By: William J Jackson
When many of us think of the afterlife, our minds conjure up images of Heaven and Hell. Most of these images are inspired by both religious doctrine and movies. But, what does YHVH say about His world beyond the living? Where did scholars and producers come up with this imagery, and are they right? We will look for our answers in HaShem’s word, the Tanakh (Old Testament).
Our journey will take us to Sheol. This is the Hebrew term for the place of the dead, or the underworld of the Tanakh. The concept of Sheol begs these questions:
- What is Sheol like?
The Tanakh has much to say about Sheol.
a. Place of darkness; Psalm 88:7, 13, Job 10:21, 22
b. A Wasteland; Jeremiah 2:6, Psalm 88:13
c. Silent; Psalm 115:17
d. It’s located in low places; Numbers 16:30, Ezekiel 31:14,Lamentations 3:55; Jonah 2:7, Job 26:5
e. People have no memory: Isaiah 26:14, Ecclesiastes 9:5,Psalm 6:6
f. People don’t praise God there; Psalm 6:6, 30:10, 88:11, 115:17
g. Its like sleeping; Job 14:10-12, Ecclesiastes 9:10, Daniel 12:2, 1 Kings 2:10
2. Who goes to Sheol ?
Everyone goes to Sheol. When we die, God’s spirit (the ruach) returns to Him (Ecclesiastes 12:7, 30:20-21, Job 34:14-15,Psalm 104:29-30). The remainder of our soul goes to Sheol (Job 3:11-19, 1 Samuel 2:6, Psalm 89:49).
- Being rescued from Sheol.
In 1 Samuel 2:6 it says that God brings us down to Sheol but then He brings us up. He basically redeems us from this place Psalm 16:10, 30:4, 49:16 and Job 33:29-30 . But, it also appears that not everyone will be rescued from this pit; Hosea 13:14, Psalm 9:18, Proverbs 9:18 and Proverbs 22:14. So who is rescued? It seems to be the repentant and righteous; Isaiah 38:17, Job 33:22-24, 28, Proverbs 15:24 . Daniel 12:2 sums it up best:
“Many of those sleeping in the dust of the earth will awaken, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting shame and abhorrence.”
- What happens to the truly wicked?
There are some teachings that the truly wicked will be destroy, this implies their souls. This can be supported by Psalm 37:20, where it says “For the wicked will perish; Adonai’s enemies will be like sheep fat, ending up as smoke, finished.” This is also found in Deuteronomy 29:19, Judges 5:31 and Psalm 68:3. When we read Ezekiel 18 it tells us the wicked will die and the righteous will live ( Ezekiel 18:4, 18, 20-26, 31-32 ). The thing that always puzzled me, is that we are all going to die, good and bad. But, lets look at the Hebrew word that is used here for death, “maveth”. Maveth can mean death but also can mean destroyed. The Hebrew word “muth” is used to specify death. It is possible that the significantly wicked will completely perish. So, who is that wicked? Read Ezekiel 18, it is very specific and thorough.
- The Resurrection
The resurrection is confirmed in Tanakh (Ezekiel 37:12, Job 19:25-27). As we see in Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2 it appears to be talking about a resurrection that will take place in the “end time”. Many believe this will be the messianic age which will be ushered in by Elijah the prophet Malachi 3:23-24 .
- So where did we get our ideas of Hell?
The Jewish describe a spiritual place called “Gehinnom.” This is usually translated as “Hell” (1) . References to Gehinnom are a fiery place of judgment. This can be found in literature of the Second Temple period. The Talmud embellished this idea, claiming that Gehinnom is 60 times hotter than earthly fire (Berakhot 57b) (2).
The Christian idea of Hell, also like the Talmudic version, is a fiery furnace; Matthew 13:50, Mark 9:48 and Revelation 14:10 . Also, for Christians, Hell was designed originally for Satan and his demons (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10). It is a punishment for sinners and those that reject Christ; 2 Peter 2:1, Revelation 20:11-15 (3) .
We only have one witness that has come up from Sheol to give us a testimony, and that is the ghost of the prophet Samuel in 1 Samuel 28. We can hear his disgruntled attitude, when he answers King Saul “Why have you disturbed me and brought me up?” ( 1 Samuel 28:15 ). This is a stark comparison to the New Testament story about the rich man and Lazarus in Sheol (Luke 16:19-31). As you know, the rich man is in a hellish Sheol. He asks Abraham to “have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.”. These testimonies are worlds apart. Lets just remember the Tanakh comes from HaShem. That means this is the concept of Sheol we should honor. Understanding Sheol is interesting; but the real question should be “how can I be redeemed from Sheol by HaShem“.
This article is dedicate to Danielle Jackson, my wife, for always asking the challenging questions in her quest to seek truth.