Destruction, and its Kindred Terms. — The Old Testament
We shall still mainly follow Mr. Constable, because he is the one appealed to by his colleagues as the principal authority on the subject, and because he certainly claims to give very distinctly the whole vocabulary of words relating to it. Indeed, I may say the main part of his argument depends upon this. But his strength and his weakness lie very near together, as we may shortly see.
He gives us first the Old Testament phrases, and foremost of these the passages which speak of death, as Ps. 7:13; Prov. 8:36; Prov. 11:4; Ezek. 3:18; Ezek. 18:4; Ezek. 33:8. I do not as yet take up their application: this will come afterwards; we are only at the vocabulary now. He adds to these two (Ezek. 3:18; Ezek. 13:22) which give loss of life as the equivalent of death. No one would deny this, of course; the question is, is death extinction? We have seen over and over again that it is not, and Mr. Constable admits that if this were proved it would "militate gravely" against its being so when applied to future punishment. These are his words (Hades, ch. 7:17): —
"And here we would particularly warn the upholders of the scriptural truth of life and immortality only in Christ, to beware how by explaining away the natural force of the many Scriptures which teach that the soul dies in the first death, they greatly weaken their own argument when they come to insist that the second death means the true and real extinction of the entire man. Scripture speaks of it simply as death. If the first death is consistent with man's in fact not dying, but continuing to live in regard to his most important part, whose survival again may be supposed to imply the restoration of the body to life, it seems plain that the common idea of the first death MILITATES GRAVELY against our view of what is intended by the second."
This witness is true, and it is all I need say here. The meaning of the passages we shall examine by and by.
He next crowds together a number of passages of very different applications which he makes to describe the "end of the ungodly": — "The destruction of the transgressors and sinners shall be together" (Isa. 1:28) — which applies to the purification of Zion in the last days; "prepare them for the day of slaughter" (Jer. 12:3) — which is also judgment in the land; "the slain of the Lord shall be many," and "they shall go forth and look upon the carcases of the men that have sinned" (Isa. 66:16, 24) — God's destruction of Israel's enemies and others; "God shall destroy them" (Ps. 28:5); "they shall be consumed" (Ps. 37:20); "they shall be cut off" (Ps. 37:38); "they shall be rooted out of the land of the living" (Ps. 52:5) — misquoted, and referring to "Doeg, the Edomite"; "blotted out of the book of life" (Ps. 69:28); and "they are not" (Job 27:19): — not one of these can be shown to apply to the final judgment of the wicked. Let Mr. Constable prove this if he can.
But "for the sake of greater plainness" he takes up the separate Hebrew words; and here the full amount of his concession as to death becomes apparent. All these words are applied to death. If death therefore does not mean extinction, plainly its synonyms need not. Thus, then, the foundation being removed, Mr. Constable's edifice falls to the ground.
Thus we have first, abad to perish: and here presents itself from Isa. 57, a text already spoken of. "The righteous perisheth," and yet "enters into peace"; "the good man is perished out of the earth." It is the word also applied to a "lost" sheep (Ps. 119:176; Jer. 1. 6; Ezek. 34:4, 16).
But we can little trust Mr. Constable's statements: the next word, haras, he says, is "another word in frequent use for future punishment." There is one passage which he may possibly have thought applied, but which has no necessary reference to another state at all, and that is Ps. 28:5: "Because they regard not the works of the Lord, neither the operation of His hands, He shall destroy [or overthrow] them, and not build them up."
The third word tzamath, is the word used in Ps. 119:139, "my zeal hath consumed me"; and in 88:16, "thy terrors have cut me off." It would be impossible to show it to refer to final judgment at all.
The fourth, shamad, Mr. Constable says, "is significant of utter extinction," so that it must be the most forcible of all these terms. Yet we find it used to predict the curse upon Israel under the penalty of which as a nation they still are, and which is not "utter extinction," as the very passage shows. "Also every sickness and every plague, which is not written in the book of this law, them will the Lord bring upon thee, till thou be DESTROYED. And ye shall be left few in number," etc., i.e., not utterly extinct at all (Deut. 28:61, 62). In the 30th chapter it is added further, "And it shall come to pass when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing AND the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shall call them to mind . . . and shalt return unto the Lord thy God . . . that then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity," etc. (Deut. 30:1-3). Here is national repentance and restoration predicted, after what Mr. Constable calls "utter extinction." Here is in fact the place in all Scripture where the word is used most constantly. It is found in Deut. 28:20, 24, 45, 48, 51, 61, translated "destroy" and in 63 "bring to nought": and yet the very prophecy shows that there is no "utter extinction" at all in the matter.
It is also used repeatedly of "death," which is not that.
The fifth word is karath in Niphal, which Job 14:7 uses to say, in the face of Mr. Constable, that "there is hope of a tree, if it be cut down," i.e., of course, "hope of a tree after it is extinct," as we saw of Israel before.
It is used also (Dan. 9:26) of Messiah being cut off: and let Mr. Constable say what this means.
It is used of death continually, and this is indeed the almost constant use, although it does not always, as we see, mean as much as that for a dead tree never sprouts.
Finally, the sixth word, nathatz, is used once in the psalm which according to its title, speaks of Doeg (Ps. 52:5): "God shall likewise destroy thee forever: he shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling-place (lit. tent), and root thee out of the land of the living." It is death by the judgment of God that is indicated, and the meaning is better given in the margin, "beat thee down."
I have grave complaint to make of the way Mr. Constable uses all these words. He is content to say loosely of them that they are "applied to future punishment." He brings forward no proofs, he supposes you will take his word for it of course. He never attempts to show that they apply to the judgment after death at all. Temporal judgments are mixed up with eternal. No exceptional uses of the words are taken notice of at all, no contrary arguments that might be alleged, or anything of the kind. The consequence is that, while claiming precise accuracy, he is as loose and inaccurate as well may be.
Let Mr. Constable point out, few or many, the passages he relies upon to prove his point. Let him bring forward the convincing arguments which assure him that it is indeed "eternal judgment," that they speak of. Let him meet the arguments upon the other side. Let him show that the words which speak of the destruction of material things apply in the same sense to immaterial things. Let him do this, and he will at least have brought his argument into some tangible shape, and one which the gravity of the subject demands. Until he does so we shall have cause to suspect an argument which requires the assumption of materialism for its support, and which treats the overthrow of a man and of a wall, as if it was undeniable there was no difference between the two.
We shall give Mr. Constable's summing up of the Old Testament testimony as he understands it. We have given his whole reasoning, and therefore may safely appeal to our readers if he has taken the first step towards showing what he asserts.
"By every unambiguous term," he says, "it has pointed out the punishment of the wicked as consisting, not in life, but in the loss of life; not in their continuance in that organized form which constitutes man, but in its dissolution; its resolution into its original parts, its becoming as though it had never been called into existence. While the redeemed are to know a life which knows no end, the lost are to be reduced to a death which knows of no awaking forever and ever. Such is the testimony of God in the Old Testament. If Christian divines refuse to accept it because Plato, and before him Egyptian priests, taught a doctrine of the soul's essential immortality, let them see to it. We prefer the word of God to the logic of Plato and of Egypt."
And so do we. Nor have we appealed to either, or to aught but the word of God all through. And moreover we have faithfully and minutely examined Mr. Constable's arguments throughout, and tested them by that word, and have found them wanting. The keystone of his whole argument, as we have said, is its materialism, and he has himself virtually admitted it. If death is not extinction, as it is not, — if the soul is immortal (though not independently, but by the will of its Creator), as it is, — then Mr. Constable's argument is wholly, irretrievably, hopelessly gone forever. But we must follow him into the New Testament.