There have been written countless books on Near Death Experiences (NDE) giving us thousands of testimonies that there is something beyond our physical lives. Granted, although many of these stories could be fabricated or even embellished “they’re too numerous and well documented to be dismissed altogether”1. Topping the list is renown neurosurgeon Doctor Eben Alexander weighs in with his own NDE2. Then we have science which is now proclaiming there is something after this physical realm. Nonetheless, even though we have credible testimonies and scientific data that supports an existence after our physical deaths the most important word is the one of God, which clearly states there is a life after death (1 Samuel 2:6, 2 Kings 5:7, Isaiah 26:19)4. When we concede to the idea that there is a realm beyond our mortality another question crops up; “What happens to me in this afterlife?”. Here, while using scripture within the Tanakh (Old Testament), we will plot our continued journey.
After we die, all souls go to Sheol (Job 3:11-19, 1 Samuel 2:6, Isaiah 5:14, Psalm 89:49). This appears to be the weigh station for all who lived in this mortal world. Unlike the fiery Cristian version of Hell (Matthew 13:50, Mark 9:48 and Revelation 14:10), the Tanakh paints Sheol as a bleak underworld where we live a shadowy existence: Ezekiel 31:14, Isaiah 26:14, Ecclesiastes 9:5,10, 88:11, 115:17, Lamentations 3:55, Daniel 12:2, , Jonah 2:7, Job 10:21, 22 , 14:10-12, 26:5, Psalm 6:6, 30:10, 88:7,11, 13,115:17. It’s almost a sleepy actuality where we are in like a comatose state. Think about when Samuel’s ghost is summonsed in 1 Samuel 28. We can hear his apathy when he answers King Saul “Why have you disturbed me and brought me up?” (1 Samuel 28:15). Although better than the hell Christians conjured5, this depressing underworld hardly seems like a favorable eternally.
King David tells us in Psalms 18:6 that God will not “abandon” him in Sheol. In later Psalms, he talks of God redeeming and rescuing him from this dark place (Psalm 49:16 and Psalm 86:13). Interesting, Psalms 46 uses the Hebrew word “padah” (פָּדָה) when talking about being redeemd. This word can also mean being rescued or somebody paying your ransom. The same word was used when God freed the Israelites from Egypt (Deuteronomy 7:8, 9:26, 13:6, 15:15, 21:8, 24:18, 1 Chronicles 17:21, 2 Samuel 7:23, Micah 6:4, Nehemiah 1:10, Psalm 78:42) and future exiles (Jeremiah 31:10 and Zechariah 10:8). Still, the concept of being ransomed from Sheol might appear to be exclusively King David’s. But; this understanding of redemption is also reverberated by the Prophets Isaiah (Isaiah 35:10 and 51:11) and Hosea (Hosea 13:14). So begs the next question, “who will be rescued?”.
When a ransom is given, it is given by that person who has personal relationship with the victim. Thus, it stands to reason that that person being redeemed from Sheol, like King David, would be somebody who has a relationship with God, in short, one of His people. So, who is His people? Yes, we know that Israel is God’s chosen people (Deuteronomy 7:6-8, 14:2, 26:17-19, Isaiah 42:6), who will serve as a light to the nations and a kingdom of Priests. However, we are also aware that there is stipulation for those not born of the tribes to have a part in the covenant (Isaiah 56). The Tanakh clearly states that those that fear God are His people (Psalm 25:14, 145:19, Proverbs 14:26-27). This fear is stirred by not wanting to suffer the consequences of following His law; Malachi 3:16–18.
Not making the cut:
Ecclesiastes 12:14 tells us “For God will bring to judgment everything we do, including every secret, whether good or bad”. As for the judgement, it appears to be a time of torment (Daniel 12:2). God also talks about those that will be refined (Isaiah 4:4, Zechariah 13:9, Malachi 3:2-3). Likewise, it appears as torturous as this process may sound, there are those unworthy of this refinement. They appear to stay in Sheol (Psalm 9:18, 31:18, 55:16) or end obliterated (Deuteronomy 29:19, Judges 5:31, Psalm 49:15, 37:20, 68:3).
The first time the word “padah”, which means to redeem, was used in the Torah was during the Exodus. God redeemed Israel from its tyranny. In Exodus 13:3 we are commanded to remember when God freed the Israelites from Egypt. This is done to celebrate the greatness of God, but a secondary reason for this could be that we all have our own individual exodus’. When looking at the Hebrew word for Egypt it is “Mitzraim” (מצרים). This stems from a Hebraic root which means to bind (shackle or imprison)6. Most of us spend a lifetime trying to escape the bondage of sin. Our right relationship with God can redeem us from these vices. Equally, when we pass from this physical realm, will us not keeping God’s laws prevent our redemption from Sheol. Remember, not all the Israelites made it into the promise land (Numbers 32:13).
- Lichfield, Gideon. “The Science of Near-Death Experiences.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 23 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.
- “Neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander’s Near-Death Experience Defies Medical Model of Consciousness.” (52-minute recording) Skeptiko – Science at the Tipping Point. N.p., 10 Mar. 2016. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.
- Dmitry, Baxter, British And German Scientists Prove There Is Life After Death, Yournewswire.com, December 5, 2016. Wed. 25 Feb. 2017.
- Jackson, William. Studies, Center for Tanakh Based. “Sheol; Life after Death.” Center for Tanakh Based Studies. N.p., 19 July 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.
- Jackson, William, Studies, Center For Tanakh Based. “The Truth about HELL.” Center for Tanakh Based Studies. N.p., 09 Jan. 2016. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.
- Levi, Avdiel Ben. “Egypt Means Bondage in Hebrew.” Learn Torah. N.p., 19 Jan. 2015. Web. 25 Feb. 2017.