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Who Is Sheol In The Bible

Sheol: A Separation From Yhwh

What and where is sheol?

In Psalm 88 Heman the Ezrahite wrote a bleak poem about his feeling that death was coming soon.

Psalm 88:1-7, 11-15

O YHWH, the God of my salvation, I have cried out by day and in the night before You. Let my prayer come before You incline Your ear to my cry!

For my soul has had enough troubles, and my life has drawn near to Sheol. I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit I have become like a man without strength, forsaken among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more, and they are cut off from Your hand.

You have put me in the lowest pit, in dark places, in the depths. Your wrath has rested upon me, and You have afflicted me with all Your waves

Will Your lovingkindness be declared in the grave, Your faithfulness in Abaddon? Will Your wonders be made known in the darkness? And Your righteousness inthe land of forgetfulness? But I, O YHWH, have cried out to You for help, and in the morning my prayer comes before You.

O YHWH, why do You reject my soul? Why do You hide Your face from me? I was afflicted and about to die from my youth on I suffer Your terrors I am overcome.

To Heman, Sheol was a grave of forgetfulness, a dark pit where souls were rejected and cut off from YHWH, unable to see His face, and remembered no more. No wonder he felt overwhelmed.

David had a similar prayer to Hemans:

Psalm 6:2-5

For there is no mention of You in death in Sheol who will give You thanks?

Psalm 139:7-8

Isaiah 38:9-11, 17-19a

Jonah 2:1-4

Hell Or Gehenna Nt Place For Unrighteous Dead

Hell is the New Testament word for the location of the spirits of the unrighteous dead. The Greek word for hell is gehenna . One of the most obvious examples that gehenna or hell is the place of the spirits of the unrighteous dead is Mark 9:43,

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire . . . Mark 9:43

This is not a description of a grave in the dust of the ground. This is a place of unquenchable fire. The word unquenchable reveals that hell is eternal unquenchable, never ends, cannot be extinguished and it is a place of fire. This is where the spirits of the unrighteous dead exist.

Gehenna or hell is further described as a place of horrible suffering . It is a fiery place . According to Jesus, gehenna or hell is where both the body and soul are destroyed . Jesus comment would seem to suggest that hell may be somewhere within Hades.

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28

If I Make My Bed In Sheol You Are There

Lets examine another Psalm passage by David that comments on Sheol:

PSALM 139:7-8 Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 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 . In Psalm 139 David is completely awestruck as he contemplates Gods 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 .

So, Davids words in verses 7-8 above are simply a poetic way of describing Gods omnipresence. Where can David go that God isnt? The obvious answer is nowhere. Note how the New International Version renders this passage:

PSALM 139:7-8 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there if I make my bed in the depths , you are there.

Of course, souls in Sheol are not literally slumbering there, theyre dead. The only sleep they experience is the sleep of death. This explains why David said in Psalm 6:5 that souls in Sheol cannot remember or praise God even though God is present there :

Psalm 6:5 For in death there is no remembrance of you in Sheol who can give you praise?

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How Is Sheol Described

Despite the lack of concrete details in the Bible, it does give hints and glimpses about this realm of the dead.

Some of the things the Bible does say about Sheol include:

  • Sheol is visible and accessible to God Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering.
  • Sheol is a place for the dead O Lord you have brought up my soul from Sheol you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.
  • Spirits do not come back from Sheol As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up
  • There is not a spiritual life in Sheol For in death there is no remembrance of in Sheol who will give you praise?
  • God ransomed people from Sheol But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah
  • It is a consuming pit like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit
  • It expands to take in more souls Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure, and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down, her revelers and he who exults in her.
  • It is deep …let it be as deep as Sheol or as high as Heaven.

There are many mysteries for which the inquisitive will only have answers when they finally meet God and can ask Him directly. The exact nature of Sheol can be guessed and those inferences are well-thought out, but much of the spiritual realm is still a mystery.

A Place From Which The Righteous Are Saved

Conclusion on Sheol

Psalm 49:15 Sheol has no lasting hold upon the righteous because God will ransom them from its power

Psalm 86:13 For great is your steadfast love toward me you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

Proverbs 15:24 The path of life leads upward for the prudent, that he may turn away from Sheol beneath.

Proverbs 23:14 If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol.

Hosea 13:14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

  • He does not abandon the righteous to Sheol

Psalm 16:10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.

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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 , which is the second death . 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 or everlasting destruction because there is no hope of recovery or resurrection from it its a fatal destruction of such complete and final magnitude that it lasts forever and ever.

Limbus Partum Ie Fathers Limbo

Since both good men and wicked men go there, the early church held that the OT saints went to a limbus partum , an upper level of Sheol. The saints were thought to be confined here until they were liberated by Christ at His resurrection . The NT verses do not actually teach this two-compartment theory.

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Sheol Describes Where Bodies Go Not Souls

Sheol doesnt describe where the souls of men go, but the place where their bodies gothe grave. Scripture teaches where souls go . This view avoids the two-compartment theory and the theological question raised by underworld as a place of the departed spirits where all men go. Nothing pagan or heretical can be read into this theory because it implies only the destination of bodies. The condition of the souls of men until the Resurrection is not in view.

Can the passages be interpreted as grave? Most occurrences can be rendered grave while some even demand that interpretation. Supportive of this theory, the word does not occur outside of the OT, except once in the Jewish Elephantine papyri, where it means grave.

The most convincing argument is that most occurrences of Sheol are found in the OT poetry genre. Hebrew poetry uses many figures of speech and many images whose meanings are not always apparent without some study and creative thinking.

The teasing of hair makes it fuller and bigger. Likewise, teasing out the meaning of an image used in OT poetry provides a fuller meaning and bigger understanding of the passage. Note that teasing doesnt change the meaning of a test, but presents the multi-dimensional nature of it which in turn produces deeper insight.

Jesus Spoke Of Sleeping In Death Not Enjoying Paradise With Abraham

Destination: Sheol – Ancient Hebrews & the Afterlife

We addressed this point in Chapter Four, but lets look at it again from a slightly different angle: Jesus got word that his friend Lazarus was deathly ill and, a couple days later, discerned that he had died. Notice what Christ says to his disciples:

Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep but I am going there to wake him up.

His disciples replied, Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better. Jesus had been speaking of his death, but his disciples thought he meant natural sleep.

So then he told them plainly, Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.

John 11:11-15

Lazarus died and Jesus describes it as falling asleep, which his disciples mistook as natural sleep. So the Lord plainly informs them that Lazarus was dead.

* As opposed to the fictitious Lazarus in the parable.

I want to emphasize that Lazarus death wouldve been the ideal occasion for Jesus to elaborate on Sheol having a paradisal compartment for righteous souls of the Old Testament period, but Jesus says nothing of the kind. Nor does the Bible mention anything at all about Lazarus being in bliss with Abraham and lamenting his return to our fallen earth after Jesus miraculously resurrects him. Why? Because its a false doctrine based on mistaking a fantastical parable for a literal account.

The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised

Matthew 27:52

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Spirits Of The Righteous Dead

Now we ask, Where do the spirits of a godly or righteous man exist? The answer is heaven or paradise in the Old Testament era and in the New Testament era. The Old Testament era continued until Christ death when He descended into Abaddon and declared victory to the bound angels. 1 Peter 3:18-19 states that Christ visited these spirits or evil angels in prison and declared victory. Ephesians 4:8 adds that Jesus led captive a host of captives, that is, He transferred Paradise to heaven.

Heaven Old Testament

In the Old Testament heaven is pictured as being above while Sheol is below. In 2 Kings 2:11, God took the prophet Elijah up to heaven in a fiery chariot to be with Him forever. Scripture also says that God took Enoch up to heaven . What is up? King David gives us the answer when he says that heaven is above and Sheol is below.

If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. Psalm 139:8

Sheol has no holding power over the spirit of a righteous person. We are told that the bodies of the righteous may die and return to dust, but their spirits go up to heaven to be with God,


The New Testament refers to paradise and heaven as the place where the spirits of the godly exist after physical death. Throughout Jesus ministry He referred to heaven.

But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. Mark 13:32


Since the Cross

Biblical Definition Of Hell

Hell is the place where those who reject the Lordship of Jesus Christ will experience the wrath and justice of God for all of eternity. Theologian Wayne Grudem defined Hell as a place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked. It is mentioned many times throughout the scriptures. 17th Century Puritan, Christopher Love stated that,

Hell is a place of torment, ordained by God for Devils and reprobate sinners, wherein by His justice He confines them to everlasting punishment tormenting them both in Body and Soul, being deprived of Gods favor, objects of His wrath, under which they must lie to all eternity.

Hell is a Christian belief and teaching that many would like to avoid or forget altogether. It is a harsh and terrifying truth that awaits those who will not respond to the Gospel. Theologian R.C Sproul writes, There is no biblical concept more grim or terror-invoking than the idea of hell. It is so unpopular with us that few would give credence to it at all except that it comes to us from the teaching of Christ himself. J.I. Packer also writes, New Testament teaching about hell is meant to appall us and strike us dumb with horror, assuring us that, as heaven will be better than we could dream, so hell will be worse than we can conceive. Now a question may be asked, what do the Scriptures teach about hell?

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What Is The Difference Between Sheol And Gehenna

The 16th century Tyndale and later translators had access to the Greek, but Tyndale translated both Gehenna and Hades as same English word, Hell. The 17th century King James Version of the Bible is the only English translation in modern use to translate Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna by calling them all Hell.

Sheol Is Used As A Metaphor Or Image For The Following

What is Sheol? Is it hell?
  • Greed

Proverbs 27:20Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man.

Proverbs 30:16Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, Enough.

Habakkuk 2:5Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest. His greed is as wide as Sheol like death he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.

  • Murder

Proverbs 1:12 like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit

  • Jealousy

Song of Solomon 8:6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.

  • Troubles of life

Psalm 88:3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol.

  • Near-death situations

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Christs Death Descent Resurrection And Ascension

This is, of course, exactly what Christ does in his descent.

Great is your steadfast love toward me you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.

As the Apostles Creed tells us, Jesus descended to the dead. What this means is that Jesus experienced death as all humans do his body was buried, and his soul departed to the place of the dead, Sheol.12 Then in his resurrection, he defeated death and the grave and kicked down Sheols gates from the inside.

Death takes everyone, righteous and unrighteous alike, and no one comes back from the realm of the dead.

Because of Christs atoning death, descent to the place of the dead, and glorious resurrection from the dead, Sheol is no longer the enemys bunker. The strong mans house has been plundered. Because of Christs work, Sheol is no longer the exilic wilderness. Israels Suffering Servant has walked through this valley of the shadow of death, Sheol, and emerged victorious on the other side, and now he guides all those who are united to him by faith through that same valley, shining the light of his resurrection to guide us.

  • See on this Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible , esp. 73126. Heisers argument includes discussion of Ezekiel 28, Isaiah 14, Genesis 3:15 and 6:14, and Daniel 10:6, 1214, 2021, among other texts.

  • See, e.g., Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Life, 2nd ed. , 7579.

  • Youll Be With Me In Paradise

    Some claim that righteous people of the Old Testament era experienced paradise in the compartment of Sheol they call Abrahams Bosom, based on a literal reading of Jesus Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. They cite Jesus statement to the repentant thief on the cross as proof of this:

    One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: Arent you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!

    But the other criminal rebuked him. Dont you fear God, he said, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.

    Then he said, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.

    Jesus answered him, Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.

    Jesus obviously discerned a repentant spirit in this thief and faith for salvation . As such, he was promising this former criminal paradise when he was resurrected, possibly when Jesus later ascended if not, at his second coming . Some argue that Jesus told the man hed be with him in paradise that very day. We know, of course, that the Lord said no such thing because Christ didnt go to paradise the day he died he literally died and his dead soul laid in Sheol for three days until he was resurrected. This obviously was not paradise, but rather the penalty of sin death which Jesus experienced in our place as our substitutionary death.

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