Euphemisms, we use them all the time. Using a word or phrase in place of another word or phrase that makes us uncomfortable. In my corporate life, we often preferred to talk about “downsizing” rather than “job eliminations.” For those who were caught up in the “downsizing”, they weren’t “fired” they were “let go.”
So, as I’m reading in Genesis this morning, I encounter a phrase that, at first, might appear to be a euphemism. But given that I’m reading the inspired word of God, perhaps I should be chewing on it as a true-ism.
When Jacob had finished giving charges to his sons, he drew his feet into the bed, took his last breath, and was gathered to his people.
(Genesis 49:33 CSB)
Jacob didn’t die, he was gathered to his people.
It’s not the first time I’ve encountered this phrase. Abraham was gathered to his people (Gen. 25:8). As was Ishmael (25:17) and Isaac (35:29). And, looking ahead, Aaron and Moses too will both be gathered to his people (Num. 20:24, Deut. 32:50).
Hmm . . . just trying to soften the harshness of an eventuality awaiting all of us? Or, intentionally trying to say something of the reality beyond that eventuality awaiting all of us? Perhaps saying something like, “It ain’t over when it’s over.”
Whether speaking about the favored son, Isaac, or the cast out son, Ishmael, when they died they were both gathered to their people. I don’t think this means they were interred where their ancestors were interred. Instead, I think it may be intended to remind me of an existence beyond this existence. A reality beyond this reality. That death, whether it’s for those owning God as their God or for those whose god is themselves, is but a doorway to being with their people. That breathing our last on this earth is but an entrance to something beyond this earth.
So, the question then might be, “What people am I going to be gathered to?” What reality beyond this reality can I anticipate?
For followers of Christ — for those who have trusted in Jesus as their Savior and have owned Him as their Lord, we have our own set of non-euphemisms. For us, we’ll talk about “going home.” We’ll say a departed brother or sister has been “promoted into glory.” Paul says it’s to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2Cor. 5:8).
We use such terminology not to lessen the harsh reality of death, but to remind ourselves of the wonderful reality of life everlasting beyond death. And that’s why we are able to “not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1Th. 4:13). Because, for those who have “fallen asleep” in Jesus (1Th. 4:14), we know that they too have been gathered to His people. A people of faith in the finished work of a cross. A people who trust in the power of an empty tomb. A people who rest in the One who said,
“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
(John 11:25-26 CSB)
Yes Father, I believe this. I believe that Your Son is the risen Savior for all who believe. And I believe that one day I too will be gathered to His people.
Only by Your grace. To You be all the glory.