Biblical Obituaries

One of the most popular sections in the newspaper is the obituaries. More compelling than the economic news, crime report, comics or even advice columns, most readers want to know who died. Perhaps this is due to an obsession with our own mortality: as long as the deceased were older that we are, we feel a bit better about our own prospects.

Perhaps we secretly wish to one day turn to the obituaries expecting to see the usual fare of certain death, only to see a blank page because people have stopped dying.

For some us, perhaps, if we are honest, there is no small amount of pleasure (be honest!) that even the rich, the powerful, the mean, the wicked sometimes die.

Thousands of years ago people also got news about death. In fact, the first Obituary appears in the Bible. Genesis Chapter 5 lists no less than eight obituaries, including the dead man’s surviving relatives and age of death, which make the reports much like their modern counterparts (except that the average age was 907.5 years! Even the most severe hypochondriac among us would have been at least a little bit relieved).

Earlier, Adam & Eve had been banished from the Garden of Eden and God had pronounced judgment on them, a judgment that had previously included the warning “you shall surely die.” But we don’t see death recorded, at least not yet. Instead, we see Adam & Eve procreating, Cain killing Abel (but himself surviving), and Cain’s progeny advancing various aspects of society. One might be inclined to decide that whatever “surely die” meant, it did not involve physical death.

But then we are told, in Chapter 5, in a rhythmic, monotonous recitation that man, after man, after man, no matter the extraordinary length of life he enjoyed, or the power he wielded, or the wealth he had, did, in fact, die, die, die. Assuredly, irrevocably, relentlessly, God’s proclamation of death as punishment for sin was carried out.

With one exception.

‘Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him’ (Gen. 5:21). In the middle of this methodical funeral procession is the report we sometimes wish to see in our own newspaper obits: someone did not die.

Why is this here? What was special about Enoch? Not much, except that God took him. Later, we learn that Enoch prophesied, had faith, and pleased God (Hebrews 11:5, Jude 1:14). Yet here, in the midst of all this description about the effects of judgment, which was itself the result of God’s initiative in punishing sin and preserving his holiness, is a description of the only thing that could possibly save him from that judgment: God’s initiative in redemption.

While we can be sure that God’s word is true — he will punish sin — we can also be sure that God is able to save men out of sin and death. That this truth appears early in redemptive history, early in God’s revelation to man in Scripture, makes his redemption of individuals no longer an uncertain response of men to God, but a certain, definite, and completely successful rescue operation initiated by God toward men.

This article originally appeared in June, 2008

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