Sometimes I run into people who say the Old Testament doesn’t talk about hell; it was an invention of Jesus or an invention of the New Testament or an invention of the Catholic Church in order to control people. Is that true? That’s what we’re going to talk about in this video.
What does the Old Testament have to say about hell? Does the Old Testament say anything about hell? I’m convinced that it does and for someone who reads the Bible carefully and examines what it has to say, I believe the idea of hell is very present in the Old Testament. And I’m going to show you that from some verses of Scripture I’m going to share with you today. But the first thing that we have to understand about the words of the Bible or about the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, but it’s true in any language, that words often have more than one meaning. Sometimes a word will mean one thing in one context and another thing in another context. For example, you might say “Hey, wait just a second.” Well, you don’t mean just a literal second; you mean a few moments. Also you might say “Hey, my battery is dead.” Well, you don’t mean your battery was alive at one point, you just mean that your battery is not charging anymore. And so this is how languages use words and we understand that. It’s easy for us in the English language because we’re so used to it that we know when a word is used one way, it means one thing and if we use the word the other way, it means that another thing. And this is also true in the Bible and so we have to look at the context. And sometimes a word means one thing and that’s true and sometimes a word means another thing.
Now when it comes to hell in the Old Testament the word that’s often translated into the word “hell” is the word “Sheol” and some translations just go ahead and use that word. They use the word “Sheol” but in the King James Version of the Bible and the New King James, sometimes that word is translated “hell”, sometimes it’s translated “pit”, sometimes it’s translated “grave”. And those things are all correct. It’s one word that can mean different things in different places and what I think is the best use of that word is for “Sheol” is the place where dead people go or the place where the dead go. Because do the dead go into a grave? Yes they do. Do the dead go into a pit? Sometimes they do. Do the dead go to a world that’s under the earth, where departed spirits are, after they die? Yeah I think they do. Now I want to say that it is a little blurry you know. There isn’t like exact explanations for exactly what this place is but what it seems like from looking at all the scripture we’re gonna look at some in a minute, what it seems like is this place “Sheol”, when they’re talking about the place of the dead, is a place where both the righteous and the unrighteous go. Both the blessed and the damned will go.
Now it also seems to be that there are different parts of it. There’s a lower part of it and then there’s a not-so-lower part of it. And so it’s not just one big room, it’s a little more complicated than that. It’s a place, a whole region you could say, where departed spirits go and we’ll see that a little more plainly as we read on. So the first instance when the Bible is talking about hell or this place of the dead or especially the place of the wicked dead and that’s basically what we’re gonna focus on in this video that “Sheol” can be a place of the wicked dead, where those go to receive punishment.
First place we see an allusion to this is in the Book of Numbers where Korah and his buddies rebel against Moses. And if you remember the story, the earth opens up and swallows them down to the pit or the Hebrew word there is “Sheol”. And so the Bible says that when Moses finished speaking, the ground split apart under them and the earth opens its mouth and swallowed them up with their households and all the men with Korah with all their goods. So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit and the earth closed over them. (Exodus 16:30-34).
And so the word used here is “Sheol”. They went down alive to Sheol. Now it’s hard to say that this just simply means the grave and the Bible doesn’t say they just died, they went down alive to Sheol. This very much implies a place of the dead, a place in afterlife. Also if you look in Deuteronomy 32:22, God talks about this a little more. He says: My fire is kindled in mine anger and shall burn unto the lowest hell. It’s also the word “Sheol”. So if the word Sheol just simply means the grave, which it does sometimes, how is it that God’s anger is gonna burn to the lowest Sheol? How is it gonna burn to the lowest grave? He’s talking about the lowest graveyard, the lowest grave and the graveyard? No, I don’t think so. It’s obviously talking about a place of the dead where God’s anger burns, where fire burns, the illusion of fire, the idea of fire is there and God says his fire shall burn to the lowest part of Sheol. So here are two places where it talks about a place of the dead and also a place where God’s anger burns.
Let’s look at another spot. This is Isaiah 14:9-10 and in the context of this, God is talking about the king of Babylon who was a powerful but evil man. And this king is finally going to meet his end and it’s not going to be good. And that’s the whole point of this verse, to say that the king of Babylon’s end is not going to be good. And it says this:
Hell from beneath is moved for you to meet you at your coming. It stirs up the dead for you even all the chief ones of the earth. It has raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations and they shall speak and say “Are you also become weak as we are? You become like unto us.”
That’s Isaiah 14:9-10. So first of all, hell from beneath, it stirs up the dead for you, how can you stir up dead bodies? No, it is stirring up the dead departed souls, the chief ones of the earth, those who were once big shots and who had it all on earth, are now suffering and they all gonna speak together and they said “Are you become weak like one of us? So this is obviously speaking of some kind of departed underworld place of the dead who are punished.
I want to look here in Psalm chapter 73. I encourage you to read the whole Psalm, it’s a beautiful Psalm and the context of it is it’s about a man who is living a righteous life and wanting to serve God and wanting to do what’s right. And he begins to envy the wicked because here he’s trying to live his life the way that he should, he’s trying to be obedient to God and he’s having troubles in his life and he’s suffering in his life. But he sees the wicked and they’re not suffering but everything seems to be going well for them. And as he’s looking at the wicked as he’s observing them, he says this: When I saw the prosperity of the wicked, I was envious for there were no pangs in their death but their strength is firm. So look at what he says: there are no pangs in their death. In other words, he’s seen wicked men, somebody like Hugh Hefner, who is doing all the wrong things, living in pleasure, disobeying God and they just live a long life and they seem to die and nothing seems to go wrong. And here I am, trying to live for God and I don’t have enough money and things are going wrong and I’m being persecuted and all these things. This is this man’s experience in Psalm chapter 73 and so in verse 16 he says “When I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me until I went into the sanctuary of God. Then I understood their end. Surely you set them in slippery places, you cast them down to destruction. How they were brought to desolation. In a moment they are utterly consumed with terrors. What does this sound like? What kind of place does it sound like? Now remember just a minute ago we read that there are no pangs in their death so they’re dying an old age, they’re living it up but now all of a sudden they’re in a slippery place. Now they’re brought down to destruction. Now they’re experiencing desolations. Now they’re utterly consumed with terrors. Now this is the picture of hell that the New Testament talks about, a terrible place that you want to completely avoid. That it’s better to lose your eye, your arm, your leg, everything than to go to this place of eternal torment. And that’s exactly what this psalmist understood when he went into the sanctuary of God. But as for himself, he recognized that he would receive his reward if his faith and trust and hope were in God because he says in verse 24 “You will guide me with your counsel, you will receive me to glory.”
Another picture of hell and also of heaven so I pray that you wouldn’t be duped by people who try to say that hell isn’t spoken about in the Old Testament. Some people, even though it’s so incredibly plain, try to say that hell isn’t spoken about in the New Testament either. But just do your own research and check it out and you’ll see what the Bible has to say.