Easton's Bible Dictionary
(Hebrew, "the all-demanding world" = Greek Hades, "the
unknown region"), the invisible world of departed souls. (See HELL)
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
1. The Name
This word is often translated in the King James Version "grave" (e.g. Genesis
37:35 ; 1 Samuel 2:6 ; Job 7:9 ; 14:13 ; Psalms 6:5 ; 49:14 ; Isaiah 14:11 , etc.)
or "hell" (e.g. Deuteronomy 32:22 ; Psalms 9:17 ; 18:5 ; Isaiah 14:9 ; Amos 9:2,
etc.); in 3 places by "pit" (Numbers 16:30 , 33 ; Job 17:16). It means really
the unseen world, the state or abode of the dead, and is the equivalent of the
Greek Haides, by which word it is translated in Septuagint. The English Revisers
have acted somewhat inconsistently in leaving "grave" or "pit" in the historical
books and putting "Sheol" in the margin, while substituting "Sheol" in the poetical
writings, and putting "grave" in the margin ("hell" is retained in Isaiah 14).
Compare their "Preface." The American Revisers more properly use "Sheol" throughout.
The etymology of the word is uncertain. A favorite derivation is from sha'al,
"to ask" (compare Proverbs 1:12 ; 27:20 ; 30:15 , 16 ; Isaiah 5:14 ; Habakkuk
2:5); others prefer the sha'al, "to be hollow." The Babylonians are said to have
a similar word Sualu, though this is questioned by some.
2. The Abode of the Dead:
Into Sheol, when life is ended, the dead are gathered in their tribes and families.
Hence, the expression frequently occurring in the Pentateuch, "to be gathered
to one's people," "to go to one's fathers," etc. (Genesis 15:15 ; 25:8 , 17 ;
49:33 ; Numbers 20:24 , 28 ; 31:2 ; Deuteronomy 32:50 ; 34:5). It is figured as
an under-world (Isaiah 44:23 ; Ezekiel 26:20, etc.), and is described by other
terms, as "the pit" (Job 33:24 ; Psalms 28:1 ; 30:3 ; Proverbs 1:12 ; Isaiah 38:18,
etc.), ABADDON (which see) or Destruction (Job 26:6 ; 28:22 ; Proverbs 15:11),
the place of "silence" (Psalms 94:17 ; 115:17), "the land of darkness and the
shadow of death" (Job 10:21). It is, as the antithesis of the living condition,
the synonym for everything that is gloomy, inert, insubstantial (the abode of
Rephaim, "shades," Job 26:5 ; Proverbs 2:18 ; 21:16 ; Isaiah 14:9 ; 26:14). It
is a "land of forgetfulness," where God's "wonders" are unknown (Psalms 88:10
- 12). There is no remembrance or praise of God (Psalms 6:5 ; 88:12 ; 115:17 ,
etc.). In its darkness, stillness, powerlessness, lack of knowledge and inactivity,
it is a true abode of death (see DEATH); hence, is regarded by the living with
shrinking, horror and dismay (Psalms 39:13 ; Isaiah 38:17 - 19), though to the
weary and troubled it may present the aspect of a welcome rest or sleep (Job 3:17
- 22 ; 14:12). The Greek idea of Hades was not dissimilar.
|(1) Not a State of Unconsciousness.
Yet it would be a mistake to infer, because of these strong and sometimes poetically
heightened contrasts to the world of the living, that Sheol was conceived of as
absolutely a place without consciousness, or some dim remembrance of the world
above. This is not the case. Necromancy rested on the idea that there was some
communication between the world above and the world below (Deuteronomy 18:11);
a Samuel could be summoned from the dead (1 Samuel 28:11 - 15); Sheol from beneath
was stirred at the descent of the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14:9). The state is
rather that of slumbrous semi-consciousness and enfeebled existence from which
in a partial way the spirit might temporarily be aroused. Such conceptions, it
need hardly be said, did not rest on revelation, but were rather the natural ideas
formed of the future state, in contrast with life in the body, in the absence
(2) Not Removed from God's Jurisdiction.
It would be yet more erroneous to speak with Dr. Charles (Eschatology, 35) of
Sheol as a region "quite independent of Yahwe, and outside the sphere of His rule."
"Sheol is naked before God," says Job, "and Abaddon hath no covering" (Job 26:6).
"If I make my bed in Sheol," says the Psalmist, "behold thou art there" (Psalms
139:8). The wrath of Yahweh burns unto the lowest Sheol (Deuteronomy 32:22). As
a rule there is little sense of moral distinctions in the Old Testament representations
of Sheol, yet possibly these are not altogether wanting (on the above and others
points in theology of Sheol).
See ESCHATOLOGY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT.
(3) Relation to Immortality.
To apprehend fully the Old Testament conception of Sheol one must view it in its
relation to the idea of death as something unnatural and abnormal for man; a result
of sin. The believer's hope for the future, so far as this had place, was not
prolonged existence in Sheol, but deliverance from it and restoration to new life
in God's presence (Job 14:13 - 15 ; 19:25 - 27 ; Psalms 16:10 , 11 ; 17:15 ; 49:15
; 73:24 - 26; see IMMORTALITY; ESCHATOLOGY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT; RESURRECTION).
Dr. Charles probably goes too far in thinking of Sheol in Psalms 49 and 73 as
"the future abode of the wicked only; heaven as that of the righteous" (op. cit.,
74); but different destinies are clearly indicated.
3. Post-canonical Period
There is no doubt, at all events, that in the postcanonical Jewish literature
(the Apocrypha and apocalyptic writings) a very considerable development is manifest
in the idea of Sheol. Distinction between good and bad in Israel is emphasized;
Sheol becomes for certain classes an intermediate state between death and resurrection;
for the wicked and for Gentiles it is nearly a synonym for Gehenna (hell). For
the various views, with relevant literature on the whole subject, see ESCHATOLOGY
OF THE NEW TESTAMENT; also DEATH; HADES; HELL, etc.
bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, define, grave, hades, haides, hell, pit, sheol, state of the dead, unseen world