1. How does Job 17:13-16 indicate Sheol is a low place and is the grave?
AS ALREADY noted Haʹdes or Sheol is not in heaven but is a low place. (Matt. 11:23; Luke 10:15) The patient man Job of ancient times indicates that it is a low place. When he was near death from a terrible disease, Job said: “If I keep waiting, Sheol is my house; in the darkness I shall have to spread out my lounge. To the pit I shall have to call out, ‘You are my father!’ to the maggot, ‘My mother and my sister!’ So where, then, is my hope? And my hope—who is it that beholds it? To the bars of Sheol they will go down, when we, all together, must descend to the very dust.” (Job 17:13-16) Now, just what is Job describing here? Any honest reader will answer, “The grave!” It is in the dust of the earth. It is a dark place, where the dead body is laid out as on a lounge; it is a pit, and there the maggot is to be found, feeding on the rotting corpse. It has bars, in the sense that those buried in it cannot free themselves. In fact, the Authorized Version Bible of King James of England uses here the words “grave” and “pit” instead of the Hebrew word Sheol.
2. In Psalm 141:7, what remains are associated with Sheol?
2 Having in mind a woodchopper scattering chips and sticks of wood around, the psalmist David said: “As when one is doing cleaving and splitting on the earth, our bones have been scattered at the mouth of Sheol.” (Ps. 141:7) Instead of Sheol, the English Authorized Version uses the words “the grave,” and fittingly so, for bones are scattered at the mouth of the grave before burial.
3. How does Isaiah 28:15-18 indicate that Sheol is the grave?
3 When speaking about the enemies of God, the prophet Isaiah links death (not life) and Sheol together, saying: “Because you men have said: ‘We have concluded a covenant with Death; and with Sheol we have effected a vision; the overflowing flash flood, in case it should pass through, will not come to us. . . ’; therefore this is what the Lord Jehovah has said: ‘ . . . your covenant with Death will certainly be dissolved, and that vision of yours with Sheol will not stand. The overflowing flash flood, when it passes through—you must also become for it a trampling place.”’ (Isa. 28:15-18) This very language indicates that Sheol is the common grave of dead mankind, for the grave is the place of death.
4. How is Sheol shown to be a low place also in Isaiah 57:9?
4 Isaiah 57:9 also indicates that Sheol is a low place, as low as the grave. After telling how the Jewish kingdom of Judah tried to lure other nations, Gentile nations, into political alliances with her, this prophecy says: “You proceeded to descend toward Melech with oil, and kept making your ointments abundant. And you continued sending your envoys far off, so that you lowered matters to Sheol.” In her political dealings with Gentile nations the unfaithful kingdom of Judah stooped so low in God’s view that she was bringing upon herself the condemnation of death in the grave, thus ceasing to be an independent nation with a king.
5 Associating lowness and death with Sheol, Psalm 86:12, 13 says: “I laud you, O Jehovah my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify your name to time indefinite, for your loving-kindness is great toward me, and you have delivered my soul out of Sheol, its lowest place.” Associating the burial place, the pit and the loss of strength with Sheol, Psalm 88:2-6 says: “Before you my prayer will come. Incline your ear to my entreating cry. For my soul has had enough of calamities, and my very life has come in touch even with Sheol. I have been reckoned in among those going down to the pit; I have become like an able-bodied man without strength, set free among the dead themselves, like slain ones lying in the burial place, whom you have remembered no longer and who have been severed from your own helping hand. You have put me in a pit of the lowest depths, in dark places, in a large abyss.”
6 Piling up further evidence in the Bible to show that Sheol or Haʹdes is the common grave of dead mankind, from which there is to be a resurrection, Psalm 116:3, 7-10 says: “The ropes of death encircled me and the distressing circumstances of Sheol themselves found me. Distress and grief I kept finding. Return to your resting place, O my soul, for Jehovah himself has acted appropriately toward you. For you have rescued my soul from death, my eye from tears, my foot from stumbling. I will walk before Jehovah in the lands of those living. I had faith, for I proceeded to speak. I myself was very much afflicted.” In those words, please, note the continual association of Sheol with death, not with immortal life. Once while under affliction as a Christian the apostle Paul quoted from those words of Psalm 116:10 and linked them up with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, in 2 Corinthians 4:13, 14.
7 Using language similar to the above, the psalmist David felt that he was being pulled down into the grave of death, when he said: “The ropes of Sheol themselves surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me.” (2 Sam. 22:6) Referring to the same experience, the psalmist David said, in Psalm 18:4, 5: “The ropes of death encircled me; flash floods of good-for-nothing men also kept terrifying me. The very ropes of Sheol surrounded me; the snares of death confronted me.” A violent death stared David in the face; the common grave of dead mankind seemed a certainty for him. But he called to the Almighty God and was spared from death and from Sheol or Haʹdes. It was as if he had been resurrected from the dead by the power of Jehovah God.—Ps. 18:8-19.
8. To what did the prophet Jonah liken his experience in the fish’s belly three days?
8 To the prophet Jonah it looked as if the belly of a big sea monster would be his grave, when this tremendous fish swallowed him in the storm at sea and did not vomit him out onto the dry ground till the third day. So the prophet’s account of his experience says: “Then Jonah prayed to Jehovah his God from the inward parts of the fish and said: ‘Out of my distress I called out to Jehovah, and he proceeded to answer me. Out of the belly of Sheol I cried for help. You heard my voice. To the bottoms of the mountains I went down [inside the fish]. As for the earth, its bars [like those of a grave] were upon me for time indefinite. But out of the pit you proceeded to bring up my life, O Jehovah my God.”’ (Jonah 2:1, 2, 6) For three days Jonah was as if dead in the grave or Sheol or Haʹdes. The Lord Jesus Christ showed this when he referred to his own death and burial and said: “Just as Jonah was in the belly of the huge fish three days and three nights, so the Son of man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.”—Matt. 12:40.
9. Of what was the deliverance of Jonah from the fish’s belly a prophetic picture, and through whom is escape from Sheol possible?
9 It was Almighty God, whose name is Jehovah, who miraculously brought up Jonah the prophet out of the belly of the huge fish on the third day. This same God, Jehovah, brought up his faithful prophet Jesus Christ out of the “heart of the earth” on the third day. Hence the deliverance of Jonah was a prophetic picture of the resurrection of the Son of God from the dead. After his resurrection the “keys of death and of Haʹdes” were given to Jesus Christ, that he might be God’s Agent in raising all the others who are in Haʹdes or Sheol and in the condition of death. No man can, by his own means and arrangements, escape death and Sheol or Haʹdes, the grave that is common to dead mankind in the dust of the earth.
10 The psalmist Ethan the Ezrahite painfully realized this fact, when he said to Jehovah God: “Remember of what duration of life I am. Is it all in vain that you have created all the sons of men? What able-bodied man is there alive who will not see death? Can he provide escape for his soul from the hand of Sheol?” (Ps. 89:47, 48) For this reason those dedicated Christians today who will survive the coming battle of Armageddon and enter into a righteous new order on earth with the opportunity of never dying will survive only by means of God’s miraculous power of protection and preservation. Likewise, those who die and are buried in Sheol or Haʹdes cannot come up out of that place of death and decay by their own power. The deathly diseased prophet Job spoke of this inability of man when he mournfully said: “The eye of him that sees me will not behold me; your eyes will be upon me, but I shall not be. The cloud certainly comes to its end and goes away; so he that is going down to Sheol will not come up.”—Job 7:8, 9.
11 Not all the wealth of the richest man on earth today can buy for him an exemption from death and the grave or pay for a resurrection from Sheol or Haʹdes, either for himself or for his closest relative. Psalm 49:7-10 tells him that fact, saying: “Not one of them can by any means redeem even a brother, nor give to God a ransom for him; . . . that he should still live forever and not see the pit. For he sees that even the wise ones die, together the stupid one and the unreasoning one perish, and they must leave to others their means of maintenance.” Unlike a materialistic rich man, the inspired psalmist trusts in Almighty God Jehovah and says: “However, God himself will redeem my soul from the hand of Sheol, for he will receive me.”—Ps. 49:15.
12 When the psalmist David recovered from a sickness that had seemed to mean his certain death and burial, he gratefully directed his praise to his God and said: “O Jehovah my God, I cried to you for help, and you proceeded to heal me. O Jehovah, you have brought up my soul from Sheol itself; you have kept me alive, that I should not go down into the pit.” (Ps. 30:2, 3) Not only can this God of David keep a person from going down into death and the grave prematurely but he can also bring up the dead from Sheol or Haʹdes by means of a resurrection, just as he did in the case of his own Son Jesus Christ. The mother of the prophet Samuel voiced that same fact when she said: “Jehovah is a Killer and a Preserver of life, a Bringer down to Sheol, and He brings up.” (1 Sam. 2:6) Mary, the mother of Jesus, spoke in praise to Jehovah with a similar thought in mind.—Luke 1:46-55.
DEAD OR CONSCIOUSLY ALIVE—WHICH?
13. In proof of the true meaning, how do numbers of Bible translators render Sheol and Haʹdes into English?
13 Thus the Bible evidence is so abundant, plain and simple that no doubt should exist about it: the Biblical Sheol or Haʹdes is the common grave of dead mankind. That is why numbers of Bible translators render these two words into English as “the grave” (not, a grave). The Authorized Version or King James Bible Version renders the Hebrew word Sheol as “the grave” thirty-one times and as “the pit” three times, and the Greek word Haʹdes as “grave” once (in 1 Corinthians 15:55). But for centuries the religious clergy of Christendom have taught that Haʹdes is a place of fiery torment. So now our question is, What is the condition of people who are dead in Sheol or Haʹdes? Are they consciously alive as immortals, or are they really dead and out of existence? What does God’s own Word, the Holy Bible, not the clergy of Christendom, say in answer to this question?
14 In answer the words of King Solomon, who specially received wisdom from Jehovah God, are found in Ecclesiastes 9:4-6, 10: “As respects whoever is joined to all the living there exists confidence, because a live dog is better off than a dead lion. For the living [though like dogs] are conscious that they will die; but as for the dead, they [even though like lions] are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they any more have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten. Also, their love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished, and they have no portion any more to time indefinite in anything that has to be done under the sun. All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, the place to which you are going.”
15 According to that, those people dead in Sheol must really be dead, not even having an “intermediate existence.” Certainly they must be dead and out of existence if they are “conscious of nothing at all,” and if their love, hatred and jealousy, which are strong emotions, have “perished” with them, and if they have no wisdom and no knowledge and are not working at something or devising something. Little wonder why those in Sheol are called “dead” and why death, not life, is always associated with Sheol.
16 In Sheol the dead do not even think about God or talk about him. That was why the God-fearing psalmist David prayed: “Do return, O Jehovah, do rescue my soul; save me for the sake of your loving-kindness. For in death there is no mention of you; in Sheol who will laud you?” (Ps. 6:4, 5) The same thought was expressed by King Hezekiah, when he was spared from dying at thirty-nine years of age. He said to God his Savior: “You yourself have become attached to my soul and kept it from the pit of disintegration. For you have thrown behind your back all my sins. For it is not Sheol that can laud you; death itself cannot praise you. Those going down into the pit cannot look hopefully to your trueness. The living, the living, he is the one that can laud you, just as I can this day.” (Isa. 38:17-19) Fifteen years later, when King Hezekiah died and went to Sheol, he was not able to praise Jehovah God and he had no consciousness to be able to hope in his God. However, he died with hope of a resurrection from Sheol.
17 In the face of this it is foolish for the clergy of Christendom to argue that those in Sheol or Haʹdes are still alive as immortals and are dead only in the sense of being separated from God. The psalmist David does not agree with those clergymen, for he says to Jehovah God: “Where can I go from your spirit, and where can I run away from your face? If I should ascend to heaven, there you would be; and if I should spread out my couch in Sheol, look! you would be there.” (Ps. 139:7, 8) Confirming that fact, King David’s son Solomon said, in Proverbs 15:11: “Sheol and the place of destruction are in front of Jehovah. How much more so the hearts of the sons of mankind!” Just as Jehovah knows what is in the hearts of men, so he knows who are in Sheol.
18. What does Amos 9:1, 2 show about the reach of God’s spirit?
18 In illustration of how his spirit or active force can reach to all places, even to Sheol, Jehovah God says, in the prophecy of Amos 9:1, 2: “No one fleeing of them will make good his flight, and no one escaping of them will make his getaway. If they dig down into Sheol, from there my own hand will take them; and if they go up to the heavens, from there I shall bring them down.” Here, because of height, the heavens are contrasted with Sheol because of depth. How could men ever dig into Sheol? Only because Sheol is in the earth where men live and dig graves.
19. What does Job 26:5-7 show regarding God’s knowledge of Sheol?
19 Those in Sheol or Haʹdes are not beyond the knowledge and power of Jehovah. This fact is emphasized by the deathly sick Job, when he spoke of earth’s Creator in these words: “Those impotent in death keep trembling beneath the waters and those residing in them. Sheol is naked in front of him, and the place of destruction has no covering [from him]. He is stretching out the north over the empty place, hanging the earth upon nothing.” (Job 26:5-7) Thus Sheol has no covering with which to hide its dead from God’s eyes, but it lies naked before him. He knows who are there.
20, 21. Because of what facts about those in Sheol did Job pray, in Job 14:12-15, for God to hide him there?
20 Away back there in the sixteenth century before our Common Era patient Job knew that those dead in Sheol are really dead; they feel no pain, even as they experience no pleasure, and are not conscious of anything at all. With good reason, then, Job prayed that his painful and shameful sickness might be terminated soon in death and that he might be laid in Sheol, out of sight from the staring eyes of men. Hence he prayed to Jehovah God:
21 “Man also has to lie down and does not get up [by his own power]. Until heaven is no more they will not wake up, nor will they be aroused from their sleep. O that in Sheol you would conceal me, that you would keep me secret until your anger turns back, that you would set a time limit for me and remember me! If an able-bodied man dies can he live again? All the days of my compulsory service I shall wait, until my relief comes. You will call, and I myself shall answer you. For the work of your hands you will have a yearning.”—Job 14:12-15.
22. By his words in Job 14:12-15, how did Job show he did not believe Sheol to be a “land of no return”?
22 Judged by these words, Sheol (Haʹdes, LXX) was not a “land of no return” to Job. It was not a place in which the dead ones were forgotten, abandoned, by God. Instead, the God of Job remembered those in Sheol, and in his own set time he would call forth those in that common grave of mankind, awakening them from their death state as if awakening them from a natural sleep. For that reason the painfully sick Job was willing for God to take his life then and there, to end his terrible sufferings in the flesh, and to lay him away in death in Sheol. Job felt that God was angry with him. So if God let Job be buried out of sight in Sheol, Job could be kept secret until God’s anger had passed away and the time came for God to be favorable to those in Sheol and to resurrect them from death to life under favorable conditions.
23. Whose voice will Job hear in resurrection time, and what favorable mention is made of Job by Ezekiel and James?
23 According to the words of Jesus in John 5:28, 29, the dead Job will hear the voice of the Son of God and will respond to the call of Jesus and come forth from the memorial tomb in a resurrection. About nine hundred years after Job’s going to Sheol Jehovah God mentioned Job favorably, in the prophecy of Ezekiel 14:14, 20. The Christian disciple James also spoke of Job as being an example of endurance for Christians to imitate.—Jas. 5:11.
24. What has our examination thus far showed about Sheol or Haʹdes and the state of those in it?
24 Till now we readers of The Watchtower have examined only part way into the matter of Sheol or Haʹdes. But we are impressed with the fact that the Holy Bible gives an encouraging hope regarding those who are there. All the human dead who are there are really dead, not consciously or subconsciously alive, but out of existence, for Sheol or Haʹdes Biblically means the common grave of dead mankind. It is not one grave, not one memorial tomb, but is the common grave of countless millions of human dead whose remains lie in the dust of the ground. It is continually enlarging itself as humans continue to die and be buried. It seems never to get satisfied with the number of its countless dead.
ONLY ONE SHEOL OR HAʹDES
25 The wise king of old observed this fact and wrote: “There are three things that do not get satisfied, four that have not said: ‘Enough!’ Sheol and a restrained womb, a land that has not been satisfied with water, and fire that has not said: ‘Enough!”’ (Prov. 30:15, 16) As to how strong Sheol is in its demands upon condemned, dying mankind, the same wise man compares it to love in its insistence on exclusive devotion, saying: “Love is as strong as death is, insistence on exclusive devotion is as unyielding as Sheol is. Its blazings are the blazings of a fire, the flame of Jah.” (Song of Solomon 8:6) Death demands the lives of condemned mankind, and Sheol demands their bodies.
26 The soulful desire of the ancient king of Babylon for conquest over more nations and peoples is likened to the desire of Sheol for more victims of death. When Babylon was on the way to becoming the dominant world power and was thus threatening Jerusalem, Jehovah’s prophet Habakkuk wrote concerning the reigning dynasty of Babylon: “Indeed, because the wine is dealing treacherously, an able-bodied man is self-assuming; and he will not reach his goal, he who has made his soul spacious just like Sheol, and who is like death and cannot be satisfied. And he keeps gathering to himself all the nations and collecting together to himself all the peoples.” (Hab. 2:5) Symbolically speaking, Sheol has a large mouth, to take in many at a time. That is the idea of the prophet Isaiah when he says: “Therefore [because so many die for their lack of knowledge of Jehovah God] Sheol has made its soul spacious and has opened its mouth wide beyond bounds; and what is splendid in [Jerusalem], also her crowd and her uproar and the exultant one, will certainly go down into it [Sheol].”—Isa. 5:14, 15.
27. (a) How do Haʹdes and individual burial places compare as to number? (b) Though many such graves may disappear, what about Sheol?
27 Quite properly, because Sheol or Haʹdes is the common grave of the human dead in the dust of the ground, the Bible speaks of only one Sheol or Haʹdes, whereas it speaks of many graves. The ancient Israelites called attention to the many graves when they complained to the prophet Moses: “Is it because there are no burial places at all in Egypt that you have taken us here to die in the wilderness?” (Ex. 14:11) About nine centuries later the prophet Ezekiel said to God’s people who were exiled in Babylon and whose hopes seemed to be dead: “This is what the Lord Jehovah has said: ‘Here I am opening your burial places, and I will bring you up out of your burial places, O my people, and bring you in upon the soil of Israel. And you will have to know that I am Jehovah when I open your burial places and when I bring you up out of your burial places, O my people.”’ (Ezek. 37:12, 13) Yes, countless burial places or graves have been dug. All traces of many of them have disappeared. But there remains the one Sheol or Haʹdes, and it keeps on enlarging as humanity continues to die.
28. What questions arise as to the operation of Sheol or Haʹdes, and where do we get the reliable answer?
28 However, will greedy Sheol or Haʹdes continue to devour human flesh forever? Will it continue to hold its human victims always? Will it continue to triumph over the race of Adam’s descendants forever? Will it forever continue to bear witness to the death that mankind has inherited from the sinful Adam, our first human father? The only reliable answers that we could get to such questions would be from man’s Creator, Jehovah God. He gives an answer in the prophecy of Hosea 13:14: “From the hand of Sheol I shall redeem them; from death I shall recover them. Where are your stings, O Death? Where is your destructiveness, O Sheol? Compassion itself will be concealed from my eyes.”
29. (a) In what form do some Bible translators, like An American Translation, render Hosea 13:14? (b) However, what question do such Bible translations leave unanswered?
29 Some Bible translators put Hosea 13:14 in the form of four questions; for example, An American Translation: “Shall I rescue them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? Where are your plagues, O Death? What is your destruction, O Sheol?” After we read the previous verses, the logical answers to the first two questions would be No! God would not redeem or rescue the disobedient Israelites from the hand or power of Sheol; he would not recover them from death. He would show no compassion, no repentance on his part, but would let those disobedient ones die and be grabbed by the greedy hand of Sheol. Hence God would ask where the plagues of death are and where the destructiveness of Sheol is. Let Sheol and death come and plague and destroy the disobedient ones. However, this American translation of Hosea 13:14 still leaves open the question, What will God do about them after death has plagued them and after Sheol has destroyed them? Will God let them remain forever within the power of death and Sheol? Or will God resurrect them in his due time?
30, 31. (a) In whose favor does Paul answer the question, in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57? (b) How will the victory come through Jesus Christ, and in what frame of mind does this put us for our further study?
30 The inspired Christian apostle Paul answers in favor of a resurrection of the dead ones. At the climax of his marvelous chapter on the resurrection Paul writes: “Then the saying will take place that is written [in Isaiah 25:8]: ‘Death is swallowed up forever.’ ‘Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?’ The sting producing death is sin [inherited from Adam], but the power for sin is the Law [given through Moses, with its condemnation of all men as guilty of sin]. But thanks to God, for he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:54-57) Ah yes, Almighty God can swallow up death forever and nullify its victory! He showed his power to do so by raising up his own Son Jesus Christ from death and Sheol nineteen centuries ago. In fact, this resurrection of Jesus Christ stands as a sure guarantee that God will resurrect mankind in general by means of Jesus Christ as the reigning King in God’s promised kingdom.
31 So, then, with a most hopeful frame of mind we will pursue this wonderful subject in the further parts of our discussion of the question, Who will be resurrected from the dead?