1000 Ways to Die—in The Old Testament

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The Old Testament of the Bible walks us through the lives of some of the most interesting men and women in history. Its pages are filled with giants, dragons, Pharaohs and and demons. Wars were fought, civilizations rose and fell and humanity was nearly wiped off the face of the earth. Giant-killers turned kings, and prophets of overthrown nations returning from exile certainly make for compelling stories. But as interesting as their lives were, let’s be honest, their deaths were, often, even more so.

We’ve compiled a list of the 1000 most interesting ways to die in the Old Testament, and at the urging of our editor who said “you can’t just reprint the whole Bible on my website” we’ve narrowed the list down to ten. With so many to choose from, some notable demises were omitted, Absalom comes to mind (2 Sam. 18). If you have any favorites (kind of dark, but ’tis the season) chime in in the comments section.

10. Going Clubbing

Samson was one of a few ancient Israelites known for his flowing locks. Through his consecration as a Nazarite, symbolized by never shaving his head, Samson was given great strength by God. The deal was: keep your hair and your consecration and the power remains. Cut your hair and break your consecration and you become an ordinary man. This essentially made Samson the Israelite Green Lantern fighting the Philistines.

One of Samson’s most famous battles against the Philistines came when he was arrested by the Israelites for setting fire to the Philistines grain and vineyards by tying torches to the tails of 300 foxes and setting them loose. For this mischief he was turned over to the Philistines for punishment but turned the tables when he picked up the jaw bone of an ass and proceeded to club to death 1000 men. (Ju. 15)

9. Bringing Down the House

Every good superhero has a weakness. Even Israelite Green Lantern. Because he had so many enemies it was vital that he keep that secret to himself. So, of course, Samson revealed his one vulnerability to the least trustworthy person he knew, the person who had already betrayed him three times, Delilah.

Finding out that she could break Samson’s strength by cutting his hair, Delilah had a servant shave his head and then wake him up to fight the waiting Philistines. Samson, suddenly very ordinary, was captured, chained to a pair of pillars in the Philistine temple and has his eyes cut out.

Unfortunately for 3000 Philistine chiefs, as Samson’s hair eventually grew back, his power returned giving him the strength to pull down the two pillars, and with it, the entire temple bringing an end to Samson, the 3000 chiefs and the age of the Judges of Israel. (Ju. 16.23-31)

8. Bears? Bears!

“Go up, bald head” has to go down in the annals of mockery as one of the weakest taunts in history. But this was apparently enough to earn a quality smiting for forty-two youths after being cursed by Elisha at the hands, or rather, paws, of two female bears.

As the elderly prophet was making his way to Mount Zion he was pursued and mocked by a crowd of unruly, and lets face it, uncreative children. As weird as bear related smitings are —scriptures aren’t brimming with their tales, after all— the curse is muttered by one of the kindest, most personable prophets in the Old Testament. We all have our days. (2 Kings 2.23-25)

7. High stakes 

Israel didn’t have the best track record when it comes to heeding prophets. It usually just maligned, abused and killed them. Poor Isaiah probably got the worst of it, being sawn down the middle.

Deborah tried to help Israel claim a decisive victory over their occupiers, the Canaanites. But her calls to battle at Mt. Tabor were shunned. This led to the prophecy by Deborah, that Israel would be delivered from the Canaanite army by a woman.

That woman turned out to be Jael, a Kenite. After heavy rains thwarted the Canaanite army Jael was confronted by the Canaanites in full retreat. Nursing a grudge against their king, Jabin of Hazor, Jael welcomed the army’s commander, Sisera into her tent.

Sisera received a warm blanket and a hearty meal and soon fell fast asleep. In an echo from the pages of Genesis, Jael grabbed a hammer and tent stake and crushed the head of the serpent. In a single blow she sent a clear message to the Canaanite king, fulfilled the prophecy of Deborah, became a type for Our Lady, and saved Israel. (Ju. 5)

6. Curiosity killed . . . well . . . everybody 

Capturing the Ark of the Covenant from the sons of the High Priest Eli didn’t work out well for the Philistines. Everywhere the captured Ark was moved in Philistia, trouble followed from tumors and hemorrhoids to inexplicably smashed idols of the god Dagon. Things got so bad that the Philistines put the Ark into the back of an ox cart, pointed it toward the closest Israelites and sent the ox on its way.

When the Ark was returned, it found its way to Israelite hands at Beth-Shemesh where it was received, not with reverence, but with curiosity. So much curiosity, in fact, that seventy of the locals, not having seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, pried open the lid, desecrating it, and were promptly struck dead. Sacristans, take note (1 Sam. 6).

5. Just trying to the the right thing

Before the construction of Solomon’s Temple, the tabernacle where the Ark of the covenant remained was a portable tent and traveled from place to place.

Moving an object so holy that it is literally the dwelling place of God among his people presented a few problems. First, you weren’t allowed to look at it. Second, you weren’t allowed to touch it. Instead, it was supposed to be carried by poles on the shoulders of the Kohathites, descendants of one of the sons of Levi and members of the priestly tribe, the Levites.

Forgoing the poles, though, the Ark was put in the back ofan ox cart to be moved from Baalah. When the Ark arrived in Nacon, disaster struck. One of the oxen upset the cart causing the Ark to fall to the ground. One Israelite, Uzzah, the driver of the cart, was close enough to try and save the Ark. But by touching it, he further desecrated the holy object, inciting the “burning anger” of God and causing Uzzah to be immediately struck down. Again, Sacristans . . . (1 Ch. 13)

4. Fire in the hole

Apologetics has changed over the centuries. Today’s evangelism usually involves street evangelization teams and relationship building. The prophet Elijah had no time for those tactics. In a confrontation with 850 priests of Baal and Asherah, Elijah challenged them to call down fire from their god to light their altar and sacrificial bull ablaze.

Taking the less kinder, gentler approach to evangelism, Elijah mocked them throughout the day, suggesting that Baal may be asleep and just needed to be woken up. Eventually, even the priests had to admit that they failed to call down fire to burn their sacrifice. Elijah, being a gracious winner, had his own altar built, then had four barrels of water poured over the wood and slaughtered bull not just once or twice, but three times.

With the altar, wood and bull soaked in water, Elijah prayed to God and the sacrifice was consumed in fire from heaven. Having made his sacrifice, and not being one to say, “I told you so,” Elijah had the priests taken down to the banks of the nearby river and killed. Scott Hahn, eat your heart out. This is the Old Evangelization. (1 Kings 18)

3. So salty

You gotta give him credit. Abraham tried to save the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It isn’t often that one gets to haggle with God, and Abraham was able to talk God down from destroying the cities, to trying to save them for the sake of fifty righteous men. But he wasn’t done, yet. Abraham was able to talk the Almighty down from fifty to forty and eventually all the way down to ten righteous men.

Abraham’s efforts turned out to be for nothing, however and Sodom and Gomorrah met their ends in a rain of fire and brimstone.

But just like in the days of Noah, God attempted to save what and who he could, allowing for Lot and his family to get out of town ahead of the annihilation. Get out and don’t look back. Unfortunately, despite very specific instructions Lot’s wife looked back at the city and life she left behind and was turned into a pillar of salt.

Biblical accounts are silent, but it is believed that this is the first time anyone uttered the phrase, “you had one job”. (Gen.18).

2. Old Age

Reading through the Old Testament, it doesn’t seem like many people survived much past adolescence. The sheer number of creative and unlikely ways people died would make George R. R. Martin blush. But there are a few that measure their years into the hundreds. Abraham was 100 when Isaac was born and he doesn’t even make the top ten.

Famously, Methuselah, son of Enoch, was able to cash in his senior citizen discounts until the ripe old age of 969. This earns him the top spot in longevity, but like Barry Bonds home run record, it carries an asterisk (Gen. 5.27).

1. Leaving early 

While Methuselah’s nearly Millennium long lifespan was impressive, there are a pair of Old Testament prophets who actually haven’t died yet. Enoch, the father of long-lived Methuselah, and Elijah, a favorite of our Carmelite brothers and sisters, in an act foreshadowing the fate of the Mother of God, were both taken up by God.

While Enoch simply wanders out of the pages of Genesis, Elijah is assumed in a chariot of fire. God has style. Interestingly, both get more than a passing mention in the New Testament with St. John placing them in Jerusalem during the run up to the parousia. These two leave us with a solid, “to be continued”. (cf. Gen. 5.21-24, 2 Kings 2.1-11)

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