Circumstances surrounding the death of several Old Testament individuals, prophets and kings are recorded in the scriptures. The first reference to death is found in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. God warned Adam and Eve that on the day that they understood the knowledge of good and evil, they would die. “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) Deception of man was subsequently set into motion when Satan, described here as the serpent, branded God a liar, convincing Adam and Eve that God was not truthful with them, enticing them by the notion that they would not die, but be as gods. “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5) Although the details of how Adam and Eve died are not given, it is revealed that Adam lived to be 930 years old. “And all the days of Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.” (Genesis 5:5) No information is given concerning the circumstances of Eve’s death or her age at the time of death.
We find the phrase “gave up the ghost” is frequently used in the Old Testament. “Gave up the ghost” perhaps could be more clearly understood by saying, “gave up the spirit”, which indicates that at the time the flesh dies, the spirit leaves, or is released and does not die. We will cover this in depth later, but this does bring to light the idea that there are two elements to us, our spirit and our flesh, that often war with each other.
Another phrase often used to describe death in the scriptures is, “gathered to his people.” This expression is a clue that there is a family; a group of people or beings that man’s spirit goes back to once the flesh dies. It seems to indicate that we are going back to a place where we were before being born in the flesh. Some may question if the expression may mean buried (in the ground) with their family, but in most cases it states they first were gathered unto their people and then buried as the scripture describes concerning Isaac. “And Isaac gave up the ghost, and died, and was gathered unto his people, being old and full of days: and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.” (Genesis 35:29)
God informed Abraham of his forthcoming death using an expression similar to “gathered to his people,” by indicating that Abraham was going to “join his fathers.” “And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.” (Genesis 15:15) If Abraham is joining them, then his ancestors are not dead, but in another location. This is reassuring to those who have recently lost a loved one. “And these are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, which he lived, and hundred threescore and fifteen years. Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people.” (Genesis 25:7-8)
Jesus describes several years later in the New Testament, while speaking a parable, of Abraham as not being dead, but still alive. “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” (Luke 16:22-23)
Abraham lived to be one hundred and seventy five years old. That may seem old to us, but is much younger than many other individuals mentioned earlier in the book of Genesis. Seth lived to be nine hundred and twelve years, Enos lived to be nine hundred and five years, Cainan lived to be nine hundred and ten years, Mahalaleel lived to be eight hundred and ninety-five years, Jared lived to be nine hundred and sixty-two years, Methuselah lived nine hundred and sixty-nine years, Lamech lived seven hundred and seventy years, Noah lived nine hundred and fifty years. After Noah, we find that the life span of man began to shorten as was designed and proclaimed by God at the beginning of Genesis six.
“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.
“And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” (Genesis 6:1-3) Why, we have to ask, does it later say man’s life span is seventy to eighty years? Perhaps, if not for contamination, pollution, sin, etc., the potential life span for man is one hundred and twenty years. We only hear of a few that ever live to that age.
Abraham mourned the death of his wife, Sarah, who died at a much younger age then her husband. She was one hundred and twenty-seven years old when she died. Abraham buried her in Hebron. “And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan: and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her.” (Genesis 23:1-2)
The phrase “soul was departing” is used when, after giving birth to her second son, Jacob’s wife, Rachel, died. Thus, we find that the soul, together with the spirit, leaves the flesh behind. The soul is first mentioned in the book of Genesis. “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7) The word “soul” is used 753 times in the Bible. It is the word “nephesh” in the Hebrew (pronounced “neh’-fesh”- The Strong’s Concordance #05315). The best description of the word would be “self,” “the living being of man,” or “the inner being of man.” Rachel was buried in Bethlehem, the city where Jesus would years later be born. “And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing, (for she died) that she called his name Benoni; but his father called him Benjamin. And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.” (Genesis 35:18-19)
The passing of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, is one of the more fascinating deaths recorded in the scriptures. Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, spoke to his son Joseph and his other sons concerning his death. It is apparent that Israel knew he was going to die soon. Here he uses the phrase that he will “lie with his fathers.” “But I will lie with my fathers, and thou shalt carry me out of Egypt, and bury me in their burying place. And he (Joseph) said, I will do as thou has said.” (Genesis 47:30) Once more in chapter forty-eight, Israel states that he is going to die. “And Israel said unto Joseph, Behold, I die: but God shall be with you, and bring you again unto the land of your fathers.” (Genesis 48:21) In chapter forty-nine he again requests to be taken out of Egypt to be buried. “And he charged them, and said unto them, I am to be gathered unto my people: bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite.” (Genesis 49:29) Jacob did soon die. His death is unique in that it appears he made the decision at what point in time he would die. He said everything he wanted to say, put his feet up, lied back on his bed and died. “And when Jacob had made an end of commanding, his sons, he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost, and was gathered unto his people. And Joseph fell upon his father’s face, and wept upon him, and kissed him.” (Genesis 49:33- 50:1)
In another place we find the expression“yielded up the ghost” used is concerning Jesus when he died on the cross. “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.” (Matthew 27:50)
Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel and his son, Joseph, are the only people mentioned in the Bible as having been embalmed. This was most likely due to the fact that they were in Egypt when they died. “And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father: and the physicians embalmed Israel.” (Genesis 50:2)Jacob gave up the spirit, was gathered to his people and his flesh body was buried with Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca and his wife, Leah, in the cave of Ephron the Hittite, as Jacob had requested. It is interesting to discover that if you take the first letter of each of their names (Isaac, Sarah, Rebecca, Abraham, and Leah) it spells ISRAL.
Before it occurred, God informed Moses and Aaron, his brother, of Aarons impending death. Neither Moses, nor Aaron was allowed to enter the Promised Land. They were instructed to give the priest robe to Aaron’s son, Eleazar. Aaron was 133 years old when he died on Mt. Hor, where he was apparently, buried. Imagine the thoughts that must have gone through Aaron’s mind after probably saying goodbye to his family. He walked up that mountain, knowing he was not coming back down.
(God speaking “Aaron shall be gathered unto his people: for he shall not enter into the land which I have given unto the children of Israel, because ye rebelled against my word at the water of Meribah. Take Aaron and Eleazar his son, and bring them up unto mount Hor: And strip Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son: and Aaron shall be gathered unto his people, and shall die there. And Moses did as the LORD commanded: and they went up into mount Hor in the sight of all the congregation. And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments, and put them upon Eleazar his son; and Aaron died there in the top of the mount: and Moses and Eleazar came down from the mount. And when all the congregation saw that Aaron was dead, they mourned for Aaron thirty days, even all the house of Israel.” (Numbers 20:24-29) “And Aaron was an hundred and twenty and three years old when he died in mount Hor.” (Numbers 33:39)
The death of Moses is mysterious. Even though he was in good health, for one who was one hundred and twenty, God informed him that his death was near. “And the LORD said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers;” (Deuteronomy 31:16)Moses went up on a mountain where he was shown the Promised Land, then died and God himself buried him. “And the LORD said unto him, this is the land which I sware unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither. So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD. And he buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, over against Bethpeor: but no man knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day. And Moses was an hundred and twenty years old when he died: his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.” (Deuteronomy 34:4-7) The words “natural force abated” mean his vigor had not left him even at the age of 120. The book of Jude in the New Testament also contributes to the mystery surrounding Moses death. It states: “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.” (Jude 1:9) Adding to the mystery surrounding Moses, years after his physical death, he appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus. “And after six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, And was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. And, behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with him.”(Matthew 17:1-3)
Of Joshua’s death, at one hundred and ten years old, little is mentioned. “And it came to pass after these things, that Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being an hundred and ten years old.” (Joshua 24:29)
We find that David’s actions involving the death of his child were baffling to his servants. David prayed intensely for God to allow his newborn baby to live but once he realized the child was dead he stopped praying and went to eat. “But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead. Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat. Then said his servants unto him, what thing is this that thou hast done? Thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread. And he said, while the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” (II Samuel 12:19-23) David’s words are once more a verification of life after death.
The years took their toll on David. Before his death, those surrounding King David created an unusual way to pamper the king whom they loved. “Now king David was old and stricken in years; and they covered him with clothes, but he gat no heat. Wherefore his servants said unto him, Let there be sought for my lord the king a young virgin: and let her stand before the king, and let her cherish him, and let her lie in thy bosom, that my lord the king may get heat. So they sought for a fair damsel throughout all the coasts of Israel, and found Abishag a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. And the damsel was very fair, and cherished the king, and ministered to him: the king knew her not.” (I Kings 1:1-4)
David, aware that his death was near, used the expression “go the way of all the earth” when he spoke of his death to his son, Solomon. “Now the days of David drew nigh that he should die; and he charged Solomon his son, saying, I go the way of all the earth: be strong therefore, and shew thyself a man;” (I Kings 2:1-2)
In his promise to David, God used the phrase “sleep with thy fathers” when speaking to David through the prophet Nathan. “And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of they bowels, and I will establish his kingdom.” (II Samuel 7:12)
The death of Absalom, one of David’s sons, describes a heartfelt division in David’s family. Absalom had rebelled against his father and took many people with him causing a war to arise between the two divisions. This situation caused David a deep, inner turmoil in that he was forced to war against his own son whom he loved. David requested for the generals to go easy on his son, Absalom. “And the king commanded Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom. And all the people heard when the king gave all the captains charge concerning Absalom.” (II Samuel 18:5) The commanders did not obey David’s request. Absalom, who was known for his beautiful long hair, got his hair tangled in a tree branch and was killed by David’s army.
“And Absalom met the servants of David. And Absalom rode upon a mule, and the mule went under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the oak, and he was taken up between the heaven and the earth; and the mule that was under him went away. And a certain man saw it, and told Joab, and said, Behold, I saw Absalom hanged in an oak. And Joab said unto the man that told him, And, behold, thou sawest him, and why didst thou not smite him there to the ground? and I would have given thee ten shekels of silver, and a girdle. And the man said unto Joab, Though I should receive a thousand shekels of silver in mine hand, yet would I not put forth mine hand against the king’s son: for in our hearing the king charged thee and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Beware that none touch the young man Absalom. Otherwise I should have wrought falsehood against mine own life: for there is no matter hid from the king, and thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me. Then said Joab, I may not tarry thus with thee. And he took three darts in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom, while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak. And ten young men that bare Joab’s armour compassed about and smote Absalom, and slew him. And Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing after Israel: for Joab held back the people. And they took Absalom, and cast him into a great pit in the wood, and laid a very great heap of stones upon him: and all Israel fled every one to his tent.” (II Samuel 18:9-18)
David’s heart was broken when he heard the news of Absalom’s death. His expression of grief discouraged David’s army. Many of them had died fighting Absalom and his men. Joab spoke up to King David and brought him back to reality. “And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son! (II Samuel 18:33)
“And it was told Joab, Behold, the king weepeth and mourneth for Absalom. And the victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the people: for the people heard say that day how the king was grieved for his son. And the people gat them by stealth that day into the city, as people being ashamed steal away when they flee in battle. But the king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son! And Joab came into the house to the king, and said, Thou hast shamed this day the faces of all thy servants, which this day have saved thy life, and the lives of thy sons and of thy daughters, and the lives of thy wives, and the lives of thy concubines; In that thou lovest thine enemies, and hatest thy friends. For thou hast declared this day, that thou regardest neither princes nor servants: for this day I perceive, that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had pleased thee well. Now therefore arise, go forth, and speak comfortably unto thy servants: for I swear by the LORD, if thou go not forth, there will not tarry one with thee this night: and that will be worse unto thee than all the evil that befell thee from thy youth until now. Then the king arose, and sat in the gate. And they told unto all the people, saying, Behold, the king doth sit in the gate. And all the people came before the king: for Israel had fled every man to his tent. (II Samuel 19:1-8)
The words “slept or sleep with the fathers” continue to be used throughout the scriptures concerning David, his son, Solomon and the kings of Judah and Israel. “So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David” (I Kings 2:10) “And Solomon slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David his father: and Rehoboam his son reigned in his stead.” (I Kings 11:43) “And the days, which Jeroboam reigned, were two and twenty years: and he slept with his fathers, and Nadab his son reigned in his stead.” (I Kings 14:20)
A sad note concerning Solomon is that as the years transpired and after all the blessings and riches that Solomon received, Solomon strayed from his youthful love and enthusiasm toward God. He acquired foreign women along with their many Gods. Thus, Solomon’s days were shortened, as was promised in God’s response to Solomon’s youthful prayer for wisdom in I Kings 3, verse 14 above, “And if thou wilt walk in my ways, to keep my statutes and my commandments, as thy father David did walk, then I will lengthen thy days.” Solomon didn’t pay attention to the “if” in God’s statement. “For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammorites. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and went not fully after the LORD, as did David his father.” (I Kings 11:5-6) As a result, Solomon’s days on this earth were not lengthened, but shortened and the kingdom was split into two kingdoms. “Wherefore the LORD said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant.” (I Kings 11:11)
King Ahaziah rejected God and inquired of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron, as to whether he would recover from his disease. Because of this action, King Ahaziah died from his illness.“And he said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Forasmuch as thou has sent messengers to enquire of Baalzebub the god of Ekron, is it not because there is no God in Israel to enquire of his word? Therefore thou shalt not come down off that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die. So he died according to the word of the LORD, which Elijah had spoken.” (II Kings 1:16-17)
An evil leader, Jehoram king of Judah, brought disaster to the people of the land and to himself. He influenced the people to turn their back on God and the teachings of their ancestors, and the country took a downward turn. This illustrates that the leader of a country can bring devastating results to the people of a nation. His was not a pleasant death. “And there came a writing to him from Elijah the prophet, saying, Thus saith the LORD God of David thy father, Because thou hast not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat thy father, nor in the ways of Asa king of Judah, Behold, with a great plague will the LORD smite thy people, and thy children, and thy wives, and all thy goods; And thou shalt have great sickness by disease of thy bowels, until thy bowels fall out by reason of the sickness day by day. And after all this the LORD smote him in his bowels with an incurable disease. And it came to pass, that in process of time, after the end of two years, his bowels fell out by reason of his sickness: so he died of sore diseases. And his people made no burning for him like the burning of his fathers.” (II Chronicles 21:12-19)
Another example of disobedience causing grievous results is the story of Eli and his two evil sons. Four deaths occurred in the family of Eli the priest on the day that the Ark of the Covenant was taken by the Philistines. Eli was ninety-eight years old at his death and he was apparently a very heavy man. “And when Eli heard the noise of the crying, he said, What meaneth the noise of this tumult? And the man came in hastily, and told Eli. Now Eli was ninety and eight years old; and his eyes were dim, that he could not see. And the man said unto Eli, I am he that came out of the army, and I fled to day out of the army. And he said, What is there done, my son? And the messenger answered and said, Israel is fled before the Philistines, and there hath been also a great slaughter among the people, and thy two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God is taken. And it came to pass, when he made mention of the ark of God, that he fell from off the seat backward by the side of the gate, and his neck brake, and he died: for he was an old man, and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.
“And his daughter in law, Phinehas’ wife, was with child, near to be delivered: and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father in law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her. And about the time of her death the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not; for thou hast born a son. But she answered not, neither did she regard it. And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the ark of God was taken, and because of her father in law and her husband. And she said, The glory is departed from Israel: for the ark of God is taken.” (I Samuel 4:14-22)
Another unique phrase, “long home” is used to describe death in the book of Ecclesiastes where it states: “because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:” The word long used in this scripture is number 05769 in the Strong’s Hebrew dictionary. Some words used to describe the word are: “forever,” “everlasting,” “eternal,” “unending,” “continual existence,” and “perpetual.”
We have now learned various phrases used in the Bible to describe death. They are: “gave up the ghost,” “gathered to his people,” “joined his fathers,” “soul was departing,” “lie with his fathers,” “yielded up the ghost,” “sleep with thy fathers” and “long home.”