by Tom Wacaster
In Genesis 25:8, the following is recorded concerning Abraham: “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.” One of the marks of divine inspiration is the concise manner in which the writers presented the facts regarding individuals and events. In slightly more than two dozen words in our English translations there are some amazing things said about this great patriarch and father of the faithful.
First, we learn that the grave is not the final abode of the soul. The expression “gathered to his people” is distinguished from simply departing from this life and being buried. If there is no life beyond the grave then these words make no sense whatsoever. The sentiments of the poet express this truth so well:
“A PSALM OF LIFE”
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Tell me not, mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal.
Dust thou art, to dust returnst,
Was not spoken of the Soul.
Second, we learn that following death we will be reunited with our loved ones. Though some may disagree, it seems to me that when we pass beyond the portals of death we will be gathered into Abraham’s bosom and there enjoy reunion with those whom we know and love. The words of the inspired writer presuppose the reunion in that hadean world with friends who have gone before. Will we recognize our departed loved ones? How can be otherwise? The apostle Paul sought to comfort the Thessalonians by stating the simple truth that they “sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope” (1 Thess 4:13). It is the realization that we will see our loved ones again that provides comfort to those who have said their last goodbye this side of heaven.
Third, “gathered to his people” stands in stark contrast to the Bible’s description of the final destiny and abode of the wicked. Never is it said of an ungodly person, “he was gathered to his people.” Take Judas Iscariot for example. In the same concise manner as noted above, Peter had this to say of that infamous traitor during the process of selecting a man to replace Judas: “Show of these two the one whom thou hast chosen, to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas fell away, that he might go to his own place” (Acts 2:24-25, emphasis mine, TW). Whereas “gathered to his people” denotes reunion and fellowship, “that he might go to his own place” suggests solitude and loneliness. The faithful will join the host of godly men and women, knowing no doubt where they are, and enjoying the rest that will be theirs once they have passed through the gates of death. As for the ungodly, they will simply be resigned to their “own place” to await that final judgment day.
If you were you to enter eternity this day, perhaps even this hour, would it be said of you, “He went to his own place”? Or would your loved ones find solace in knowing, beyond any shadow of doubt, that you were “gathered to your people”?