There is one interesting factor that separates the Hebrews from virtually every other ancient culture that has been archeologically uncovered.
All other cultures had some kind of extensive cult of the dead.
The entire ancient world except for the Old Testament Hebrews had fully developed underworld myths and beliefs in the spirit world of the dead including reincarnation.
For example, harken back to when we did our studies on Egypt.
We learned that the great pyramids were built as a protective place for the Pharaohs to live out their afterlives in peace and comfort following their physical expiration on this earthly plane.
Having said that, by the time of Yeshua, the Jews had also eventually developed their own doctrines and traditions on death and the afterlife.
The concept of whether there was a bodily resurrection or not was one of the hot topics up for debate during this period.
The Hebrew word commonly used to refer to this life-after-death existence was OLAM HABA.
In English, this would be translated as “the world to come”.
This is also the term used to refer to the new world that will exist after the Messiah comes.
While there is scant detail on this subject in the TANACH (Old Testament), we can actually find it in books that the Protestants removed from the Scriptures a couple of hundred years ago.
I’m talking about the Apocrypha.
That’s right folks.
The apocrypha was removed by the Protestant Church during the time of the American revolutionary war (late 1700’s).
These books span from the time of the end of the Old Testament (about 400BC) to the beginning of the New Testament (Yeshua’s time).
However, in the Apocrypha there is a truckload of disagreement over which of the Rabbis held the correct view of death and the afterlife.
The reason for all of this disagreement is simple.
All of the views being expressed have their roots in men’s ideas and philosophies, NOT Scripture.
Nevertheless, in spite of all this “afterlife” debate that developed, what took place after death still held a very minor place in the mind and purpose of your average Israelite.
Again, from the time of Moses onward, the prevailing assumption was that life ended at the grave with no real thought of some otherworld existence.
Now, what I’d like to do next is ask a question that I feel strikes right at the heart of the Jew-gentile mindset difference with regards to the Mosaic Law and how it’s connected to one’s belief system concerning the afterlife.
So here goes.
Regardless of whether or not you were a native-born Hebrew or a member of the mixed multitude who were grafted in to Israel, if you, as one of God’s people, were alive during Old Testament biblical times, how would you have lived out your earthly life?
Think hard on this question and keep in mind that as far as you were concerned (based on the belief system at that time), there was NO afterlife.
If you really, really LOVED HASHEM, how would you have lived out your life?
If you really, really, really, really, really, really, really loved the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind, wouldn’t you have seen to it that for the 70 or 80 years of your limited time on this planet your life revolved around your relationship with YHVH?
If you were very serious about the Lordship of YHVH over your life, would you not have done everything you could to be righteous before God, because once you died, as far as you were concerned, your relationship with God ended?
You would have no more opportunity to please God by obeying His commands.
You would no longer be able to communicate with Him.
You would no longer have an opportunity to please Him by celebrating His ordained feasts and festivals.
You would no longer have an opportunity to please Him by what you ate.
You would no longer have an opportunity to please Him by keeping His Sabbaths.
You would no longer have an opportunity to meditate on His Law.
Since the ancient Hebrew believed that this life was all they had, they worked diligently to please YHVH in their EVERY DAY activities and in EVERY PHASE of their lives.
Obedience to God’s commandments was their goal and life’s purpose.
Think of it like this.
Let’s say you have a most dearly loved relative whether it be a mother or father, brother or sister, or whatever.
And let’s say that this most dearly loved relative has cancer and only has one month to live.
You only have one month to spend time to shower your affection on this dearly loved relative of yours.
Knowing that your time was limited, wouldn’t you do everything you possibly could to ensure that the time you spent with this relative and the actions you took towards him or her were worthwhile and filled with loving kindness?
While not the most perfect metaphor, for the Israelite who sincerely loved God, knowing that his time was limited was the fuel that motivated and drove him to obey God’s commands.
Now contrast this to the opposite view held by some in the gentile church where the idea is to see how many of God’s commands we can get away with breaking as long as we don’t go to hell when we die.
I’m not attacking anybody here because I’ve thought that way myself.
Ive been like “Well, if keeping the Sabbath or eating pork isn’t a salvation issue, then what’s the big deal!“
But can you see how the viewpoint one holds on life, death and the afterlife can affect one’s daily walk with God, especially as it pertains to the importance one extends to obedience to the Lord’s commands?
This difference in viewpoint also extends to how Hebrews and Christians each think of salvation.
Even when you say the word “Salvation” to an observant Jew today, it means something TOTALLY DIFFERENT than the notion a gentile Christian harbors.
While this is not 100%, for the most part, the Hebrews thought, and Jews today continue to view salvation as a done deal by means of their forefathers.
Keep in mind that God saved the Israelites FIRST and then afterwards He gave them the Law, NOT vice versa.
Salvation of Israel was 100% based on grace!
God, via His Grace and Mercy, established a set-apart group, a saved people, through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
So, according to the Hebrew, if by God’s grace your were a member of this set-apart group (also called “the seed of Abraham” in the Scriptures), you were saved, period.
Now one may ask, if the ancient Hebrews didn’t believe in life after death, then what in the world did they believe they were saved from?
They believed they were saved from being a pagan (or a gentile or a goy).
They were so grateful that this Almighty Powerful God, who had rescued them from slavery in Egypt, had chosen them from among the nations.
And this gratitude was expressed via their obedience to His commandments.
For the ancient Hebrew, salvation was already a done deal once HASHEM rescued them from Egypt.
The opportunity to obey the Mosaic Law was their GREAT REWARD for being a member of God’s Chosen.
Obedience to God’s Law was considered a privilege and a reward.
Alright, this post is getting quite longer than anticipated.
Let’s sum things up.
For the ancient believer (whether Jew or grafted in gentile), salvation was simply being a part of Israel, nothing less and nothing more.
The thought of any future additional reward was just not part of the thinking of those who compiled and wrote the Old Testament Scriptures.
However, when we contrast this mindset with the gentile Christian way of thinking, we notice quite a difference.
For the gentile Christian, salvation is all about forgiveness of sins in this present life based on Yeshua’s work on the cross, and then as a result, receiving a “pass” so to speak to enter heaven when he or she dies regardless of how he or she lived out his or her life while on earth.
The Christian’s idea of a reward has little to do with the here and now but is mainly focused in the spirit world located in the future following death.