Biblical Studies Preview

Excursus: The Book of Life

Exodus 32.30-33, The next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses returned to theLord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book.

Here in Exodus 32 Moses is interceding with YHWH over Israel and their sin of idolatry with the golden calf they had made (32.1-4). In the verses above, both Moses and God acknowledge that sin can cause someone to be “blotted out of your [YHWH’s] book.” Many young and old have pondered the question, “What is this ‘Book of Life’?

In his Exodus commentary in the New American Commentary (NAC) series (my review), on page 685 Stuart explains,

In the ancient world both governments and individuals kept records of populations. These records were used for many of the same sorts of purposes that official records are used for in modern times [e.g., taxes, military]. Once a given population… became so great that no person… could maintain in his or her head a full, accurate list of the inhabitants, a listing… of inhabitants was required to be prepared in writing. Of course, this ‘book’ had to be updated as the actual population changed.

When someone moved into town, their name was added to the book. When someone closed up shop, bought the farm, kicked the bucket, or simply moved away, their name was simply removed (or “blotted out”). In this the listing would always be current, being updated as was fitting.

Through the Scriptures

Stuart mentions a few verses:

  • Psalm 69.28, Let them be blotted out of the book of the living; let them not be enrolled among the righteous.
  • 1 Samuel 25.29, “If men rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living in the care of the Lord your God. And the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling.”
    (The “bundle” here represents that of a shepherd who could probably would have had a bag/bundle of pebbles, one for each sheep of his. Abigail knows that God has the power to sling out the the bad pebbles from his bundle).
  • Deut 9.14, “Let me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they’” (cf. Deut. 25.19; 29.20).


What can we determine from this?

  1. “The Book of Life is a record of those going on to eternal life as opposed to those who by their own decisions have rejected God and his salvation (cf. John 3:19-20). To have one’s name in the Book of Life is to have preserved in faith and obedience to God until the final judgment of the earth. To have one’s name blotted out is to have offended God by lack of faith and, accordingly, by disobedience so that one cannot continue to live, that is, have eternal life” (687-68).
  2. “[E]veryone starts out in the Book of Life. It is a book of the living, and all who are born originally appear in it….. All who come into the world have the potential for eternal life…. When they appear at the judgment and the books are opened (Dan 7:10; Rev 20:12), their names will not appear in the Lamb’s Book of Life because they chose a different direction… from the direction God prescribed” (688).

Surely, this should cause us to think. The Philippians are to stand firm in Christ, just as the women who have laboured “side by side” with Paul have, as “fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Phil 4.1-3).

Yet in the church in Sardis, in Rev 3.5 Jesus says, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels [cf. Mk 8.38].” Five other times in Revelation we find references to one having their name in the Book of Life (Rev 13.8; 17.8; 20.12,15; 21.27).

Let us stand firm in Christ and persevere unto the end that our names may not be blotted out of the Book of Life, but that when we appear before the Ancient of Days he will open the books, call us his children, and welcome us home.

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