Open thine eyes, and behold; for the dead that are in the graves, whose souls are taken from their bodies, will give unto the Lord neither praise nor righteousness:
This verse has some interest to me. It is reminiscent of Ecclesiastes 9:5 –
For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
But something that strikes me as odd is a story written about 3 times in the New Testament. In the Gospels, we see a scene where Christ talks to Moses, who did in fact die. Unlike Elijah, who is also in the same scene on the mountain, Moses wasn’t taken up into heaven.
It is possible that it wasn’t until the second temple that the disposition of your soul in the afterlife just didn’t get attention, and therefore it may have been a widespread belief that once dead, you were always dead – which was why it was so significant that Enoch and Elijah were taken into heaven alive, just as the Risen Christ was taken into Heaven alive.
But there’s a wrench in this theory. King Saul approaches a witch for the explicit purpose of being able to talk with Samuel, which leads me to a strong argument that perhaps there was a belief during the first temple of what happens to your soul after you die.
I do not have an answer, but for now I wonder if this verse assumes a belief that these souls are specifically those which God has deemed wicked, and decided to destroy for their inquities rather than allow an chance for redemption. The concept of hell, at least in my limited understanding as of the writing of this entry, didn’t really surface until the second temple. But that’s a topic I’ll explore at a later date.
But the soul that is greatly vexed, which goeth stooping and feeble, and the eyes that fail, and the hungry soul, will give thee praise and righteousness, O Lord.
Therefore we do not make our humble supplication before thee, O Lord our God, for the righteousness of our fathers, and of our kings. For thou hast sent out thy wrath and indignation upon us, as thou hast spoken by thy servants the prophets, saying,
This sentiment is echoed in the Hebrews 9:27 –
“…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgement…”
If Baruch had been included in the Protestant Old Testament, I would think this would make the case by itself that prayer for the dead is useless. What is of interest, however, is that the Catholic Church which does include Baruch practices prayer for the dead on the basis of a belief in Purgatory (which I have yet to find any real evidence for. Maybe it’s in one of these Apocryphal books?).
What makes these verses so invaluable to us today, however, isn’t really that they tell us praying for the dead is a moot point- but that they are taking responsibility for their actions and the actions of the whole. This is taking responsibility continues throughout the rest of the chapter, with additional acknowledgements of what God asks of them in order to be restored. At the end, this portion of the prayer concludes with the promise God gives them if they turn back to Him.
And I will bring them again into the land which I promised with an oath unto their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and they shall be lords of it: and I will increase them, and they shall not be diminished. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them to be their God, and they shall be my people: and I will no more drive my people of Israel out of the land that I have given them.
God gave an entire people a promise. But He didn’t given every individual an individual promise in the Old Testament. Even in the New Testament, we only have one real promise- if we walk in God’s ways, love Him and love our neighbor, we can go to Heaven. That’s what it really means to have believe/trust in Christ. It’s not just about knowing that Christ died on the cross for your sins, it’s about understanding what that sacrifice tells you to do in order to fully demonstrate you believe. If you’re not leading your life in the way God asks you to, it’s not belief, it’s not trust. That’s just book smarts.
What do you need to take responsibility for concerning your own contribution to the derailment of righteousness? Take this opportunity to consider those sins and what you can do to overcome them in the future.