Here is what I found out about Sheol (the only Hebrew word for hell used) when I examined every Sheol passage in the Old Testament?
Sheol is located downward in the dust of the earth. (Job 17:13-16)
Both the good and the bad go to Sheol.
Jacob and his sons go to Sheol. (Gen.42:38)
David planned to rest in Sheol. (Ps.16:9-10)
David desired his enemies also go down to Sheol, not in peace, but in blood. (I Kings 2:6,9)
By going to Sheol, Job misses God's wrath. Job actually asks to be
hidden in Sheol to escape God's anger. (Job 14:13)
The terms death, the grave, and destruction are so closely bound as to be often interchangeable in the text (Pr.15:11, 24; 27:20).
Not too much goes on in Sheol.
There is no wisdom or knowledge there and no activity or work for
those who go down to silence. (Eccl.9:10 Ps.6:5 Ps. 31:17)
No person praises God from Sheol (Ps.6:5; 88:10-12)
Figurative language is often associated with Sheol.
Beds are made In Sheol. Maggots are spread beneath the dead and worms cover them like a blanket. (Is.14:11)
Sheol is even personified.
It is pictured as snatching sinners and robbing people of their remaining years. (Job 24:19);
Sheol has an appetite. It opens its mouth without limit.
It is never satisfied. (Pr.27:20) Sheol is naked before God.
Not only is Sheol personified, but it is also presented in satire, (while incorporating some of the mythological views of Babylon and Egypt), to ridicule special visitors. Sheol, for example, is said to stir up dead kings, and have them rise from their thrones and welcome Israel's enemies. (Is.14:9,11,15; Ez.32: 21,24,27) These same leaders are also personified for dramatic purposes and pictured as carrying on a conversation in Sheol while still engaged in their lifetime pursuits. i.e. ruling
MOST IMPORTANT: God will redeem souls from Sheol's power. (Ps.49:15)
Sheol will not have the last word. Sheol is going to be plagued and death is going to be destroyed! (Hos.13:14 KJV) Sheol is not eternal therefore, but temporary. God is with the righteous in Sheol and His promise is not to abandon them there forever. (Ps.16:10; 139:8)
I found only one or two passages that might suggest torment in Sheol:
PSALMS 116:3 The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of
the grave (Sheol) came upon me; I was overcome
by trouble and sorrow.
COMMENT: The writer's intention in this verse is not to convey that Sheol is a place of conscious punishment. What is being conveyed, is an attitude towards death. The thought of death, especially premature death, "fills the Israelite with great horror". The Psalmist depicts that fear in common "poetic figures of mortal danger". He uses similar poetic language, for example, in Psalm 18: 4-6 which reads:
The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction
overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me. In my distress, I called
to the Lord; I cried to my God for help .... (Ps.18: 4-6)
Death is vividly personified in both of these passages and pictured as reaching out from the grave to draw the Psalmist in. The fear and anguish associated with the threat of an imminent and violent death, causes him to call to the Lord for deliverance, and death's stranglehold on him is broken.
Some questions to consider:
- From the Traditionalist viewpoint, what are (or were) the unrighteous doing or experiencing in Sheol?
- What might the righteous be doing or experiencing in Sheol? (e.g. enjoyment, praise, rest?)
- If Sheol is a place of enjoyable activity and reward, why must the souls of the righteous be redeemed from it?
And why would God be bent on destroying this underground paradise? (Hos.13:14)
According to Vine's OT. Dictionary, "Sheol was not understood to be a place of punishment, but simply the ultimate resting place of all mankind". The idea that Sheol was a place of conscious punishment first developed in the intertestamental period with the influence of Greek culture and philosophy upon Judaism. The apparent enigma of the righteous also being in Sheol was resolved in some but not all rabbinical circles, by subdividing or compartmentalizing Sheol into two distinct regions. The wicked were hopelessly consigned to an area of Sheol where punishments were applied commensurate with one's performance in life, while the righteous were segregated and awaiting redemption in a part of Sheol having paradisiacal dimensions. As The New International Dictionary Of New Testament Theology states, "With the infiltration of the Greek doctrine of immortality of the soul, paradise becomes the dwelling place of the righteous during the intermediate state."