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Biblical Death and Burial: 10 Case Studies

Biblical Death and Burial: 10  Case Studies

I am writing on this because a friend of mine just died at 92, and I had my 78th birthday recently. My grandfather, father, and uncle all died at 73, so I am blessed to have exceeded the “threescore and ten” the LORD gives us in Psalm 90:10.

My mail these days is filled with offers for burial insurance and low-cost cremation, so I am frequently reminded of my mortality! What does the Bible have to say about this? Here are ten cases that help us understand. I trust they will bless you!

One thought underlying all of this is from cricketer C.T. Studd:

Only one life, ‘twill soon be past/

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Biblical Death and Burial: 10 Case Studies in Faith

Death appears suddenly in the Bible, and there is no provision for burial.

When Cain* murders his brother, the LORD says,

What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.

And now art thou cursed from the earth, which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand; - Genesis 4:10-11 (case study 1)

* after a name means there is a short biography of this person in SPIRITUAL LIVES.

The situation cries out for remedy as the blood of the slain cries out for justice. But there is no burial here. The Bible shows it to us first as an act of love when Abraham* (1996-1821 BC) seeks a “buryingplace” for Sarah* (1986-1859 BC). Jacob* (1836-1689 BC)was motivated by love when he buried his belovéd Rachel and again when honoring Leah. (Case study 2)

Death calls for a human response, and the Bible shows a loving and family reaction. There is grief and sorrow, and burial is a crucial step in recognizing both and going on to reaffirm life.

When Abraham* died, the Bible reports “he was gathered to his people.” This euphemism for death does not mean burial but reunion with those who have passed before, ancestors, and is an expression of faith in life after death. (Case study 3)

Next, Jacob* and Joseph* (1745-1635 BC) made detailed instructions for their burials. Here, another dimension enters: the covenant of faith. The Patriarchs were recipients of God’s covenant and took care to pass their faith in His promises to their children and children’s children. Jacob and Joseph realized this. (Case study 4)

By faith Jacob*, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph*; and worshipped,

leaning upon the top of his staff.

By faith Joseph,* when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones. – Hebrews 11:21-22

Joseph* occupies thirteen of Genesis’ 50 chapters yet his burial directions are the only aspect of his life mentioned in the New Testament! God cares about burial. It is an act of faith.

• God gave instructions for the burial of criminals in Deuteronomy and mentions these other customs:

• after a person breathed the last breath, the eyes were shut and closed (Gen 46:4).

• burial of the dead occurred the same day before sundown (Lev 10:4; Deut 21:23). This was done partially for sanitary considerations and for fear of defilement (Num 19:11-14).

• the dead were clothed in burial, often in their favorite everyday clothing (Ezk 32:27; 1 Sam 28:14).

• mourning for family and close friends would occur following the death, often at the family home (John 11:17-20).

God Himself buried Moses*(1571-1451 BC).

Deuteronomy tells us God buried him secretly in the land of Moab. The Bible does not tell us why, although Jesus’ brother Jude says that Satan* contended for his body with Michael the Archangel.

One explanation is that God’s purpose was to prevent the children of Israel from making Moses’ grave an idol, as they did with the brass serpent. Satan, of course, would rejoice in making his grave a snare to God’s people. Christian scholars have suggested that the larger battle was over the Law of Moses, which the new covenant established in Jesus’ Resurrection was to bury. (Case study 5)

Whatever the deeper reasons may be, God’s unique role in Moses’ burial shows His respect for His servant and is a testimony to the truth of Psalm 116:15: Precious in the sight of the Lord / is the death of his faithful servants.

God is interested in the death and burial of His people out of kindness and love, but also as a protective measure in spiritual warfare. There is a powerful story about the sons of Rizpah and her deep maternal love and actions to protect the unburied bodies of her sons. (2 Samuel 21)

Her passionate maternal love moved David* (1085-1015 BC) to disinter the remains of Saul* (1115-1055 BC) and Jonathan* (? -1055 BC) and rebury them with honor. This removed a curse from the land. Like Sophocles’ heroine Antigone, Rizpah was outraged at the inhumanity of refusing the burial of her dead sons. Burial is a basic human need. (Case study 6)

Death is always an enemy, but sometimes God uses it as an act of kindness. Jeroboam* (1016?-954 BC) had earned the LORD’s wrath for leading Israel into sin. The judgment was death by the sword for all his children. But his youngest son was spared this violent death and was taken by sickness: (case study 7)

And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him: for he only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave, because in him there is found some good thing toward the LORD God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam. I Kings 14:13

It became an honor to be buried among the kings, and the Jews continued to follow Moses’ laws regarding burial and morning.

Burial in the New Testament

Jesus* (4 BC-30 AD) tells a would-be disciple to “let the death bury their dead,” but He goes to Lazarus’ tomb asking weeping Mary, “Where have ye laid him?” (Case study 8)

Jesus’ own burial was a loving act of devotion by the women who loved him and Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. This act was “according to the scriptures,” St. Paul* (5-67) tells us, and it is mentioned in the Apostles. Creed, along with His descent into Hell and ascent to Heaven. (Case study 9)

The next burials were of Ananias and Sapphira, who were buried together, perhaps the first in the new Christian church. The final burial recorded in the Bible is that of the martyr Stephen: And devout men carried Stephen to his burial and made great lamentation over him. Acts 8:2 (case study 10)

The Bible forewarns and forearms us regarding death and burial. The drama that unfolds from Genesis through Revelation is one of life and death, with death always having the last say in this world. The Bible teaches that death is our enemy and the result of our sin, a divine and just judgment for our disobeying God's word to please ourselves.

The Bible teaches death’s inevitability and our responsibility to prepare for it. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: - Hebrews 9:27

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,

Redeeming the time because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Matthew 6:21

The Bible shows us burial as an act of love, a family act of kindness, reminding us of God’s love and pointing to eternity. It is the deceased's final event, not the final witness. That often comes in a gravestone or memorial tablet but, more importantly, in the testimony of a life lived for Jesus.

Christian burial today

Christians continue to carry on the solemn practice of honoring the dead as the devout men buried Stephen. We mourn and weep and follow Jesus’ kindness in visiting the family of the bereaved.

Our churches have developed funeral services that honor, comfort, and give hope:

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant N. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light…. Amen. (A Commendatory Prayer from The Book of Common Prayer, 1979.)

The Bible turns our thoughts from the grave with this promise for the future:

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.Revelation 21:4

So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.1 Corinthians 15:54

I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Jesus at the grave of Lazarus in John 11:25-26

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