Death

Did OT Believers Go to Sheol?

Reposted, with permission, from DBTS blog.

Despite many advances over the last century in archaeology and biblical backgrounds, together with a growing field of studies in biblical theology, consensus concerning ancient Israel’s perspective of the afterlife remains elusive. The view that conscious life continued after death was pervasive not only in ancient Israel but throughout the ancient Near East. Defining and conceptualizing Sheol in the OT and in Israel’s social practices, however, remains a notorious difficulty.

In the past half-century surprisingly few detailed studies of Sheol have appeared. Among these, most scholars conclude that the ancient Israelites believed that all the dead went to Sheol. In contrast to this understanding, however, a number of biblical passages appear to hold out hope for the deliverance of the godly from Sheol (Gen 5:24; 2 Kgs 3:3–10; Job 14:13; 19:25–26; Ps 16:10–11; 49:15; 73:24; Prov 15:24; 23:14; Hos 13:14). In studying these latter passages, I have come to the conclusion that ancient Israel, from the perspective of the biblical text, and likely also within its social-cultural practices, distinguished the destinies of the righteous versus the wicked in the afterlife. The righteous were understood to ascend to God for a beatific afterlife replete with continued fellowship and joy, while the ungodly were seen to descend to the gloomy underworld known as Sheol to await future judgment by God.

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Death and the Fall

Christians Get to Grieve, Too

A while ago I went to visit a man whose wife had died. It was a cold winter day in Maine as I drove up to the ancient farmhouse overlooking a frozen lake in a largely unknown small town in rural Maine. For anyone reading this who is not from Maine, let me tell you that he fit the quintessential image of a Mainer. He sported a thick white beard and his skin was leathered and toughened by the harsh Maine winters and years of working outside.

As we talked we sat in front of the stove in his kitchen and the air was filled with the unique smell of wood smoke. He was a retired pastor whose wife had died about six months before and I would occasionally drop in to see him. Our continued sporadic visits were as much of a surprise to me as anyone. We shared a common faith in the saving power of Christ, but I suppose that is about it. We disagreed on many theological things and we hail from completely different generations.

As a sort of grief counselor though, I was there to talk with him about his grieving process. I expected our first visit to be our last, but he kept inviting me back. We would discuss many things, but he always came back to the deep ache in his life left by the absence of his wife.

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