Formations 11.10.2019: Resurrection Hope

Isaiah 26:12-19; Daniel 12:1-4

Many Americans observe Halloween by focusing on costumes, decorations, and candy for the kids. Some of us don’t know the origins of the day or the one that follows on November 1, All Saints’ Day. Wikipedia offers a quick tutorial, saying that Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve or All Saints’ Eve, “begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.” (“Halloween,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halloween).

The origins of Halloween may have occurred much earlier than these Christian roots suggest; no matter which origin story reflects the truer tale, however, they all point to traditions that relate to the afterlife. (For information about the Day of the Dead, an entirely separate tradition that also incorporates people’s ideas of the afterlife, see Darrell Pursiful’s article for November 3.)

I’ve been in churches that observed Halloween with a Fall Festival, complete with carnival-style games, candy, and non-scary costumes, perhaps as a way of finding joy in the face of death. And I’ve been in churches that observed All Saints’ Day by calling out the names of the faithful parishioners who had passed away during that year. Sometimes people lit candles in their honor. Sometimes people led prayers. The point of these days seems to be to think about those who have gone before us, to ponder our own mortality, and to consider what will happen to us when we die.

Maybe we view resurrection as a New Testament idea that began with Jesus. But we can find hints of it in the Old Testament too. In our lesson texts, we read these lines:

Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.

Isa 26:19

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Dan 12:2-3

It makes sense that people have always wondered what happens after death. It makes sense that people have always hoped that there is more life to live after our bodies are buried in the ground or cremated. As someone who has attended several children’s funerals, I can say that there is no greater balm for a grieving parent than the hope that they will see their child again one day. The threat of death can be scary, debilitating, and devastating, but the hope of resurrection is real and powerful. This hope gives us a reason to persevere, inspiration to share what we know about Jesus and eternal life, and something to look forward to when life on this earth ends.

May God continue to reveal resurrection hope to us, especially in our darkest days.

Discussion

• If you observe Halloween and/or All Saints’ Day, what are your traditions? Why do you do these things? Do they have a particular meaning for you?

• What might be the significance of setting aside a special set of days each year to think about mortality and its opposite, immortality?

• What can these observances teach us about life, death, and resurrection?

• Can you find any other Old Testament Scriptures that address the concept of resurrection? (Consider using a concordance.) What do they say about life after death?

• Why is resurrection hope so important? What does it mean to you?

Reference Shelf

Isaiah 26:7-19, a lengthy, complex subunit, may be divided into two segments: (a) vv. 7-13, bracketed by key words in v. 8 (“YHWH,” “your name,” “your memory”) and in v. 13 (“YHWH,” “we remember,” “your name”) and (b) vv. 14-19, bracketed by key phrases in v. 14 (“the dead will not live,” “ghosts will not rise”) and in v. 19 (“your dead will live,” “my corpses will rise,” “the earth will cause the ghosts to be reborn”). Yet the consistent use of the first-person plural (“we”) connects these segments, contrasting the fates of the righteous versus the wicked, on the one hand. At the same time, on the other hand, this whole portion centers on the contrast between the trustworthy YHWH and all other null deities (note the first word “YHWH” in each of vv. 11-13, hence a total of three times, in contrast to the one word “the dead” in v. 14).

Verses 7-13 explicate the preceding song of praise with elaborated descriptions of the righteous and the wicked. First, as in the previous song (vv. 1-6), the righteous receive primary attention (vv. 7-9; cf. Ps 1:1-3). The path of the righteous is straight (v. 7). The righteous “we”-group professes that their hope lies in the justice, name, and memory of YHWH (v. 8). The prophet’s personal longing for YHWH by night asserts how YHWH’s “justice” on earth will influence the whole world to learning “righteousness” (v. 9). Next come the wicked in strongly contrasting but very brief portrayals (v. 10), much like the quick dismissal of the wicked in Psalm 1:4 (“Not so the wicked”). Although the inhabitants of the world may learn righteousness (v. 9), the wicked, even when they seem to be in divine favor, do not learn righteousness and cannot see YHWH’s majesty (v. 10; cf. 2:10).

Then, the lament proper, with threefold petitions to YHWH, both summarizes and highlights the core theme of this entire chapter (vv. 11-13). Because the wicked cannot see YHWH’s majesty (v. 10), they cannot see YHWH’s hand lifted high (v. 11a). As if resonating the concluding verses of Psalm 1:5-6, the fire of divine anger will consume the wicked (v. 11b), while the righteous will obtain peace (v. 12). These confessions culminate with the declarations of the righteous who pledge their allegiance to YHWH over other false deities (v. 13). Literary puns heighten the exclamation marks, as the devout “we”-group vows to keep their faith amid the perilous battle between YHWH (“YHWH our God…only you”) and chaotic mythological forces (“other lords besides you have ruled us”).

Verses 14-19 reiterate the trying situation when the righteous struggle to keep faith. The description of this dire situation appears in the framework between “the dead” who cannot live (v. 14) and “your dead” who will live (v. 19). As though the distressed community were walking through the dark valley of death (cf. Ps 23:4), these verses encircle it with phrases regarding the dead. First, the speaker declares the contrasting fates in that YHWH will destroy the wicked chaotic forces and increase the righteous nation (vv. 14-15). Here “the dead” may allude to the Canaanite mythological god, Mot, already swallowed by YHWH (v. 14; cf. 25:8). At the same time, this term together with “ghosts” may signify the dead kings (6:1; 14:9, 28). Accordingly, the wicked are like the dead, which can neither live nor rise, but rather will “perish” (cf. Ps 1:6). In stark contrast, the presumably “righteous” nation (cf. 26:2) will increase and give glory to YHWH (v. 15).

Next, the following segment records a series of dialogues that involve various speakers and addressees (vv. 16-19). The lamenter recounts how “they” earnestly poured out “whispers of prayer” in times of distress (v. 16). Their prayers comprise the “we” speeches in the feminine imagery of giving birth (vv. 17-18). This “we”-group expresses their anguish from their feminized point of view (v. 17), reminiscent of human (rather, Babylon’s) agony in 13:8. Claudia Bergmann, who cites pertinent ancient Near Eastern texts, distinguishes the texts that compare warriors in crisis with women giving birth from the texts that depict defeated warriors as women. Unlike the latter metaphor that only describes warriors of foreign nations in negative notions, the former metaphor—“like a woman giving birth”—holds women in high honor, invoking the readers’ “feelings of sympathy,” uplifting esteem for those under a crisis, and even regarding them (warriors) as “heroes of their people” (in “‘We Have Seen the Enemy, and He Is Only a “She”’: The Portrayal of Warriors as Women,” 2008, 141–42). Against this background, rather than a child as a prophetic sign (cf. 7:14; 9:6 [MT 9:5]) and despite the intention to give birth to salvation for the earth and the inhabitants of the world, they now only give birth to wind (v. 18). Contrary to the divine promise of successful delivery of Zion’s heirs (66:7-9), her prospective progeny seems distant (Hibbard, Intertextuality in Isaiah 24–27, 2006, 159). Despite the previous promise of YHWH’s conquest of death (25:8), now the community laments their present reality that seems as dead (cf. v. 14).

Ultimately, however, the prophetic rebuttal (cf. Mic 6:8) pronounces not only a successful birth but also a miraculous rebirth in high honor (v. 19). This promise in the form of the salvation oracle deliberately rebuts the complaints of the lamenting community: whereas the wicked heard that “the dead will not live” and “ghosts will not rise” in v. 14, the righteous will hear the promise that “your dead will live” and “my corpses will rise” in v. 19. Joseph Blenkinsopp notes the deliberate contrast between these two groups: “your dead will live (19) but…their dead will not (14)” (Isaiah 1–3, 2000, 371). Text-critically, the MT reads “their corpses” as “my corpses.” In this case, readers may hear not only the priest’s words of assurance but also YHWH’s own care to resuscitate “my [YHWH’s]” people. As a result, even “those lying down in the dust” (cf. 25:12; 26:5) are to wake up and rejoice, as the earth will cause the rebirth of “ghosts” (cf. 26:14). This birthing imagery, symbolic of Judah’s exile and return, culminates in the national resurrection, more than individual resurrection, with YHWH’s loud vow once more to protect and provide for the barren, widowed—exiled—Jerusalem.

Hyun Chul Paul Kim, Reading Isaiah (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2016) 126–28.

[Daniel] 12:1-4. Close of the age. These verses bring to an end the revelation that began in chap. 10. They describe the consummation of the present age and the rewards and punishments that follow. After the death of Antiochus, Michael, the guardian prince of Israel, will bring the present age to an end. Although a time of great distress and trouble will precede the end, the faithful Jews, those whose names are inscribed in the heavenly book of life, will be delivered.

The author gives few details about the events of the end. He does introduce, however, an important idea into biblical eschatology: the concept of resurrection. Daniel 12:2 is the only undisputed text in the Hebrew Bible that mentions individual resurrection. The resurrection envisioned by the author of this passage is apparently a limited resurrection. Many…shall awake, some for reward of everlasting life, some for punishment. Those who are resurrected for reward include the wise, who have led many to righteousness (v. 3) through their teachings and their examples. They will shine like the stars forever and ever (v. 3), apparently meaning they will join the hosts of angels.

For Daniel to divulge the message that he has received would be premature, because the revelation is intended for the end times. For this reason the angel tells Daniel to keep the words secret and the book sealed (v. 4; cf. 8:26).

Mitchell G. Reddish, “Daniel,” Mercer Commentary on the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills and Richard F. Wilson (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1995).

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. In addition to this work, she is a freelance editor for other publishers and authors. She also regularly volunteers for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (15) and Natalie (12), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Formations Teaching Guide and Commentary. Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

*