Last time I talked about a concept in the Torah called karet, or being cut off from your people (be sure to scroll down and read Exclusivity and God, Part 1 and 2). This Torah issue relates to God’s exclusivity in choosing his people because cutting people off involves their being rejected from the people of God.
I want to rethink something I said last time. I said that being cut off from the people in the Torah has been interpreted in three ways:
1. Being excommunicated from membership in Israel and regarded as a foreigner.
2. The death penalty (usually seen as carried out by God, not the human courts).
3. A divine penalty wherein the person and their entire family line is removed (by death or by excommunication).
I had forgotten the work of Jacob Milgrom, the premier scholar of Leviticus. Milgrom argues for a fourth position:
4. Being cut off from the people is being excluded from a happy afterlife.
Milgrom catalogues 19 categories of sin that lead to the penalty of being cut off. All 19 sins leading to being cut off are sins against God alone. He then considers the meaning. First, there are texts about “sleeping with the fathers,” and we discussed them in “From Sleeping With the Father to Resurrection” (see under the Resurrection category).
There is a hint that these texts about “sleeping with the fathers” or “being gathered to his people” are about an afterlife. The meaning is left ambiguous, but the hint is strong. For example, David gets buried in Jerusalem, yet is said to “sleep with his fathers.” Since David’s fathers were buried in Bethlehem, not Jerusalem, the phrase must mean more than simply, “he was buried with his fathers.”
Milgrom gives another example. Abraham died and was said to be “gathered to his people” in Genesis 25:8. Yet he is not buried until 25:9. It seems from the text that he was regarded as being gathered to his people at death and not at burial.
This leads to a striking possibility: being cut off from the people may mean exclusion from afterlife.
Here is a summary of Milgrom’s logic:
1. Being cut off is not a human penalty such as excommunication or execution because the 19 sins leading to it are sins against God alone. Thus the penalty will come from God and not human courts.
2. The rabbis interpreted being cut off as a divine penalty.
3. It could be argued that the opposite of being cut off from the people is being gathered to them at death. He lists uses of the phrase “gathered to his kin,” Num 20:24; 27:13; 31:2; Gen 15:15; 47:30; Jud 2:10.
4. Milgrom thinks being cut off may mean either denial of afterlife or a cutting off of the family line. He is open to it meaning both.
I think there is a reasonably good case that being cut off means being denied an afterlife with God’s people. That only strengthens my argument: that the Torah concept of karet shows it is in God’s nature to exclude. He does so for very specific reasons, reasons we may not find fair. For example, eating leaven purposefully during Passover leads to being cut off (Exod. 12:15, 19).
This is part of a larger case I am building. The question is: will God exclude people from eternal life simply for not believing in Messiah Yeshua?
Next time: the remnant theology of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the author of Kings.