(Isa. 5:14) What is Sheol?

CLAIM: Isaiah says that the people will go to “Sheol” in judgment (pronounced SHE-ole). What is Sheol?

RESPONSE: The OT certainly affirms an afterlife (Isa. 26:19; Ezek. 37; Dan. 12:2; Job 19:25-26; Ps. 22:29), but it is certainly not as lucid as the NT progressive revelation on the subject. The OT references to Sheol are murky pictures of what the afterlife will be like for unbelievers.

The word “Sheol” is used 65 times in the OT, and it is the NT equivalent of Hades. The only NT passage that quotes the OT use of Sheol is Acts 2, and Luke substitutes the Greek word Hades for the Hebrew word Sheol (Acts 2:27, 31). Sheol is said to be in the depth of the Earth (Ps. 63:9; 86:13; Isa. 14:9; Num. 16:30), because in Hebrew practice the body was buried in the ground. The afterlife was a place of darkness (Job 10:21-22) and silence (Ps. 94:17; 115:17), but it was also considered a conscious existence (Isa. 14:9-10; Ezek. 32:21-31; Deut. 18:11; 1 Sam. 28:11-15). Jesus himself believed that the patriarchs (e.g. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) were still conscious in the afterlife (Mt. 22:31-32; Lk. 16:22).

While both the righteous and unrighteous dead went to Sheol, the righteous are said to “enter into peace” (Isa. 57:2), and they are later raised (Ps. 16:9-11; 17:15; 49:15; 73:24). Therefore, Sheol was merely temporary for the righteous dead (Job 14:13-14; 19:25-27). By contrast, the unrighteous dead can be placed in “the lowest part of Sheol” (Deut. 32:22; c.f. Isa. 14:15; Ezek. 32:23).