Click to Change

Return to Top

Return to Top

Printer Icon


The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: What Hope Did the Old Testament Give for Death?

Choose a new font size and typeface
Don Stewart
Though unbelievers try a variety of different ways to face the question of death, in the end, none of them can really help. Fortunately there is a remedy for death. From the very beginning, the Old Testament has given humanity hope for something better beyond this life.

Three Great Events

The entire Old Testament looked forward to the time when the Lord would come, raise the dead, judge the world righteously, and then set up His kingdom.

1. The Lord Would Come And Raise The Dead

The Bible promised that the Lord would personally come to earth one day. His coming was a major theme of the Old Testament. Upon His return, the dead would be raised.

2. Humanity Would Be Righteously Judged

When the Lord returns, the wrongs committed in this life would be made right. Those who lived in the Old Testament period understood that not all wrongs would be made right in this life. They trusted the Lord would vindicate the righteous and judge the ungodly. There would be a final righting of wrongs when the dead are judged here on the earth.

3. The Righteous Would Inherit God's Kingdom

After this judgment, the righteous would inherit the kingdom of God and live with Him forever. This is the hope that the Old Testament provided to the believer. We find these three great prophetic events illustrated in a variety of ways.


The earliest specific biblical mention of someone living in the afterlife is Enoch. After Enoch lived a life that was pleasing to God, the Bible says that God took him.

Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away (Genesis 5:24).

This implied that Enoch was brought into God's presence. The New Testament agrees with this truth.

By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God (Hebrews 11:5).

Because Enoch went to be with the Lord, he served as an example for others who were to follow.

Walked With God

Only two Old Testament figures, Noah (Genesis 6:9) and Enoch, are said to have walked with God. Walking with God meant intimate communion with Him. Malachi records God saying.

True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin (Malachi 2:6).

The intimate walking with God continued when Enoch came into God's presence. Therefore we have the idea of continual consciousness and communion with God beyond this life. Although Enoch was not resurrected, he did experience glorification in the presence of the Lord.


From the account of Abraham, we have another testimony to a conscious afterlife for those who have died. Abraham was to be gathered to his people in peace upon his death. God said to him.

You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age (Genesis 15:15).

This eventually came to pass.

Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people (Genesis 25:8).

This indicates more than being buried in the family tomb. Abraham had left his homeland and went to a new land. His body was not returned to the land of his fathers - he was buried in the land to which he was promised. The only other person that was buried in his tomb was his wife Sarah. Therefore the phrase "gathered to his people" does not have the idea of burial with his ancestors. In fact, in the entire Old Testament, this phrase is distinguished from the act of burial.

Hope Of Reunion

Therefore the expression "to be gathered with his people" does not mean that he was buried in the family tomb. It contains the hope of a reunion with ones ancestors beyond the grave. Others were given the same promise.

When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people (Genesis 49:33).


Elijah, like Enoch, did not die, but went to be with the Lord.

He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven (2 Kings 2:10,11).


The Old Testament character Job suffered a tremendous amount. Yet, through all his suffering, he still expressed hope that there was something better after this life.

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27).

Although Job may not be vindicated in this life, he had a hope for life beyond the grave.


When God spoke to Moses in the burning bush He identified Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God (Exodus 3:6).

The Lord said, "I am" not "I was" the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though long dead, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive in God's presence.


In the Book of Psalms, we find further expressions of a hope beyond the grave. This includes a bodily resurrection.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will You let Your Holy One see decay You show me the path of life. In Your presence there is fullness of joy; in Your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:9-11).

They also had the hope of being in God's' presence forever. This is another indication of life beyond the grave. In another Psalm we read.

As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding Your likeness (Psalm 17:15).

Wicked And Righteous Contrasted

In the 49th Psalm we are presented with a contrast between the wicked and the righteous. At the end of their lives the wicked are like animals who perish.

But humans, despite their riches, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish . . A person who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish (Psalm 49:12,20).

They have no hope of living eternally with the Lord.


In contrast, the righteous have hope. Speaking of the believer the psalmist wrote.

That he should live on forever and not see decay (Psalm 49:9).

The psalmist also had hope that he would be freed from the power of death.

But God will ransom my soul from the power of death, for He will receive me. Selah (Psalm 49:15).

This is another indication of a genuine hope of life after death. As Enoch was received by the Lord, so will the righteous who trust in Him.

In Heaven

There was also the hope of heaven.

You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me with honor. Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 73:24-26).


The Bible specifically says that King David would be raised in the future to feed the flock of Israel.

I the LORD will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken (Ezekiel 34:24).

This prediction was written hundreds of years after David's death.


In the Book of Isaiah we read of hope beyond the grave.

He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken (Isaiah 25:8).

Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits (Isaiah 26:19).


In the Book of Daniel we also have hope in the afterlife expressed.

Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).

Daniel was promised a personal reward after this life.

As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance (Daniel 12:13).


The prophet Zechariah recorded.

And you will flee by the valley of my mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD, my God, will come, and all the holy ones with Him! (Zechariah 14:5).

If the "holy ones" in this context refers to believers rather than angels, then we have a guarantee of the resurrection of the righteous.

Warnings About Contacting Dead

Finally, there are the various warnings in the Old Testament about the living contacting the dead. From the time of Moses the people were warned about dabbling in areas of the occult such as talking to the dead.

When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you, you must not learn to imitate the abhorrent practices of those nations. No one shall be found among you who makes a son or daughter pass through fire, or who practices divination, or is a soothsayer, or an augur, or a sorcerer, or one who casts spells, or who consults ghosts or spirits, or who seeks oracles from the dead. For whoever does these things is abhorrent to the LORD; it is because of such abhorrent practices that the LORD your God is driving them out before you (Deuteronomy 18:9-12).

These warnings would make no sense whatsoever if the dead ceased to exist. Why warn people about contacting people in the next world if there was no such thing as an afterlife? The fact that they were warned shows they had an early belief of existence beyond this life.

Samuel And Saul

In First Samuel 28, there is the episode of Saul contacting the spirit of the dead prophet Samuel. No matter how one understands what happened in this story, it does prove that the people assumed the dead lived on in the next world.


It is clear that the Old Testament gave people hope for life beyond the grave. Those who had died are regarded as still existing. Death is the end of existence here on earth, but not the end of all existence. The Lord would return, raise the dead, judge the people, and set up His kingdom. From Enoch being taken away, to the statements in Job, the Psalms, Isaiah, and Daniel, the Old Testament gave individuals a hope beyond this life. Those who died had immediate access into the presence of the Lord - He took them to Himself. They were awaiting a future time when their bodies would be raised. The warnings of the Lord that the living should not attempt to contact the dead gives further testimony of existence in the afterlife. It was, however, the New Testament, that would reveal a more detailed description of the next world.
BLB Searches
Search the Bible

Advanced Options

Other Searches

Multi-Verse Retrieval

Daily Devotionals

Blue Letter Bible offers several daily devotional readings in order to help you refocus on Christ and the Gospel of His peace and righteousness.

Daily Bible Reading Plans

Recognizing the value of consistent reflection upon the Word of God in order to refocus one's mind and heart upon Christ and His Gospel of peace, we provide several reading plans designed to cover the entire Bible in a year.

One-Year Plans

Two-Year Plan


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.