Our Inevitable Destiny
(10) Surely he sees that wise men die. Likewise the fool and the brutish man perish and leave their wealth to others. (11) Inwardly (they think that) their houses (will endure) forever, their dwelling places to all generations. They call their lands by their own names. (12) But man, in his pomposity, will not endure. He is like the beasts that are cut off. (13) This is the destiny of the foolish and of their posterity who approve their opinions. (Selah) (14) Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol. Death shall feed on them. The upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their forms will decay in Sheol far from their dwellings.
These five verses are concerned with the theme of human mortality. This is made evident by two word repetitions: “death,” found first as a verb (vs. 10) and then as a noun (vs. 14), and “Sheol,” the place of the dead (found twice in vs. 14). This segment begins with an inescapable, universal truth: all human beings, whether wise or foolish, must someday perish and leave their wealth to others (vs. 10).
The next two verses deal with our human longing for immortality. Though we delude ourselves into thinking that we will endure forever (vs. 11), we and our offspring will, like the beasts, be cut off (vs.12). As much as we try to forget or deny this distressing reality, all of us will eventually perish and our bodies will eventually decay (vs. 13 & 14).
I. Principle: all will die and leave their possessions to others. (10)
II. Paradox: though we seek immortality, nothing in this life will endure. (11 & 12)
III. Plight: all will eventually end their earthly lives in the grave. (13 & 14)
Physical death is the inescapable destiny of all human beings, wise and foolish, rich and poor, no matter how hard we try to deny it.
J. M. Kennedy tells of finding an old tombstone with the following inscription in an Indiana cemetery: “Pause, stranger, when you pass by. / As you are now, so once was I. / As I am now, so you will be, / so prepare for death and follow me.” An unknown passerby scrawled this response on the stone: “To follow you I’m not content / until I know which way you went.” Two truths are reflected in these scraps of doggerel. First, because death is inevitable, all of us should prepare for its eventuality. Then, we best prepare for death by knowing our destination when we die.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave his disciples the following directive: “Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Mt. 7:13 & 14). In John’s Gospel Jesus identified that narrow gate with these words: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, except through me” (Jn. 14:6).
Though we would be foolish to deny that each of us someday must die, we would be even more foolish not to prepare for that eventuality. The only reasonable way to prepare for death is to acquire by faith the gift of eternal life which Jesus freely gives to all who trust in his saving work. Jesus spoke these comforting words to Martha after the death of her brother, Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this” (Jn. 11:25 & 26)? As each of us considers our eternal destiny, we should ask, “Do I believe Jesus’ words? Am I prepared to die because I possess God’s gift of eternal life?”