THE UNSEEN WORLD.... SHEOL
Biblical Research Monthly, June 1943
Dr. David L. Cooper
IN THIS SERIES THUS FAR we have studied the subjects of GOD, ANGELS, SATAN, and DEMONS. In this installment we shall examine the scriptural teaching concerning that place which in the Old Testament is called "Sheol" but in the New Testament "Hades". The next phase of this general theme to be discussed will be GEHENNA, or HELL, and the last of the series is to be an examination of the subject HEAVEN, or the eternal state of the blessed.<<<< previous next >>>>
Everyone who takes a sober view of life immediately arrives at the conclusion that there is an existence beyond our earthly pilgrimage. The cravings of man's innermost soul lead to this conclusion. The inequalities of life the punishment of the wicked and the rewarding of the righteous must be thoroughly adjusted in a future time. The justice and the righteousness of God demand such an arrangement as this. Thus from every angle we are led to the conviction that there is a life beyond this one. The Scriptures give us much information along this line. They tell us, as suggested above, that there is an intermediate place to which the wicked, at the present time, go after they depart this life and before they are consigned to their place of retribution throughout eternity. As we shall presently see, the righteous prior to the victory won by the Lord at Calvary went likewise to this place. But we shall study more minutely the various phases of this subject.
SHEOL IS A PLACE IN THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. As proof of this assertion I call the reader's attention to the rebellion of Korah and his company, the record of which is found in Numbers 16. These men rebelled against Moses and his regime. As judgment upon them, the Lord caused the earth to open up and they sank into Sheol. "But if Jehovah make a new thing, and the ground open its mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down alive into Sheol; then ye shall understand that these men have despised Jehovah" (Num. 16:30). These men did not die a normal death, but they literally, when the earth opened up, sank down alive into Sheol.
SHEOL HAS AN ENTRANCE. Hezekiah was informed by the Lord through Isaiah that he should put his house in order and prepare to depart this life. Whereupon Hezekiah, filled with the Spirit, prayed to God and said: "I said, In the noontide of my days I shall go into the gates of Sheol: I am deprived of the residue of my years" (Isa. 38:10). According to this statement there is an entrance to this place through which one passes in order to enter. In keeping with this thought is the statement made by the Lord to Job: "Have the gates of death been revealed unto thee? Or hast thou seen the gates of the shadow of death?" (Job 38:17). These questions demand the answer that there are gates or an entrance to Sheol.
SHEOL IS A DARK AND DESOLATE PLACE. Job, racked with pain in his body and disturbed in mind said to the Lord: "Are not my days few? Cease then, And let me alone, that I may take comfort a little, Before I go whence I shall not return, Even to the land of darkness and of the shadow of death; The land dark as midnight, The land of the shadow of death, without any order, And where the light is as midnight" (Job 10:20-22). According to this statement it is clear that Sheol is a place of disorder and of darkness.
SHEOL IS A PLACE OF NON-ACTIVITY. In support of this proposition I wish to call attention to Psalm 30:9. "What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth?" From this passage we see that there is no such thing as the proclamation of God's truth or the rendering of worship and praise to Him by those who are in Sheol. In perfect accord with this statement is the one found in Psalm 88:10-11: "Wilt thou show wonders to the dead? Shall they that are deceased arise and praise thee? Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? Or thy faithfulness in Destruction?" From these two statement we see that there is no such thing as worship and praise and the proclamation of the truth of God in Sheol. The general impression which the Scriptures make upon the mind of the reader is that there is no activity of any kind carried on in Sheol.
SHEOL IS A PLACE TO WHICH THE LOST GO. This fact is seen in such passages as Isaiah 14. In this chapter we read of the descent of the Antichrist into Sheol.
"3 And it shall come to pass in the day that Jehovah shall give thee rest from thy sorrows, and from thy trouble, and from the hard service wherein thou wast made to serve, 4 that thou shalt take up this parable against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! The golden city ceased! 5 Jehovah hath broken the staff of the wicked, the sceptre of the rulers; 6 that smote the peoples in wrath with a continual stroke, that ruled the nations in anger, with a persecution that none restrained. 7 The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing. 8 Yea, the fir-trees rejoice at thee, and the cedars of Lebanon, saying, Since thou art laid low, no hewer is come up against us. 9 Sheol from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming; it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. 10 All they shall answer and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us? 11 Thy pomp is brought down to Sheol, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and worms cover thee (Isa. 14:3-11).
An examination of this passage shows that the one of whom the prophet was speaking can be none other than the Antichrist who in the future will oppress all the world. In these verses is his funeral dirge as he goes down to Sheol.
In Ezekiel 31 and 32 we get another glimpse of the lost who go down to Sheol. In these chapters appear oracles spoken against the King of Egypt who was warned by the judgments brought by the Almighty against the King of Assyria. In a very dramatic and graphic manner the prophet foretold the descent of the King of Egypt into Sheol. I would ask the reader especially to examine very carefully Ezekiel 32. There he will get a clear picture of the lost who are in companies in the lower parts of Sheol.
Further confirmation that the wicked go to Sheol is seen in Proverbs 9:18. In chapter 9 of Proverbs (as well as in chapter 8) wisdom is speaking and is warning men against the evils of this life. Especially in verses 13 to 18 inclusive in chapter 9, she warns men against going to the houses of ill-fame. She concludes her remarks by saying, "But he [the man being beguiled by a harlot] knoweth not that the dead are there; That her guests are in the depth of Sheol" (Prov. 9:18). Notice in this last sentence that God says those who visit the houses of ill-fame and prostitution are the guests in the depths of Sheol.
SHEOL IS THE PLACE WHERE THE RIGHTEOUS WENT UPON DEATH PRIOR TO THE ATONEMENT AND THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST. As proof of this proposition one needs only to notice that such saints of God as was Samuel went to Sheol (See I Samuel 28). Moreover, saved men such as King David died and were gathered to their fathers. Jacob, we well remember, said he would go down to Sheol unto Joseph whom he at that time thought had been slain by wild animals. These statements and other facts in the Old Testament show that prior to the death of Christ the righteous went to Sheol.
THE LORD JESUS CHRIST WHEN HE GAVE UP THE SPIRIT WENT TO SHEOL.
"I have set Jehovah always before me:
Because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth:
My flesh also shall dwell in safety.
For thou wilt not leave my soul to Sheol;
Neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption.
Thou wilt show me the path of life: In thy presence is fullness of joy; In thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16:8-11).
From this passage we see that the Lord Jesus went to Sheol when He died. Moreover, He foretold that He would go into the very heart of the earth upon death and be there three days and three nights: "But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet: for as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale--so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Matt. 12:39,40). The Apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost quoted Psalm 16 as proof that the Messiah, who upon death went to Sheol, arose again.
SINCE CHRIST'S DEATH, BURIAL, AND RESURRECTION ONLY THE WICKED GO TO SHEOL; WHEREAS THE RIGHTEOUS UPON DEATH GO INTO THE IMMEDIATE PRESENCE OF CHRIST. These facts are shown by the statements relative to the rich man and Lazarus. Both lived before the death of Christ and upon death went to Hades, which is, in the Greek, a term equivalent to Sheol in the Hebrew. But when Christ conquered the powers of the Unseen World, He led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men. The righteous no longer go to Sheol at death but instead go into the immediate presence of Christ. The Apostle Paul said that he was in a strait between two things, namely, to remain and help the Christians in their life-struggle and to depart and be with Christ, which he declared would be far better (Phil. 1:23). Moreover, in II Corinthians 5 the same apostle declared that for the Christian to be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord. The spirit of the Christian goes immediately upon death in the presence of the Lord, whereas his body is laid in the tomb to await the resurrection morn.
We have seen, in this brief study, only a few of the many facts regarding Sheol and Hades that are set forth in the Scriptures, but these suffice for our present purpose. In the meantime it is truly glorious to know that the believer can sing:
Love's redeeming work is done, Fought the fight, the victory won:
Jesus' agony is o'er, Darkness veils the earth no more.
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal, Christ hath burst the gates of hell;
Death in vain forbids Him rise, Christ hath open'd Paradise.
Soar we now where Christ hath led, Following our exalted Head;
Made like Him, like Him we rise; Ours the cross, the grave, the skies!