The last blog showed us that Sheol is a place where the dead abide. Everyone who dies goes there and they abide there in a kind of sleep state, where all will await a resurrection or an awakening from the dead (Daniel 12:12). Having seen that, it cannot possibly be the traditional hell that we have been taught. But in order to fully sever any remaining notions that it might still be synonymous with hell we will now consider 2 very significant anomalies concerning the concept of Sheol.
The Righteous Are There
The first and perhaps most important anomaly is that not only are the wicked said to go to Sheol (Psalm 9:17), but the righteous as well (Psalm 89:48; Ecclesiastes 9:2,3,10).
For instance, Joseph was believed to be in Sheol. This same Joseph was appointed by God to be sold as a slave in order to save many people alive when a famine came years later. Because of Joseph’s humility and wisdom he was promoted to be the ruler of all of Egypt! But during this time he was believed to be dead by his father Jacob, and thus Jacob assumed that he was in Sheol (Genesis 37:35).
In fact, Jacob himself was anticipating his departure into Sheol at his own death (Genesis 42:38, 44:29,31). Jacob was the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, as the famous adage “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” is so often used throughout Scripture to confirm God’s covenant with the sons of Israel. Jacob himself originally being the one who was renamed Israel by God. Yet somehow even Jacob knew that he would go to Sheol at his death!
In the same manner Job stated several times that he would end up in Sheol (14:13, 17:13,16). And Job was certainly righteous for God Himself spoke of Job saying,
“The LORD said to Satan, ‘Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause.”
King David also used Sheol to signify the place he would end up (Psalm 30:3, 88:3, 89:48, 139:8). David actually claimed to be in Sheol during his earthly life, from which God rescued him multiple times (Psalm 18:5, 49:15, 86:13, 116:3). Now I am sure that David was speaking symbolically, being poetic about the gravity of his circumstances, but never the less, the fact that he applies Sheol so intimately to his own experience adds considerable weight to the fact that even the righteous are not exempt from Sheol.
Now, there are some who would claim that the Bible doesn’t actually explicitly state that David went to Sheol due to the fact that in Psalm 16:10 David himself declares that,
“[God] will not abandon [his] soul to Sheol; nor will [He] allow [His] Holy One to undergo decay.”
The problem is that Peter in the book of Acts, being just filled with the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, interprets this psalm to be prophesying of Christ, and not of David himself. Peter makes this undeniably clear saying,
“For David says of Him…‘you will not abandon my soul to Hades, nor allow your Holy One to undergo decay’…Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day.” (Acts 2:25-35)
So Peter, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit interpreted that David’s claim to not be abandoned to Sheol did not apply to himself, but to Christ. The implication being that David’s body did decay and his soul is sleeping in Sheol, awaiting resurrection.
Not only that, but this verse is applied to Christ. And it is not stating that Christ would NOT go to Sheol, but that He would not be abandoned there. In other words Christ would go to Sheol when He died, but He would not be left there…He would be rescued from it. As we all will one day.
Following David we have Hezekiah. Scripture says of him in 2 Kings 18:1-6,
“[Hezekiah] did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him. For he clung to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses.”
Hezekiah was certainly righteous as we can see above, and b/c of that he was one of the most highly praised kings in Judah’s lineage. Hezekiah however was stricken with a mortal illness from which we was not going to recover, but the Lord healed him and he composed a psalm about it that is recorded in the book of Isaiah, chapter 38:9-20. In verses 9-11 it is expressly clear that he fully expected to arrive in Sheol when his earthly life ended.
“A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah after his illness and recovery: 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.’ I said, ‘I will not see the LORD, the LORD in the land of the living; I will look on man no more among the inhabitants of the world.’”
Following Hezekiah we have the prophet Jonah, and although he may not have displayed a humble and godly attitude, he was never the less repentant and obedient in the end. Jonah as we all know was swallowed by a whale and remained in its belly for 3 days and 3 nights. It was during this time that Jonah considered himself to have been in Sheol saying,
“Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the stomach of the fish, and he said, ‘I called out of my distress to the LORD, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol; You heard my voice. For You had cast me into the deep, Into the heart of the seas, and the current engulfed me. All Your breakers and billows passed over me. So I said, ‘I have been expelled from Your sight. Nevertheless I will look again toward Your holy temple.’ Water encompassed me to the point of death. The great deep engulfed me, Weeds were wrapped around my head. I descended to the roots of the mountains. The earth with its bars was around me forever, but You have brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.’’
Lastly we have the prophet Samuel; the Bible declares that Samuel was a great prophet and servant of the Lord (1 Samuel 3:19), in fact he probably wrote the inspired book of Judges, so he is most assuredly one of God’s most anointed saints…and yet he too ended up in Sheol! Although he is not directly recorded as being in Sheol, it is certainly implied as you will see in the following.
There is a curious instance in the Bible, after Samuel had died, where king Saul sought out a medium in order to try to contact Samuel. When the witch at Endor succeeded in contacting Samuel it says,
“Then Samuel said to Saul, ‘Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’” (1 Samuel 28:15)
Now surely Heaven is considered to be “above” and anyone who does a word search on Sheol in the Bible will see how often Sheol is connected with being “below.” Here are a few examples – Genesis 42:38; Numbers 16:33; 1 Kings 2:6 Job 7:9; Psalm 55:15; Isaiah 14:15; Ezekiel 32:27. Thus in order for Samuel to be “brought up” he must have gone “down into Sheol,” even as Christ descended into the lowermost parts of the earth in order to ascend upon high (Ephesians 4:8-10).
All this is undeniable evidence that Scripture asserts that even the righteous are resting in Sheol. It is therefore most certainly NOT synonymous with hell. Related to this is that one can go to Sheol in peace and one can go to Sheol in sorrow, mouring, or even blood (Genesis 37:35, 42:38; 1 Kings 2:6,9). It appears that depending upon your circumstances in life, you will go there having suffered for wickedness, or go there having been blessed in life due to godly character.
Those In Sheol Can Be Rescued From It
The second anomaly that certainly separates Sheol from our concept of hell is that people can and will be rescued from Sheol. Such a thought is unheard of in our modern view of hell.
Sheol was and still is considered to be unrelenting, never being satiated with the dead, and that once you went there you could not escape (Job 7:9; Psalm 89:48; Proverbs 27:20, 30:16). Nevertheless though one who goes there does not have the power to get themselves out the Lord certainly does have the power to rescue from Sheol.
Sheol is declared to be naked and open before God, it is not closed off to Him, He can reach even into Sheol (Job 26:6; Proverbs 15:11). In fact Scripture states that,
“…even if I make my bed in Sheol, behold You are there.” (Psalm 139:8)
David further declares in 1 Samuel 2:6 that, “The Lord kills and makes alive, He brings down to Sheol and raises up.” David even declared in faith that God would, “…redeem my soul from the power of Sheol.”
Thus David’s prophecy concerning Christ, “You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor allow Your Holy One to undergoe decay,” is also applicable to His Body and (dare I say it?) even to all men.
The logic is as follows, certainly we will all go to Sheol, and our bodies will decay, but this promise states that the soul will be rescued from Sheol and the body will be certainly be resurrected at some point, and Daniel declares that all those who sleep in the dust will awaken to a resurrection (Daniel 12:2). The book of Revelation also confirms this at the Great White Throne Judgment, where Hades and Death give up all the dead who are in them, both good and bad (Revelation 20:11-15; Hades being the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol as we will see in the next few blogs).
Christ and Paul both also declare that all men will be resurrected (John 5:28,29; Acts 24:15). Though nobody in Sheol can escape from it, in the end God will deliver all from its grip. Thus God declares in Hosea 13:14,
“Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting?”
God will triumph over death, and Sheol will find itself emptied, as we shall see in the next blog as we take a look at the Greek word Hades; for Hades is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew concept of Sheol.