By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
(Note: Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible)
Quotation For Contemplation
“The next thing Josef felt was the cold barrel pressed against the base of his skull…The strangest thing happened next. Josef’s breathing eased, his heart calmed, his mind cleared. It was as if liquid assurance were being poured, and his body was the receptacle. His fear vanished. Years of theological study, all theory up until this day, suddenly became real to him. The life that he’d experienced paled to insignificance compared to the life that awaited him. At that moment he realized no amount of suffering, or hardship, or pain, or heartache in this life would be remembered one second after a person first tasted the glory of heaven….Josef smiled. He began to sing: And though this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us. The crack of a Gestapo pistol echoed through the woods.” (Jack Cavanaugh, While Mortals Sleep: Songs In The Night, Book One, 3430-3437 (Kindle Edition); Threshold Publishing; http://www.jackcavanaugh.com)
Questions For Consideration
What is Sheol?
How can an understanding of Sheol help me during times of grief?
Did the Hebrews believe in an afterlife?
Throughout the Book of Job, we learn many lessons about the subject of death and the afterlife. Indeed, the afterlife was looked upon by Job as an encouragement, a place of peace and serenity that would free him from the suffering he was being subjected to. In his confused state, he did not understand why God was allowing him to suffer (or in his understanding, why God was punishing him for things which he had not done).
Through all of his ordeals, and in spite of his questions, death was viewed as a welcome voyage to the world of the dead.
From the Book of Job, we learn several things about death and the afterlife which are worthy of our attention.
“Sheol” In The Book Of Job
The Old Testament word “Sheol” was the word that was used primarily to have reference to the realm of the dead. In the Contemporary English Version, this word is usually translated as “the world of the dead.”
Before doing an in-depth study of Sheol, let’s consider the different passages where this realm is referenced in Job.
Job 7:9-I will disappear in the grave or vanish from sight like a passing cloud.
Job 11:8-They are higher than the heavens and deeper than the grave. So what can you do when you know so little,
Job 17:16-Will it keep me company in the world of the dead?
Job 21:13-and they are successful, without a worry, until the day they die.
Job 24:19-Just as the heat of summer swallows the snow, the world of the dead swallows those who sin.
Job 26:6-Nothing in that land of death and destruction is hidden from God,
Throughout Job, the subject of “death” is obviously connected with Sheol. As such, Job (and the rest of the Old Testament) provide further enlightenment about Sheol.
Mounce has written:
“(3) In some places in the OT, death is considered a place, equivalent to Sheol (e.g., Ps. 89:48; Song 8:6; see grave). It is a dusty place (Ps. 22:15) that has many chambers (Prov. 7:27). As one faces death, one feels like a person caught in a trap (Ps. 18:5) or tied up with cords (116:3). And as one enters into its realm, one passes through gates (Job 38:17; Ps. 9:13). While these may be metaphors, they do present a vivid picture of the reality of death.” (William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words Copyright, 6779 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
“Sheol” As Translated In The King James Version
The word “Sheol” is translated with several different words in nearly every translation.
Following is a list of every occurrence of the word in the Old Testament Scriptures, along with its’ rendering in the King James Version of the Bible:
Deuteronomy 32:22; 2 Samuel 22:6; Job 11:8; Job 26:6; Psalm 9:17; 16:10; 18:5; 55:15; 86:13; 116:3; 139:8; Proverbs 5:5; 7:27; 9:18; 15:11, 24; 23:14; 27:20; Isaiah 5:14; 14:9; 28:15, 18; 57:9; Ezekiel 31:16-17; 32:21, 27; Jonah 2:2; Habakkuk 2:5
Genesis 37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31; 1 Kings 2:6, 9; Job 7:9; 21:13; 24:19; Psalm 6:5; 30:3; 31:17; 49:14-15; 88:3; 89:48; Proverbs 1:12; 30:16; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Song of Solomon 8:6; Isaiah 14:11; 38:10, 18; Ezekiel 31:15; Hosea 13:14
Numbers 16:30, 33; Job 17:16
Why was the word “Sheol” translated in so many different ways?
The answer to this question lies in understanding that the word could carry different meanings in different time periods. Much of the same is true in our world today. Simply consider how the word “gangster” meant “politician” in the 1920’s!
Speaking of this important aspect of the history of the word Sheol, Blanchard has written:
“What did the Old Testament writers mean by ‘Sheol’? The answer seems to be that the word was used to mean different but related things at different times. It is interesting to see how some of our best-known English translations of the Bible handle this. In the Authorized Version, first published in 1611, ‘Sheol’ is translated ‘hell’ thirty-one times, ‘grave’ thirty-one times and ‘the pit’ three times. The New International Version, first published in 1979, has ‘grave’ fifty-five times, ‘death’ six times, and three other phrases for the remainder. The New American Standard Bible, first published in 1971, plays it safe by leaving Sheol untranslated, allowing the reader to determine from the context what the writer meant—though in thirty-four places it puts the note ‘i.e. the nether world’ in the margin. The English Standard Version (on which this book is based) also leaves ‘Sheol’ untranslated. In trying to pull all of this together, it is important to realize that God revealed truth progressively, with the light becoming brighter as the centuries went by, and especially as the Old Testament gave way to the New (with a gap of 400 years in between). This does not mean that the New Testament contradicts the Old; there is not a single case where this happens. Instead, the Bible has a remarkable unity, with each part taking its proper place in the whole scheme of things. There are many statements which underline the fact that although the Bible is a unity, God revealed truth gradually, adding greater intensity to the light as he went along….This is one of the Bible’s ways of telling us that the Old Testament is no less the Word of God than the New, but that in the New Testament the light is brighter. With that in mind, we are in a position to assess what the Old Testament writers had in mind when they used the word Sheol. To help us do this, I will leave the word Sheol untranslated; this will make it clear where it is being used. Firstly, there are a few cases where it seems to refer to death or the grave. When he was suffering from a serious illness, King Hezekiah of Judah was terrified at the prospect of a premature death, and cried out, ‘In the middle of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years’ (Isaiah 38:10)…Secondly, it was used in referring to the place or state to which all men go at death. One of the clearest examples of this is when the psalmist asks, ‘What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?’ (Psalm 89:48). The answer to the question is obviously, ‘No one’; everyone will ‘see death’ and be subject to ‘the power of Sheol’. Elsewhere, we are told that ‘The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up’ (1 Samuel 2:6)—and again this clearly applies to everyone….The picture we have is of a place of shadows, ‘the land of darkness and deep shadow’ (Job 10:21); of darkness, ‘The enemy … has made me sit in darkness like those long dead’ (Psalm 143:3); and of silence, ‘The dead … go down into silence’ (Psalm 115:17). The images are those of a place in which ‘the colour is gone from everything; a washed-out copy is all that remains’4 (S.F.D. Salmond) and the individual person is ‘but a shadow of his former self’. (Buis)5 In his book The Great Divorce C. S. Lewis describes his travellers going to ‘the grey town’6—his way of expressing the general feeling of Sheol that comes across in these quotations from the Old Testament. Thirdly, there are some places in which Sheol is seen as a place of punishment for the wicked. Job says of the wicked that ‘They go down to Sheol’ (Job 21:13, NASB) and that Sheol snatches away ‘those who have sinned’ (Job 24:19); David says that ‘The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God’ (Psalm 9:17); another writer says that the steps of the adulteress ‘follow the path to Sheol’ (Proverbs 5:5). It is difficult to see how the meaning of Sheol in these places can be limited to the grave or the state of being dead. If that were the case, why are warnings such as these given only to the wicked and never to the righteous? The Old Testament might not be as clear as the New Testament in its teaching on the afterlife, but there is no doubt that it does speak of a place where ‘God will bring every deed into judgement, with every secret thing, whether good or evil’ (Ecclesiastes 12:14) and where there will be ‘a fire … kindled by [God’s] anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol’ (Deuteronomy 32:22). We would be less than honest if we ignored statements as serious as these. Fourthly, the Old Testament teaches that for God’s people there was to be deliverance from Sheol. One of the clearest statements about this is where the psalmist says of those who trust in themselves (one of the Bible’s classic definitions of the unbeliever) that ‘They are appointed for Sheol’ and then adds, ‘But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me’ (Psalm 49:15). Another psalmist writes with equal assurance of life after death: ‘You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory’ (Psalm 73:24). The British preacher Alec Motyer is hardly exaggerating when he calls this ‘eloquent testimony to a sure hope beyond the grave’.7 The general picture of death in the Old Testament is shadowy and gloomy, but as Buis puts it, ‘There are passages here and there that reveal glimpses of a more wonderful life after death for the believer.’8 When they caught these glimpses, Old Testament believers were able to break through the natural fear of death and rejoice in the assurance that they would ‘dwell in the house of the LORD for ever’ (Psalm 23:6).” (John Blanchard, Whatever Happened To Hell? 544-596 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; EP Books)
The Link Between “Sheol” And “Hades”
During the third century B.C., the Hebrew Old Testament was translated into the Greek language.
This translation of the Bible was known as the Septuagint (often abbreviated as LXX, the number 70 standing for the seventy scholars who made the translation)
The history of this translation is fascinating to consider, especially in our study of Sheol:
“In 285 B.C., Ptolemy II Philadelphus funded the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. He had established a library at Alexandria in Egypt and wanted to include a copy of the Jewish Scriptures. Greek was the language of the land, and most people including the Jews spoke Greek. The Jewish people of Egypt used Hebrew primarily for ceremonial purposes, much as Roman Catholics consistently used Latin before Vatican II. Not all Jewish people had facility in Hebrew. Alexandria was one of the major literary centers of the world in those days, and according to tradition, 70 scholars (some say 72) were funded to translate the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. Thus, the Greek work was given the name “Septuagint” from the Greek word for 70. The Septuagint translation is usually abbreviated with LXX, which is “70” in Roman numerals. The five books of Moses, the Pentateuch, were translated first, and they were done quickly though perhaps not in 72 days as the legend said. The rest of the books were likely translated within a few years, but it’s difficult to know exactly how soon they were finished. We know for certain the whole Old Testament was completely translated into Greek by the time Jesus the son of Sirach alluded to them in his Prologue in B.C. 130, but they were certainly finished long before that date….The Septuagint is a valuable document for many reasons. First of all, it demonstrates that the prophecies detailed in the Old Testament were in black and white virtually three centuries before Christ’s ministry. The existence of those prophecies are beyond dispute, because they are locked away in a book that an Egyptian king had translated into Greek several centuries before Christ’s birth. It also gives us a precise Greek rendering of the Old Testament. The translators chose their Greek terms carefully, and these help us better understand what the Alexandrian Jews of the day believed was the correct understanding of certain passages. For instance, where the Hebrew calls the offspring of the sons of God and daughters of men nephilim fallen ones the Septuagint translates them gigantes “earth born” – which had the connotation of “giants.” The Septuagint translation gives us greater insight into the Hebrew understanding of these strange hybrids. The Greek gigantes truly were giants, not just strong men or warriors. The Septuagint is also significant because it became the Bible of the early Church. The early Greek Christians used the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament along with the letters of Paul and the other apostles as their Scriptures. The Septuagint is the most- often quoted text in the New Testament, and the text can be correlated with the same passages in the Hebrew.” (Chuck Missler, How We Got Our Bible, 524-559 (Kindle Edition); Coeur d’Alene, ID; Koinonia House)
The Hebrew Sheol Was The Greek Hades
When the Septuagint translation of the Bible was made, the translators used the Greek word “Hades” in place of the Hebrew “Sheol.” This was a very interesting word for the translators to use.
Scholar Guy N. Woods, tells us about these words:
“”The Hebrew Old Testament was translated into Greek earlier than the beginning of the Christian era. This translation, known as the Septuagint, was started about 285 B.C., at which time the Pentateuch was translated, and subsequently, the remainder of the sacred volume. The Septuagint Version is an extremely valuable one for many reasons. It bears testimony to the text of the Old Testament far antedating the Christian religion. It establishes renderings which cannot be ascribed to the prejudicial leanings of those whose position it supports. It was the Old Testament which Christ and the apostles used, and from which the sacred writers of the New Testament, for the most part, derived their quotations. Sixty-five times the Septuagint translators met with the word Sheal in the text they were rendering. Not once did they render it gehenna, the lake of fire, not one time did they translate it by mnema, grave; sixty-one times they translated it Hades, a word which occurs eleven times in the New Testament text. It follows, therefore, that Hades, in Greek, is the exact equivalent of Sheol, in Hebrew. But, Sheol, in Hebrew, designates the realm of disembodied spirits. Such, then, is the significance of Hades in the Greek text. This word, as we have earlier seen, has been transliterated-given English form and spelling-and inserted into the American Standard text…Hades is the realm of disembodied spirits because, (1) it is the rendering of the Hebrew Sheol which designates such a place in the Old Testament scriptures. (2) Such is the meaning assigned to the word by the classical Greek dictionaries which reflect its usage by the Greeks. The oldest and perhaps one of the most intluential of the Greek authors says in the first line of the Iliad that the wrath of Achilles “hurled many valiant souls of heroes down to Hades.” This usage, common to all of the Greek authors from the one here cited-Homer—–io the times of the Christian era, is so clear and the testimony is so abundant that those who are influenced by evidence regard the case as closed. That the reader may have opportunity to consider these definitions in the language of the lexicographers, we cite the following which we have copied from the original sources themselves: Liddell & Scott: “The unseen.” T. S. Green: “The invisible abode or mansion of the dead.” W. J. Hickie: “The place of departed spirits.” Robinson: “The abode of the dead.” Sophocles: “The under-world-the world of departed spirits.” Thayer: “The common receptacle of disembodied spirits.” This list might be indefinitely lengthened, but it is surely unnecessary to accumulate evidence of that which no informed person denies: that Hades designates the realm of the conscious dead. Such was the significance of the term as it was used by the classical Greek authors, and such is the use to which it is put in the New Testament scriptures.” (Guy N. Woods’s, Questions And Answers, 6448-6480 (Kindle Edition); Henderson, TN; Freed-Hardeman University)
In this introductory study, let’s notice some of the specific facts that the Book of Job (and the rest of the Old and New Testaments) reveals to us about this “world of the dead.”
Sheol Was Mysterious
God did not reveal a great deal to the Old Testament saints about the world of the dead. Indeed, when we study the Scriptures, we see that His revelation to the ancients was progressive. As such, there were many questions and unknown factors about Sheol which permeated the discussion of the Old Testament people of God.
William Barclay has well pointed out:
“This passage has found a place in the creed in the phrase: ‘He descended into hell.’ We must first note that this phrase is very misleading. The idea of the New Testament is not that Jesus descended into hell but that he descended into Hades. Acts 2:27, as all the newer translations correctly show, should be translated not as ‘Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell’, as the Authorized Version has it, but as ‘You will not abandon my soul to Hades.’ The difference is that hell is the place of the punishment of the wicked; Hades was the place where all the dead went. The Jews had a very shadowy picture of life beyond the grave. They thought in terms not of heaven and of hell but of a shadowy world, where the spirits of men and women moved like grey ghosts in an everlasting twilight and where there was neither strength nor joy. Such was Hades, into which the spirits of all people went after death…The Jewish idea of the world after death was of this grey world of shadows and forgetfulness, in which the dead were separated from life and light and God.” (William Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Letters Of James And Peter, 273-274 (Kindle Edition); Louisville, Ky; Westminster John Knox Press)
Notice some passages of Scripture which bear out this “shady” understanding of Sheol during the Patriarchal and Mosaic Ages before Christ:
Job 10:20-22-20 I have only a few days left. Why don’t you leave me alone? Let me find some relief,
21 before I travel to the land
22 of darkness and despair, the place of no return.
Isaiah 38:18-No one in the world of the dead can thank you or praise you; none of those in the deep pit can hope for you to show them how faithful you are.
Psalm 6:5-If I die, I cannot praise you or even remember you.
Psalm 30:9-“What good will it do you if I am in the grave? Once I have turned to dust, how can I praise you or tell how loyal you are?
Psalm 88:10-12-10 Do you work miracles for the dead? Do they stand up and praise you?
11 Are your love and loyalty announced in the world of the dead?
12 Do they know of your miracles or your saving power in the dark world below where all is forgotten?
Psalm 115:17-The dead are silent and cannot praise the LORD,
All of these passages demonstrate that there was much mystery and fear about the world of the dead.
In the rest of our study, we will notice three additional facts about Sheol which are clearly elaborated upon in Job.
Sheol Was A Place Of Consciousness
Speaking of those in the world of the dead, Job declares:
Job 26:5-Remember the terrible trembling of those in the world of the dead below the mighty ocean.
Several times in the Old Testament, we are reminded of the fact that the soul of humans survives death. It is conscious in the realm of the dead following its’ departure from the body. This may be demonstrated from several Old Testament passages.
In the Book of Isaiah, for example, the downfall of the king of Babylon is compared with the downfall of another great and terrible entity (presumably that of Satan himself, as we noticed in previous lessons).
Notice what God says through the Prophet Isaiah:
Isaiah 14:9-11-9 The world of the dead eagerly waits for you. With great excitement, the spirits of ancient rulers hear about your coming.
10 Each one of them will say, “Now you are just as weak as any of us!
11 Your pride and your music have ended here in the world of the dead. Worms are your blanket, maggots are your bed.”
Observe that the spirits of the dead are here pictured as hearing of the arrival of the king of Babylon.
This teaches us several things about the world of the dead. First, it clearly pictures the spirits in the world of the dead as being conscious (notice that they are aware, they hear, they speak, they feel emotion, etc.).
Second, this speaks to us about the fact that the dead are (to some degree) aware of persons and events in the world of the living.
Third, it speaks to us about the pain and humiliation which will await the king of Babylon.
A passage in the Book of Ezekiel provides more insights along these lines:
Ezekiel 32:21-Brave military leaders killed in battle will gladly welcome you and your allies into the world of the dead.
Similar thoughts are expressed throughout the New Testament.
For example, we are told about the saints of God who are killed in the Great Tribulation (Revelation 1:9):
Revelation 6:9-11-9 When the Lamb opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of everyone who had been killed for speaking God’s message and telling about their faith.
10 They shouted, “Master, you are holy and faithful! How long will it be before you judge and punish the people of this earth who killed us?”
11 Then each of those who had been killed was given a white robe and told to rest for a little while. They had to wait until the complete number of the Lord’s other servants and followers would be killed.
First, the dead saints are conscious.
Second, they are pictured as being “under the altar” (not in Heaven, and not on Earth).
Third, they are aware of their identity.
Fourth, these Christians remember what happened to them on Earth. Fifth, they are upset, troubled, and angry due to delayed justice (another indicator that they are not yet in Heaven-see Revelation 21:4). Sixth, these dead saints are aware (to some degree) of events which are taking place on Earth. Seventh, they are praying to God on behalf of events on the Earth.
Indeed, there are several other powerful indicators from the Old Testament that the spirits in Sheol are conscious.
Orr has well pointed out:
“Yet it would be a mistake to infer, because of these strong and sometimes poetically heightened contrasts to the world of the living, that Sheol was conceived of as absolutely a place without consciousness, or some dim remembrance of the world above. This is not the case. Necromancy rested on the idea that there was some communication between the world above and the world below (De 18:11); a Samuel could be summoned from the dead (1Samuel 28:11-15); Sheol from beneath was stirred at the descent of the king of Babylon (Isa 14:9). The state is rather that of slumbrous semi-consciousness and enfeebled existence from which in a partial way the spirit might temporarily be aroused.” (James Orr, “Sheol,” in James Orr, The New International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,161133-161166 (Kindle Edition); OSNOVA)
The Righteous Dead Are Reunited In Sheol
The second thing to consider deals with reunion of the dead in Sheol. There is evidence from the Book of Job which suggests that the patriarch knew that he would be reunited with his children in Sheol. He says:
Job 30:23-Soon he will send me home to the world of the dead, where we all must go.
The word translated here as “home” also carried with it the idea of household and family.
As such, Job may very well have been voicing his conviction that Sheol was a place where the righteous dead were reunited.
Other Old Testament ideas parallel this notion.
For example, throughout the Old Testament (especially in the Pentateuch), there is a very interesting phrase that is found in relationship to the death of God’s people. It is stated that they are “gathered to their people” (NKJV).
Here are some examples:
Genesis 25:8 (NKJV)-Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.
Genesis 25:17 (NKJV)-These were the years of the life of Ishmael: one hundred and thirty-seven years; and he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.
Genesis 35:29 (NKJV)-So Isaac breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people, being old and full of days. And his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.
Genesis 49:29 (NKJV)-Then he charged them and said to them: “I am to be gathered to my people; bury me with my fathers in the cave that is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,
Genesis 49:33 (NKJV)-And when Jacob had finished commanding his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed and breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.
Numbers 20:24 (NKJV)-“Aaron shall be gathered to his people, for he shall not enter the land which I have given to the children of Israel, because you rebelled against My word at the water of Meribah.
Numbers 27:13 (NKJV)-And when you have seen it, you also shall be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother was gathered.
Numbers 31:2 (NKJV)-Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Israel. Afterward you shall be gathered to your people.”
Deuteronomy 32:50 (NKJV)-and die on the mountain which you ascend, and be gathered to your people, just as Aaron your brother died on Mount Hor and was gathered to his people;
What did it mean in the Old Testament when it is said that one was “gathered to his people?”
Many Bible translators (such as those who translated the Contemporary English Version apparently) believe that the phrase “gathered to his people” simply meant that a person was being buried, and especially that they were buried with their family members. This idea is reflected in several Bible translations.
However, the phrase cannot mean “buried” or “buried with their family” in every instance for at least two reasons.
First, several of the ones who were gathered to their people were not buried anywhere near their family cemeteries!!
Examples would include Abraham (who was buried hundreds of miles away from his family cemetery in Ur of the Chaldeans-Genesis 25:8), and Moses (who was buried alone on top of Mount Nebo, far away from his family cemetery-Deuteronomy 32:50; 34:6).
Second, the Scriptures are clear that this “gathering” takes place when one dies, not necessarily when one is buried.
We are told, for example, that Jacob was gathered to his people when he died (Genesis 49:33), yet the text goes on to inform us that he was not buried for at least seventy days after his death!
Genesis 50:2-3-2 Joseph gave orders for Jacob’s body to be embalmed, 3 and it took the usual forty days. The Egyptians mourned seventy days for Jacob.
Jacob was not buried for at least seventy days after his death, and yet we are told that he was gathered to his people when he died.
This clearly demonstrates that there is a distinction between “being gathered to your people” and being buried!
The phrase “gathered to his people” actually focused on the belief of the ancient Hebrews that when one died and entered Sheol, he was reunited with his loved ones and friends who had gone on before.
Simcha Paull Raphael was a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust. Learning at an early age about the reality of death, he spent a lifetime studying what the Old Testament and ancient Rabbinical interpretations had to say about the Afterlife.
Notice two quotations from his book that are especially relevant to our study:
“Burial in the family grave served to reconnect the departed one with a society of previously dead ancestors. This society was believed to exist in the tomb itself or perhaps in the surrounding locality. 9 Death itself was not seen as a cessation of existence. On the contrary, to be gathered to one’s ancestors implied but a passage to another realm where departed family spirits cohabited and the activities of kith and kin continued within the sacred ancestral society of the family tomb.” (Simcha Paull Raphael, Jewish Views On The Afterlife, 1188 (Kindle Edition); Lanham, Maryland; Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.)
Later in his book, Raphael discusses the ancient Jewish belief that our family members and loved ones who have died continue to somehow witness us and encourage us, and even how they sometimes meet with us when we are dying. Tying this in with the phrase “gathered to his people,” and carefully examining these ancient Hebrew rabbinical interpretations and cases of near-death experiences, he writes:
“A second type of apparition is reported in the early phase of the dying process. It is very common for a person in the throes of death to be visited by the spirit of a deceased relative or friend, who is ready to welcome them into the postmortem worlds. There are certainly countless reports of people who, just prior to death, have a dream in which a deceased spouse, parent, or sibling informs them they will soon be reunited. It is also common at the moment of death for a person to see before their eyes the spirit of a deceased loved one. 36 In like fashion, NDE experiencers report seeing a loving family member who, at the right time, is prepared to assist the person to make the transition from the physical plane. (In the case of NDEs, the beloved one often tells the person their time to die has not yet come.) Further along these lines, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross tells a fascinating story about a man who had witnessed a hit-and-run accident in which a woman was seriously injured. He stopped his car and offered help, but the woman told him there was nothing he could do except convey a message to her mother that she was okay and happy now because she was with her father. The woman then died in his arms. The man was so profoundly moved by the experience that he drove seven hundred miles to the Native American reservation where this woman’s mother lived. He delivered the daughter’s message, only to discover that the young woman’s father had died from a coronary approximately an hour before the fatal accident, and she had absolutely no way of knowing this news. 37 An anecdote like this suggests that there is a mysterious connection between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a connection that we often cannot fully comprehend. However, thousands of years before Raymond Moody and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Jewish tradition seemed to know something about this link between the dying and the dead. For example, the Talmud recounts how, at the time of his death, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai proclaimed that King Hezekiah, of Judah, was coming to meet him (Berakhot 22b). In like manner, the Zohar indicates quite explicitly that “at the hour of a man’s departure from the world, his father and his relatives gather round him … and they accompany his soul to the place where it is to abide” (II, 218a). And perhaps when biblical tradition uses the phrases “gathered unto one’s fathers” or “sleeping with one’s ancestors” to speak of death, conceivably these terms are not metaphoric, but allude to the experiential reality of encountering one’s deceased relatives and friends at the time of death. The convergence of evidence from NDE studies, deathbed observations, and religious literature suggests that at the time of death one is not alone. A disembodied being, or guide—either an archetypal, angelic wise being or a beloved parent, grandparent, or special friend—makes its presence known to the dying individual and actively assists in the transition from the world of the living to the world beyond. These guides have a very specific function: to initiate the neophyte into the realm of post-mortem consciousness.” (Simcha Paull Raphael, Jewish Views On The Afterlife, 7255-7299 (Kindle Edition); Lanham, Maryland; Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.)
This Old Testament teaching (as further corroborated by ancient rabbinical interpretations and the validated experiences of some NDE’s and others) reflect the teaching of the New Testament, I.e., that the spirits of the righteous dead continue to “witness” us (Hebrews 12:1)-a theme which we will study more extensively in a future lesson.
For now, please notice that the biblical concept was definitely that the phrase “gathered to his people” carried the idea of the dead being reunited with their loved ones in Sheol.
(More references of this will be provided in the Addendum).
Further Old Testament Teaching About Reunion In Sheol
When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, they told their father that a wild beast had killed him (Genesis 37:31-34), Joseph makes this statement:
Genesis 37:35 (Amplified)-And all his sons and daughters attempted to console him, but he refused to be comforted and said, I will go down to Sheol (the place of the dead) to my son mourning. And his father wept for him.
It is clear from this that Jacob expected to reunite with his son in the land of Sheol.
The same is true with David, whose son had died:
2 Samuel 12:23 (NKJV)-But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
Without a doubt, Job had this encouraging reunion with his children to look forward to at death.
Indeed, as we will notice through future studies of Scripture, the saints of God in every age anticipated this grand reunion.
Job And The Old Testament Saints Understood Their Time In The World Of The Dead Would Be Temporary And Would Be Followed By The Resurrection Of The Body
Finally, it is important to realize that the Hebrews understood that Sheol itself was a temporary abode which they would eventually vacate. This is manifested in several ways throughout the Old Testament Scriptures.
Psalm 16:10 (NKJV)-10 For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. (Messianic prophecy-Acts 2:27-31)
Psalm 49:15 (NKJV)-But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, For He shall receive me. Selah
Psalm 86:13 (NKJV)-For great is Your mercy toward me, And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
Hosea 13:14 (ISV)-“From the power of Sheol I will rescue them, from death I will redeem them. Death, where are your plagues? Sheol, where is your destruction? My eyes will remain closed to your pleas for compassion.
This last passage is particularly interesting.
It foretells a time when the Lord will save His people from Sheol, and that Sheol itself will cease to exist. Paul quotes this passage and shows that it will have its fulfillment at the time of the Second Coming and of the resurrection at the End (1 Corinthians 15:50-58).
Incredibly enough, Job himself sees his time in Sheol ending with a view towards his own resurrection at the end of time!
Job 19:25-27 (NKJV)-25 For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth;
26 And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, That in my flesh I shall see God,
27 Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!
The Old Testament Teaching concerning Sheol and the Afterlife served as a great encouragement to Job in the midst of his suffering.
The knowledge that death is not unconscious annihilation, that a reunion with his loved ones who had preceded him in death would take place when he entered Sheol, and that God would one day ransom His people from the world of the dead (culminating in the Redeemer standing at the last on the earth and the resurrection of the dead taking place) all served as powerful incentives for Job to continue on through his trials and heartache.
May they likewise help each of us.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Addendum: “Gathered To His People”
“To be gathered is not to cease to exist, but to continue existing in another sphere. His peoples, the departed families, from whom he is descended, are still in being in another not less real world. This, and the like expression in the passage quoted, give the first fact in the history of the soul after death, as the burial is the first step in that of the body.” (Albert Barnes, Commentary On Genesis 25:8)
“This expression, which is synonymous with “going to his fathers” (Gen 15:15), or “being gathered to his fathers” (Jdg 2:10), but is constantly distinguished from departing this life and being buried, denotes the reunion in Sheol with friends who have gone before, and therefore presupposes faith in the personal continuance of a man after death, as a presentiment which the promises of God had exalted in the case of the patriarchs into a firm assurance of faith (Heb 11:13).” (Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary On Genesis 25:8).
“The last expression used is particularly noteworthy: he was gathered to his people. This cannot mean: buried with his relatives or ancestors, for we know that none of his kin except his wife lay buried at Machpelah. Apparently, the expression is then equivalent to the one used Genesis 15:15 , “to go to one’s fathers.” Those who have gone on before in death are regarded as a people still existing. This is a clear testimony to the belief in a life after death on the part of the earliest patriarch. Though no specific revelation on the subject seems to have been given to these patriarchs, faith in the Almighty God drew its own proper conclusions as to whether God would ultimately let his children perish, and its conclusion was correct: He cannot. This passage confirms that conclusion. If Scripture is to be explained by Scripture, then Hebrews 11:13- 16 offers the fullest confirmation of our interpretation….K. C. points out that the passage cannot mean “to be laid in the family sepulchre,” because it is used in cases where only one ancestor lay in the tomb ( 1 Kings 11:43 , 22:40 ) or none at all ( Deuteronomy 31:16 ; 1 Kings 2:10 ; 16:28 ; 2 Kings 21:18 ). Of course, when one’s “people” are thought of as having gone on before, they are thought of as assembled in the Sheol, which in this connection can mean only the “afterworld” or the “hereafter.” Nothing in this passage or in other instances of the use of the expression (cf. Genesis 25:17 ; 35:29 ; Genesis 49:29 , 33 ; Numbers 20:24 ; 27:13 ; 31:2 ; Deuteronomy 32:50 ) indicates that the existence in the hereafter is regarded as dull, shadowy or unreal. Since practically in each case men of outstanding godliness are involved, it would even seem strange if such were the ultimate issue of a godly life. True, the New Testament fullness of revelation is not yet found in the Old. But the common assertion that the Pentateuch knows nothing of a life hereafter and of the resurrection from the dead is merely a preconceived error. True, we shall have to resort in part to reasoning like that employed by Christ Matthew 22:31- 33 , but in reasoning thus we follow a very reliable precedent.” (H.C. Leuopold, Exposition Of Genesis Volumes 1 & 2,10594-10624 (Kindle Edition): Ephesians Four Group)
How does the Contemporary English Version often translate the word Sheol? _______________
What are two ways to know that the phrase “gathered to his people” did not have reference to being buried, and to be being buried in a family grave? ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What are some things which we learn about Sheol from Revelation 6:9-11? _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
What are some different ways that the KJV translates the word Sheol? _________________________________________________
What are some passages in the Old Testament which show that there was a great deal of mystery about Sheol? _______________________________
What are some things that Isaiah 14:9-11 teaches us about Sheol? ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Provide a basic description of the Septuagint translation of the Bible. What is it? How many scholars made it? Why was it made? What are some reasons why it is important? Be thorough. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________[______________________________
What are some indications that the idea of Sheol helped Job carry on after his children died? Consider Job 30:23 in your answer. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
For Prayer Partners
1. Consider the subject of Near Death and Out Of The Body experiences. Is there any indication from Scripture that these events are true? Carefully consider 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 in this connection.