The Tanakh contrasts statutes and judgments that if an Israelite does “...he shall live by1 them,”2 with statutes and judgments that if he does he “shall not live by3 them.”4 In Ezekiel, where both phrases occur, Yahveh’s statutes in the Law were those which the Israelites would “live by.”5 On the other hand, the statutes and judgments of the rebellious fathers,6 which Yahveh allowed (“gave”), “were not good...whereby [the Israelites] should not live.”7
1 or “in”
2 Lev. 18:5; Eze. 20:11, 20:21
3 or “in”
4 Exo. 20:25
5 Eze. 20:11, 20:21
6 Eze. 20:18
7 Eze. 20:25
Neither commandment, however, whether those by which the Israelites would live, or those by which they would not live, refer to eternal life or eternal punishment in the world to come. Rather, if the Israelites kept Yahveh’s Law, their days (i.e., life in this world) would be prolonged in the land of Canaan. This, prolonged life in the land of Canaan, was the reward in the Old Covenant for keeping the Law.
46 and he said to them, “Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe—all the words of this law. 47 For it is not a vain thing for you, because it is your life, and by9 this thing you shall prolong your days in the land which you pass over the Jordan to possess it.
8 cf. Deu. 4:40, 6:2, 11:9, 17:20, 22:7, 25:15; 1 Kings 3:14
9 or “in”
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be prolonged upon the land which Yahveh your God is giving you.
10 cf. Deu. 5:16
On the other hand, by not keeping the Law in accordance with their oath wherein they swore to do all the words which Yahveh commanded, Yahveh promised to destroy the Israelites. That is, their days would be cut short on earth (they would die prematurely) while incurring a host of curses.11
25 When you shall beget children, and children’s children, and you shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of Yahveh your God, to provoke Him to anger, 26 I invoke heaven and earth against you this day, that you shall soon utterly perish from off the land where you go over Jordan to possess it; you shall not prolong your days upon it, but you shall be utterly destroyed.
11 cf. Deu. 28:45
12 cf. Deu. 30:18
Finally, Deu. 5:33,
33 You shall walk in all the ways which Yahveh your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and so that it may be well with you, and so that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.
This verse clearly establishes that “you may live” = “it may be well with you” = “you may prolong your days in the land.”
Upon the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the Israelites entered into an oath with Yahveh and swore, saying, “All the words which Yavheh has spoken, we will do.”13 The covenant was founded upon this very oath.
7 Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that Yahveh has spoken, we will do and be obedient.”
And yet, Yahveh never promised the Israelites eternal life in the world to come if they obeyed all the words which He had spoken. Rather, He promised them—and the Torah plainly states so—prolonged life in the land of Canaan. The Torah, which is the book of the covenant, simply makes no mention of eternal life. The prophets do speak of the resurrection of the dead and eternal life,14 but such was never contingent upon obedience to the Torah. Rather, it would occur by the hand of the Messiah.
13 Exo. 24:3, 24:7–8
14 Dan. 12:2; Job 14;4; Psa. 17:15; Isa. 26:19
The Torah could give life, but not eternal life. Rather, it only offered those who kept it prolonged life in the land of Canaan. Furthermore, because all of humanity sinned and therefore died in Adam,15 not even a perfect obedience to the Torah could gain one eternal life.
15 1 Cor. 15:21–22 cf. Rom. 5:12–19