Old and New Testament Pictures of Sheol/Hades

In this post I am continuing with my discussion of A. J. Pollock’s defense of the traditional doctrine of eternal conscious torment (see HADES and Eternal Punishment ). What follows you won’t find in any book on annihilationism or the traditional teaching about the afterlife that I am aware of. This is something that I noticed in my own studies but no one else seems to have deemed worthy to comment on. That probably means that scholars don’t believe this is a strong argument one way or another. Somehow that really doesn’t matter to me so I am presenting it for your consideration anyway.

Most of the Old Testament descriptions of the fate of the unbeliever describe them as being stubble or chaff that gets burned up. In the debate over the fate of the unbeliever both sides claim that these references support their arguments. The one Old Testament passage that I haven’t seen mentioned is Isaiah 14:3-22. I do believe that verses 12 through 15 are speaking of Satan himself who is the power behind this king but the other verses are speaking of a human being thrown into Sheol. Please read this carefully:

When the Lord gives you rest from your pain, torment, and the hard labor you were forced to do, you will sing this song of contempt about the king of Babylon and say:

How the oppressor has quieted down,
and how the raging has become quiet!
The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked,
the scepter of the rulers.
It struck the peoples in anger
with unceasing blows.
It subdued the nations in rage
with relentless persecution.
All the earth is calm and at rest;
people shout with a ringing cry.
Even the cypresses and the cedars of Lebanon
rejoice over you:
“Since you have been laid low,
no woodcutter has come against us.”

Sheol below is eager to greet your coming.
He stirs up the spirits [raphaim] of the departed for you—
all the rulers of the earth.
He makes all the kings of the nations
rise from their thrones.
10 They all respond to you, saying:
“You too have become as weak as we are;
you have become like us!
11 Your splendor has been brought down to Sheol,
along with the music of your harps.
Maggots are spread out under you,
and worms cover you.”

12 Shining morning star,
how you have fallen from the heavens!
You destroyer of nations,
you have been cut down to the ground.
13 You said to yourself:
“I will ascend to the heavens;
I will set up my throne
above the stars of God.
I will sit on the mount of the gods’ assembly,
in the remotest parts of the North.
14 I will ascend above the highest clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.”
15 But you will be brought down to Sheol
into the deepest regions of the Pit.

16 Those who see you will stare at you;
they will look closely at you:
“Is this the man who caused the earth to tremble,
who shook the kingdoms,
17 who turned the world into a wilderness,
who destroyed its cities
and would not release the prisoners to return home?”
18 All the kings of the nations
lie in splendor, each in his own tomb.
19 But you are thrown out without a grave,
like a worthless branch,
covered by those slain with the sword
and dumped into a rocky pit like a trampled corpse.
20 You will not join them in burial,
because you destroyed your land
and slaughtered your own people.
The offspring of evildoers
will never be remembered.
21 Prepare a place of slaughter for his sons,
because of the iniquity of their fathers.
They will never rise up to possess a land
or fill the surface of the earth with cities.

22 “I will rise up against them”—this is the declaration of the Lord of Hosts—“and I will cut off from Babylon her reputation, remnant, offspring, and posterity”—this is the Lord’s declaration.

Isaiah 14:3-22

Please notice in verse 9 the Hebrew word translated spirits in verse 9 is rapha’ (Strong’s H7496) which means “ghosts of the dead, shades, spirits”. The Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon provides a bit more detail:

H7496

The residents of Sheol being raphaim don’t appear to have bodies. I have seen the question asked before that if souls in Hades (the Greek equivalent of Sheol) have no bodies how can they feel pain? If they do feel pain and have all of the senses, and sensations, that we do then what does a body do for us? Certainly a body, even an interim body, must be good for something but no one seems to have figured out what that is.

These raphaim are said to be weak but there is no indication of their being in torment. These weak ghostly things are upset that the man they believed was going to rescue them has become weak like them and that is all. Doesn’t that seem a little bit strange? This is a perfect opportunity to tell us that both these raphaim and this king are suffering but the passage is silent. This passage is a declaration of victory over evil so why not tell us about the well earned suffering of these evil men? Unless your believe that most of scripture is to be interpreted allegorically then I don’t see how fiery torment can be read into this passage. I suppose this is an argument from silence but if you believe that scripture is holy writ, is written with purpose, and conveys exactly what it is supposed to convey then this is very curious circumstance indeed. I don’t believe this passage of scripture can be reconciled with the Rich Man and Lazarus.

I suspect that A. J. Pollock would respond that these disembodied spirits could be in agony like the Rich Man in Luke 16 which pushes the very limits of rationality. People who are burning do not act like either the raphaim in Isaiah 14 or the Rich Man in Luke 16.

I am a history buff but unlike most people who focus on World War II and get into battleships, tanks, aerial bombing raids, etc. I have always enjoyed reading about what took place on the American frontier in centuries past. We, the United States, had a two hundred and fifty year guerrilla war that took place on our frontier and it makes fascinating reading. I would recommend any of the historical novels written by Alan Eckert in his Winning of America series. A good book to start with would be The Frontiersman which I could hardly put down when I read it. If you take my suggestion and read The Frontiersman you will come to a chapter where a man by the name of Colonel Crawford is burned at the stake by the Shawnee. The best way to put it is that Crawford’s death is horrific. The suffering he endured is beyond my comprehension. Why do I bring this up? The reason is that anyone who is being burned does not have conversations like the Rich Man or make remarks about a king becoming “weaker than us” like the raphaim. They react to nothing other than their own pain. If someone dipped their finger in water and placed it on Crawford’s tongue it would have provided him with absolutely no relief. I mean none whatsoever!

The only counter argument that I can see being made against is that the Rich Man in Luke 16 is a disembodied spirit (which is true) so he doesn’t suffer like someone with a body. If that is the case then I don’t see why real fire would harm this spirit so it must be some kind of spiritual fire that he is suffering in. And, if that is the case, he must have been asking for Lazarus to dip his spiritual finger in some spiritual water (regular water just won’t do with spiritual fire!) and place it on his spiritual tongue for spiritual relief. As every detail in the parable becomes “spiritual” the case that this is a clear cut statement on the fate of the unbeliever is weakened. The more I look at different passages on Sheol/Hades the more convinced I become that the Rich Man and Lazarus is a parable.

I am providing the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus once again so you can double check me:

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day. 20 But a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, was left at his gate. 21 He longed to be filled with what fell from the rich man’s table, but instead the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. 24 ‘Father Abraham!’ he called out, ‘Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!’

25 “‘Son,’Abraham said, ‘remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those who want to pass over from here to you cannot; neither can those from there cross over to us.’

27 “‘Father,’ he said, ‘then I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 because I have five brothers—to warn them, so they won’t also come to this place of torment.’

29 “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

Luke 16:19-31

[Click on this link to see the next installment in this series: Final Thoughts on the Rich Man and Lazarus]

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3 Comments on “Old and New Testament Pictures of Sheol/Hades”


  1. imho, maybe the key is in Revelation 20.
    Hades and devils and everyone who do not believe in the true gospel will be cast into the lake of fire for eternal torment.

    • Glenn Says:

      Hello alkitabiah.org,

      First off thank you for stopping by and commenting. Revelation 20 is the other passage used to support eternal torment in the Lake of Fire and I do plan on dealing with that passage later on.

      I don’t deny that the unbeliever will suffer in the Lake of Fire. The issue for me is duration, is that suffering eternal or not? I believe that the evidence for “eternal” suffering is weaker than I was always led to believe but I do believe they will suffer.

      I hope that answers your question.

      Glenn


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