A little bit about the concept of life and death in the OT. It isn't the opposite of the western way of seeing it, but not the same either....
As a verb this root appears in three stems in Hebrew. The Qal conveys the basic meaning "to live or have life" whereas the two derived stems overlap in their meaning of "giving or restoring life."
Throughout the ot the possession of life is an intrinsic good, "All that a man has will he give for his life" (Job 2:4), and "a living dog is better than a dead lion" (Eccl 9:4). "Long life is in Wisdom's right hand" (Prov 3:16). Against this estimation of life one can appreciate the depths of Job's despair when he desired to surrender his life (Job 3:17ff.).
Physical life originally came from God (Gen 2:7). After the Fall, death entered man's experience. The fruit of the tree of life would have endowed man with immortality (Gen 3:22). God continues to be the source of life (Ps 36:9; 139:13ff.) and the Lord of life and death (Num 27:16; Deut 32:39; Job 12:10).
The ot speaks of life as the experience of life rather than as an abstract principle of vitality which may be distinguished from the body. This is because the ot view of the nature of man is holistic, that is, his function as body, mind, spirit is a unified whole spoken of in very concrete terms. Life is the ability to exercise all one's vital power to the fullest; death is the opposite. The verb ḥāyâ "to live" involves the ability to have life somewhere on the scale between the fullest enjoyment of all the powers of one's being, with health and prosperity on the one hand and descent into trouble, sickness, and death on the other. Sometimes the Psalmist calls on the Lord to be saved alive from the very brink of the pit (Ps 30:3 [H 4]). He asks to be "preserved alive" and "revived" so that he can enjoy "the land of the living." Some have been extreme in maintaining that this "land of the living" is heaven, while others have gone too far in maintaining that the Israelites did not understand man as having a spirit but simply as being an animated body. Some have quoted verses like Isa 26:14; "The dead do not live," to prove that Israel's view was that death is total. There are indeed some verses that say the living, not the dead, praise the Lord, but these verses are expressions of simple physical observation. The fact is that in contrast to Mesopotamian ideas of creation where man was made to be mortal, in the m man was created to immortal life, not as a spirit but as a whole man, body and soul ("Life," ZPEB, III, p. 927). The entrance of death was viewed as unnatural.
The ot word ḥāyâ has a range of meaning which includes "to prosper, to sustain life," or "to nourish" (Gen 27:40; Gen 45:7; II Kgs 18:32; I Sam 10:24; II Sam 12:3) or "to restore to health, to heal, recover" (Josh 5:8; II Kgs 1:2; 8:10).
In contrast to the ancient near east, where men sought to link themselves with forces of life thought of in terms of nature deities, by magical recitations of myth accompanied by appropriate magical ritual, in the ot life is decided by a right relationship to the righteous standards of the Word of God. Moses places the people in a state of having to decide between life and death by laying the word of God before them (Deut 30:15–20). Israel is called upon to choose life, "for this word is not a vain thing for you: because it is your life" (Deut 32:47). Bultmann notes that Ezekiel "frees life from all false supports and obligations and relates it wholly and utterly to the Word of God (Ezk 3:18ff.; 14:13ff.; 18:1ff.; 20:1ff.; 33:1ff.)" (TDNT, II, p. 845). In Prov, man is again called upon to make a decision for life, by embracing Wisdom (Prov 2:19; 5:6; 6:23; 10:17; 15:24). By cleaving to God, the righteous have life (Hab 2:4; cf. Amos 5:4, 14; Jer 38:20).
But there is also the somewhat less concrete meaning where one "lives" by the words of God, "not by bread alone" (Deut 8:3; Ps 119:50, 93). Some would insist that this refers to prosperity as the gift of obedience rather than to the spiritual quality of life, as Jesus seems to have interpreted Deut 8:3. But considering again the biblical unity of man's nature, it obviously refers to both.
While it may be difficult to show any developed concept of incorporeal immortality in the ot, there are a number of passages where the verb ḥāyâ means "to restore to life," which would imply the overcoming of death. Since ot terminology uses death and life in a wide spectrum of nuances, in some passages it is difficult to tell whether extreme trouble or illness or what we would call death is meant. (The reader should keep in mind that modern medicine, despite its technological sophistication, has trouble defining actual death.) Two such passages are II Kgs 13:20–21, where a man's body "revives" or is "restored to life" upon touching the bones of Elisha. The other is I Kgs 17:17–24 where Elijah "restores to life" the body of the widow's son. Both of these passages appear to be dealing with resurrection from death, but one would have some difficulty from the terminology alone proving whether they were resurrected or merely revived. But the people involved in II Kgs 13:20–21 are treating the man as dead that is, burying him and the boy "had no breath left in him." So in each case the person was received back to life from what the Hebrews called "death."
Psalm 49, while using the word ḥāyâ only twice (vv. 9, 18 [H 10, 19]) is very instructive in what it says about the Psalmist's attitude toward living and dying. He teaches that evil men perish. There is no way for them to be redeemed so that they can go on living forever and never see death (vv. 7–8 [H 8–9]). But the Psalmist is not totally negative about death. He expresses his faith in God's promise to redeem his life from the power of the grave (Sheol) for he says, "God will receive (take, snatch, as Enoch and Elijah, see lāqaḥ) me" (v. 15 [H 16]). This passage should be linked with Ps 17:15, "I will be satisfied when I wake in your likeness" and also to Ps 16:11 where "the path of life" and overcoming of death is predictive of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:24–29). Bultmann adds, "There is a remarkably plain expression that the relationship of grace will persist, that fellowship initiated by God cannot be destroyed in Ps 73:23ff. One may say that here the OT belief in the hereafter finds its purest formulation. This expectation is neither magical nor mythical not speculative nor mystical. It is a certainty which is produced in the righteous by the concept of grace alone" (TDNT, II, p. 848).
One of the meanings of the word ḥayyı̂m, "endless life," has been generally recognized in the past only as a very late usage of the word. (See BDB on Dan 12:2, p. 313). M. Dahood (Psalms I, II, III, in AB, 16, 17, 17a) has brought the Ugaritic literature to bear on the early meaning of this word.
Though Dan 12:2 is often cited in the lexicons as the usage of ḥayyı̂m to mean eternal life, Dahood sees it so used in the Psalms. He refers to the Ugaritic antecedent in 2 Aqht VI. 27–29 (AB pp. 91, 170)
"Ask for eternal life (ḥym)
And I will give it to you,
And I will bestow it on you.
I will make you number years with Baal,
With gods you will number months."
Proverbs 12:28 uses 'al-māwet (no death) as the parallel of ḥayyı̂m (life). The Ugaritic blmt translated "immortality" above is an equivalent expression. The RSV says that the Hebrew is uncertain and proceeds to give a translation based on an emended text. However, Ewald, Bertheau, Franz Delitzsch, and Saadia, the Judeo-Arabist of the Middle Ages, said 'al-māwet means "immortality." The KJV wisely translated it "no death," NIV, "immortality." They have all been proved correct by the Ugaritic bl mt as used in the above citation. Dahood translates the verse:
"In the path of virtue is eternal life (ḥayyı̂m),
And the treading of her way is immortality ('al-māwet)."
M. Pope (JBL 85:455–66) objects to this translation on the basis that the synonymous parallelism goes against the larger context which consists of a series of couplets in antithetical parallelism and "therefore death not immortality is the proper antithesis." But is there here a larger context? Are not these proverbs a list of independent thoughts? Indeed it is not unusual of the proverbs to shift from one form of parallelism to another (cf. 17:21–22; 19:4–5, etc.). Pope states that ḥayyı̂m as eternal life is not justified by the parallelism of ḥym and blmt in Ugaritic because, the hero's, Aqhat's, reply shows he did not believe immortality could be had by a mortal and he therefore accuses the goddess Anat of lying to him. The implication is that since the Ugaritic hero didn't believe humans could have immortality, the writers of the Old Testament must share the same skepticism. The point is not what the Ugaritians believed but that they used the word ḥym for eternal life, whereas the Hebrew lexicons generally list only Dan 12:2 as using ḥayyı̂m distinctively to denote eternal life because of its alleged Maccabean origin.
Another similar use of ḥayyı̂m is in Prov 15:24 where it is put in antithesis with Sheol:
"The path of life above belongs to the wise,
because he turns away from Sheol below."
Whether this passage has relevance on this subject depends on how one interprets Sheol (q.v.) here and in other places in the ot. Sheol often means only "the grave" in ot usage. If that is the meaning here, then ḥayyı̂m as its antithesis need mean only "this earthly life." But if Sheol can mean "netherworld," then ḥayyı̂m here may mean "life after death." The writer holds that Proverbs entertains the concept that "death" (māwet) and Sheol involves more than the grave. Prov 2:18–19 parallels death with the place where "the shades" (rĕpā'ı̂m) are. And Prov 9:18 parallels Sheol in the same way. This at least opens the possibility that in Prov 15:24 "the path of life above" can mean eternal life in heaven in contrast with Sheol below where the shades dwell.
Some ot scholars would reject this notion, even though they might admit ḥayyı̂m could mean "endless life" on earth. But we are reminded of the repeated ot idea that God dwells in heaven (Deut 4:36, 39: I Kgs 8:27; Job 22:12; Ps 20:6 [H 7], 80:14 [H 15], etc.) where his throne is (Ps 11:4) and that the Psalmist longs to see his face (Ps 17:15). Amos (9:2), a prophet the critics accept at face value from the eighth century, considers both heaven and Sheol as places where people might conceivably go. Although Dahood may be extreme in his application of this meaning for ḥayyı̂m, his critics may be equally extreme in rejecting the notion entirely. For example, in what sense does the king receive eternal life in God's presence (Ps 21:4–6 [H 5–7])? And in what sense does Mount Zion abide forever (Ps 125:1)? The answer is similar in either case. The earthly Mount Zion has a counterpart in heaven (cf. Ps 123:1) and the king's prosperity on earth is only the beginning of all God's eternal goodness to him (Ps 16:11). It is very interesting (Ps 30:5) to see the temporal contrast between the Lord's anger and his favor. His anger is for a moment but his favor is for "life-eternal" not just a "lifetime" as in the rv.
ḥay. Living, alive. This adjective is often used as an epithet of God (Josh 3:10; Hos 2:1; Ps 42:3, etc.) but also of man, animals, and vegetation in contrast to what is dead or dried up. The plural form describes flowing or fresh water (Gen 26:19; Lev 14:5–6; Num 19:17, etc.). Jesus used a word play on this meaning (Jn 4:10).
ḥayyâ. Living thing, animal. The term is used mostly of wild animals in contrast to domestic animals. Psalm 104:25 uses it of creatures that live in water. Ezekiel in chapter 1 employs the term to describe the "living creatures" of his vision, which were composite in nature, having features of both man and animals. More rarely it means anything that lives (Ezk 7:13).
ḥayyı̂m. Life, as an abstract idea, meaning the state of being alive as opposite to being dead. Life at its best, health, endless life.
miḥyâ. Preservation of life (Gen 45:5), the appearance of new flesh (Lev 13:10), food, subsistence (Jud 6:4, 17:10).
Bibliography: Greenberg, Moshe, "The Hebrew Oath Particle hay/he," JBL 76:34–39. Gruenthaner, Michael J., "The Old Testament and Retribution in this Life," CBQ 4:101–110. Lehman, Manfred R., "Biblical Oaths," ZAW 81:74–92. O'Connell, Matthew J., "The Concept of Commandment in the Old Testament," TS 21:351–403. Richardson, TWB, pp. 127–28. Rust, Eric C., "The Destiny of the Individual in the Thought of the Old Testament," Review and Expositor 58:296-311. Sawyer, John F. A., "Hebrew Words for the Resurrection of the Dead," VT 23:218–34. TDNT, II, pp. 843–61. THAT, I, pp. 549–56.