the resurrection of Christ as quoted by Peter in Acts 2:24-32. (see references # 29)
Wilcock is helpful and also gives new insights. He suggests that “This is the first psalm to provide a piece of …[the] jigsaw [concerning] the Old Testament picture of life after death.” He says that people understood that there certainly was such a thing – didn’t God called himself the “God of Abraham…Isaac…and Jacob” (Exodus 3:6) and as Jesus confirmed later, “He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Mark 12:26-27). But “of what that life after death would mean, of what you would do in it, the Old Testament people had little idea.”
Wilcock continues: “David certainly believed that after this life he will still belong to God, and be aware of God…But what he [could not] imagine [was] how he will be able after death to express his awareness of God. How is anyone in that land of shadows able to commemorate, to celebrate, God’s great doings? ‘Who praises you from his grave?’ [asked David].”
Then an interesting insight. “For all his limited view, the psalmist has a lesson for us. What he least wanted to leave behind in this world…was the opportunity to serve and praise God. He had his priorities right.” (see references 5)
I wonder if that would be our priority if we had been born BC instead of AD?
Of course, praise God, we now have the New Testament and a more complete picture of life after death as a result of the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As 2 Timothy 1:10 says: “..it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus…[who] has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
As Wilcock explains: “We [now] know that though this present life is full of good things, and is God’s perfect plan for us for the time being, the next life will be even better, indeed infinitely better.”
Jesus, speaking of life after death for us, his followers, said: ““Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3)
And as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, that great chapter on resurrection (actually quoting from Hosea 13:14): “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (verse 55).
What can we say, Father, other than thank you that Jesus was so willing to relinquish all, even to die on a cruel cross, in order that we might gain so much, not the least, life in your presence for evermore. Lord, you have “set eternity in…[our] hearts” (Eccles. 3:11) so teach us, in the light of such wonderful truths, to live lives full of faithful worship and service here on earth so that we may continue to do so in eternity. Amen.