Surprised by Hell: The Old Testament

The Old Testament says very little about hell or the fate of the wicked. However, when the question is squarely addressed, the scriptures teach the utter destruction of the wicked.

Consider Psalm 37 —

(Psa 37) Of David. Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; 2 for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. …

9 For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land. 10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. …

18 The days of the blameless are known to the LORD, and their inheritance will endure forever. 19 In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty. 20 But the wicked will perish: The Lord’s enemies will be like the beauty of the fields, they will vanish — vanish like smoke.

21 The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; 22 those the LORD blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be cut off. …

27 Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. 28 For the LORD loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. They will be protected forever, but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off; 29 the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever. …

34 Wait for the LORD and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you will see it. 35 I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil, 36 but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found.

37 Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace. 38 But all sinners will be destroyed; the future of the wicked will be cut off. 39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. 40 The LORD helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.

If we read the promises to the righteous of being protected forever and inheriting and dwelling in the land forever as references to the Eschaton (what else?), then we have to see the promises that the wicked will be “no more” and “could not be found” and “destroyed” and “cut off” and “vanish like smoke” as also eschatological.

Consider also Malachi’s prophecy —

(Mal 4:1-3) “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. 2 But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. 3 Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things,” says the LORD Almighty.

Malachi seems pretty clear that the fire that destroys the wicked will do so utterly. There is certainly no idea of perpetual torment. Rather than being on fire forever, they are turned into ashes.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink.
My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.

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One Response to Surprised by Hell: The Old Testament

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