What the Bible says about Weeping

Topics chevron-right Weeping

Psalm 30:5

For his anger lasts only a moment,
    but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
    but rejoicing comes in the morning.

Only a moment (30:5). The desperate need for forgiveness and deliverance is common enough in human longing. An Egyptian prayer hopes in terms similar to the psalmist: “The lord of Thebes does not spend the day in wrath, when he rages, it is but for a moment, and nothing is left. The breeze has turned to us in grace, Amun has come, carried in his breath of life.”

Death and the Underworld

In Egypt, as early as the fourth millennium b.c., burial goods evidence belief in an afterlife. Funerary practices developed into elaborate customs of burial, accompanied by ongoing food offerings, to maintain an enjoyable life in the next world. At death, the individual stood before the god of the underworld, Osiris, and the confessions of the heart were weighed against the standard of justice (ma՝at; see comments on 85:10). Failure of character resulted in torture, but one judged “true of voice” was admitted into a joyous afterlife. The Egyptian Book of the Dead consists of a series of magical spells buried with the deceased person to help him or her overcome obstacles to a successful transition to life in the underworld.

Mesopotamian belief was not so optimistic. Upon death, Mesopotamians thought that the individual became a sort of ghost, but there was no judgment and no joyful existence possible. The underworld was a gloomy “land of no return,” partitioned from the land of the living by a series of gates and described in one text:

To the house where those who enter are deprived of light,

where dust is their food, clay their bread,

they see no light, they dwell in darkness.

Other texts offer some hope for food and fresh water if provided by surviving family members in ongoing funerary rituals. But without proper burial and maintenance, the ghost was doomed to wander without rest. The Hittite conception was similar. The ghosts of the dead descended to an underworld beneath the subterranean waters.

Ancient Israelites shared views of death and the underworld more in common with Mesopotamia than with Egypt. The afterlife was an uncertain state of existence as a shadowy image of the former, living self (repā׳îm: esv “shades”; niv “spirits” [Isa. 14:9; 26:14]; the “dead” [Job 26:5; Ps. 88:10]). This same term (rp׳um) is used in Ugaritic texts for the deceased ancestors of kings who return from the underworld to celebrate royal banquets. But unlike the departed kings of Ugarit, those designated by this term in the Old Testament have no power or ability to return to the realm of the living (see comment on 106:28).

The realm of the dead (še׳ôl; in Psalms, the niv translates “grave” except for 139:8) was located in the lowermost region of the earth, below the subterranean waters (Job 26:5, hence “depths” in Ps. 139:8) and at the root of the mountains (Deut. 32:22; Jonah 2:2 – 6). Ugaritic texts refer to the “shades” as descending into the earth (Ugar. ׳arṣ = Heb. ׳ereṣ). Death contrasts with the “land of the living” (Ps. 27:13; 116:8 – 9).

Because burial was associated with decomposition in an earthen grave, one finds metaphors such as “pit” (bôr, 30:3; 88:4, 6), “decay” (šāḥat, 16:10; 49:9), or “destruction” (׳abaddôn, 88:11). In moments of most extreme distress, even the righteous despaired in fear, viewing death as a hopeless end (Job 17:10 – 16; Ps. 88:3 – 5). But in moments of inspired faith, the Old Testament offers a better, if still unclear, hope (Ps. 49:15 contrasted with vv. 7 – 14; 139:8; Isa. 26:19; Dan. 12:2).

Gate to the ladder down into the netherworld from the Book of the Dead (Nebqed)

Werner Forman Archive/The Louvre

Read more from Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the Old Testament

2 Peter 3:9

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

The Case for Christ: 2 Peter 3:1–18
What About Jesus’ Failure to Fulfill Certain Prophecies?

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. —2 Peter 3:9

One of the biggest objections raised by critics is that Jesus didn’t fulfill what they consider to be the main Messianic prophecies: bringing about a world of peace and unity, and ending evil, idolatry, falsehood and hatred.

“These critics have identified prophecies six through ten as Messianic, but have left out prophecies one through five,” says Dr. Michael L. Brown, an Old Testament and Semitic scholar. “I’m saying Yeshua [Jesus] will fulfill prophecies six through ten because he has already fulfilled one through five. He will both suffer and be exalted. He will be both priestly and royal. He will be both rejected and accepted. He will be a light to the nations before being received by the Jewish people. So looking at the larger picture points me back towards Yeshua.

“Also,” he adds, “it’s not as if Yeshua did certain tactical things that had to happen and now has been absent for 2,000 years. Instead, we see certain things unfolding just as expected, with his kingdom continuing to advance. Look at how many people came to worship the one true God in the twentieth century alone. This tells me the pace is accelerating. The fulfillment of the first stage, as well as the ongoing fulfillment of those things that had to be ongoing, tells me that the final stage is clear.

“For instance, imagine that two people owe me a lot of money. One gives me a partial repayment of $100,000 and says, ‘When I come back, I’ll give you the rest.’ The other person says that someday he’ll repay me, but he doesn’t even give me a deposit. Who am I more likely to believe? Especially when I get ongoing letters from the first one reassuring me that the remaining money will indeed be fully repaid soon.”

—Adapted from interview with Dr. Michael L. Brown

Read more from Case for Christ Study Bible