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The Congregation of the Dead

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The title is quite forbidding and it is used only once in scripture. What does it mean?

“The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.” (Proverbs 21:16)

The ‘congregation’, qahal, is similar to the Greek ekklesia. The Greek version refers ONLY to those who are saved and who gather together (nowadays called the ‘Church’). It could be argued that the qahal meet together nationally but are not all believers. Though in strict translation terms this is correct, the interpretation – that of a gathering of people chosen by God - makes them similar, though not the same.

So, qahal means an assembly or convocation of God’s people. It can refer to a gathering to decide on evil things or war, but in the main it means a gathering of Israelites, especially for religious purposes. If we relate this to the verse, it means the ‘congregation of the faithful’, when applied to people who meet truly to worship Jehovah. The root verb (same spelling) refers to religious activities, but moreso.

The “dead” in this text are rapha’. It is a plural noun meaning ghosts of the dead (shades) or spirits. The use of the plural speaks of all those who are dead. That is, those who were once alive and vital, but now unable to live or do anything, because they are not amongst the living who, because they are alive, can worship the living Lord. The dead can do nothing, probably because his or her fate is sealed.

Thus, an Israelite who did not understand or act in holy manner is counted as being dead. Worse than that, he shall “remain” in their company. He remains in their company, and may as well be dead himself, though still breathing. What this implies is that his spirit has been diverted into sin, which makes him a false worshipper of Jehovah. He shows it by being “out of the way” of understanding. He is, then, not on the right road, but has taken a course of life detrimental to himself and objectionable to the Lord… one’s road in life taken to be his spiritual choices. The wrong road is also a morally wrong choice.

Today, that man would be called unsaved and, thus, not part of the Church of Jesus Christ, but this would not be quite correct. In the text, the man has “wandered”, ta’ah, from the right path, which means he was once doing the right thing. This wandering is usually done bit at a time. The man himself might not even notice his path is entering into wrong places, but others notice he is going wrong. Taken as a whole, the statement means the man has wandered from holiness to sin, and when a man enters into sin and does not return, we have no choice but to call him an unbeliever. He might indeed be saved and bound for Heaven, but his words and/or actions on earth deny it.

What we are being told, then, is that even if a man is saved and will eventually enter Heaven, if he commits sin and does not repent in this life, other Christians must regard him as an unbeliever, to be warned and shunned (until and if he repents and changes). Such a devastating judgment is proper, and usually only comes into force because the man has not just sinned once, but has altered his whole life by being sinful, which is a shame and a bad testimony, bringing the Lord into disrepute and tarnishing other believers in the eyes of the world.

If we apply the verse to our own day, it says that the saved man who sins and does not repent may as well be as dead as those in sheol – he has no part in active faith, and can do nothing good or genuine because he is acting like a dead person. The man who does this has deliberately walked off the narrow path commanded by God, but he tries to convince himself that his thoughts, words and actions are just a bit ‘off’. He refuses to acknowledge he is sinning and must repent. In which case, others only see someone who is dead in his sins. We can only go by his outward actions.

In Romans 11:20, we read of people being “cut off” because they did not believe. When a professing Christian sins and does not repent, his whole life is affected and shows itself as unbelief (even though inwardly he might still believe in a limited way). This is why other Christians must regard him as an unbeliever… we are warned never to become like this (Hebrews 4:11).

Jesus likened this kind of action to losing our savour, good only to be cast out (Matthew 5:13) like useless salt. In all this the man chooses to leave the narrow path to indulge in sin. This need not be anything obvious, like adultery/fornication, lies, theft, etc. It can also apply to ways of thinking that lead a man to commit heresy and apostasy. In this kind of situation, a man will ponder on his errors a great deal before speaking them. But, even before he makes a public statement, his manner of life will often give clues as to his increasing ‘coolness’ towards faith and truth.

As the verse tells us, he has chosen to join the dead in sheol, in principle, so stops his ears to truth, admonishment and rebuke. He travels on the wrong, wide, road, and so moves farther and farther away from God and truth. Be careful that you do not join this man, if you are saved. Protect your spiritual status! Do not join the congregation of the dead.

© September 2020

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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom