What does “gathered unto his people” mean in Genesis 25:8

There are several different views commentators have taken to determine exactly what “gathered unto his people” meant in Genesis 25:8 (ESV) “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.” There is not a great amount of differing views, or a lot of scriptural support to defend these positions. One view is that this phrase was nothing more than an alliteration for death. I disagree with this view simply for the lack of context and scriptural support. The author of Genesis—Moses—had no trouble using the word death or any version thereof during the whole book of Genesis. (Ref. Gen. 2:17; 5:5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20, 27, 31) If Moses wanted this to mean nothing more than Abraham had died, he would have stated so.

Another interpretation is that it simply meant that Abraham was gathered to his ancestors or multiple people that were buried together, as was the practice of the Israelites and Canaanites.[1] I refute this interpretation for two reasons. First, as Warren Wiersbe states, “The phrase “gathered to his people” (Gen. 25:8) does not mean ‘buried with the family’; for Sarah’s body was the only one in the family tomb.”[2] Second, John Barry, co-author of the Faith-Life Study Bible, states, “This phrase is used only in the Pentateuc death, it does not indicate burial with ancestors—neither Abraham, Aaron, nor Moses was buried with their forefathers.”[3]

The last interpretation is that this is a reference to immortality. Several commentaries agree with this interpretation. Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch determine that “Abraham died at the good old age of 175, and was “gathered to his people.” This expression, which is synonymous with “going to his fathers” (Gen. 15:15), or “being gathered to his fathers” (Judg. 2:10), but is constantly distinguished from departing this life and being buried, denotes the reunion in Sheol with friends who have gone before, and therefore presupposes faith in the personal continuance of a man after death, as a presentiment which the promises of God had exalted in the case of the patriarchs into a firm assurance of faith (Heb. 11:13).”[4]

In conclusion, the most convincing interpretation is that when Abraham died he went home to be with his ancestors and friends who have gone on before. This is for several reasons; this interpretation has the scriptural truth to support it. If the word death were meant it would have simply stated that Abraham died. Instead, the writer wanted to make sure we understood that there is life after death in the Old Testament and Abraham was given that right due to his obedience and faithfulness. Lastly, nowhere else does it state where Abraham would have went when he died, many questions would certainly be asked about his whereabouts, and with the understanding of what Sheol is, this was the best phrase Moses could have used to tell us that Abraham is with his ancestors in heaven.

Bibliography

Barry, J.D., M.R. Grigoni, M.S. Heiser, M Custis, D Mangum, and M.M Whitehead. Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, 2012.

Davis, John J. Paradise ot Prison. Salem, Wisconsin: Sheffield Publishing Company, 1998.

Keil, Carl F, and Franz Delitzsch. Commentary on the Old Testament. Vol. 1. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996.

Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Obedient, “Be” Commentary Series. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1991.


[1] Davis, John J. Paradise ot Prison. Salem, (Wisconsin: Sheffield Publishing Company, 1998), 231

[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Obedient, “Be” Commentary Series (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1991), 133.

[3] John D. Barry, Michael R. Grigoni, Michael S. Heiser et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012), Ge 25:8.

[4] Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, vol. 1, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 168.

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