Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ecclesiastes 9:5 Comments--Death Is A Deep Sleep

One young Catholic gentleman with whom I had extended discussions on many issues posted this remark to another forum about Eccl 9:5:

"But in [Ecclesiastes] IX., 5, we read, 'The dead know not anything, neither have they any more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.' [Answer:] Those last words obviously show that it is useless to depend upon a reward as far as recognition by fellow men is concerned. The writer is speaking from the point of view of people still living in this world. To all practical purposes as far as this world is concerned the dead are removed from this world and know not anything as far as the evidence of our own senses goes."

My Response:

In context, Qoheleth (Solomon) recounts that all men, regardless of their station in life, in time die (Eccl 9:3). He then proceeds to inform his readers that "to him that is joined with all the living there is hope; for a living dog is better than a dead lion" (Eccl 9:4).

Is Qoheleth exclaiming that hope only exists for the living from the standpoint of other humans dwelling "under the sun"? Or is such an observation made by the ancient writer supposed to be epistemologically objective (mind-independent)? The context indicates that Qoheleth's words are objective in the eyes of God and not simply an exclamation of how humans "under the sun" view matters. The son of David goes on to make a stark contrast between the living and the dead in Ecclesiastes 9:5, even adding these telling words in 9:10: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might: for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in Sheol, whither thou goest" (ASV).

So the context refutes the view that Qoheleth thinks the dead are only conscious of nothing from the standpoint of earthly observers. Moreover, the OT consistently teaches that the dead know nothing simpliciter et simpliciter:

"For in death there is no remembrance of thee: In Sheol who shall give thee thanks?" (Ps 6:5).

"For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other; indeed, they all have the same breath and there is no advantage for man over beast, for all is vanity. All go to the same place. All came from the dust and all return to the dust" (Eccl 3:19-20).

Cf Job 3:11-19.

The young man who posted this reply also expressed the view that John 11:11-14 uses "phenomenological language" concerning Lazarus:

"As far as the reference to Lazarus' "sleep" is concerned, this is what is known as phenomenological language. Jesus was doing nothing more than making a reference to death based on the phenomenon or *appearance* of sleep. We cannot isolate this passage from the rest of the Bible. Numerous other passages clearly attest to death being something other than sleep."

But I wonder how we are supposed to know that Jesus was employing "phenomenological language" in Jn 11:11-14? The metaphor of "sleep" for death was a common one that the ancient Greeks also utilized. We even find David using this figure of speech in Psalm 13:3: "Consider and answer me, O Jehovah my God: Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death" (ASV). Daniel 12:2 also enunciates the Hebrew understanding of death that is manifestly consonant with such verses as Ps 146:3-4. This passage foretells that "many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." This passage does not indicate that the writer is speaking phenomenologically. Compare Jeremiah 51:39.

In the NT, Jesus himself "awakened" Jairus' daughter in the presence of a crowd filled with cynical observers who "knew she was dead," though Jesus said she slept. The context of Luke 8:49-56 shows that the girl did not simply "appear" to be sleeping; she was sleeping "the sleep of death." Her spirit (life force) had gone out of her: she was dead. The young girl was conscious of nothing at all (Job 3:11-19), but Lazarus and the young maiden were also resurrected by the Messiah of God. They did not simply appear to be sleeping, for they were sleeping the "sleep of death."

"For Sheol cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: They that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth" (Isa 38:18).

"O LORD, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry. For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave. I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength. I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care. You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths. Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. You have taken from me my closest friends and have made me repulsive to them. I am confined and cannot escape; my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, O LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you. Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in Destruction? Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?" (Ps 88:1-12)

"And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:59 ASV).

1 comment:

Philip Fletcher said...

Most of the numerous other passage that he is referring to about death are symbolic, especially the words found in Revelation, where every ardent student of the bible know that to be a fact. Symbolism seems to have alluded this particular young man.