Quite opposite to the pagan notion of a conscious existence in a mythical underworld for immortal souls (whether Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian, etc.), there is no life or conscious existence in the sheol of Scriptures.
No Thought in Sheol
The following scriptural verses fully demonstrate the complete absence of thought in sheol:
Return Yahweh, rescue my nephesh; save me for your mercy’s sake; for there is no memory in death, in sheol who will give thanks to you? (Psalm 6:5)
What profit is in my blood in going down to the שוח (shuch; pit, grave); will you thank the ‘aphar? Will it (the ‘aphar) thank you? Will it declare your truth?(Psalm 30:9)
The above Psalms refer to the fact that after returning to the ‘aphar a dead person has no ability to thank anyone or receive thanks, for they are unable to speak or understand the speech of someone living. A parallel thought is expressed in the rhetorical question asked by Heman the Ezrahite. He notes that nothing can come from sheol, the land of נשיה (neshyah; oblivion)49 and the dark state of death.
Will your mercy be declared in the sepulcher? your faithfulness in destruction? Will your wonders be known in the חשך (khoshek; darkness) and your righteousness in the land of נשיה (neshyah; oblivion)? (Psalms 88:11-12)
This allegorical verse refers to the state of death as a land of oblivion, i.e., a condition where all things are forgotten.50 In a passage from Psalms we read:
Put not your trust in princes, in a son of Adam, there is not salvation to him. His ruach will go out, he returns to the adamath (ground); IN THAT DAY HIS THOUGHTS אבד (abad; PERISH).51 (Psalms 146:3-4)
Therefore, upon dying, one’s thoughts are destroyed and perish. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon advises those alive to enjoy life properly:
Whatever your hands find to do, do with your might: for there is no work, and planning, and knowledge and wisdom in sheol, the שמה (shammah; ruin)55 where you are going. (Eccles. 9:10.)
In other passages from Ecclesiastes, we read that, although the human nephesh rests in sheol during death, man’s reversion to the ‘aphar is no different than that of a dead beast—both return to the ‘aphar, both know nothing.
For the event of the sons of mankind and the event of the beast, and the event is one to them; as dies the one so dies the other one, and one ruach (animating force) is to all, so that mankind has no advantage over the beast, for all is transitory. All go to one place; all are from the ‘aphar and all return to the ‘aphar. (Eccles. 3:19-20)
For whoever is chosen, to all the living, there is hope; for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they will die; but the dead, they do not know anything and for them there is no more reward, for their memory is forgotten. Also their love and their hatred and their envy already has perished; and for them there is no more part for the world in all that is done under the sun. (Eccles. 9:4-6)
In Isaiah, we are told that only the living can know Yahweh’s truth and thank him:
For sheol cannot thank you (Yahweh), nor can death praise you; those going down into the bur (grave, pit) cannot hope for your truth. The living, the living he will thank you as I do today. (Isa. 38:18f)
Therefore, in sheol (defined as oblivion, ruin, and desolation), there is no memory, no speaking, no thinking, no work, no planning, no knowledge, no wisdom, and no hope—only a return to dust, disorder, obscurity, oblivion, and darkness. These definitions make the darkness of sheol and the state of death a condition of total mindless silence and destruction, a fact which is supported by Psalms which states:
The dead do not praise Yahu, nor can ALL who go down to silence. (Psalm 115:17)
In the ancient Greek LXX translation of this verse, “silence” is rendered “ᾅδου (adou; hades),” showing that sheol was understood. Other passages enhance this point. For example, we read:
Unless Yahweh (should be) to me a little help, my nephesh will soon dwell in silence. (Psalm 94:17)
The term “silence” in this and other like verses, as G. E. Ladd notes, refers to lying dead in the state of sheol.56 In the ancient Greek Septuagint, for example, “silence” is also translated in this verse as “ᾅδῃ (ade; hades).” In short, at death we cease to exist.
As Psalms reports:
Look away from me and I will be cheerful before I go away (i.e., die) and אינני (aynny; not exist).57 (Psalm 39:13)
James (Jacob) similarly writes:
For what is your life? It is a vapor, which for a little while appears, and then disappears. (James 4:14)
The Pious Go to Sheol
Another fallacy taught by many Jewish, neo-Christian, and Moslem groups, one that must be dismissed, is the notion that upon death, only the wicked go to sheol (hell, hades) while the pious go off to heaven. As far as the assertion that the pious go off to heaven upon death, we will prove this doctrine to be a total fabrication with our discussions in a later Topic.
Indeed, Yahushua the messiah proclaimed that “no man,” except for himself, “has gone up to the heavens,”58 and only he could make this claim because he had preexisted and lived in the third heavens with father Yahweh.
Regarding who goes to sheol upon death, we have a number of scriptural passages that demonstrate that all humans, whether just or unjust, fall into this state. As Bo Reicke notes, “From a neutral viewpoint, Sheol was regarded in Israel as the dwelling place of all the dead, independent of their character.”59
To demonstrate, although it is true that the wicked go to sheol,60 it is also just as true that the pious go there as well. The Psalms, for example, show that the elect of Yahweh lay their hope in the fact that Yahweh will resurrect them from sheol. The following verses are examples.
King David writes:
I have set Yahweh always before me, for (he is) at my right hand; I will not be shaken. Therefore, my mind is glad and my glory rejoices; my flesh will also rest in hope, for you will not leave my nephesh to sheol. (Ps. 16:8–10)
Surely eloahim will redeem my nephesh from the hand of sheol, for he will קח (qikh; receive)61 me. (Ps. 49:15)
I will thank you Yahweh eloahi with all my lebab (innermost self); and I will glorify your name to forever. For your mercy is great toward me, and you will save my nephesh from sheol. (Ps. 86:12-13)
In the same way, the book of Hosea foretells the redemption of the nation of Israel from sheol:
I (Yahweh) will ransom them from the hand of sheol. From death I will redeem them. (Hosea 13:14)
Even knowledgeable and righteous Jacob, who was chosen by Yahweh and who spoke personally with Yahu Yahweh, knew that both he and his son were destined to go to sheol at their deaths.
For example, after hearing the report that his favorite son, Joseph, was killed, he said:
I will go down to my son, to sheol, mourning.” (Gen. 37:35)
In this verse, it is evident that Jacob believed that Joseph was already in sheol and that he would soon join him there.
What happens to the pious also happens to the wicked, to the great as also to those of no significance:
All happens alike to all; one event is to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good and the clean and to the unclean; to the sacrificer and to those not sacrificing; as the good so as the sinner; he who swears an oath as he who fears an oath. This is an evil among all things done under the sun, that one event is to all; and also the mind of the sons of mankind is full of evil; and madness in their innermost self throughout their lives, and after that they go to the dead. (Eccles. 9:2-3)
In a time of great personal despair, Job wished that he had died before birth. In lamenting his present circumstance, he stated:
For now I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept. Then it would be rest for me with kings and counselors of the earth, who built ruins for themselves; or with princes having gold to them, who fill their houses with silver; or like a hidden miscarriage I would not have been; like infants who do not see light. There the wicked cease raging; and there the wearied in strength are at rest. The prisoners are at ease together; they do not hear the voice of the slave driver. The small and the great, they are there; and the slave is free from his sovereign. (Job 3:13–19)
As we have demonstrated, when we die, we return to the ‘aphar of the ground,62 further defined as lying in the state of sheol, and coming out of sheol occurs at our resurrection from the dead.63 This combination of physical material and sacred ruach represents the two dimensions involved in our human condition.
One aspect of our nature is physical, fleshly, and therefore is ‘aphar. The second aspect was breathed into us by Yahu Yahweh64 when he breathed the sacred ruach into the physical body of Adam.65 This infusion of sacred ruach in the physical flesh-and-blood body, and its animation of the lungs and brain, made Adam a living nephesh,66 a quality which was passed down to his wife Eve and every descendant coming from them.
Therefore, when our human form of ruach, which is animating ruach, is taken away, we die. Our physical body returns along with the nephesh in our blood to the ‘aphar.
If we are burnt to ashes, we are counted as ashes.67 Yet the sacred ruach that was combined with the material ‘aphar to create our human nephesh forms an unseen condition. Our divine aspect, which attaches itself to our flesh of ‘aphar, continues to attach itself to ‘aphar even after death; thus the statement, “my nephesh clings to ‘aphar.”68
Unlike animals, Adam was brought to life with the quality of self-awareness by a combination of earthly flesh with the living force of sacred ruach that had been breathed into him from Yahu Yahweh.
The combination of these two components of a man (the sacred ruach and the earthly ‘aphar), as we have already described, brings about the dimension or condition called sheol wherein the sacred ruach, being the divine part of the human nephesh, is retained while the material part decays and is destroyed.
It is also important to note that animal life (mammal, fish, bird, insect, etc.) differs from mankind in that the sacred ruach (neshemah; vital breath) of Yahweh was not placed in them. Therefore, there is a difference between human flesh and animal flesh.69 As a result, when animals die, they merely dissipate, for there is no resurrection of animal life.
Since both the ‘aphar forming the flesh and the nephesh grow simultaneously as the human population grows, it expands the condition of sheol. Accordingly, sheol is understood as growing exponentially with the human population and cannot be filled.70
When the material ‘aphar of man is altered into liquid or gas or is separated into a state of total decomposition, the divine aspect of the nephesh, merely attaches itself or clings to the surrounding ‘aphar that was not from the flesh. It lies in the state of sheol.
Herein is the reason why Scriptures merely report that we return to the ‘aphar (material substance)—dust, water, or other types—using a more general understanding of the term. It is from this condition of lying in the ‘aphar of the ground, in the state of sheol, that humans are resurrected.
The Second Death
As Scriptures point out, all humans must die at least once;71 therefore, all humans must experience a first death. In the future, as the result of the two great resurrections, Yahweh will bring back to life from sheol the nephesh of every deceased human along with their previous personality (leb and lebab).
The state of sheol, nevertheless, will not continue for infinity. It will cease to exist when father Yahweh comes to the earth at the end of the Millennial Judgment Day.
This detail is confirmed by the fact that at the end of the Millennial Judgment Day when all the wicked are delivered up to the second death in the great baptism of the gehenna fire (lake of fire) and suffer permanent death, and sheol will no longer exist.
To begin with, since there is a resurrection of the dead,72 the first experience with death for humans results in a death sleep in the transitory darkness of sheol.73 This sleep state for most will continue for many years.
Solomon, for instance, tells us that a man is to rejoice as long as he lives. Nevertheless, he reminds us that we will spend a great deal of time in death. Solomon also tells us, “remember the days of darkness; for they will be many; all that comes is transitory.”74
Yet at some point after the two great resurrections,75 there will be a second and permanent death awaiting the wicked (i.e., those who turn toward the darkness).
At the end of the Millennial Judgment Day, the state of sheol and death will both be cast into the gehenna fire (the lake of fire) and will no longer exist as a state for the nephesh of any deceased human.
At that moment, the wicked—who had previously died during the Judgment period or are destroyed at its end when father Yahweh arrives—experience the second death.76 Because the state of sheol is gone, they will perish for eternity.77
As Revelation reports:
And death and hades (sheol) were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And if anyone was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.78 (Rev. 20:14f)
Those who suffer the second death will have no need to be retained in sheol, for Yahweh has no intention of ever bringing them back into existence. They simply perish for eternity. The reward of the wicked is to “sit in darkness”79 and to be cast “into the outer darkness.”80
Therefore, up until the end of our present world-age when father Yahweh comes to the earth, all the dead will go to sheol. Yet when the wicked are destroyed in the second death, they will cease to exist for all eternity. This state of non-existence is referred to in Scriptures as אפל (aphel; extreme darkness).81
While speaking in prayer concerning the resurrection and final judgment, Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel, reminds us of the final end of the wicked. She states:
He (Yahweh) keeps the feet of his pious ones, and the wicked are silenced in darkness, because a male will not attain victory with force. Yahweh will smash those who are striving against him. He will thunder in the heavens. Yahweh judges the ends of the earth and gives strength to his king, and exalts the horn of his messiah. (1 Sam. 2:9f)
The darkness given to the wicked is not just the location of a dark place.
The prophet Amos tells us:
Is not the day of Yahweh darkness and not light, and אפל (aphel; extreme darkness) and no נגה (nagah; glitter of light)82 is in it. (Amos 5:20)
In short, the coming destruction of the wicked in אפל (aphel; extreme darkness) is equated with a state of the total absence of light, even a tiny glitter, i.e., nothingness.
Those saved, on the other hand, receive light (= eternal life)83 and are revealed the secret things regarding darkness. For example, we are told that Yahweh is “revealing deep things out of darkness, and he brings to light the shadow of death.”84
In Isaiah, we read:
And I (Yahweh) will give you the treasures of darkness, and riches from secret places, so that you will know that I am Yahweh who calls (you) by your name, the eloahi of Israel. (Isa. 45:3)
The human body is classified as mere ‘aphar. When a person’s body loses its animating ruach, it experiences death and returns to the ‘aphar of the ground from which it came. At this point, the nephesh, with its personality (leb and lebab), falls into the state of sheol, a boundless dimension that stores and retains the divine part of the human nephesh.
Sheol is a hidden place of darkness connected with the ‘aphar of the ground, a “state of being” for the person who has died. Here the divine aspect of the human nephesh exists, but it is not alive.
Sheol is also a dimension without sight, sound, thought, speech, or activity. This state of being was created with the ability to retain the human nephesh, more especially its divine ruach aspect (the personality or self) so that the person can later be resurrected to life with a new body and once again possess animating ruach (energy).
In addition, sheol was created to retain the fallen ruach beings (angels) who, after having come out of the dark state of tartaros, will be destroyed.
In the future, during one of the two great resurrections, the nephesh of every human, with its personality, will be brought out of the state of sheol by Yahweh. When the nephesh of a person returns, it will be joined with a new incorruptible body and will be given ruach, allowing the person to return to life.
Yet the dimension of sheol does not continue for eternity. At the end of the Millennial Judgment Day, sheol and death are destroyed in a great end-time holocaust, called “the second death,” where the wicked meet their final end.85 They will perish for eternity.
Since both sheol and those who experience the second death disappear at the same moment, it indicates that they will no longer need the dimension of sheol.
At the same time, once the justified of mankind obtain the inheritance promised in the eternal covenant with Yahweh, and since they will no longer be capable of sinning, they will inherit eternal life and will never again be subject to death. Accordingly, they also will never need the state of sheol.
Therefore, the circumstance for the state of sheol, along with all those experiencing the second death, is to fall into eternal nonexistence.
49 The Hebrew term נשיה (neshyah) means “oblivion:—forgetfulness” (SEC (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible), Heb. #5388); “forgetfulness” (HEL (Hebrew-English Lexicon. Zondervan Edition, 1970), p. 175); NJB (The New Jerusalem Bible), loc. cit., “oblivion”; NIV (The Holy Bible, New International Version.), loc. cit., “oblivion”; LXX, loc. cit., “γῇἐπιλελησμένῃ (ge epilelesmene; land of lost thought” (see GEL (A Greek-English Lexicon. Compiled by Henry George Liddell and Robert Scott), 1996, p. 643).
50 That this verse refers to sheol, see NBD (The New Bible Dictionary. Ed. by J.D. Douglas.), p. 388.
51 The Heb. term אבד (abad) is “a prim. root; prop. to wander away, i.e. lose oneself; by impl. to perish (caus. destroy) . . . destroy, perish” (SEC, Heb. #6 & 7); “perished . . . destroyed . . . perishing, ruin” (HEL, p. 1); “become lost of property . . . perish, of men . . . be ruined, of nation . . . destroy . . . exterminate . . . dissipate (wealth)” (CHAL, p. 1).
52 SEC, Heb. #6250.
53 HEL, p. 204.
54 CHAL (A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. William L. Holladay), p. 286.
55 The Hebrew term שמה (shammah) means “ruin; by impl. consternation” (SEC, Heb. #8047); “desolation . . . astonishment” (HEL, pp. 270ff); “what is horrible, frightful (alw. devastation in judgment) . . . pl. what causes astonishment, horror” (CHAL, p. 375).
56 NBD, p. 388.
57 The Hebrew terms אינני (aynny) and אין (ayin) mean, “to be nothing or not exist; a non-entity” (SEC, Heb. #369); “non-existence” (HEL, p. 8).
58 John 3:13.
59 OCB (The Oxford Companion to the Bible), p. 277.
60 E.g., Ezek. 32:25-27.
61 As in the LXX Ps. 48(49):15, “when he will receive me”; SEC, Heb. #3948, also see SEC, p. 829, s.v. receive; BDBG (The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English lexicon: based on the lexicon of William Gesenius, as translated by Edward Robinson,1849-1916.), p. 544, 3948. The translation “take me” gives the wrong connotation. The NIV version is a little closer, having “he will surely take me to himself.”
62 Gen. 3:19; Job 20:11, 21:23-26; Eccles. 3:20; Ps. 104:29.
63 Ps. 16:9-10; 1 Sam. 2:6-8.
64 Gen. 2:7.
65 John 20:22.
66 Gen. 2:7.
67 Gen. 18:27; Job 30:19.
68 Ps. 119:25.
69 1 Cor. 15:39.
70 Prov. 27:20.
71 Heb. 9:27.
72 Deut. 32:39; 1 Sam. 2:6; Ps. 16:10, 30:3, 86:12-13, 49:12-15; Isa. 26:19; Hosea 13:14; Dan. 12:2, 13; Matt. 22:32; Mark 12:26-27 (cf., Matt. 22:31-33; Luke 20:37-38); John 11:23-24; Acts 17:18, 17:29-32, 23:6, 24:21; 1 Cor. 15:12-19; Heb. 6:1-2, 11:17-19; Rev 11:1-13, 20:1-6, 11-13.
73 1 Cor. 15:12-50.
74 Eccles. 11:8.
75 A discussion of the two great resurrection will be contained in other Topics.
76 Rev. 20:14.
77 For the second death, see Rev. 20:14, 21:7-8. For the death of the wicked in fire, see Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:4-5; Matt. 5:21-22; Ps. 11:5-7 (cf., Rev. 22:4), 21:8-11; 46:4-6, 75:2, 83:13-15, 37:10-11, 20, 104:35; Isa. 1:28-31, 5:21-24, 30:27-30, 66:15-16, 66:22-24 (cf., Rev. 21:1-8); Zeph. 1:15-18; Mal. 4:1-3; Matt. 3:7-10, 7:17-20, 13:24-30 (cf., 36-43), 13:47-50, 25:32-46; Heb. 10:19-31; 2 Pet. 3:3-13; Rev. 20:11-21:8.
78 Cf., 1 Cor. 15:52-57.
79 Ps. 107:10.
80 Matt. 8:12, 22:13, 25:30.
81 HEL, p. 22, “obscure . . . thick darkness; more intense than חשֶׁךְ.”
82 Nagah means, “to glitter; causat. to illuminate” SEC, Heb. #5050, 5051; “shined . . . made light” HEL, p. 158.
83 The fact that the inheritance of light equals eternal life will be discussed in another Topic.
84 Job 12:22.
85 Rev. 20:14, 21:8; 1 Cor. 15:24-26.