Summary: This book will PROVE biblically that the state of the unsaved dead is
sleeping in “Sheol” until Judgment Day.
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Note: All articles are evangelical in nature and not pertaining to any specific denomination.
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Seven Important Facts about Sheol/Hades
Confusion Due to Inconsistent Translating of Sheol
Understanding the Two Views of Sheol
What Jacob Said
Job’s View of Sheol
Solomon’s View of Sheol
Sheol: Where You Cannot Remember or Praise God
Sheol: “The Pit” or “Well of Souls”
Sheol: A Condition of the Soul (Mind)
Sheol: A Place Where Sheep Go?
Do Animals Have Souls? Do They Go to Sheol When They Die?
“God Will Ransom My Soul from the Power of Sheol”
Did David Pray for His Ex-Friend to Go to a Hellish Torture Chamber?
“Who Can Escape the Power of Sheol?”
“If I Make My Bed in Sheol, You Are There”
“Sleeping” in Sheol
Why are Souls in Sheol Referred to as “Sleeping”?
Sheol and Death: Synonymous
“To Avoid Sheol Below”
“Deliver His Soul from Sheol”
Sheol is Never Satisfied
“Sheol has Enlarged its Appetite”
The Proud King of
The Longest and Most Detailed Passage on Sheol
“Progressive Revelation” on the Nature of Sheol?
“Where, O Sheol, is your Destruction?”
Sheol is Contrasted with “the Land of the Living”
Sheol: The Soulish Grave of “All the Living”
Sheol and the Physical Grave: Distinct yet Parallel
The great white throne judgment is when God will resurrect every un-regenerated soul from hades to be judged as shown in this passage:
The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. (14) Then death and hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. (15) If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
We see plain evidence here that unredeemed people are held in a place called hades after their physical death. This place is called sheol in Hebrew. These disembodied souls are kept in hades until judgment day when, as you can see, they are resurrected for the purpose of divine judgment. What is the precise nature of these people’s condition in hades during this intermediate period between physical death and resurrection? The traditional religious view is that they will be in a state of conscious torment the entire span. Although this has been the common evangelical position of the “intermediate state,” it’s rarely mentioned or elaborated on in Christian circles.
Is this what the bible really teaches? That people who are spiritually dead will suffer hundreds and hundreds of years of torment in captivity immediately after they die merely waiting for God to judge them? (As shown in Part I, the same people who believe this also believe that they will then spend all eternity in torturous captivity in the lake of fire after they are judged).
Our purpose in this part of HELL KNOW is to thoroughly search the Holy Scriptures to find out the truth about sheol/hades, the intermediate state. If sheol/hades is indeed a place and condition of conscious torment, then God’s Word will clearly support it from Genesis to Revelation. If the scriptures don’t support it then we need to expose it as a false doctrine, eliminate it from our belief system and proclaim what the bible really teaches on the subject. It’s that simple. This is the only way “the truth will set us free.”
Seven Important Facts about Sheol/Hades
Before we turn to the God-breathed scriptures to discover the precise nature of the intermediate state, it’s essential at this point to understand seven important facts about Sheol/hades, some of which are obvious and some not:
1.) As pointed out in Part I Sheol and Hades are synonymous terms, that is, they refer to the same condition or place. Sheol (sheh-ole') is the Hebrew term and hades (hay'-deez) is the Greek. For proof of this, note the following Psalm passage, which speaks of sheol, then observe how the Hebrew sheol is supplanted by the Greek hades when the text is quoted in the New Testament:
For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to sheol; neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.
Because Thou wilt not abandon my soul to hades, nor allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay.
We see here that the Hebrew sheol and the Greek hades are synonymous terms in the bible.
Since using both words could be confusing and overly wordy we will simply use the term sheol in reference to the intermediate state throughout the rest of this study. The main reason for this is that the Hebrew sheol appears much more often in the scriptures than the Greek hades; the former appears 66 times in the Old Testament and the latter 10 times in the New Testament. A secondary reason is that the word hades is apt to conjure fantastical images of Greek mythology rather than biblical truth; the Hebrew sheol, by contrast, offers no such misleading images.
2.) Since this is a study on the subject of sheol, what precisely is it? Sheol is defined as “the world of the dead” by the popular Hebrew & Greek scholar James strong; it simply refers to the place and condition of dead souls after their physical decease and before their resurrection to face God’s judgment. In other words, if people are spiritually dead to God, that is, they’ve never experienced spiritual regeneration through Jesus Christ, their disembodied souls will go straight to sheol when they physically die to be held until judgment day, at which time they will be resurrected for the purpose of judgment. Since this time period in sheol is after physical death and before resurrection it is commonly referred to as the “intermediate state” by theologians.
3.) Where exactly is sheol? In our study we shall see clear evidence that sheol is located in the heart of the earth, not in the physical realm, but in the dark spiritual realm. You see, the bible speaks of three existing worlds or realms: (1.) The earth and the physical universe, (2.) the underworld, which is the dark heavenly realm that parallels or underpins the earth and universe, and (3.) God’s heaven, called the “third heaven” in scripture. We’ll see biblical support for this in Chapter Six.
It should be understood that sheol is not the underworld itself, it is a compartment or pit in the underworld. This will become evident as our study progresses.
4.) Sheol must be distinguished from the grave or tomb where dead bodies are put to rest. This must be emphasized because translations often render sheol as “the grave,” for example Psalm 16:10 in the New International Version. Yet scholar W.E. Vine properly points out that sheol never refers to the literal grave or tomb where the body is lain to rest (286). There’s a separate Hebrew term for the physical grave or tomb, the Hebrew word qeber (keh’-ber).
However, even though it’s true that sheol does not refer to the physical grave or tomb, it should be pointed out that since it is defined as “the world of the dead” where souls enter after physical death, sheol could arguably be described as the graveyard of souls. In light of this, translations that render sheol as “the grave” are not necessarily inaccurate, as long as one understands that the text is not referring to the physical grave or tomb where dead bodies are placed.
5.) Another important fact, which I think is obvious, is that sheol is a temporary condition, regardless of its nature. This is vastly important to keep in mind – sheol only applies to the intermediate state of the disembodied souls of spiritually dead people after their physical death and before their resurrection on judgment day. Why is this so significant to understand? Because, regardless of what anyone ultimately believes about sheol, we can all agree that it’s a temporary state, it’s not something that lasts forever. Because of this, it’s obvious that the subject of sheol is not as important as the subject of the second death. Why? Simply because the second death is eternal while sheol is not. Hence, the nature of sheol is without question a secondary issue on the topic of human damnation.
Consequently, even though the bible is very clear on the issue of sheol, which we’ll see in our thorough study of the scriptures, no matter what conclusion we each personally come to, it has no bearing on the biblical truths already determined in Part I. This is important to keep in mind.
6.) Sheol is not hell; the lake of fire is hell. We see in the scriptures that sheol and the lake of fire (i.e. Gehenna) are two separate places and states. Revelation 20:13-15, quoted on page 1, plainly shows this distinction: After people are resurrected from sheol (“hades”) to face judgment, sheol itself will then be cast into the lake of fire. Since sheol and the lake of fire are plainly shown to be two separate places/states in this passage, then only one can rightly be designated as “hell;” and since “hell” commonly refers to a fiery, dark netherworld wherein people suffer eternal damnation then it is the lake of fire (or Gehenna) that should properly be labeled hell. In light of this, if a person refers to sheol as hell, they’re simply not being scriptural; the lake of fire is the true hell.
Yet, those of us who understand this should extend grace toward those who mix-up the two terms because most of the confusion over this issue is simply the result of bad translating practices; for instance, the King James Version often renders both sheol (hades) and Gehenna as “hell,” giving the impression to English readers that they’re one-and-the-same. They’re not. Thankfully, more recent translations have helped correct this mistake.
It’s interesting to note, incidentally, that the word “hell” is derived from the Old English ‘helan,’ which means “to conceal or cover,” hence in Old English literature you may find references to the helling of potatoes – that is, putting them into pits in the ground – and the helling of a house, meaning to cover it with a thatched roof. “Hell” therefore was originally an accurate description of sheol because it properly gave the image of souls concealed in a pit in the netherworld until their resurrection on judgment day. Of course, “hell” has taken on a radical change in meaning in the centuries since.
An alternative way of looking at the distinction between sheol and the lake of fire is to simply regard sheol as temporary hell and the lake of fire as eternal hell. This is good for those who, for whatever reason, insist on referring to both sheol and the lake of fire as “hell.”
7.) Righteous souls went to sheol before the ascension of Christ. This significant fact about sheol is not widely known amongst Christians even though it’s obvious in the scriptures and theologians readily acknowledge it. Before Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection from sheol (Acts 2:27) the souls of Old Testament saints had to go to sheol just as well as the souls of people not in covenant with God. The obvious reason for this is that spiritual regeneration was not available in Old Testament times because Jesus had not yet spilled his blood for the forgiveness of our sins and was not subsequently raised to life for our justification. The blood of animals shed in Hebrew religious ceremonies only temporarily covered their sins, it was not able to wash them from sin; only the blood of Christ can do this. As it is written: “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).
In our study we’ll observe that death and sheol are often spoken of together; they go hand-in-hand and are arguably one-in-the-same – death is sheol and sheol is death. Well, what is the wages of sin? According to the bible “the wages of sin is death” (Romans ). My point is that the souls of Old Testament saints had to go to sheol just as heathen people because in order for them to be redeemed from death a person innocent of sin would have to die in their place. The good news is that Jesus Christ did this very thing for all those who believe on him and accept him as Lord. It is believed that when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead as the “firstfruits” (see 1 Corinthians -23) the souls of the Old Testament saints were raised from sheol with him. We see apparent evidence of this in this passage:
When he (Jesus) ascended on high, he led captives in his train
Who were the “captives” that ascended to heaven with Jesus? Who else but the Old Testament saints who were subject to death and sheol just as well as heathen people? They were captives to sheol – death – until God’s ultimate sacrifice for humanity’s sins was made. When Jesus died he destroyed “him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil” (Hebrews ) and, by his resurrection, set free those who were captive to death.
Now that Jesus Christ has destroyed death and brought eternal life and immortality to light through his death and resurrection (2 Timothy ), no soul that is spiritually born-again and blessed with God’s gift of eternal life has to go to sheol. Now, when a spiritually-regenerated believer physically dies, his or her soul goes straight to heaven, not sheol. This is plainly evident in such clear passages as Revelation 6:9-11 and 7:9-17, as well as Philippians and 2 Corinthians 5:8.
There are, incidentally, many adherents of literal destruction that reject this notion that spiritually-rebirthed believers go to heaven when they die; they believe that both heathen and Christian souls alike go to sheol. I have open-mindedly and thoroughly researched their position but am persuaded by scripture to embrace the above view. We’ll look at this subject in detail in Chapter X and honestly consider arguments for and against; you are welcome to draw your own conclusion. Regardless, even though this is an important issue it’s a detail matter in the grand scheme of things and actually has no bearing on the nature of sheol, the subject of this study; hence, whatever the reader’s conclusion after an honest appraisal of the biblical facts, let’s strive for unity and loathe division! Amen?
The notion above that death and sheol are synonymous may initially sound strange to those of a religiously-indoctrinated mindset; yet, if such a person patiently and honestly seeks the scriptural truth, it will all make perfect sense as we analyze the Holy Scriptures on the subject. God’s Word is more than able to wash our minds from false religious indoctrination.
One last point regarding this seventh fact of sheol: If sheol is a condition of conscious torment as religious traditionalists advocate, how do they explain the biblical fact that righteous people went to sheol in Old Testament times? Their answer is that there was a separate chamber in sheol for righteous souls and base this idea on a literal reading of Jesus’ story of The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). We will thoroughly analyze this passage in Chapter X to find out if this is true.
Centuries ago theologians evidently did not believe there was a separate compartment to sheol for righteous souls in Old Testament times; they simply believed sheol was a place of torment for those damned of God in the heart of the earth. This caused some obvious problems: If sheol is a condition of conscious torment, how does one explain the many passages that plainly show that righteous souls as well as heathen souls went to sheol in Old Testament times?
The solution for the translators of the 1611 King James Version, believe it or not, was to translate sheol as “hell” when it applied to unrighteous people and as “the grave” when it applied to the righteous. In other words, they did not uniformly translate sheol; in fact, their definition was determined purely by whether the passage referred to the wicked or the righteous. The translators of the King James – also known as the Authorized Version – adhered to this as a general rule, so anyone reading this version would understandably come to the conclusion that heathen people went to a horrible netherworld of torments when they died while righteous people like Job and David merely went to “the grave.”
Let’s observe evidence of this:
The wicked shall be turned into hell (sheol), and all the nations that forget God.
Since the passage is referring to “the wicked” the King James translators chose to translate sheol as “hell;” yet notice how they render sheol when the sciptural passage applies to righteous King Hezekiah:
ISAIAH 38:10 (KJV)
I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave (sheol): I am deprived of the residue of my years.
the godly king of
I said, “In the prime of my life must I go through the gates of death (sheol) and be robbed of the rest of my years?”
It’s obvious here that Hezekiah expected to go to sheol when he died. Since this passage is plainly referring to a righteous man of God, the King James translators decided not to translate sheol as “hell” as that would give the impression to any English reader that godly King Hezekiah would go to a place of conscious torment when he died; this evidently contradicted their theology so they simply rendered sheol as “the grave.”
The Hebrew word sheol appears 66 times in the Old Testament and is translated in the King James Version 32 times as “hell,” 31 times as “the grave” and 3 times as “the Pit.” How the King James translators translated sheol was determined purely by whether the passage referred to the wicked or the righteous. We see evidence of this above and we’ll see much more evidence as our study progresses. Scholars agree that there is simply no justification for this lack of uniformity in translating sheol.
Before I say anything more, I’d like to stress that I’m not a hater of the King James bible; I have at least three editions of this fine version in my household and enjoy them greatly. Overall, it’s been a great blessing to English speaking people for many centuries now. However, its translation error on this specific issue cannot be condoned.
Needless to say, due to the King James Version’s extreme popularity in the centuries following its publication in 1611, it’s lack of uniformity in translating sheol has not helped the cause of truth regarding the nature of the intermediate state.
Today, the King James is no longer the most popular English version of the bible and more recent translations have, thankfully, corrected this translation error. For instance, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) and The New American Standard Bible (NASB) adhere to the policy of not translating either sheol or hades. It is for this reason that we will regularly use these translations in our study on sheol in this part of HELL KNOW.
As for the popular New International Version, sheol and hades are rendered variously as “grave,” “death,” “depths,” and once as “hell.” Yet, regardless of how this version translates sheol and hades, it very conveniently reveals the original Hebrew or Greek term in the footnotes, which is a commendable.
Before we begin our thorough scriptural study on the nature of sheol, let’s first make sure we understand the two possible views (although there are variations, every legitimate view of sheol falls within the parameters of the following two definitions):
1.) Sheol is a place where unrighteous souls go to immediately after death where they suffer constant torment until their resurrection on judgment day; in Old Testament times sheol also contained a separate compartment for righteous souls where they were comforted and enjoyed Father Abraham’s company. According to this view, the disembodied souls of pagans who died hundreds or thousands of years ago have been in a constant state of torture ever since even though they haven’t even been judged yet. The only legitimate proof text for this position is Jesus’ story about The Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16:19-31. The story is about a rich man and poor beggar, Lazarus, who die and go to sheol (hades) where they experience highly contrasting conscious states – the rich man suffers constant torment while Lazarus enjoys comfort in “Abraham’s bosom.” Adherents of this position insist that this story should be taken literally and that the rich man and Lazarus are actual historical figures. They further insist that the numerous other references to sheol in the bible must be interpreted or ignored in light of this literal interpretation of Jesus’ story.
2.) Sheol is merely the condition of death itself, a place or pit where dead souls are laid to rest “awaiting” their resurrection on judgment day.
Initially I adhered to the first view above solely due to Jesus’ story of The Rich Man and Lazarus, which was the only passage I ever seriously considered on the topic. This is the case with the vast majority of believers as well. I have since come to accept the second position after much thorough and honest biblical research, prayerfully analyzing literally hundreds of passages on the subject. The scriptural evidence for this second position, believe it or not, is simply overwhelming. Jesus is the living Word of God, so it’s hardly likely that he would disagree with the written Word of God; hence his story of The Rich Man and Lazarus is likely a parable, a symbolic story intended to convey important spiritual truths, not a historic account. This is supported by three facts: (1.) The bible teaches that Jesus “did not say anything to them without using a parable” (Matthew ), (2.) Jesus’ story of The Rich man and Lazarus is contained within a string of parables, and (3.) Jesus clearly used symbolic language in the story such as, “the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom” (KJV). Abraham’s literal bosom obviously turned to dust centuries earlier, not to mention there would hardly be enough room in his chest cavity to contain Lazarus, so this is clearly a symbolic statement; and if this statement is symbolic it stands to reason that the rest of the story is symbolic as well.
The fact that the first position above remains in the doctrinal books, despite the incredible scriptural support for the latter, is potent testimony to the formidable force of religious tradition and sectarian bias.
If you find my words hard to believe and doubt the colossal evidence for the second position, judge for yourself as we now journey through the God-breathed scriptures to discover the truth about the nature of sheol – God’s Word speaks for itself.
View of Sheol,
this chapter we will examine how Jacob, Job and Solomon viewed sheol. All three were godly men of the Old Testament
era. Jacob was the grandson of Father Abraham and the patriarch of the twelve
These scriptural facts reveal that, although far from perfect, Jacob, Job and Solomon were great and mighty men of the Old Testament period. Hence, there’s no reason not to assume that their recorded statements concerning sheol in the God-breathed scriptures are sound; this is particularly so if their beliefs are in harmony with what the rest of the bible teaches.
With this understanding let’s consider the very first passage in the bible where sheol appears…
The term sheol first appears in Genesis 37:35. This verse refers to the time when Jacob’s eleven sons treacherously sold their brother Joseph into slavery; they then lied to their father by telling him that Joseph was slain by a wild beast. Jacob believed the lie and was understandably heartbroken:
GENESIS 37:35 (NRSV)
All his sons and daughters sought to comfort him (Jacob); but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to sheol to my son (Joseph), mourning.” Thus his father bewailed him.
Two simple facts can be derived from Jacob’s brief expression of grief in this passage: (1.) Jacob very much expected to go to sheol when he died, and (2.) Jacob believed that Joseph was already in sheol, that he would remain there, and that he would himself join him when he eventually died.
The King James Version translates sheol in this passage as “the grave.” Why? Obviously because the verse refers to Jacob and Joseph, both righteous men of God (righteous, that is, in the sense that they were in-right-standing with God, not that they were unflawed individuals). This is in harmony with the King James translator’s policy of rendering sheol as “hell” when it applied to unrighteous people and as “the grave” when it applied to the righteous. As pointed out in Chapter One, there is absolutely no justification for this practice; the meaning of the word sheol does not change depending upon the character of the person going there.
We thus find evidence in the very first appearance of sheol in the bible that religious people have tried to mislead the populace about the truth of its nature and who exactly went there.
As for the King James and other translations rendering sheol as “the grave,” it has already been pointed out in the first chapter that sheol never denotes the physical grave or tomb where bodies are laid to rest; there’s a separate Hebrew word for this. Sheol should only be understood as “the grave” in the sense that it is the graveyard of souls in the spiritual realm, wherein they are held and “awaiting” resurrection to be judged by God. This will become increasingly clear as our study progresses.
One last important point concerning Jacob’s view of sheol: Although Jacob doesn’t state anything about the precise nature of sheol, it’s obvious that he didn’t regard it as some sort of nether paradise where his son was hanging out with Father Abraham, which is what many evangelicals today advocate. If this were the case, would he be “mourning” and “bewailing” him so grievously? Of course not. Someone might argue that Jacob was grieving over his own personal loss and not the destination of his son’s disembodied soul. If this were so, wouldn’t Jacob likely exclaim something to the effect of, “Praise you LORD that my son is now in the blissful presence of Father Abraham, and I will one day go down to this same paradise rejoicing.” Yet Jacob says nothing of the kind; in fact, his reaction is completely opposite to this.
Job’s View of Sheol
Let us now consider Job’s view of the intermediate state. Job was the greatest man of his time and God bragged of his character, integrity, godliness and hatred of evil (Job 1:1,3,8). Furthermore, in the book of Ezekiel God spoke of Job in the same breath as Noah and Daniel, two other great men of God (Ezekiel -20). The LORD obviously has a very high opinion of Job. We can therefore regard Job’s views on sheol as very reliable.
As we shall see, Job goes into quite a lot of detail concerning the nature of sheol. Did Job just dream up all this information or did he have divine revelation on the subject? No doubt God revealed these truths to him. We can confidently draw this conclusion because what Job says about sheol is in complete agreement with what the rest of the bible teaches on the subject; only if Job’s position contradicted the rest of Holy Scripture would we question its validity.
For those unfamiliar with the biblical book of Job, let me briefly explain its contents: Satan argues to God that Job is devoted to Him merely because the LORD has blessed him so greatly; he contends that Job will curse Him to His face if his many blessings are removed. God therefore permits Satan to attack Job to find out. As a result of Satan’s attacks, Job loses his ten children, hundreds of his employees (all but four), all his great wealth and even his health as he is afflicted with painful sores from head to toe.
After many months of suffering, three of Job’s friends go to “comfort” him and end up judging & accusing him of some great hidden sin, which consequently brought about all his horrible suffering. Most of the book consists of Job, in great anguish, profoundly debating with these “friends;” it should be noted, however, that much of what Job says is directed at God Himself. Such is the case with this passage:
JOB 14:10-15 (NRSV)
“But mortals die, and are laid low; humans expire and where are they? (11) As waters fail from a lake, and a river wastes away and dries up, (12) so mortals lie down and do not rise again; until the heavens are no more, they will not awake or be aroused out of their sleep. (13) Oh that you (God) would hide me in sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! (14) If mortals die, will they live again? All of the days of my service I would wait until my release should come. (15) You would call, and I would answer you; you would long for the works of your hands.”
Much is being said in this passage so let’s take it point by point. First of all, in verse 10 Job declares that “mortals die” and then asks “where are they?” He then partially answers his own question in verse 12 by likening death to “sleep” which humans will not “awake” from until “the heavens are no more,” or, we could say, a very long time. The important point I want to emphasize from these words is that Job describes the condition of death as “sleep” from which all human beings will one day “awake” or be resurrected.
Yet he still hasn’t really answered the question of where people go after they die. The very next verse answers this: In his great anguish he cries out to God to hide him in sheol. Why does Job pray this? Because his suffering was so great he wanted to escape it through death; and obviously when a person died, Job believed, his or her soul would go to sheol.
One may argue that, in verse 12, Job is perhaps referring to the body “sleeping” in the grave, but the obvious focus of his words is the death condition of the soul in sheol because in the very same breath, verse 13, he prays to God to go specifically there: “Oh that you would hide me in sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath is past, that you would appoint a set time and remember me!”
Job erroneously believed that God Himself was causing his great afflictions; he was obviously unaware of the Devil’s hand in the situation. In truth, God only permitted Job’s afflictions by allowing Satan to attack him. Regardless, the fact is that Job believed that by dying and going to sheol he would escape his intense suffering.
In other words, as amazing as it may seem, Job was actually hoping and praying to die and go to sheol, a place traditionally considered “hell” and viewed as a horrible, devil-ruled torture chamber located somewhere in the nether regions of the earth! Obviously Job’s view of sheol – “hell” – was quite different from what religious tradition has taught us. He prayed to go to sheol because, being one of God’s inspired servants, he knew that sheol was a condition of unconsciousness which he describes as sleep. Job was understandably weary of his intense suffering and wanted it to end. He knew that in death, in sheol, he would find relief from his misery, not an increase of it.
A vital fact that needs to be stressed from the above passage is that, regardless of the nature of sheol, Job definitely believed that everyone would ultimately be resurrected from there. In verse 12 he makes it clear that all mortals who lie down in the sleep of death will one day awaken, that is, be resurrected when “the heavens are no more.” And, while Job prayed to go to sheol in verse 13, it was not with the expectation that he would remain there forever. Job obviously believed that if God “hid” him in sheol He would “appoint a set time and remember” him, which is obviously when his “release” would come (verse 14). Release from what? Why, release from captivity to sheol, “the world of the dead” as scholar James Strong defines it. So God “remembering” him and “releasing” him are references to a future resurrection from sheol, which is in harmony with what the rest of the bible teaches.
“There the Wicked Cease from Turmoil, and the Weary are at Rest”
Job elaborates greatly on the nature of sheol in chapter 3 of the book named after him. In this chapter Job curses the day of his birth because his suffering is so great. In essence, Job is wishing that he were never born into this world because then he would never have had to experience such incredible agony. He then details what it would be like for him if this were so:
“Why did I not perish at birth and die as I came from the womb? (12) Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I might be nursed? (13) For now I would be lying down in peace; I would be asleep and at rest (14) with kings and counselors of the earth who built for themselves places now lying in ruins, (15) with rulers who had gold, who filled their houses with silver. (16) Or why was I not hidden in the ground like a stillborn child, like an infant who never saw the light of day? (17) There the wicked cease from turmoil, and there the weary are at rest. (18) Captives also enjoy their ease; they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout. (19) The small and great are there, and the slave is freed from his master.”
Job starts off this passage by asking why he didn’t die as an infant. He then indicates that, in this event, he would not be enduring all the great suffering that he was experiencing. He explains in verse 13 that had he died in infancy he would be peacefully “lying down… asleep and at rest.”
Job then further explains that he would have shared this condition of sleep and rest with kings and counselors of the earth, with the small and the great, with rulers and slaves, with captives and weary people and, yes, even with the wicked! In this state of death, Job declares in verse 17 that “there the wicked cease from turmoil, and there the weary are at rest,” and in verse 18 he makes it plain that there’s no “slave driver’s shout” as well.
This coincides with what Job later says concerning the wicked:
“They (the wicked) spend their days in prosperity and in peace they go down to sheol.”
Note that Job didn’t say the wicked go down to sheol in torment; no, they go down to sheol in peace. This completely contradicts the religious traditional belief that the unredeemed go to some horrible devil-ruled nether realm immediately after physical death and suffer torments as they are goaded on by slave-driving demons in fiery pits. Instead Job makes it clear that there is no turmoil or torment for the wicked in sheol.
If Job’s view of sheol is divinely inspired and therefore coincides with the rest of the God-breathed scriptures, these are powerful facts indeed! They reveal that at death kings, counselors, rulers, infants, the wicked, the weary, captives, the small, the great and slaves all share the same condition, a condition of peaceful “sleep” and “rest,” which are obvious references to unconsciousness. No wonder Job, stripped of all his possessions, forsaken by his wife and friends, tortured by painful sores from head to toe, mocked and made a byword by everyone and mourning for his ten children & hundreds of servants, prayed to go to such a place. Needless to say, Job’s understanding of sheol was quite different from that held by so many misguided religious people today.
Some may wonder if perhaps Job was referring to the literal grave or tomb where the body is laid to rest since there is no specific mention of sheol in chapter 3. This idea is ruled out because Job makes it clear in verses 13-15 that, if he died, he’d be lying down asleep with kings, counselors and rulers. So Job is plainly referring to a common place or condition that all people shared together. Biblically speaking, this would be sheol, the realm of dead souls, as verified in Ecclesiastes 9:10, a passage we shall examine in the very next section. In addition, Job would not be referring to the literal grave or tomb for the body because it is not acceptable or usual practice to bury people together in mass graves or tombs, whether then or now.
Before we continue let’s remember, as detailed in Chapter One, that this was well before the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, hence spiritual rebirth and the consequent attainment of eternal life were yet to be manifested. For this reason, the souls of Old Testament saints could not be ushered into God’s presence when they physically died; the souls of both the righteous and unrighteous went to sheol during this period because ultimate redemption was not yet available. The righteous captives to sheol – death – would not be set free until the resurrection and ascension of the Lord.
Solomon’s View of Sheol
Solomon was the wisest man on earth in his time (see 1 Kings -34) and God utilized his great knowledge and wisdom in three books of the God-breathed scriptures. Solomon had divine revelation concerning the precise nature of sheol, the condition of the dead. Witness:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in sheol, to which you are going.
The language in this text describes beyond any question of doubt that sheol is a condition of unconsciousness. Notice that, in sheol, there’s neither good work or bad work; there’s neither positive, hopeful thoughts or anguished, hopeless thoughts; there’s neither knowledge of what’s good and holy or knowledge of what’s evil and impure.
This is further verified in verse 5:
ECCLESIASTES 9:5 (NRSV)
The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing.
The obvious reason the dead “know nothing” is because they’re no longer alive and conscious – they’re dead. This coincides with this passage from the Psalms:
PSALM 146:4 (KJV)
His breath goeth forth, he (his body) returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
The Psalmist makes it clear that when a person physically dies his or her thoughts perish. Note that there is no mention whatsoever of a person’s thoughts continuing to live on in some devil-ruled chamber of horrors. This is obviously because a dead person is no longer conscious of anything.
Take another look at Ecclesiastes above and observe that Solomon doesn’t make a distinction between righteous or unrighteous people. Like Job, he makes it clear that everyone would go to sheol at that period of time, whether righteous or wicked, rich or poor, small or great. In fact, Solomon’s major point in chapter 9 of Ecclesiastes is that death or sheol is the common destiny of all people before redemption was ultimately made available through Christ’s death and resurrection. He plainly states in verse 3 that “the same destiny overtakes all.” What destiny? The destiny of sheol, the state of death, where – he goes on to say in verse 10 – there is neither work or thought or knowledge or wisdom.
Jacob, Job and Solomon’s views of sheol can be summarized as follows:
1.) Sheol is a condition that every spiritually un-regenerated person will experience immediately following physical decease, this includes godly men and women in Old Testament time periods preceding the ascension of Christ. It includes the rich and the poor, the small and the great, the pure and the profane. In other words, sheol is the common destiny of anyone who is spiritually dead to God and therefore un-redeemed.
2.) Sheol is a condition of unconsciousness, likened unto sleep, where there is no work, thought or knowledge of any kind. It is not a place or state of conscious suffering and misery.
3.) Sheol is a temporary condition; all consigned to sheol will ultimately be resurrected.
SHEOL IN THE BOOK OF PSALMS
The biblical book of Psalms consists of 150 songs called psalms. Most of the psalms were written by Solomon’s father, King David. Other psalmists include Moses, Solomon, Asaph, Ethan and Heman. Quite a few psalms were written anonymously. Yet, regardless of who exactly wrote each individual psalm, one fact is certain: All the psalms are “God-breathed” (2 Timothy ) as all the psalmists “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter ).
The book of Psalms possesses a wealth of information regarding the nature of sheol, the intermediate state. Despite the fact that there were quite a few authors, the views of the psalmists regarding sheol are in complete agreement. This is unsurprising since, as just noted, they all “spoke from God… by the Holy Spirit.” Their many revealing statements on sheol are also in complete harmony with the views of Jacob, Job and Solomon as detailed in the previous chapter.
Sheol: Where You Cannot Remember or Praise God
Let’s examine the very first text in the book of Psalms where the Hebrew word sheol appears:
PSALM 6:5 (NRSV)
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in sheol who can give you praise?
In this passage David is praying for God to save his life because his enemies were trying to kill him (as indicated in verse 10). Despite the anguish David was experiencing he didn’t want to die; David was “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel ; Acts ) and thus wanted to live, serve God and worship Him. He knew that if he died and went to sheol he wouldn’t be able to do this.
This simple passage completely contradicts the prominent religious position on the matter. As previously noted, religious traditionalists believe that when Old Testament saints died, this being before redemption was made available through Christ, their souls would go to “paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom” which was supposedly located in sheol. They would be conscious there and supremely comforted as they hanged out with Father Abraham. Yet, if this were so, wouldn’t they be able to remember God? Would they not be praising Him and thanking Him as the righteous are always ever ready to do, that is, as long as it were possible?
Yet David makes it clear in this passage that souls in sheol do not and cannot remember God; they consequently cannot praise Him either. What a positive statement to support the view that those in sheol are unconscious – “asleep” in death until their resurrection.
The notion that sheol is a condition where a person cannot remember or praise God is corroborated by other biblical texts. For instance:
PSALM 115:17-18 (NRSV)
The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any that go down into silence, but we (the living) will bless the LORD
This passage clearly shows that those who die “go down into silence.” Sheol is a place of silence because those who go there are unconscious, that is, dead. There’s no praising and worshipping of God there nor are there horrible screams of torment. It is a condition of silence. It is the living that bless the Lord, the Psalmist plainly states, not the dead.
Righteous King Hezekiah’s prayer from the book of Isaiah is another coinciding passage:
ISAIAH 38:18-19 (NRSV)
“For sheol cannot thank you, death cannot praise you; those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for your faithfulness. (19) The living, the living, they thank you as I do this day.”
First, notice in this passage, as well as Psalm 6:5 above, that sheol and death are spoken of synonymously (we’ll look at this in more detail in the next chapter). Secondly, witness how Hezekiah makes it clear, just as David and the other psalmist did, that those in sheol are unable to thank or praise God.
The obvious conclusion we must draw is that, if the righteous are unable to remember God and cannot praise or thank Him, then they must be unable to do so; that is, they must be either unconscious or dead – no longer alive. This is supported by Hezekiah’s statement in verse 19 where he stresses that only “the living, the living” can thank and praise God, not those who go to sheol, the world of the dead.
Let’s examine one other scriptural passage that perfectly coincides with the three we’ve just looked at:
PSALM 88:3, 10-12
(3) For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave (sheol).
(10) Do you show your wonders to the dead? Do those who are dead rise up and praise you? (11) Is your love declared in the grave (qeber), your faithfulness in destruction. (12) Are your wonders known in the place of darkness, or your righteous deeds in the land of oblivion?
Here is further proof that those in sheol are dead and therefore unable to rise up and praise God. Furthermore, sheol is equated to the literal grave (qeber) and destruction, and is also spoken of as “the place of darkness” and “land of oblivion.” The Psalmist makes it clear that God does not show His wonders to the dead in sheol, that the dead cannot praise Him there and that God’s love, faithfulness and righteous deeds are all unknown there. What unmistakable proof that souls in sheol are dead and conscious of nothing!
This Psalm, written by Heman the Ezrahite when his life was in mortal danger, is a prayer to God for deliverance from death. Note in verse 3 that Heman clearly expected to go to sheol when he died just as Jacob, Job, Solomon, David and Hezekiah did. In the King James Version the importance of this statement is kept from the reader by the use of the word “grave” as a translation of sheol; this is likewise the case with the NIV rendering of the verse as shown above (although, I should point out, there is a footnote properly indicating that the verse is indeed referring specifically to sheol). Because of this mistranslation the average reader is misled into believing the psalmist is talking about the condition of the literal grave where the body is buried and not to sheol where the soul goes. The problem with this is that it obscures the truth about the nature of sheol to the average reader and consequently perpetuates false religious ideas.
Let’s recap: The writers of the four passages examined in this section – David, Hezekiah, Heman and the anonymous psalmist – are all in perfect agreement that sheol is not a place of consciousness. According to these inspired biblical writers, sheol is synonymous with death and is thus a condition of silence where it is impossible to even remember God, let alone praise & thank Him.
Let’s examine another enlightening Psalm text by David from both the New International Version and the King James:
let the wicked be put to shame and lie silent in the grave (sheol). (18) Let their lying lips be silenced,
PSALM 31:17-18 (KJV)
let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave (sheol). (18) Let their lying lips be put to silence;
Note that this passage is solely referring to “the wicked” – people who are in outright rebellion against God, living after the desires of the sin nature. These are David’s enemies; they have rejected his God-appointed kingship and are trying to kill him. David is actually praying for their death for that is the only way their lying lips will be silenced.
With this understanding, observe how David describes the condition these wicked people will experience if they die: He plainly states that they will lie silent in sheol.
According to David, the great godly king, inspired biblical writer and “man after God’s own heart,” the wicked do not constantly scream in torment in sheol, but simply lie silent! This description is in perfect harmony with the view that sheol is a condition of unconsciousness where souls lie “asleep” in death “awaiting” their resurrection.
This is not the only biblical text that makes it clear that souls lie silent in sheol. We saw this same thought expressed in Psalm 115:17 in the previous section. Here’s another coinciding Psalm text:
PSALM 94:17 (NRSV)
If the LORD had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
The psalmist is simply testifying that, if the Lord had not delivered him from his wicked enemies (see verse 16), they would have killed him and, as a result, his soul would have gone to “the land of silence.” What is “the land of silence”? Since he’s addressing the place his soul would go to after death we know he’s referring to sheol.
With this understanding, notice that the psalmist does not describe sheol as “the land of shrieking in torment” or as “the land of comforts with Father Abraham” (religionists would have us believe sheol is one or the other, depending on whether the soul is wicked or righteous respectively). That’s because neither of these descriptions is true; sheol is, in reality, the land of death where there’s no consciousness of anything and thus only silence.
Take another look at the King James rendition of Psalm 31:17-18 above and notice that the passage deviates from the King James standard practice of rendering sheol as “hell” whenever the text in question referred to the wicked (and as “the grave” when it referred to righteous people). Why did the translators fail to render sheol as “hell” in this particular case since it clearly refers to “the wicked”? Obviously because the passage plainly portrays the wicked in sheol as lying in silence and this contradicts their belief that wicked souls in sheol suffer a constant state of screeching torment. What hypocrisy.
This certainly shows the dishonest extents religious people will go to cover up the scriptural truth and perpetuate their false religious beliefs.
Sheol: “The Pit” or “Well of Souls”
The fact that sheol is a condition of silence is also pointed out in Psalm 30. In this psalm David is simply expressing thanks because God delivered him from death. He knew that, if he died, his soul would go to sheol as indicated in verse 3:
PSALM 30:3 (NRSV)
O LORD, you brought up my soul from sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
The text showcases a form of Hebrew poetry called synonymous parallelism wherein the second part of the verse simply repeats and enforces the thought of the first. We’ve already seen examples of this type of poetry (Psalm 6:5 & Isaiah 38:18) and will continue to as our study progresses.
With this understanding, notice that sheol is spoken of as synonymous with “the Pit.” Since sheol is described as “the Pit” we will naturally gain better insight into the nature of sheol by simply deciphering what “the Pit” means.
The Hebrew word for “the Pit” is bowr (bore) which literally refers to a hole or pit in the ground; it is used 71 times in the bible. The setting in which bowr is used determines, of course, what specific type of hole or pit and, consequently, which English word is used to translate it. For instance, 26 times bowr is used in reference to a ‘cistern’ (e.g. Genesis 37:22,24,28,29), nine times in reference to a ‘well’ (e.g. 1 Chronicles 11:17-18), five times in reference to a ‘dungeon’ (e.g. Genesis 40:15; 41:14), once to a ‘quarry’ (Isaiah 51:1) and once it’s even translated as ‘death’ (Proverbs 28:17). Why “death”? No doubt because bowr, a hole in the ground, is what a grave actually is; and grave, of course, signifies death – the utter absence of life.
What is God trying to tell us in His Word by likening sheol to bowr, a pit? Obviously that sheol is like a vast common pit or grave where un-regenerated souls are held captive after physical death and before resurrection.
Interestingly, since one of the definitions of bowr is ‘well,’ sheol could properly be described as “the well of souls.”
us have probably heard this phrase. “The Well of Souls” is an actual
subterranean chamber beneath the Dome of the Rock in the
Yet, from a purely biblical standpoint, the Well of Souls is sheol, the pit where un-regenerated souls are held intermediate between physical death and resurrection. Like the subterranean chamber beneath the Dome of the Rock, sheol is a dungeon – a dungeon where souls are held captive after death. This explains why bowr is translated as “dungeon” in reference to sheol in this passage from Isaiah:
ISAIAH 24:21-22 (NASB)
So it will happen in that day, that the LORD will punish the host of heaven, on high, and the kings of the earth, on earth. (22) And they will be gathered together like prisoners in the dungeon (bowr), and will be confined in prison; and after many days they will be punished.
The passage is referring to the day when God’s cataclysmic wrath will be poured out upon the whole earth; this occurs right before the establishment of the millennial reign of Christ. Because of God’s judgments billions of people will die and every unsaved soul will be confined to sheol “like prisoners in the dungeon.” Only “after many days,” that is, after the thousand-year reign of Christ will these souls be resurrected to face judgment and suffer the eternal punishment of the second death (see Revelation 20:5,13-15).
Incidentally, observe how verse 22 makes it clear that these unsaved souls will not be punished until after they are resurrected from sheol and judged; this is further evidence which disproves the view that unsaved souls are punished with conscious torment while captive in sheol. The only punishment experienced in sheol is death itself, the utter absence of life or being. This stands to reason since it is in harmony with the biblical axiom that death is the wages of sin.
The important point of this passage, for the purposes of our subject, is that verse 22 likens sheol to a gloomy dungeon or prison where souls are confined. No wonder David praised and thanked God for delivering him from this death condition. Obviously David didn’t share the view of some people today that righteous souls in sheol were in some type of “paradise” hanging out with Father Abraham. No, this is a false religious myth! Sheol is a dungeon, a prison – a common pit of death where all un-regenerated souls are confined until their appointed resurrection.
The only soul that can escape this dungeon-like pit of death is the soul that is born again and thus possesses eternal life (John ; ; 1 John ,14). This is only possible because “Christ Jesus… has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy ). The gospel or “good news” refers to all the benefits available to humankind as a result of Jesus’ sacrificial death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthian 15:1-3); aside from reconciliation with God, the main benefit of this gospel is, of course, eternal life. Until Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, eternal life or immortality was not available and that’s why in Old Testament times, before the ascension of Christ, both righteous and unrighteous souls had to go to sheol after physical decease. When Jesus ascended, however, he set the captive righteous souls free (Ephesians 4:8)!
It was necessary here to go into a bit of detail about bowr “the Pit” so that now, whenever it pops up in our study, we’ll understand precisely what it means.
Incidentally, I find it interesting that the original definition of ‘hell’ – “to conceal or cover” – is in harmony with the biblical description of sheol as “the Pit.” The Old English ‘hell’ was originally used as a translation sheol because it properly gave the image of souls consigned and concealed in a pit in the netherworld until their resurrection on judgment day. Unfortunately, the definition of ‘hell’ has taken on a completely different meaning since that time, i.e. perpetually writhing in torment in some devil-ruled torture chamber.
Let’s now return our attention to Psalm 30: At the end of this psalm David plainly reveals the state that his soul would have been in if God had not delivered him from death:
PSALM 30:11-12 (NRSV)
You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, (12) so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
David is just praising God here because he knew that, had he died, his soul would have been silent in sheol. He well knew that a person cannot praise God or tell of His faithfulness in sheol, as indicated in verse 9, because sheol is a “land of silence.”
Sheol: A Condition of the Soul (Mind)
Let’s return to Psalm 30:3 to observe another important fact about sheol:
PSALM 30:3 (NRSV)
O LORD, you brought up my soul from sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
David was so close to death that God, in a sense, “restored” him to life by saving him from sheol, which is where his soul would have gone had he physically died.
“Soul” in this context refers to his very being or mind, the actual essence or qualities that mark him as an individual human creation of God. This is supported by the second part of the verse that speaks of “those” who actually died and consequently went to sheol, the Pit. Notice that he doesn’t say “those whose bodies have gone down to the Pit” or “those whose breath of life has gone down to the Pit.” That’s because a person’s body does not go to sheol when s/he dies; a lifeless body is placed in a grave or tomb. Neither does the breath of life, the spirit, go to sheol when a person dies; this animating life-force simply returns to God from whence it came, as detailed in Part II. No, sheol is the holding place of a person’s very life essence or being, the part that possesses volition, emotion and intellect; in other words, sheol is the condition to which the human soul or mind enters after physical death.
This is supported by a verse examined in the previous chapter:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge in sheol, to which you are going.
Notice that the text plainly states that you are going to sheol (that is, anyone who has not been spiritually regenerated through Christ, which included everyone in Old Testament times). Sheol is the housing place of people’s very being after physical death, the part that marks them as an individual creation of God, the part of them that thinks, reasons, chooses and feels; hence, sheol is the condition that the mind enters when the body dies. As shown in Part II “mind” is the Greek word nous (nooce) and refers to that central part of human nature that decides, thinks and feels. We could put it this way: Your mind is you and you are your mind.
The human body separate from mind and spirit is just a slab of flesh; it goes to the grave at the time of death. The human spirit separate from mind and body is simply a breath of life, an animating life-force, not a personality. This breath of life comes from the Creator and gives life to our very being, our soul, our mind – our personhood. When a person dies this breath of life, or spirit, simply returns to God who gave it (that it, if one is spiritually un-regenerated through Christ). The soul separate from body and spirit goes to sheol.
Simply put, sheol is a condition of the human soul, the disembodied mind.
If any of this is difficult to understand, please refer to Part II: The Nature of Human Beings, which biblically addresses the subject in detail.
Sheol: A Place Where Sheep Go?
Let’s now turn to another very enlightening psalm passage written by the sons of Korah:
PSALM 49:13-15 (NRSV)
Such is the fate of the foolhardy, the end of those who are pleased with their lot. (14) Like sheep they are appointed for sheol; death shall be their shepherd; straight to the grave they descend, and their form shall waste away; sheol shall be their home. (15) But God will ransom my soul from the power of sheol, for he will receive me.
Verse 14 refers to those who trust in themselves rather than God; verse 13 describes these people as the “foolhardy.” A ‘fool’ in the bible is synonymous with a wicked person since the term “fool” denotes someone who is morally deficient, that is, someone who rejects God’s existence, wisdom & discipline and embraces evil desires (see Proverbs 1:7; 5:22-23 and Psalm 14:1).
Since this text is definitely referring to ungodly people you would think that the King James translators would have translated sheol as “hell,” which would be in line with their policy of translating sheol as “hell” when the passage refers to wicked people and as “grave” when it refers to righteous people. Yet, notice how the King James bible renders verse 14:
PSALM 49:14 (KJV)
Like sheep they are laid in the grave (sheol); death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.
The passage is contextually referring to ungodly people yet the King James translators chose not to render sheol as “hell” as was their usual practice. Why? Obviously because it was impossible for them to do so since the verse plainly states that wicked people are appointed for sheol like SHEEP! And everyone knows that sheep don’t go to a place of conscious torture when they die; the very idea is absurd. You don’t have to be a scholar to realize this. Hence, despite the translators desire to render sheol as “hell,” as was their standard practice, they had no choice but to translate it as “the grave” in this particular case.
This text coincides with Jeremiah 12:3, which also likens ungodly people to sheep that are to be slaughtered: “Drag them off like sheep to be butchered! Set them apart for the day of slaughter.” Note clearly that it says they are to be butchered and slaughtered (which is in harmony with the biblical fact that “the wages of sin is death”), not tortured in some fiery nether realm until their resurrection thousands of years hence, as religionists ludicrously teach.
At this point, two questions crop up: Do sheep really go to sheol as Psalm 49:14 implies? And, if so, does this mean they have souls since, biblically speaking, sheol is the “world of the dead” wherein dead souls are specifically laid to rest after physical death?
Do Animals Have Souls? Do They Go to Sheol When They Die?
The answer to both these questions, believe it or not, is yes. Sheep and other animals are described in terms of being “living souls” in the bible and, when they die, their non-physical essence is indeed laid to rest in sheol. This may, admittedly, sound odd at first but let’s observe what the God-breathed scriptures have to say on the subject. Some of the following biblical information has already been offered in Part I and, in detail, in Part II, but it’s necessary here for us to brush up on this material in order to properly address these questions.
The word “soul” in the bible is translated from the Hebrew word nephesh (neh-fesh´), which corresponds to the Greek psuche (soo-khay´). The creation text, Genesis 2:7, states that God breathed into the body of the first man the breath of life and he “became a living soul.” This passage plainly shows that human beings are “living souls.” This explains why redeemed people who physically die during the future tribulation period are described as conscious living “souls” in heaven in Revelation 6:9-10. It’s obvious in Genesis 2:7 that what makes people living souls as opposed to dead souls is God’s breath of life. Without this breath of life the human soul is a dead soul. This is where the concept of sheol comes into play: When a person physically dies the bible teaches that the breath of life (i.e. spirit) returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:6-7; Job 34:14-15; Psalm 146:3-4). What happens to a soul when God’s breath of life returns to Him and the soul is no longer a living soul? In other words, where are dead souls laid to rest? In sheol, of course! Remember, as Greek and Hebrew scholar James Strong defined it, sheol is “the world of the dead.” It’s not the world of the living, the world of conscious beings; no, it’s the world of the dead. And souls that are no longer animated by God’s spiritual breath of life are dead. That’s why they are placed in sheol, because sheol is the world of the dead.
We know from the scriptures that every human soul will ultimately be resurrected from sheol. Righteous Old Testament saints were likely resurrected when Jesus ascended, as shown in Ephesians 4:8. Everyone else will ultimately be resurrected at the time of the great white throne judgment, which will take place immediately following the millennial reign of Christ on earth; this resurrection includes every unredeemed soul that’s ever existed throughout history. Christians don’t have to worry about going to sheol, of course, because they’ve been spiritually born-again of the imperishable seed of Christ and possess eternal life in their spirits; hence, when authentic Christians physically die they are ushered into the presence of the LORD as plainly shown in the aforementioned Revelation 6:9-10, as well as Philippians 1:20-24 and other texts (which we’ll examine in detail in Chapter X) – death holds no black pall over the blood-washed, spiritually re-born Christian for to “be with Christ… is better by far”!
Why am I emphasizing all this? Because it’s important here to understand that sheol is the holding place of dead souls. It is where God stores the soulish remains or spiritual DNA, if you will, of every human being that has ever existed. This is perhaps necessary so that every person can be resurrected at the appropriate time. This is, incidentally, what makes the “second death” so horrifying: Everyone will ultimately be resurrected from sheol but no one will ever be resurrected from the lake of fire, which is the second death according to Revelation 20:14-15. This “second death,” as shown in Part I, is an “everlasting destruction” so utterly complete and final that no one will ever be resurrected from it; it is literally a total obliteration of soul and body where one’s spiritual DNA is wiped out of existence.
Incidentally, the fact that everyone will ultimately be resurrected from sheol, which is the first death, but no one will ever be resurrected from the second death explains why souls in sheol are repeatedly described as “sleeping.” People who suffer the first death are, in a sense, “sleeping” because they will one day be “awoken,” that is, resurrected. By contrast, those who suffer the second death are never described as sleeping because they will never be “awoken” or resurrected. In other words, the first death is temporary, but the second death is everlasting – there is no hope of resurrection from the second death. We’ll look at this matter further in the next chapter.
With the understanding of the above scriptural facts, let’s return to the question of whether or not animals have souls and whether or not they go to sheol when they physically die. The bible describes animals in terms of being “living souls” just as well as humans. The Hebrew and Greek words for soul – nephesh and psuche – are repeatedly used in reference to animals in the bible. For example:
So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature (nephesh), that was it’s name.
We see here that land animals and birds are described in the bible as “living creatures.” As you can see, the word “creature” in this passage is nephesh, the Hebrew word for “soul.” Water animals are also described in the bible as “living creatures” (Genesis -21); this includes Revelation 8:9 where the Greek word for “soul” – psuche – is used. My point is that animals are described in the God-breathed scriptures as “living souls” just as people are. The reason most people don’t realize this is because English translations generally don’t translate nephesh and psuche as “soul” when the text refers to animals, as shown above in Genesis .
Why would bible translators refuse to translate nephesh and psuche as “soul” when the terms apply to animals? No doubt because they wanted to draw a distinction between animals and human beings; after all people are created in the image of God, beasts are not. Yet the original God-breathed scriptures used the very same Hebrew and Greek word for both, shouldn’t we? If God Himself doesn’t have a problem with this, why should we?
The real reason translators refrain from translating nephesh and psuche as “soul” when these words apply to animals is that doing such would not be supportive of the doctrine of the “immortal soul.” As detailed in Chapter Four of Part I, this doctrine maintains that souls, once created, can never be de-created – even incorrigibly sinful souls worthy of eternal death. Hence, the immortal soul doctrine is one of the chief pillars for the eternal torture doctrine. This pillar would be damaged, of course, if people discovered that animals are described in the bible as “living souls” just as well as people; after all, even the uneducated public would likely question the notion that animals possess immortal souls. To solve this dilemma, English bible translators decided to translate nephesh and psuche as “creature(s)” or “thing(s)” when the terms apply to beasts. This is another prime example of religionists attempting to cover-up the scriptural truth in order to perpetuate false beliefs.
The King James translators were so careful in this matter that only in one scriptural passage is nephesh translated as “soul” in reference to animals; and the only reason they did so in this specific case was because of the peculiar wording of the passage. Witness:
NUMBERS 31:28 (KJV)
And levy a tribute unto the LORD of the men of war which went out to battle: one soul (nephesh) of five hundred, both of the persons, and of the beeves (oxen), and of the asses, and of the sheep.”
As you can see, “soul” (nephesh) in this verse applies equally to people, oxen, donkeys and sheep; the translators couldn’t very well render it as “creatures” or “things” since the list includes people as well as animals. They therefore had no other choice but to translate nephesh as “soul.” (Let’s remember that the King James Version is a word-for-word translation so the translators couldn’t very well omit the word).
At this point an obvious question crops up: If both humans and animals are described as “living souls” in the bible, what is the essential difference between them? The difference is that human beings are created in the very image of God (Genesis ), whereas animals are not. This not only means that people have the same general form of God (head, face, torso, legs, arms), but that human beings possess a spiritual dimension to their make-up that is aware of God & the spiritual realm, and Christians even possess the capacity to know and commune with God because of spiritual re-birth though Christ. Animals, of course, lack these characteristics. Yes, they have a spirit but only in the sense of a “breath of life,” an animating spiritual life-force of the Almighty. Animals are, of course, awesome creations of God, but they are on a far lower spiritual plane than people. They are instinct-oriented and therefore lack any consciousness of good or evil and have very limited reasoning capabilities. They don’t have a God-consciousness (spirit) or a sin-consciousness (flesh). Many of them can be trained to respond to certain words and do various tasks or tricks, but that’s about it. Animals cannot build cities, learn languages, understand algebra, create and appreciate art or worship God. Human beings, on the other hand, are souls of the highest order and that’s why God gave humankind authority over all animals (see Genesis 1:28 and 9:2-3). This is evidenced by the fact that people have zoos for animals and not vice versa.
Okay, so it is clear in the bible that animals are “souls,” but does this mean that their soulish essence goes to sheol when they die? Evidently, according to Psalm 49:14:
PSALM 49:14 (NRSV)
Like sheep they (the foolhardy) are appointed for sheol;
The Psalmist is essentially saying that fools under Old Covenant law will prematurely die just as surely as sheep slated to be slaughtered. Note that the Psalmist plainly states sheep “are appointed for sheol.” There’s no reason we shouldn’t take this statement literally: When sheep die their souls go to sheol. Remember, sheol is simply “the world of the dead” or “well of souls” – the space in the spiritual realm where dead souls are stored. Is there any reason why God wouldn’t store the soulish remains of animals there as well as humans? Where else would He store them? Especially considering the strong possibility that God will resurrect some or all of them in the age to come. (See the section in Appendix B Will there be animals in the new heavens and new earth?). We would simply assume the likelihood that there is a separate compartment in sheol for animal souls, just as pet cemeteries are separate from human cemeteries in our physical world.
Incidentally, the fact the bible teaches that dead animal souls go to sheol when they die is further proof that sheol is not a burial plot in the ground because sheep and other animals are not ordinarily thus buried. The Hebrew word qeber denotes the physical grave where bodies are buried; whereas sheol, once again, refers to the ‘graveyard’ in the spirit realm where dead souls are housed.
“God Will Ransom My Soul from the Power of Sheol”
Let’s look again at the very last verse of the Psalm 49 passage quoted earlier:
But God will ransom my soul from the power of sheol, for he will receive me.”
First of all, notice that sheol is spoken of as a condition of the soul, which was emphasized earlier in this chapter. A person’s body doesn’t go to sheol when s/he dies, nor does the breath of life (spirit), which simply returns to God who gave it; no, sheol refers exclusively to the condition of un-regenerated souls after physical death.
Secondly, like Job, this Psalmist believed that his non-physical essence would go to sheol when he died, but, also like Job, he believed God would ultimately ransom his soul from there. ‘Ransom’ literally means “the redeeming of a captive.” When did God eventually redeem the souls of righteous Old Testament saints, including the writer of this psalm, from captivity to sheol? And with what did He redeem them? The answers are obvious: God redeemed them by the blood of Jesus Christ when he was crucified for the sins of humanity. When Jesus later ascended he rescued the righteous captives of sheol, including this psalmist, by resurrecting them and bringing them to heaven where they were “received” by the Father, as the above verse indicates.
SHEOL IN THE BOOK OF PSALMS
Continuing our study of sheol in the book of Psalms, let’s consider a very interesting question:
Did David Pray for His Ex-Friend to Go to a Hellish Torture Chamber?
Notice David’s statement in this passage:
PSALM 55:15 (KJV)
Let death seize upon them, and let them go down quick into hell (sheol): for wickedness is in their dwellings, and among them.
David is indeed referring to his enemies in this text, yet it’s interesting to note that one of these enemies was once a very close friend of his. This is revealed in the preceding passages, verses 12-14 (as well as verses 20-21). At one time David had shared “sweet fellowship” with this person, but by the time of the writing of this psalm it appears that this one-time close friend had turned against him.
Supposing that the “hell” mentioned in the text is a netherworld of conscious torment for wicked souls many have no doubt wondered how David, “a man after God’s own heart,” could pray for his enemies – including a former close friend – to go to such a place. But when we realize that sheol, the word translated as “hell” here, refers to the graveyard of dead souls and, hence, the state of death itself, then all is clear, for David’s prayer is in harmony with the law of God which plainly states that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
godly king of
This passage illustrates that a proper, biblical understanding of sheol clears up texts that present serious problems to those who adhere to the view that sheol is a torture chamber.
“Who Can Live and Never See Death? Who Can Escape the Power of Sheol?”
Let’s observe what Ethan the Ezrahite had to say about sheol:
PSALM 89:48 (NRSV)
Who can live and never see death? Who can escape the power of sheol?
Here it is as plain as language can state that death and sheol are synonymous terms; in other words, the only thing souls going to sheol will experience is death itself, the utter absence of conscious existence. The obvious implication of both questions is that, apart from Christ’s redemption, everyone who lives will ultimately die and go to sheol, the death state of the soul. Solomon also declared this:
… for death is the destiny of everyman; the living should take this to heart.
Both of these texts were, of course, written during the Old Testament era before Jesus’ sacrifice for humanity was made; hence, no one living at this time had redemption from sin, regardless of whether or not they had a covenant with God, like the Israelites. Before Christ’s death and resurrection no one could escape the power of sheol, whether moral, immoral or anywhere in between.
The good news is that this is no longer the case ever since Christ died for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (Romans ). Jesus “poured out his soul unto death” (Isaiah 53:12 KJV) so that we don’t have to. As it is written: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John NRSV). You see, in order for the world – that is, all humankind – to be set free from death, someone innocent of sin and thus not worthy of death, had to die in our place. This is exactly what Jesus Christ did. So now when a born-again believer in Christ physically dies, his or her soul does not die, that is, go to sheol, but rather goes straight to heaven. As it is written: “…to be absent from the body (is) to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8 KJV). Of course, this is only the intermediate state of the Christian soul; ultimately, the believer will receive a new glorified, spiritual, imperishable body at the bodily resurrection of the saints, called the first resurrection (1 Corinthians -43; Revelation 20:4-6).
I realize we’ve already gone over this information in this study so why am I emphasizing it again here? Simply to properly answer Ethan’s question: “Who can live and not see death? Who can escape the power of sheol?” The answer is the Christian who has accepted God’s sacrifice for humanity’s sins, Jesus Christ; such believers literally possess eternal life in their spirits through spiritual rebirth (John 3:3,6,36), so even when they physically die sheol has no power over them – hallelujah!
“If I Make My Bed in Sheol, You Are There”
Let’s examine another Psalm passage that mentions sheol; this one’s by David:
PSALM 139:7-8 (NRSV)
Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? (8) If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in sheol, you are there.
To properly understand what David is saying here we must consider the gist of the entire psalm (remember, “context is king”). In Psalm 139 David is completely awestruck as he contemplates God’s omnipresence and omniscience – that is, God being everywhere at the same time and knowing everything. David humbly realizes that he himself is finite while God, the Almighty Creator, is infinite. This awareness overwhelms him so much that he even states, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (verse 6).
So, David’s words in verses 7-8 above are simply a poetic way of describing God’s omnipresence. Where can David go that God isn’t? The obvious answer is nowhere. Note how the New International Version renders this passage:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (8) If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths (sheol), you are there.
The NIV is a thought-for-thought translation and, as you can see, sheol is rendered as “depths.” According to the NIV translators the thought of the passage is that, whether David goes far out into the universe or to the lowest depths of the earth, God is there. The translators evidently didn’t believe David was being very literal about the usage of sheol here; he was just making a point in an poetic manner.
Yet, I don’t believe there’s any reason we shouldn’t take sheol literally in this passage. God is everywhere. If David goes to heaven or to “the heavens,” the furthest reaches of the universe, God is there. If he makes his bed in sheol, the LORD is there as well. God’s central presence isn’t, of course, in sheol (He’s on his throne in heaven), but He is completely aware at all times of sheol and of every dead soul housed there.
Notice David’s wording “make my bed in sheol;” this is important to understanding the nature of the intermediate state for the unredeemed soul. David obviously believed that if he were to go to sheol he’d essentially be in bed there or, we could say, asleep. This is in harmony with the repeated descriptions of souls in sheol as “sleeping;” for example, Job’s statements as covered in Chapter Two.
Of course, souls in sheol are not literally slumbering there, they’re dead. So the only “sleep” they experience is the sleep of death.
This explains why David stated in Psalm 6:5 that souls in sheol cannot remember or praise God even though God is present there (due to His omnipresent nature as noted above):
PSALM 6:5 (NRSV)
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in sheol who can give you praise?
This is a rhetorical question; the answer is obvious within the question itself. If God is present is sheol, why are souls held there unable to either remember or praise Him? Obviously because they’re dead, they lack conscious existence. They’re “asleep” in death. This is in complete harmony with the idea that sheol is “the world of the dead;” it’s not the world of the living, it’s the world of the dead.
“Sleeping” in Sheol
As seen in Chapter Two, Job plainly described the intermediate state in terms of sleep:
“Why did I not perish at birth and die as I came from the womb? (12) Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I might be nursed? (13) For now I would be lying down in peace; I would be asleep and at rest (14) with kings and counselors of the earth who built for themselves places now lying in ruins,”
Let’s keep in mind that this passage pertains to the time before redemption was provided for humanity through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, hence, everyone shared the same fate when they physically died; no one could escape the power of sheol back then. With this understanding, note how Job describes the condition he would experience if he had died at birth: He says that he would be “lying down in peace… asleep and at rest” with other people that died long before him.
Those that advocate that sheol is a place of conscious existence would argue that Job is referring to his body sleeping in the literal grave and not to the soul sleeping in sheol. Yet, notice that Job doesn’t say his body would be asleep; he plainly states “I would be lying down in peace; I would be asleep and at rest.” Let’s remember that, from a purely biblical standpoint, the Judeo-Christian perspective is focused on the inner man, not the body. The apostle Paul even stated that an improper focus on outward appearance rather than the heart is “worldly” (2 Corinthians -17); in other words, doing such is the carnal or “human point of view” (NRSV), not the godly or divine point of view. Also, consider Jesus’ statement that we are not to fear people who can only kill the body, but not the soul; rather, we are to fear God Himself who is able to utterly destroy both body and soul in the lake of fire (Matthew 10:28). You see, a true man or woman of God’s outlook is geared toward the heart not the body; and, remember, Job was the most righteous man of God on the face of the earth during his time (Job 1: 1,3,8).
But let’s consider, for the sake of argument, the possibility that Job was, in fact, referring to his body when he stated that he’d be asleep if he died at birth; and, by contrast, his soul would be fully conscious in sheol. Let’s read the passage as if this were so:
JOB -14 (altered to fit the view that sheol is a place of conscious existence)
“Why did I not perish at birth and die as I came from the womb? Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I might be nursed? For now I would be lying down in peace; I would be asleep and at rest with kings and counselors of the earth who built for themselves places now lying in ruins. (I’m, of course, referring to my body here. My soul, my real self, would be fully conscious in sheol joyously hanging out with Father Abraham).”
Is this what Job really meant to say? Of course not. As you can see, altering the passage to fit the beliefs of those who contend sheol is a place of conscious existence renders it completely absurd.
Let’s observe a few other bible texts that describe the intermediate state of unredeemed souls in terms of sleeping:
PSALM 13:3 (NRSV)
Consider and answer me, O LORD, my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death.
David’s life was in mortal danger here; if God didn’t save him he was going to die. Notice plainly how he describes the death condition he would experience if the LORD didn’t deliver him: “I will sleep the sleep of death.” Like Job, above, he wasn’t absurdly referring to his body here; he says “I will sleep the sleep of death” not “my body will sleep the sleep of death while I will go to sheol and enjoy fellowship with Father Abraham.”
Let’s observe two cases where Jesus Christ himself described the intermediate state in terms of “sleep:”
MATTHEW 9:18-19; 23-26
… a ruler came and knelt before him (Jesus) and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” (19) Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.
(23)When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and noisy crowd, (24) he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. (25) After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. (26) News of this spread through all that region.
Why did the people laugh when Jesus stated that the girl was “asleep”? Obviously because she was literally dead. She was indeed dead but Jesus Christ described her condition as sleeping. Why? Because her soul was in sheol sleeping the sleep of death and he had come to “awaken” her back to life in her physical body on this earth.
This next passage involves the case of Lazarus’ death and subsequent resurrection by Jesus. The Lord is speaking at the start of the text:
“Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.”(12) His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” (13) Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep. (14) So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, (15) and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. Let us go to him.”
As you can see, Jesus states that Lazarus had “fallen asleep” and that he needs to go to him in order to “wake him up,” meaning resurrect him. But his disciples mistook the Lord, thinking he was talking about natural sleep. That’s when Jesus plainly told them Larzarus had actually died. Verse 13 plainly reveals that Jesus was speaking of Lazarus’ death when he said he had “fallen asleep” in verse 11.
All I want to stress and prove in this section is that the bible repeatedly describes the intermediate state of the spiritually dead soul in terms of “sleeping.” As shown above, both the Old and New Testaments teach this. Even Jesus Christ himself, the living Word of God, plainly described it as such.
What can we deduce from this? Simply that when an unredeemed person dies, according to the bible, his/her soul enters into the sleep of death. Again, this is not literal sleeping; it’s “the sleep of death” as David described it above in Psalm 13:3.
Most of us have heard the evangelistic declaration: “If you die today you’re either going to wake up in heaven or hell!” Yet, if unredeemed souls are asleep in death in sheol until their resurrection to face God’s judgment (Revelation ), this slogan is only right on the first account. After all, souls can’t very well “wake up” in hell (i.e. sheol) if they’re sleeping the sleep of death. Jesus and the apostles never used inaccurate pronouncements like this in their evangelistic efforts, why should we? If you’re a Christian, let’s strive to be faithful to biblical truth!
Why are Souls in Sheol Referred to as “Sleeping”?
If souls in sheol are dead, why are they repeatedly described as “sleeping” in the bible? All who go to sheol are, in fact, dead and have ceased to exist in the sense of conscious existence, but the bible refers to them as “sleeping” because they will all one day be awoken or resurrected from this death. As briefly noted in the last chapter, this is what differentiates sheol, the first death, from the lake of fire (Gehenna), which is the second death (Revelation 20:6,14; 21:8; ). Everyone will be resurrected from the first death, but no one will be resurrected from the second death. This is why the second death is described as an “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46) or “everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9) because there is no hope of recovery or resurrection from it – it’s a fatal destruction of such complete and final magnitude that it lasts forever and ever.
Many of you have no doubt heard of “soul sleep” and may be wondering if that’s what I’m talking about here. Yes and no. ‘Yes’ because advocates of soul sleep believe, as noted above, that the soul is simply “sleeping” the sleep of death during the intermediate state between death and resurrection; they don’t believe the soul is literally slumbering while awaiting resurrection. ‘No’ because most adherents of soul sleep believe that the souls of spiritually regenerated people will also experience this condition of soul sleep during the intermediate state. As pointed out numerous times in our study, this is simply not biblically accurate: If people are born-again of the imperishable seed of Christ and, hence, possess eternal life in their spirits, why would they have to suffer death when their bodies perish? This explains why the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers that being absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). We’ll look at this issue in more detail in Chapter X: The Intermediate State of the Regenerated Soul.
The doctrinal label “soul sleep” is a good, brief and accurate description of the intermediate state of un-regenerated souls but I never use it for two reasons: 1.) It gives the impression to the average person that the soul is still alive and merely dozing during the intermediate state. 2.) The label is too closely related to cultic or marginally cultic groups that I understandably don’t want to be associated with.
Some will inevitably argue: “If cultic or near-cultic organizations adhere in some form to the view that souls in sheol are asleep in death and therefore not conscious, does this not automatically make this belief false or, at least, questionable? If nothing else, it doesn’t look good.”
This argument has already been addressed in detail in Chapter Six of Part I, under the heading Cults Teach Everlasting Destruction – It Just Doesn’t Look Good, but allow me to briefly address it again here: Christians do not determine the veracity of a doctrine by whether or not an objectionable group adheres to it; they determine what is true and not true simply by finding out what the God-breathed scriptures clearly and consistently teach. If a doctrine is not clearly and consistently taught in the bible, it is a false doctrine, regardless of what respectable person or group claims otherwise. Likewise, if a doctrine is clearly and consistently taught in the bible then it’s a true doctrine, regardless of what questionable person or group agrees with it. This is in accordance with the theological principle of sola scripture, meaning “by scripture alone,” which maintains that the God-breathed Holy Scriptures are the final authority regarding every judgment of Christian doctrine and practice.
Let’s face it, we all agree with cultic groups on some things; for instance, many cultic or borderline cultic organizations believe that the bible is the inerrant Word of God. All authentic Christians, of course, believe this as well. Wouldn’t it be ludicrous to reject this belief simply because questionable groups agree with it?
The fact is, any person or group that steps outside of the blinding influence of religious tradition will easily be able to determine what the bible clearly and consistently teaches on sheol and the condition of souls held there during the intermediate state. This explains how various cultic or borderline cultic groups are able to discern the truth about the nature of sheol.
SHEOL IN PROVERBS
and the Prophetic Books
Of the 31 chapters of the book of Proverbs, the first 29 were written by Solomon, the wisest person who’s ever lived outside of Jesus Christ (1 Kings ). In Chapter One of this study we saw how Solomon described the nature of sheol in very clear language. He said that those who die “know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) because they’ve gone to sheol, where “there is no work, or thought, or knowledge or wisdom” (Ecclesiastes ).
Everything Solomon says about sheol in the book of Proverbs is in complete harmony with this unmistakable description.
Sheol and Death: Synonymous
Take note, for instance, of the following proverbial texts and how they plainly reveal that sheol is synonymous with death. These first two texts poetically refer to the wicked adulteress:
PROVERBS 5:5 (NRSV)
Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path of sheol.
Her house is the way to sheol, going down to the chambers of death.
These passages apply to those in covenant with God under Old Testament law. They declare a sobering fact: Those who choose to commit sexual immorality with an adulteress “follow the path of sheol” or are on “the way to sheol.” This is not to suggest that godly people during the Old Testament period didn’t go to sheol when they eventually died, because we know from numerous passages that they did; these texts simply reveal that adulterers will prematurely die. This was the penalty for adultery and other critical sexual sins under the law of Moses (Leviticus -16). Even today, despite the fact that we’re living during a dispensation of grace, those who choose to live sexually immoral lifestyles often suffer very serious consequences for their actions, including premature death from AIDS. Other consequences critically hamper the quality of one’s life – teenage pregnancy, illegitimate children, abortion, broken relationships, divorce and a multitude of sexual diseases, many of which are incurable. Truly, sexual immorality brings death. Even if it doesn’t literally kill you it can certainly kill the quality of your life.
This next proverbial passage personalizes folly as a wicked woman and is referring to the foolish, immoral people who choose to follow “her:”
But they do not know that the dead are there (in Folly’s house), that her guests are in the depths of sheol.
The 9th chapter of Proverbs showcases the personal invitations of Wisdom and Folly. Those who wisely choose to enter the house of Wisdom will be rewarded with good, long lives (as verified by verses 11-12) while those who choose Folly will prematurely die.
Premature death is, of course, the gravest consequence of following folly with wild abandon. The graveyard is full of such people, so are the prisons and mental institutions. Those who merely dabble in folly here and there will suffer as well, just not as severely. This is the case even today in the age of grace.
Notice plainly in this text that those in sheol are described as “dead,” not roasting alive in torment. Their sinful lifestyles resulted in their deaths because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans ).
These next two passages equate sheol with abaddon; abaddon is the Hebrew word for destruction:
Sheol and abaddon (destruction) lie open before the LORD, how much more human hearts!
PROVERBS 27:20 (NRSV)
Sheol and abaddon (destruction) are never satisfied, and human eyes are never satisfied.
All I want to emphasize from these five proverbial passages is that Solomon repeatedly brings up sheol and repeatedly associates it with death or destruction. This is not unique to Solomon or the book of Proverbs; here are some passages from past chapters that also equate sheol with death:
PSALM 6:5 (NRSV)
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in sheol who can give you praise?
ISAIAH 18-19 (NRSV)
“For sheol cannot thank you, death cannot praise you; those who go down to the Pit cannot hope for your faithfulness. (19) The living, the living, they thank you as I do this day.”
PSALM 89:48 (NRSV)
Who can live and never see death? Who can escape the power of sheol?
There are other biblical passages that identify sheol with death and destruction as well, such as Job 26:6, Psalm 49:14, Hosea 13:14, Habakkuk 2:5, Revelation 6:8 and 20:14. Most of these passages consist of a form of biblical poetry known as synonymous parallelism wherein the second part of the verse simply repeats and enforces the thought of the first.
As you can plainly see, the God-breathed scriptures repeatedly equate sheol with death and destruction, not conscious torture. These passages were written by a variety of godly men separated by many centuries – Job, David, the Korahites, Ethan, Solomon, Hezekiah, Habakuk and John; they all spoke in harmony concerning sheol because they all “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21). Do you think the LORD is trying to reveal something to us about the nature of sheol in these many clear passages? Of course He is! Those who go to sheol have suffered death, their lives have been destroyed. Death simply refers to the absence of life because it is, in fact, the opposite of life – the state of non-being or non-existence; it does not refer to a low-quality life separate from God as proven in Chapter Six of Part I. Living a life of misery in a subterranean torture chamber is, after all, still life. Sheol is the “world of the dead” where lifeless souls are held captive until their resurrection. They are dead and lack consciousness; they can therefore neither remember nor praise God. How much clearer could the LORD possibly be in his Word?
“To Avoid Sheol Below”
Let’s look at another proverbial passage that mentions sheol:
For the wise the path of life leads upward in order to avoid sheol below.
This verse isn’t at all saying that wise people in Old Testament times (before the ascension of Christ) would go to heaven when they died. We must interpret scripture in light of scripture and we know that during the Old Testament period both the wise and foolish alike went to sheol when they died.
The text is simply declaring that, under the law of Moses, living a wise, godly life would guarantee a person a long, blessed life in the “land of the living” and avoid a premature trip to sheol. As Proverbs puts it, “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” Although death or sheol was indeed “the destiny of every man” during the Old Testament period (Ecclesiastes 7:2; Psalm 89:48), those who were wise by living according to godly wisdom would avoid sheol as long as possible, enjoying a full, productive life.
Observe how the passage makes it clear that sheol was something to be avoided as long as possible. This doesn’t jell with the belief that sheol had a separate compartment called “paradise” where Old Testament saints enjoyed sweet fellowship with Father Abraham far removed from their earthly troubles. If this were so, why would any godly person want to avoid it? Any righteous person would want to get there as soon as possible if this were true, right? This verse proves that this belief is unscriptural. Sheol is, in fact, the state of death. Those who go there are dead and therefore no longer exist. Their soulish remains are held there but their conscious life has expired. Hence, it is to be avoided, not looked forward to.
“Deliver His Soul from Sheol”
This makes sense of this proverb:
PROVERBS 23:13-14 (NASB)
Do not hold back discipline from the child, although you beat him with the rod, he will not die. (14) You shall beat him with the rod and deliver his soul from sheol.
The passage is simply stressing the importance of godly, loving discipline. It is by no means advocating child abuse; only a wicked heart would entertain such a perverse interpretation. In Old Testament times everyone ultimately went to sheol when they died, but by properly training a child to live in harmony with the laws of God, and hence acquire godly wisdom, it would guarantee the child a long, blessed life and keep him or her from the curse of premature death.
Let me use my own life as an example: I grew up in a home where there was almost zero proper parental discipline. I was consequently full of folly as I entered my teenage years because my parents failed to discipline it out of me, that is, beat it out of me. This folly naturally resulted in a perpetual string of critical mishaps throughout my adolescence and young adult years. Some of these misfortunes included overdosing and almost dying on drugs, getting hit by a car and landing on my head resulting in a near-fatal head concussion, getting expelled from school for drugs, falling off a cliff during a “party” episode and ending up in a body cast for months, and almost successfully committing suicide. The fact that I survived those years is a miracle!
My point is that the folly I walked in was due to a lack of parental discipline and it almost resulted in my death on several occasions. So I know from experience how true this proverb is – if parents fail to drive-out folly in their children by proper discipline, folly will either severely hamper their lives or kill them.
By the age of 20 I was understandably starved for godly wisdom, discipline and truth! The LORD revealed Himself to me and I turned to Him in repentance through Christ. I slowly started to acquire wisdom through the study & application of His Word and the relational discipline of my Heavenly Father by the Holy Spirit. Here’s a fact: True love disciplines. Parents who fail to discipline their children are showing that they don’t really care or have the time for them. The truth is, I longed for true, loving discipline throughout my teen years but never received it; thankfully my Heavenly Father lovingly gave me the discipline I needed when I finally turned to Him.
Observe, incidentally, that the above proverb states that a child’s soul is saved from sheol. This is further evidence that sheol concerns the state of the human soul after physical death. It is not the housing abode of the spirit (i.e. breath of life) or the physical body; the spirit returns to God who gave it and the body simply returns to the dust.
Sheol is Never Satisfied
This next proverb reveals that sheol is never satisfied:
PROVERBS 27:20 (NASB)
Sheol and abaddon (destruction) are never satisfied, nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied.
First of all, we see, once again, that sheol is associated with destruction. As pointed out earlier in this chapter, Sheol is repeatedly equated with death and destruction in the scriptures not conscious torment.
Secondly, we observe that sheol is “never satisfied” just as the eyes of man are never satisfied. What’s this mean? Simply put, the desires of human nature are never satiated. People always have desires – good, bad and everything in between – and once these desires are obtained or satiated we desire even more, or something else entirely. It’s our nature as human beings; it’s how we’re wired. This is the nature of sheol as well.
How is sheol never satisfied? Well, we’ve discovered in our study that sheol refers to the place and condition all unredeemed souls enter after death; it is the holding place of captive souls, the graveyard of dead souls. Since unredeemed people continue to birth and die year after year, decade after decade, century after century, the “population” of sheol naturally keeps growing.
For a natural comparison, consider earthly graveyards where bodies are buried. Graveyards remain active for “business” until they become full of bodies. They then become historical in nature. My wife is currently the office manager of a large burial park. This graveyard has 58 acres of land that are developed for business. It has an additional 60 acres that are undeveloped. As the 58 developed acres become full they will have to expand by developing and utilizing the additional 60 acres. This particular burial park will never be “satisfied” until all 118 acres are full. Sheol, by contrast, has no limits to its “expansion” as unredeemed people continue birthing and dying. It is in this sense that sheol is never satisfied.
This next proverbial passage addresses the same point:
PROVERBS 30:15-16 (NASB)
There are three things that will not be satisfied. Four that will not say, “Enough”: Sheol, and the barren womb, earth that is never satisfied with water, and fire that never says, “Enough.”
Four things are listed here that are “never satisfied:” sheol is never satisfied with its increasing population of dead souls, the barren womb is always ready to produce another child, the earth will always drink up more water, especially desert landscapes like Palestine, and fire always keeps devouring combustible matter. Yet, none of these four items are insatiable in an absolute sense: A womb can only produce so many babies in a lifetime, the earth can only take so much water before flooding starts, fire only destroys until it is put out one way or another. Just so, sheol will one day stop receiving dead souls, and every lifeless soul resident there will be resurrected to face judgment; in fact, sheol itself (i.e. “hades”) will ultimately be thrown into the lake of fire, as shown in Revelation 20:11-15.
SHEOL IN THE PROPHETS
In this chapter we shall examine how sheol is addressed in the last section of the Old Testament, the major and minor prophetic books, which includes all the books from Isaiah to Malachi.
“Sheol has Enlarged its Appetite”
We’ll start with sheol as used in the book of Isaiah:
ISAIAH 5:11-14 (NRSV)
you who rise early in the morning in pursuit of strong drink, who linger in the
evening to be inflamed by wine, (12) whose feasts consist of lyre and harp,
tambourine and flute and wine, but who do not regard the deeds of the LORD,
or see the work of his hands! (13) Therefore my people go into
exile without knowledge; their nobles are dying of hunger and
their multitude is parched with thirst. (14) Therefore sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth
beyond measure; the nobility of
This passage is referring to the wicked nobles of Judah and the numerous people corrupted by their leadership. According to verses 11-12 these people had completely forsaken the LORD and had plunged into a flood of “partying” and dissipation. In fact, in chapter 3 the LORD remarked that they had become as brazenly shameless as Sodom (3:9) – that’s pretty bad! As a result of their evil deeds, God had to justly pronounce judgment on them as shown in verses 13-14 above. Many were to be taken into captivity, no longer blessed with the knowledge of God. Many more would die of hunger and thirst, while others would be slain by the sword (1:20).
Clearly, multitudes would die because of God’s righteous judgment. This explains why verse 14 proclaims, “…sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure.”
This is obviously not a literal statement. Sheol is not some living entity that possesses a mouth and appetite, but God uses this metaphor to plainly illustrate that numerous people would die because of His just judgment. “The wages of sin is death” and these rebels were simply going to have to eat the fruit of their actions (after much merciful patience on the LORD’s part, I might add).
In verse 24 God uses clear metaphors to illustrate the nature of sheol and eternal damnation:
Therefore, as the tongue of fire devours the straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flame, so their root will become rotten (i.e. decay) and their blossom go up like dust; for they have rejected the instruction of the LORD of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.
We know this text is referring to the death of these people because the very next verse says so (verse 25). The root that decays is probably referring to their bodies in light of verse 25 which states, “their corpses were like refuse in the streets.” But their immaterial being, their soul that goes to sheol, is likened to straw devoured by fire and dry grass that goes up in flame. The example is clear: straw and grass that are set ablaze go up in smoke and cease to exist; likewise blossoms that “go up like dust” no longer exist as well. This corresponds to the nature of sheol because sheol is a condition of non-existence where dead souls are held until their resurrection on judgment day. These metaphors are applicable to both sheol, which is the temporary hell or first death, and the lake of fire (Gehenna), which is the eternal hell or “second death.”
Since Isaiah blatantly refers to wicked people, the King James translators naturally rendered sheol as “hell.” They obviously did this to give the impression that wicked people go to a nether realm of conscious torment when they die. This is in contrast to Isaiah 38:10 where they render sheol as “the grave” because the text refers to godly king Hezekiah. Needless to say, this schizophrenic practice is a translation error of the greatest magnitude! It grieves my heart to see how the truth about sheol was purposefully covered up in order to support the religious myth that sheol (“hell”) is a nether torture chamber where undying souls suffer conscious torture without respite until their resurrection on judgment day.
Let’s observe precisely what Hezekiah said in this particular passage:
ISAIAH 38:9-12 (NASB)
A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, after his illness and recovery:
(10) I said “In the middle of my life I am to enter the gates of sheol; I am to be deprived of the rest of my years.” (11) I said, “I shall not see the LORD, the LORD in the land of the living; I shall look on man no more among the inhabitants of the world. (12) Like a shepherd’s tent my dwelling is pulled up and removed from me; as a weaver I rolled up my life. He cuts me off from the loom; from day until night Thou dost make an end of me.
In this passage Hezekiah is praying for deliverance from a fatal illness that would cause him to die prematurely. Note, first of all, that Hezekiah clearly expected to go to sheol when he died – just like Jacob, Job, David, Solomon and so many other men of God in the Old Testament era. The rest of his statements are very revealing concerning the nature of sheol. In verse 10 he says that, if he dies and goes to sheol, he will “be deprived of the rest of his years.” The rest of his years of what? The rest of his years of life! Hezekiah knew that if he died and went to sheol, the spiritual graveyard of souls, he would be dead – he would not have life anymore; he would cease to have consciousnes or feeling. That’s why, in verse 11, he speaks of life in this world as “the land of the living.” This is in contrast to the “land” of sheol, which is the “land” of the dead where lifeless souls are held until their resurrection on judgment day. Notice also, in verse 11, he makes it clear that he “shall not see the LORD” in sheol. This is further proof that souls held in sheol are dead and conscious of nothing. After all, the bible reveals God to be omnipresent; consequently, a righteous man like Hezekiah would certainly be able to sense His presence even in the nether abode of sheol, as long as he were alive, conscious and able. However, since souls held in sheol are dead they are unable to experience God in any sense. Because they lack conscious existence the only thing they can “experience” is death itself, utter non-being. This is why Hezekiah would “not see the LORD” in sheol.
In addition, notice that Hezekiah points out that he “shall look upon man no more” in sheol. How can this be if sheol was, in part, a paradise where righteous people hanged out with Father Abraham and other saints, as religionists claim. If this teaching were true then Hezekiah would be looking upon many people in sheol. Furthermore, if this teaching were true, why would Hezekiah be praying so earnestly not to go there? You would think that he’d want to go to such a pleasant paradise, the sooner the better. These factors all prove that this belief is unbiblical and therefore false. Hezekiah knew that he wouldn’t be seeing the LORD or anyone else in sheol because he fully understood that sheol was and is a place and condition where people only “experience” death itself. Although he knew that he’d eventually go there, as every righteous (and unrighteous) person did when they died in Old Testament times, he wanted to avoid it as long as possible and enjoy a long, productive life in “the land of the living.”
Regarding this last point from verse 11, some may argue that Hezekiah technically stated, “I shall look on man no more among the inhabitants of the world.” The obvious argument being that, although Hezekiah will not see people in the physical world any longer, he will definitely see multitudes of people in the paradise compartment of sheol. Momentarily accepting this argument, let’s read Hezekiah’s statement as if this contention were true: “I shall look on man no more among the inhabitants of the world, but – thank God – I shall look upon many people in sheol while socializing with Abraham and friends.” Let’s face it, this belief plainly makes an absurdity of such passages. What Hezekiah was really saying was that, because he was about to die and go to sheol, the graveyard of dead souls, he would no longer see and experience fellowship with his fellow human beings anymore. You see, with a proper understanding of the true nature of sheol, scriptural statements like this make perfect sense.
Let’s address an important question that is naturally raised in light of the fact that Hezekiah and other righteous people where destined to go to sheol: What benefit was there to serving God in Old Testament times if both the righteous and the unrighteous went to sheol when they died? First of all, those who served God were promised a full, blessed life on earth (Deuteronomy 8:1; Ezekiel 18:5-9, 14-17, 27-28), whereas those who forsook Him were risking the judgment of premature death unless, of course, they repented (Deuteronomy 8:19-20; Ezekiel 18:10-13, 18, 20, 26). Secondly, although both the righteous and the wicked went to sheol when they died, the righteous were promised a resurrection unto eternal life as shown in Part I (Daniel 12:2-3), whereas the wicked would only be resurrected to face divine judgment and suffer the destruction of the second death (Daniel 12:2; Revelation 20:11-15; Matthew 10:28; 2 Peter 3:7).
Before the ascension of Christ every soul had to die because no ransom of innocent blood had yet been paid; thus no soul could obtain intrinsic immortality and, consequently, go to heaven at the time of physical death. In this present era redeemed men or women of God go to heaven when they physically die to bask in the presence of the LORD while awaiting their glorious bodily resurrection – death and sheol have zero power over blood-bought spiritually-regenerated children of the Most High God!
The Proud King of Babylon Brought Down to Sheol
Isaiah 14:1-23 addresses the LORD’s just judgment on the king of Babylon. “The wages of sin is death” and this was the Almighty’s sentence for the notorious Babylonian king. Hence, the king died and his body was not given a proper burial. The passage also shows the king’s soul going to sheol.
Out of the multitude of passages in the Old Testament that describe the nature of sheol this is the only one that advocates of eternal torture occasionally cite to support their belief. They’re not overly gung ho about it, however, since nothing is said about souls writhing in fiery torment, but they do occasionally cite it in a weak attempt to support the idea that souls in sheol are conscious and can talk. Let’s closely examine the passage piece by piece to see if this is so.
Verses 1-3 show that the LORD will deliver the Israelites from their Babylonian captivity and bring them back to their homeland. Starting in verse 4 we see the Israelites taunting the fallen, dead king of Babylon:
ISAIAH 14:4-8 (NRSV)
You will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon: How the oppressor has ceased! How his insolence has ceased! (5) The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked, the scepter of rulers, (6) that struck down the peoples in wrath with unceasing blows, that ruled the nations in anger with unrelenting persecution. (7) The whole earth is at rest and quiet; they break forth into singing. (8) The cypresses exult over you, the cedars of Lebanon, saying “Since you were laid low, no one comes to cut us down.”
These verses reveal how oppressive, insolent and wicked the king of Babylon was to all the peoples and nations that surrounded him. Verses 5-6 show that the LORD Himself had broken the king’s staff and scepter; in other words, the LORD’s sentence of death brought an end to his tyrannical reign. Hence, all the peoples of the earth who were either oppressed by him or feared his possible threat are now at peace and even celebrating in song (verse 7). Verse 8 even states that the trees the king would regularly cut down for his numerous building projects would break out in exultation. Did these trees literally break out in triumphant jubilation? Of course not, this is figurative language. God is a master communicator and he uses figurative language here to make a point – the king of Babylon was so wicked that even inanimate objects would rejoice over his death!
Let’s continue with the passage:
ISAIAH 14:9-11 (NRSV)
Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades (the dead) to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations. (10) All of them will speak and say to you: “You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!” (11) Your pomp is brought down to sheol, and the sound of your harps; maggots are the bed beneath you and worms are your covering.
Sheol is preparing to receive the dead soul of the Babylonian king. The dead are roused to greet the king, including those who were once mighty kings of various nations. The Hebrew word for the dead in verse 9 is rapha (raw-faw') which, as shown above, the NRSV translates as “shades.” This word refers to the dead in the sense that they are feeble, idle and weak compared to who they were when they were alive and dwelled in “the land of the living.” Both the KJV and the NKJV translate rapha as “the dead” while the NASB renders it “the spirits of the dead” and the NIV as “the spirits of the departed.” Although these latter two translations use “spirits” in their multi-word definition of rapha, the usual Hebrew word for ‘spirit’ – ruach – does not appear in the text. Why do I point this out? Because when an unredeemed person dies their spirit (or breath of life) returns to God from whence it came; their dead soul goes to rest in sheol until their resurrection.
With that understanding, verse 10 shows these dead souls greeting the Babylonian king by informing him that, despite all his former glory and infamous power, he has now become weak like they are, signifying that human distinctions of greatness are meaningless in sheol, the world of the dead.
take verses 9-10 literally? Did the dead souls in sheol
really rise up to greet and mock the king of
Verse 11 continues, showing that the Babylonian king’s “pomp” has brought him the sentence of premature death. Surely “pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs KJV). It goes on to say that maggots will be the king’s bed and worms his covering. This is insightful in multiple ways: The verse specifically refers to sheol, which is backed up by its mention in verse 9, so we know the text is specifically talking about the world of the dead where the soul goes after death and not to the physical grave or tomb. It is said that maggots are his bed and worms his blanket. Is this literal language? Are there literal maggots in sheol feeding upon dead souls? Not likely. This is more figurative language drawing a parallel to the physical grave to produce a powerful image (in the next chapter we shall examine how sheol and the physical grave are distinct yet parallel concepts in scripture). What’s the picture we get from this image? Since maggots consume only carcasses, the image is that of death. It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s not supposed to be. Death was God’s judgment on the pompous Babylonian king for death is the wages of sin.
Also note the image of maggots being his bed and worms his covering. The picture is clearly that of sleeping in death, not roasting and wailing in conscious torment.
The parallel to the physical grave offers further insight. The Babylonian king was not given a proper burial like other rulers placed in personal tombs; the king’s body was discarded into a big hole with other Babylonian corpses and naturally devoured by maggots. This is corroborated by verses 18-20:
ISAIAH 14:18-20 (NRSV)
All the kings of the nations lie in glory, each in his own tomb; (19) but you are cast out, away from your grave, like loathsome carrion, clothed with the dead, those pierced by the sword, who go down to the stones of the Pit, like a corpse trampled underfoot. (20) You will not be joined with them in burial because you have destroyed your land, you have killed your people.
Not being given a proper burial was the deepest degradation to the ancients. Ecclesiastes 6:3-6 shows that dying without mourners or honors was considered worse than being born dead, even if the person lives a full life and has numerous children (!). Such was the pompous Babylonian king’s dishonorable and humiliating demise. Verses 18-19 show that other kings were honorably placed in tombs and “lie in glory” whereas the Babylonian king is merely tossed into a mass grave with other dead Babylonians, a meaningless, unmarked grave that people walk over with no regard.
The parallel of the soulish grave to the physical grave are shown in this passage as well. The text is clearly talking about the physical tomb and suddenly mentions that the king will be “clothed with the dead, those pierced by the sword, who go down to the stones of the Pit, like a corpse trampled underfoot.” We found out in Chapter Three that “the Pit” is another biblical term for sheol. Obviously the physical grave and sheol are distinct yet parallel concepts: Just as a body lies dead in a grave or tomb, so the soul lies dead in sheol. Please note the language repeatedly used to describe the people in either the physical grave or sheol – “carrion,” “the dead” and “corpse.” What’s God trying to communicate to us by the usage of this language? Just as a physical grave or tomb is meant only for that which is dead, so it is with sheol. Souls in sheol are carrion, not living, thinking, talking people.
How much plainer could God be in His Word? Isaiah 14 in no way supports the idea that souls are conscious in sheol.
The Fall of the King of
The Longest and Most Detailed Passage on Sheol
Ezekiel 32 features the longest passage on sheol in the bible. Chapters 31-32 of Ezekiel address God’s judgment on the nation of Egypt wherein Egypt is likened to a great cedar of Lebanon that is about to be felled by the nation of Babylon and, consequently, descend into sheol where other nations condemned by God have descended, e.g. Assyria, Elam, Edom, etc. This passage powerfully drives home the image of sheol as the common soulish grave of humankind where dead souls are housed until their resurrection on judgment day. God Himself is speaking in this passage from verse 18 onward:
EZEKIEL 32:17-32 (NRSV)
In the twelfth year, in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the month, the word of the LORD came to me:
(18) Mortal, wail over the hordes of Egypt, and send them down, with Egypt and the daughters of majestic nations to the world below, with those who go down to the Pit, (19) “Whom do you surpass in beauty? Go down! Be laid to rest with the uncircumcised!”
(20) They shall fall among those who are killed by the sword. Egypt has been handed over to the sword; carry away both it and its hordes. (21) The mighty chiefs shall speak of them, with their helpers, out of the midst of sheol: They have come down, they lie still, the uncircumcised killed by the sword.”
(22) Assyria is there, and all its company, their graves all around it, all of them killed, fallen by the sword. (23) Their graves are set in the uttermost parts of the Pit. Its company is all around its grave, all of them killed, fallen by the sword, who spread terror in the land of the living.
(24) Elam is there, and all its hordes around its grave; all of them killed, fallen by the sword, who went down uncircumcised into the world below who spread terror in the land of the living. They bear their shame with those who go down to the Pit. (25) They have made Elam a bed among the slain with all its hordes, their graves all around it, all of them uncircumcised killed by the sword; for terror of them was spread in the land of the living, and they bear their shame with those who go down to the Pit; they are placed among the slain.
(26) Meshech and Tubal are there, and all their multitude, their graves all around them, all of them uncircumcised, killed by the sword; for they spread terror in the land of the living. (27) And they do not lie with the fallen warriors of long ago who went down to sheol with their weapons of war, whose swords were laid under their heads, and whose shields are upon their bones; for the terror of the warriors was in the land of the living. (28) So you shall be broken and lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are killed by the sword.
(29) Edom is there, its kings and all its princes, who for all their might are laid with those who are killed by the sword; they lie with the uncircumcised, with those who go down to the Pit.
(30) The princes of the north are there, all of them, and the Sidonians, who have gone down in shame with the slain, for all the terror that they caused by their might; they lie uncircumcised with those who are killed by the sword and bear their shame with those who go down to the Pit.
(31) When Pharaoh sees them, he will be consoled for all his hordes – Pharaoh and all his army killed by the sword, says the Lord GOD. (32) For he spread terror in the land of the living; therefore he shall be laid to rest among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword – Pharaoh and all his multitude, says the Lord GOD.
As you can see, the Pharaoh of Egypt and his army have been judged and condemned by God. What is the LORD’s sentence? God states in verse 20 that “Egypt has been handed over to the sword” and, in verse 31, “Pharaoh and all his army killed by the sword.” So God’s sentence is death. Is this a just sentence? Absolutely; it is in line with the biblical axiom “the wages of sin is death.”
Since Egypt’s sentence is death, verse 18 states that the Egyptians shall be sent down “to the world below, with those who go down to the Pit.” “The Pit,” or bowr in the Hebrew, is another term for sheol as detailed in Chapter Three; this synonym for sheol appears 4 more times in the above passage (verses 24, 25, 29 & 30), while sheol itself appears twice (verses 21 & 27). My point is that there is no doubt that this section of scripture is addressing the subject of sheol, the intermediate state of un-regenerated souls between physical decease and resurrection.
With this understanding lets work our way through the passage point by point.
Verse 18 describes sheol as “the world below.” Sheol is described this way because it is part of the underworld. We’ll look at this subject in detail in Chapter Seven but, briefly put, the bible speaks of three realms or universes: (1.) heaven, which is described as “the third heaven” in scripture and is where God’s throne is located, (2.) the earth & physical universe, and (3.) the underworld (see Philippians 2:10 for verification). You’ll note that verse 18 above describes this “world below” as “the Pit.” Why? Because sheol is a pit or dungeon in the underworld where dead souls are housed until their resurrection. Sheol has levels and chambers where dead souls are “laid to rest” in an orderly fashion. Once again, we’ll look at this further in Chapter Seven.
We know souls housed in sheol are dead because the bible repeatedly says so in numerous ways as detailed throughout this study so far. For instance, Ecclesiastes 9:5 & 10 explicitly states that “there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in sheol” and that the people housed there are “dead” and “know nothing.”
The fact that souls in sheol are dead is verified in verse 19 above where it states that the Egyptians will be “laid to rest with the uncircumcised.” Notice they will be “laid to rest,” not writhe and scream in torturous torment for over a thousand years without a break as religionists ludicrously teach. No, they are simply laid to rest; this phrase is repeated in verse 32 in reference to the Pharaoh being “laid to rest” in sheol. The two words “laid” and “rest” used in conjunction clearly evoke the image of sleep. In addition, verse 21 states that people in sheol “lie still,” verse 25 that Elam will be in “bed,” and verses 27, 28 & 30 that those in sheol “lie” there. All these images clearly suggest sleep, not writhing in ongoing torment. As already detailed in our study, these descriptions aren’t suggesting literal physical sleep, but rather the “sleep” of death itself, which all souls will be “awakened” from to face judgment.
Verse 25 flat out states that souls in sheol are dead: “they bear their shame with those who go down to the Pit; they are placed among the slain.” In other words, the newest group of souls entering sheol will be “placed among the slain.” Souls in sheol are dead, they are not alive and are therefore conscious of nothing. How much clearer could God be?
Note also how verse 19 states that the Egyptians will be laid to rest “with the uncircumcised.” Who are the “uncirucumcised”? In the bible circumcision was a sign that a person was in covenant with God under the law of Moses. The scriptures always distinguish between those who are in right-standing with God and those who are not. The “uncircumcised” spoken of in the passage did not have a contract with God and therefore were not right with Him, this would include the numerous peoples cited throughout the passage – the Assyrians, Edomites, Sidonians, etc. In other words, verse 19 is simply pointing out that the Egyptians will be laid to rest in the very same section of sheol that houses other uncircumcised godless people of that era.
As noted throughout our study, souls in right-standing with God also went to sheol at the time of death during the Old Testament period but they were not laid to rest with the uncircumcised. There was obviously a separate section of sheol for those in covenant with God. If this sounds strange to you, consider the fact that bodies are buried in earthly graveyards in an orderly fashion, why would we think it would be any different for dead souls in sheol? These righteous souls were, of course, raised to life after Jesus bought salvation for humanity and ascended to heaven. Henceforth, righteous souls no longer die and go to sheol because they possess eternal life.
Verse 20 states that those in sheol have been “killed by the sword”
and that the Egyptians will suffer this same fate. This phrase (or similar
phrasing) is used for every group mentioned in the passage. In other words, the
text repeatedly emphasizes that theses people are dead. Also notice that
it states they are killed “by the sword.” If taken in a strictly
literal sense we would have to conclude that each of these thousands upon
thousands of people from varying nations perished by the stroke of a sword. Is
this what happened? Of course not. Many obviously died from other methods –
arrow, spear, club, fire, etc. “The sword” simply refers to the God-ordained
right of a government to inflict the penalty of death on those who have
committed capital crimes or those judged and condemned by God (see Romans
13:4). For instance, Ezekiel 31-32 shows that Egypt has been judged and
condemned to death. Whom does God commission to carry out this sentence?
Verses 22-23 introduce a revealing concept:
EZEKIEL 32:22-23 (NRSV)
Assyria is there, and all its company, their graves all around it, all of them killed, fallen by the sword. (23) Their graves are set in the uttermost parts of the Pit. Its company is all around its grave, all of them killed, fallen by the sword, who spread terror in the land of the living.
These verses reveal that the Assyrians are in sheol and that they are killed, fallen by “the sword” of the LORD’s judgment. In addition, three times the passage emphasizes that the graves of the Assyrians are in sheol. The words “graves” and “grave” are respectively translated from the Hebrew words qibrah (kib-raw´) and qeburwrah (keb-oo-raw´), which both refer to a literal grave or tomb. What’s this mean? Simply what we’ve been discovering throughout this study so far – sheol is a graveyard in the underworld where dead souls are laid to rest until their resurrection. Just as dead bodies are laid to rest in grave plots on earth, so dead souls are laid in grave plots in sheol.
Is a grave ever intended for anything other than that which is dead? Of course not. This is further definitive proof that souls in sheol are dead and that sheol itself is a soulish graveyard in the underworld, not a ludicrous, diabolical torture chamber.
24-26 likewise point out that there are “graves” in sheol
for the people of
Now note in verse 23 that it states the Assyrians’ graves are set “in the uttermost parts of the Pit.” This provides evidence that there are levels in sheol and distinctive parts. The dead souls of the Assyrians were, evidently, placed in the lowest level.
Verse 23 ends by pointing out that the Assyrians once “spread terror in the land of the living.” The “land of the living” obviously refers to life on earth when the Assyrians warred, conquered and ruled. This is in contrast to sheol, the land of the dead, where the Assyrians would spread terror no more. Why? Simply because they’re dead. Sheol is the land of the dead where “there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom.”
The very same point is made in reference to Elam, Meshech, Tubal and Egypt in verses 24, 25, 26, 27 and 32. We’ll look at this matter further in the following chapter.
As you can see, throughout this long passage God repeatedly utilizes unmistakable and vivid language to plainly show that souls in sheol are dead. God is without doubt a master communicator. With this understanding, verse 31 must be taken in a non-literal sense because it states that, after Pharaoh dies, he will “see” the other groups laid to rest in sheol and be “consoled.” This is obviously not to be taken literally. Pharaoh and his men will be dead at this point and will not be able to see anyone or anything; they’ll be laid to rest in the sleep of death just like the other groups in sheol. In fact, the very next verse, verse 32, emphasizes that Pharaoh is “laid to rest” in sheol, not alive and making observations. However, even if we were to take it literally it wouldn’t support the religious view that pagan souls are in a state of constant torment until the day of judgment. How would Pharaoh possibly be consoled by the fact that he and his army are going to join thousands upon thousands of writhing, screaming souls in perpetual agony? Do you see how incredibly unscriptural this mythical belief is?
“Progressive Revelation” on the Nature of Sheol?
The above passage from Ezekiel 32 disproves the theory that humanity had a “progressive revelation” concerning the nature of sheol. This theory suggests that the Hebrew understanding of sheol evolved over time. It is embraced by those who advocate that sheol is a place of conscious torture. The reason they are forced to adopt this theory is obvious: The many Old Testament passages on sheol that we’ve examined thus far in our study clearly reveal that sheol is a “Pit” in the underworld where dead souls are laid to rest in the sleep of death, a vast soulish graveyard where there is consciousness of nothing. Since they are unable to reconcile these numerous passages with their belief that sheol is a place of constant conscious torment they have no recourse but to completely ‘write them off’ with this theory. This is a blatant case of “taking away” from God’s Word, a practice severely condemned in the scriptures (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:5-6 and Revelation 22:18-19).
The reason these people are compelled to such error is because they’ve been indoctrinated that Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16:19-31 is a literal teaching. Yet, if one takes this tale literally the entire rest of the bible is in error regarding the nature of sheol. Hence, the idea of “progressive revelation.” Aside from the obvious fact that this reasoning conflicts with the weight of scriptural testimony, there are two problems with this position: (1.) Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is clearly a symbolic story that was never meant to be taken literally. We’ll examine this story in detail in Chapter X where every sane, honest reader will plainly see that it would be utterly absurd to take it literally. And (2.) the idea of “progressive revelation” would suggest that humanity’s awareness of the nature of sheol slowly evolved over time. Yet, if one accepts this theory, there is clearly no slow progressive revelation on the nature of sheol in the bible; the testimony of scripture goes from the concept of sheol as a nether graveyard where dead souls are conscious of nothing as they “sleep” in death, to the abrupt and completely opposite notion (based solely on Jesus’ story) that sheol is a nether realm where souls are fully alive and conscious, either in a state of constant fiery torment or hanging out with Abraham in communal bliss, depending upon whether the soul is wicked or righteous respectively.
So how does Ezekiel 32:18-32 disprove this theory of “progressive revelation”? Simply because God Himself is speaking throughout this long passage. Throughout this study we’ve examined numerous passages on sheol that reflect what various Old Testament characters believed about the nature of the intermediate state. We’ve looked at Job’s view, Solomon’s view, David’s view, Hezekiah’s view and many others. All of their views coincide that sheol is a “Pit” in the underworld where dead souls are laid to rest in the unconscious sleep of death ‘awaiting’ their resurrection. One may legitimately argue that their views are the result of a limited understanding of the subject and are therefore inaccurate. Yet, one cannot make this argument concerning Ezekiel 32:18-32 because God himself is speaking. Does anyone ludicrously think that God had a “limited understanding” regarding the nature of sheol? Does anyone absurdly think that the LORD had to have a “progressive revelation” on sheol? Or has He always known precisely and completely everything there is to know about sheol? I think the answers are obvious.
The vast majority of people who believe that sheol is a place of conscious torment (or bliss) have never researched the subject beyond Jesus’ story of The Rich Man and Lazarus. I know because I was once one of them; I therefore understand their reasoning: The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, if taken literally, reveals that people are in a conscious state in sheol; and since Jesus Christ himself is speaking it’s not necessary to look into the subject any further. In other words, Jesus’ story tells us everything we need to know about sheol; who would know more about sheol than Jesus Christ himself?
Well, according to the bible there’s only one higher than the Son, and that’s God the Father, and He is speaking in Ezekiel 32:18-32 wherein He repeatedly and explicitly reveals that souls in sheol are “slain,” “laid to rest,” “lie still,” in “bed” in “graves,” etc. Why is it that advocates of conscious torture fail to bring up this long commentary on sheol by God the Father Himself in Ezekiel 32? Because it conflicts with their false religious belief, that’s why.
Am I suggesting that that the Father and Son contradict each other? Absolutely not; that’s an impossibility. What I am saying is that the scriptures very clearly point out that the Father is the head over the Son (1 Corinthians 11:3 & ). This is explicitly stated. Hence, Jesus would never contradict the Father; in fact, he can’t contradict the Father because, as he said, “I and the Father are one” (John ). Consequently, Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus must be interpreted in light of what the entire rest of the bible teaches on the subject of sheol, including what the Father, who is the head, plainly taught.
“Where, O Sheol, is your Destruction?”
The Hebrew word sheol appears twice in the book of Hosea, both in the same verse:
I will ransom them from the power of the grave (sheol); I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave (sheol) is your destruction?
This text is simply God’s promise that all his children shall be ransomed from sheol and redeemed from death. This was accomplished, of course, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ “who became a ransom for all men” (1 Timothy 2:6). Jesus took our place and died for our sins so we don’t have to. Christians who are spiritually born-again of the imperishable seed of Christ have eternal life in their spirits. Consequently, the only death they’ll undergo is physical death; and the simple reason for this is “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 15:50). Which is fine because all those redeemed through Christ are going to ultimately receive a much better body – an imperishable, glorified, powerful, spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)! The awesome thing about this body, unlike the old one, is that it can inherit the kingdom of God!
We clearly see in this passage, as detailed earlier in this chapter, that sheol is spoken of synonymously with death and destruction. In other words, sheol is death and death is sheol. The condition of souls in sheol is destruction, not torture. That’s why the LORD raises the question: “Where, O sheol, is your destruction?” and not, “Where, O sheol, is your fiery endless torment?” The bible is so easy to understand once one is freed up from absurd religious indoctrination!
FURTHER SCRIPTURAL INSIGHTS
into the Nature of Sheol
The purpose of this chapter is to examine several Old Testament passages to acquire further insights concerning the nature of sheol. Let’s start with this scriptural fact:
Sheol is Contrasted with “the Land of the Living”
Additional proof that sheol is, in reality, the realm where dead souls are held awaiting their resurrection can be derived from the fact that sheol is often spoken of in contrast to “the land of the living.” In the previous chapter we witnessed evidence of this in Hezekiah’s statements from Isaiah 38:9-12. Let’s look at some other biblical examples:
PSALM 116:8-9 (NASB)
For thou hast rescued my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. (9) I shall walk before the LORD in the land of the living.
We see in this text that the LORD delivered the psalmist from a life-threatening situation. Verse 3 reveals that the psalmist was distressed and sorrowful because, as he puts it, “The cords of death encompassed me and the terrors of sheol came upon me.” (We, once again, see evidence here that death and sheol are synonymous terms in the bible). Obviously the psalmist was quite concerned that he’d lose his life in this situation, but the LORD ultimately delivered him and that’s why he exclaims in verse 8: “thou hast rescued my soul from death.” The psalmist knew that, if he died, his soul would go to sheol, the world of the dead where lifeless souls experience only death (naturally). Note plainly that God saved his soul from death; He did not save him from fellowship with Father Abraham in the paradise compartment of sheol, he saved him from death. Because the LORD delivered him, he states in verse 9: “I shall walk before the LORD in the land of the living.” Why does he state this? Obviously because you can’t walk before the LORD in sheol.
Needless to say, if life in this world is “the land of the living” then it stands to reason that sheol is the land of the dead or “the world of the dead,” as James Strong defines it, where souls suffer death itself.
David speaks of “the land of the living” in these two passages:
PSALM 27:13 (NASB)
I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
PSALM 142:5 (NASB)
I cried out to Thee, O LORD; I said, “Thou art my refuge. My portion in the land of the living.”
In each of these cases David was in a life-threatening situation. If the LORD failed to come through he would have died and gone to sheol. As you can see, David speaks of life in this world as “the land of the living” as opposed to the alternative – dying and going to sheol. Once again, if life in this world is “the land of the living” then sheol is obviously the land of not-living – the land of the dead, the realm of utter non-existence.
When his life was in danger, Jeremiah likewise used the phrase “land of the living” in this prayer:
Because the LORD revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at the time he showed me what they were doing. (19) I had been like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; I did not realize that they had plotted against me, saying, “Let us destroy the tree and its fruit; let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.” (20) But, O LORD Almighty, you who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause.
As you can see, there were people out to kill Jeremiah; their intent was to “slaughter” him and “destroy” his very life, thus cutting him off from “the land of the living.” These evil plotters rightly knew that if they successfully murdered Jeremiah his soul would go to sheol, the nether realm of dead souls. Since souls in sheol are literally dead, Jeremiah would be completely cut off from those who are alive in “the land of the living.”
But let’s suppose for a moment that sheol is a place where souls are alive and conscious as religionists contend – the wicked suffer continuous torment while the righteous blissfully enjoy paradise. Let’s reword the evil plotters words in verse 19 as if this belief were true:
“Let us physically destroy Jeremiah and cut him off from the land of the living on earth. Unfortunately his soul will immediately go to the paradise compartment of sheol where he’ll enjoy blissful communion with Father Abraham and other righteous saints that have passed on.”
Once again, we see that adjusting the scriptures to fit the religious belief that souls are alive in sheol, whether tormented or blessed, makes an absurdity of God’s Word.
The bottom line is that if souls in sheol are alive and conscious then sheol is just as much “the land of the living” as earthly life is “the land of the living.” Yet, this would make nonsense of the scriptures. Hence, if life on earth is “the land of the living” then we naturally conclude sheol must be the land of not-living, the land of the dead.
Sheol: The Soulish Grave of “All the Living”
Notice what David exclaims to God after having been rescued from a life-threatening situation:
PSALM 56:13 (NRSV)
For you have delivered my soul from death and my feet from falling so that I may walk before God in the light of life.
Obviously David knew that sheol was the state of death where “the dead know nothing” and where “there’s no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 9:5,10). The only reason he could “walk before God in the light of life” was because God rescued his “soul from death.” He knew, as we’ve looked at before, that sheol is a state where you cannot remember or praise God (Psalm 6:5). Thus, if the LORD hadn’t delivered him, his soul would have dwelt in the silent darkness of non-existence.
This is the common spiritual grave of all humankind where the souls of all non-born-again people go at physical death. No one had the opportunity to be re-born spiritually and receive immortality until Jesus died and was raised. Before that all humankind went to sheol the “common grave.” This is why, when Joshua was nearing his time of death, he said he was “about to go the way of all the earth” (Joshua 23:14). What is “the way of all the earth”? Why sheol, the graveyard of souls.
In complete agreement with Joshua, Job made the statement:
JOB 30:23 (NRSV)
“I know that you (God) will bring me to death, and to the house appointed for all the living”
What is “the house appointed for all the living”? Sheol, of course. Notice that Job makes it very clear that “all the living” would go there. That’s why Ethan the psalmist asked the rhetorical question: “Who can live and never see death? Who can escape the power of sheol?” (Psalm 89:48).
Thus sheol can be described as the common grave of humankind. People’s bodies may, in fact, be housed in separate, individual graves, tombs, mausoleums, or otherwise, but throughout history all people’s souls have shared the common spiritual grave, sheol. We see this fact evident in Job 3:13-19 where Job said that, if he died, he would experience the sleep of death “with kings and counselors of the earth… with princes… There the wicked cease from troubling and there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners are at ease together… The small and great are there and the slaves are free from their master” (NRSV).
Job makes it clear that kings, counselors, princes, wicked people, weary people, prisoners, people of small and great social stature, and slaves will all be housed in the same condition together. Indeed, sheol is the common grave of every soul throughout human history, “the house appointed for all the living,” as David described it above. The only people who can escape the power of sheol are those who have obtained immortality by being born again of the imperishable seed of Christ (1 Peter ).
W.E. Vine, the Hebrew and Greek scholar, points out in his lexicon that sheol/hades “never denotes the grave” (286) and he’s technically right if, in fact, “grave” is referring to the physical hole or tomb/mausoleum where bodies are housed. As pointed out earlier in our study, the Hebrew word qeber (keh´ ber) is the biblical word used to specify this. However, although sheol doesn’t refer to the literal physical grave where the body is buried, it can accurately be described as the grave of the soul – the common spiritual graveyard where all dead souls are housed.
this clearly evident in Ezekiel 31:14-18 where it states that whole nations
(which are likened unto trees, e.g. “trees of
In any event, my main point here is that, because of God’s judgment, whole nations of people will go to sheol and lie together “in the midst of the uncircumcised.” This clearly shows that sheol is indeed the common grave of all spiritually un-regenerated souls.
In the New International Version of the bible, which is the most popular modern translation, sheol is consistently translated as “the grave” in the Old Testament. At first I considered this to be an improper translation since sheol does not technically refer to the physical grave where bodies are housed. However, as I’ve studied the subject of sheol and discovered that it clearly refers to the common graveyard of all non-born-again souls, I’ve deduced that “the grave” is indeed a sound translation. (Unfortunately the NIV translators weren’t consistent with their rendering of sheol in the New Testament where the corresponding Greek word hades is diversely translated as “hades,” “hell,” “depths” and “death”).
Sheol and the Physical Grave: Distinct yet Parallel
Although the physical grave (qeber) and the soulish grave (sheol) are indeed separate terms in the bible they are often mentioned in the very same breath. Why? Obviously because the two go hand in hand – if one physically dies his/her soul goes to sheol; if one’s soul is in sheol it’s because s/he physically died. Simple, right? Let’s look at a few examples:
In Psalm 30:3 David states, “O LORD, you brought up my soul from sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit” (NRSV). Here, once again, David is praising God for deliverance from a life-threatening situation. On this occasion David was so close to death that he considered himself as good as dead; that’s why he symbolically exclaims, “you brought up my soul from sheol [and] restored me to life.” David obviously didn’t literally die, but he came so close that he spoke as if did. Also take note that David makes it clear in this passage that sheol is the condition and place that souls specifically go to at physical death; this is, of course, in contrast to the physical grave where bodies are housed. Take note as well that David describes sheol as “the Pit.”
With this understanding, notice what David goes on to say in verse 9: “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?” (NRSV). Observe how David mentions “the Pit,” which is a reference to sheol, and then in the very next breath asks, “Will the dust praise you?” “Dust” is definitely a reference to the physical grave or tomb (qeber) where the body is housed because dust is what (unpreserved) bodies revert to after death. The reason David interchangeably refers to sheol and the physical grave here is simply because the two, although distinct, naturally go together.
We also see this in Psalm 88 where Heman prays for deliverance from a serious life-threatening situation. In verse 3 Heman states, “For my soul is full of troubles and my life draws near to sheol. (4) I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those who have no help, (5) like those forsaken among the dead like the slain that lie in the grave (qeber)” (NRSV). By saying that his “life draws near to sheol,” Heman is simply expressing how close he is to losing his life in this situation. Now notice what Heman declares in verses 10-12:
PSALM 88:10-12 (NRSV)
“Do you (God) work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you? (11) Is your steadfast love declared in the grave (qeber), or your faithfulness in abaddon (destruction)? (12) Are your wonders known in darkness, or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?”
Heman specifically mentions sheol in verse 3 and references it as “the Pit” in verse 4. His reference to “darkness” and “the land of forgetfulness” in verse 12 are also references to sheol, although they could arguably apply to the physical grave as well. In addition, he refers to sheol as “regions dark and deep” in verse 6. He also mentions the literal grave, qeber, in verses 5 and 11.
Why is this important to our subject? I just want to clearly show how sheol and the physical grave are sometimes spoken of in the very same breath. Although sheol definitely refers to the common grave where all un-regenerated souls go to and qeber refers to the physical grave/tomb where bodies are lain to rest, both terms are parallel and signify the same condition: DEATH, the cessation of life. Qeber signifies the utter absence of life in the physical realm and sheol denotes the utter absence of life period.
Because sheol and qeber are sometimes spoken of in the same breath some theologians have mistakenly theorized that sheol refers to the physical grave, at least in that particular context. Yet, sheol is repeatedly described in the scriptures as a place and condition where immaterial souls specifically go, not bodies. We’ve clearly seen this in our study. Hence, the idea that sheol refers to the physical grave must be rejected.
Our conclusion is that sheol and qeber are distinct yet parallel terms in the bible; they each have separate definitions but naturally go together. Being parallel terms they each signify the same thing – death, the absence of life. Is there any life in a physical grave? Of course not. Neither is there life in sheol, the soulish grave. Is a grave meant for anything other than that which is dead? Of course not. The same goes for sheol. Both terms, though distinct, denote the utter absence of life.
This presents a problem for the religious traditional view which teaches that sheol/hades is a nether realm where unredeemed souls exist in a state of conscious torment and Old Testament saints hanged out in paradise with father Abraham before the ascension of Christ. If this were so sheol and qeber couldn’t possibly be sister terms. Why? Because qeber would signify the utter absence of life, whereas sheol would refer to the express opposite – conscious life in a spiritual dimension, whether in misery or bliss. They wouldn’t be parallel terms if they both represent two completely opposite concepts.
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And for those who are curious and ask, Do aborted babies go to hell? know that aborted babies do NOT go to hell. They do NOT suffer after death. Jesus said, “Let the little children come unto me.” He would not change His mind now.
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 Some may understandably argue that, since God later accuses Job of speaking “words without knowledge” (Job 38:2), his statements concerning the nature of sheol are unreliable. Yet, which of Job’s words did God feel were “without knowledge”? Obviously his erroneous belief that it was God Himself that was afflicting him, not the devil; which naturally provoked Job to rail against the LORD throughout the book. This is what God understandably took issue with, not his theological insights concerning the intermediate state. Once again, Job’s statements about sheol should only be questioned if they are not in harmony with what the rest of the bible teaches.
 Although it is traditionally believed that Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, which I’ve always felt was fairly obvious, some modern scholars debate this.
 These figures are from the New International Version.
 Compare Genesis 2:7 with 1 Corinthians 15:45 for verification.
 Don’t believe for a second that God is some formless cloud being. Yes, He is spiritual in nature, as Jesus said (John ), but the bible repeatedly indicates that He definitely has a central presence that is human-like in form (e.g.). Some may respond: “But isn’t He omnipresent?” Yes, He is omnipresent in the sense that he knows what’s going on everywhere at the same time and can do innumerable things simultaneously, but this does not mean His being lacks a central presence or form.
 See the footnote on page 21.
 One may legitimately argue that righteous people who possess godly wisdom sometimes prematurely die. It is true that God occasionally calls people to be martyrs for the advancement of His kingdom, like Stephen (Acts 7); if God calls someone to do this He reveals it to his or her spirit and gives them the grace to handle it. The bible promises us 70-80 years (Psalm 90:10); anything else is a plus. Hence, except for God-ordained martyrdom, any God-fearing person who prematurely dies simply failed to win the “good fight of faith” over the Evil One who desperately desires to bring about the premature death of anyone who is a threat to his kingdom. We must understand that the devil will not appear to those he attacks as a red cartooney figure with a pitchfork. The godly Christian can easily discern an attack of the devil because every satanic attack falls within the bracket of five separate categories: 1.) Enemy attack and defeat, 2.) Financial attack (poverty), 3.) Premature death, 4) Physical illness and 5.) Mental illness, which includes depression, anxiety, fear, torment and madness. (These five types of attack should be distinguished from temptation to sin and any type of sin bondage; sin and its consequences are the simple result of a Christian falling prey to the weakness of his or her own flesh and failing to live by his/her new born-again spirit, which is indwelt by the Holy Spirit). The book of Job powerfully verifies the above data: When God gave permission to Satan to attack righteous Job, the devil attacked him in the five ways just listed. People were stirred up against Job and attacked, all his wealth was wiped out, his ten children and hundreds of his employees prematurely died, Job physically suffered painful boils from head to toe, and, lastly, Job suffered intense mental ailments – the desire to die, depression, torment and anxiety. Acts states that Jesus “went around doing good works and healing all who were under the power of the devil.” Those “under the power of the devil” are those who have fallen prey to one or more of the five satanic attacks listed above. My point is that premature death is certainly one of the ways the enemy attacks those who are a threat to his kingdom, and God’s children must be diligent & vigilant and learn to fight “the good fight of faith” to have the victory over just such an attack.
 Referring to proper parental discipline, Proverbs 20:30 states: “Blows and wounds cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the inmost being.”
 Even though “bed” isn’t in the original Hebrew text, the obvious implication of the verse is that maggots would be what he would lie on, like a mattress, which explains why the NRSV and NASB add the word “bed.”
 This is an obvious improper translation of verse 27; the statement made in the negative (“they do not lie”) simply makes no sense in light of its context. The New International Version properly translates it in the form of a rhetorical question as such: “”Do they not lie with the other uncircumcised warriors who have fallen, who went down to the grave with their weapons of war, whose swords were placed under their heads?”