FUNERAL

The Israelites had elaborate customs for funerals, burials and mourning. The body of the dead person was washed (Acts 9:37), then anointed with oil or spices and wrapped in linen (John 11:44; 19:40; Acts 5:6). This was usually done by relatives or friends of the dead person (Mark 16:1). The burial followed with a minimum of delay (Acts 5:6,10). As the funeral procession moved to the burial place, it was accompanied by mourning and wailing (Amos 5:16; Matt 9:23-24; Luke 7:12-14,32). The mourners tore their clothes and put on sackcloth as a sign of their sorrow (2 Sam 3:31; see SACKCLOTH), but they were forbidden to follow superstitious heathen customs such as cutting themselves or making offerings for the dead (Lev 19:28; Deut 14:1; 26:14). The body may have been buried in a specially prepared private tomb (Matt 27:60), a family tomb (Gen 23:19; 25:9; 49:31-32; Judg 8:32; 16:31), or a public burial ground (2 Kings 23:6; Matt 27:7). The Israelites did not usually burn the bodies of the dead, though there were exceptions. These included cases of execution of the wicked (Gen 38:24; Lev 20:14; 21:9; Josh 7:15,25) and cases where a body was badly damaged, decaying, or a danger to public health (1 Sam 31:12-13; Amos 6:10).

Funerals were usually conducted in a way that gave honour to the person who had died (2 Chron 16:14; Eccles 8:10). To leave a body unburied was therefore a mark of supreme disgrace (1 Sam 17:46; Eccles 6:3; Jer 16:6; 22:18-19; 36:30). A song may have been composed in praise of the one who had died (2 Sam 1:17-27; 3:32-34; 2 Chron 35:25), though in the case of an enemy a song may have been composed to disgrace him (Isa 14:4-21). Another way in which Israelites showed their respect for those who had died was by adding decorations to their tombs (Matt 23:29). Often they whitewashed tombs so that people could see them at night; for anyone who touched a tomb, accidentally or otherwise, became ceremonially unclean (Matt 23:27; cf. Num 19:11,16). This association of death with uncleanness reflects the truth that death leads to decay and corruption. The physical body eventually returns to the dust from which it was made (Gen 3:19; Eccles 3:20; John 11:39). But regardless of how the body returns to dust, whether through being buried, burnt or entombed, Christians are assured that Jesus will return to conquer death and raise them to new life. Their bodies will be changed into glorious spiritual bodies, suited to life in the age to come (1 Cor 15:42-51; Phil 3:20; 1 Thess 4:13-17; see DEATH; RESURRECTION).

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