The Soul and Death: Part Two

Light in the fog at end of road.

Please note: This series of articles discusses very sensitive yet important subjects. The purpose here is to understand what the Scriptures themselves say about the soul and death without unscriptural influences getting in the way. As you read, prayerfully scrutinize each Scripture passage for your own understanding and edification.

Be sure to read » Part One

The Dead: Their Location and Condition

As we have already seen, according to the Tanakh, when we die the breath of Yahweh returns to Him and the body returns to dust (Ecclesiastes 12:7), but then that which makes us who we are — our "essence" (while not a scriptural term but we'll use it for our purposes) — goes to a place called Sheol שְׁאוֹל (Strong's #7585).

Sheol, which Scripture states is located under the earth (Numbers 16:32-33), is the place where the dead 'sleep' (Job 14:12; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2). It is cut off from all life, even the Lord does not concern Himself with those there (Psalms 88:5-6). It is not a place where the dead are tormented. There is no concept of judgment, reward, or punishment attached to Sheol. It is a place for both the righteous and the unrighteous (Genesis 37:35; Ecclesiastes 9:10; 1 Samuel 2:6; 2 Kings 22:20). The dead are waiting for the awakening at the end of time as stated in Daniel 12:2.

As previously discussed, the Tanakh refers to a dead person as one who is sleeping with their fathers (e.g., Deuteronomy 31:16; 1 Kings 2:10). But where are there fathers? Sheol.

Many times in Scripture, Sheol is given human-like qualities (personification), e.g., Job 26:6; Isaiah 5:14; Psalms 141:7; and Proverbs 27:20. However, Sheol is not the realm of, nor is it controlled by, an entity named "Satan" or some fallen angel or other demonic being. It is controlled by the Lord, as is His entire creation (Amos 9:2; Psalms 139:8; Hosea 13:14).

In Sheol there is no consciousness of anything. The dead are said to be 'sleeping' (yashen, יָשֵן Strong's #3462). When you sleep you are not aware of what is going on around you. The next conscious thought you have is when you wake up. That is the situation described in Daniel 12:2. There are other Scriptures that attest to this, among them are:

"For there is no praise of You Yahweh among the dead; in Sheol, who can acclaim You?" (Psalm 6:6)

Do You work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise to praise You? Selah. Is Your faithful care recounted in the grave, Your constancy in the place of perdition? Are Your wonders made known in the netherworld, Your beneficent deeds in the land of oblivion? (Psalm 88:11-13)

"The dead cannot praise Yahweh, nor any who go down into silence." (Psalm 115:17)

"For it is not Sheol that praises You, not [the Land of] Death that extols You" (Isaiah 38:18)

The Hebrew word Sheol means "underworld", the place to which people descend at death. It is not the same as grave, although certain translations render "Sheol" as "grave", "hell", or "pit". The grave is where your physical body is laid, Sheol is where your "essence" goes to sleep. Translators have used words like "hell" instead of the Hebrew word "Sheol", causing much confusion regarding the events after death.

The two Hebrew words translated as grave are:

  • qeburah (keb-oo-raw'), קְבוּרָה (Strong's #6900); NASB burial (3), burial place (2), grave (7), tomb (2).
  • qeber (keh'-ber), קֶבֶר (Strong's #6913); NASB: burial (6), burial place (1), grave (28), graves (16), tomb (8), tombs (8).

The Dead Know Nothing

As the dead are sleeping in Sheol, Scripture states the dead know nothing nor have any remembrance of Yahweh.

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom" (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

"... But the dead know nothing; they have no more recompense, for even the memory of them has died. Their loves, their hates, their jealousies have long since perished; and they have no more share till the end of time in all that goes on under the sun " (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6).

"For there is no praise of You among the dead; in Sheol, who can acclaim You?" (Psalms 6:6).

"What is to be gained from my death, from my descent into the Pit? Can dust praise You? Can it declare Your faithfulness?" (Psalms 30:10).

"The dead do not praise Yahweh, nor any who go down into silence" (Psalm 115:17).

Deceiving Spirits

As we have seen, in Sheol there is no awareness of what is happening in the world, we have no consciousness (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6). With that in mind — that the dead are not conscious — we can then conclude from the Scriptures that a person, an animal, a building, or an object cannot be "haunted" by the spirit of a dead person (Ecclesiastes 2:16; Ecclesiastes 9:5-6). Messengers ("angels") from the heavens can appear to us in human form (Genesis 19:1,5). A fallen messenger, a demon, or other spiritual entity can attempt to deceive someone into believing they are seeing a dead person who has come back from the dead. But as to whether they are the actual 'spirit' of a dead person, Scripture clearly shows it cannot be true (Ecclesiastes 9:5-10; Job 14:10-12; Psalms 115:17).

With that in mind, we can understand that no person or animal has ever died, gone to heaven and/or hell, and returned to this world. Just because someone makes such a claim does not mean it's true. They themselves may believe it but the Scriptures reveal otherwise. We should not base the truth on our experiences, hopes, dreams, visions, or "near death experiences", especially when they contradict Scripture (Job 14:12). The psalmist writes that "the dead ... go down into silence" (Psalm 115:17). The stories told of visiting heaven or hell may be very compelling — comforting in some cases, terrifying in others — but it's not emotions we're seeking here, just the truth of the Scriptures, no matter how they differ from what we have been told or have experienced. Comfort should come from Yahweh, and from those who are living. How can someone who is sleeping (i.e., dead) and who, according to Scripture, knows nothing, who cannot even give praise to the One who created them, confront someone who is alive?

Let's look at the Scriptures to what some people believe to be examples of the dead arising from the grave and interacting with living souls.

King Saul and the Witch of Endor

(1 Samuel 28:3-25; 1 Chronicles 10:13-14)

The account of Saul and the witch of Endor in the Scriptures is a strange one. It begins when the prophet Samuel dies and is buried in Ramah (1 Samuel 28:3). According to what we have learned so far in this series, when Samuel died the breath of life was removed from him and returned to the Lord. His physical body was returned to the dust of the earth and as for Samuel himself (that which makes up the "essence" of Samuel), he was in Sheol, "sleeping" until the time spoken of in Daniel 12:2.

After Samuel's death, Saul was frightened when he saw the large number of Philistine troops gathered against him at Gilboa. He sought the Lord for guidance but Yahweh would not answer him nor would the prophets. In desperation, Saul sought out a woman who consulted with ghosts and familiar spirits.

A bit of background here before we go any further. When He gave Israel the Torah, the Lord forbid them from turning to ghosts and inquiring of familiar spirits, to not be defiled by them (Leviticus 19:31). At the time stated in this instance many people all around the Land were not following Torah and were seeking familiar spirits so Saul had also forbidden it (1 Samuel 28:3).

Meanwhile, back to our story. Saul's attendants found such a woman for him in Endor so Saul disguised himself and went to meet with the woman. He asked her to intercede for him using a ghost. He told her he wanted to speak with Samuel. She claimed she saw a divine being coming up from the earth[1]. The Hebrew word used here for 'divine being' is elohim (אֱלהִים Strongs #430/AHLB #1012-H[c]), which means 'god' or 'divine one'. So the woman saw a 'god' coming up out of the earth, made to look like an old man in a robe, i.e., Samuel. But Samuel was a human, a soul; he was not a 'god' or a divine being. And notice she didn't actually say it was Samuel, Saul just assumed it:

"And the woman said to Saul, 'I see a divine being coming up from the earth.' 'What does he look like?' he asked her. 'It is an old man coming up,' she said, 'and he is wrapped in a robe.' Then Saul knew that it was Samuel; and he bowed low in homage with his face to the ground." (1 Samuel 28.13-14)

So was this Samuel or not? Let's consider a few things here. the Lord had chosen not to speak to Saul because of his sin (1 Samuel 15) and did not speak to him through the prophets. If the Lord had already chosen to ignore Saul's pleas, why would we think He would use a dead prophet, miraculously brought up from his "sleep" in Sheol? Remember what we read earlier:

"But the dead know nothing; they have no more hope, for even the memory of them has died. Their loves, their hates, their jealousies have long since perished; and they have no more share till the end of time in all that goes on under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 9:5-6)

"But mortals languish and die; man expires; where is he? The waters of the sea fail, and the river dries up and is parched. So man lies down never to rise; he will awake only when the heavens are no more, only then be aroused from his sleep." (Job 14:10-12)

With these passages in mind, along with others we previously looked at, how is it possible that Samuel could have given insight to Saul? Could this have been a deceiving spirit? And was it sent by Yahweh? That idea is not too far fetched, as Scripture reveals that the Lord had done it before. In 1 Kings 22 the prophet Micaiah tells of a gathering around the throne of Yahweh, considering what to do about King Ahab:

"But [Micaiah] said, "I call upon you to hear the word of Yahweh! I saw Yahweh seated upon His throne, with all the host of heaven standing in attendance to the right and to the left of Him. Yahweh asked, 'Who will entice Ahab so that he will march and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' Then one said thus and another said thus, until a certain spirit came forward and stood before Yahweh and said, 'I will entice him.' 'How?' Yahweh asked him. And he replied, 'I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' Then He [Yahweh] said, 'You will entice and you will prevail. Go out and do it.' So Yahweh has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these prophets of yours; for Yahweh has decreed disaster upon you." (1 Kings 22:19-23)

In the instance above Yahweh was using a deceiving spirit. So if the Lord had already turned away from Saul, perhaps He would do the same type of thing in this situation. It's not clear from the Scriptures what the entity was or who sent it but it's clear it was not Samuel.

Did Elijah Escape Death By Being Taken Directly Up to heaven?

It is believed by many people that the prophet Elijah never died; that he was taken directly up to heaven by the Lord. But based on what we have studied so far, this could not be possible unless the Scriptures contradict themselves, which they don't. So what happened to Elijah then?

According to the Tanach, Elijah "went up to heaven in a whirlwind" (2 Kings 2:11), the year being 852 bce[2]. That same year King Jehoram, son of Ahab, began his reign over the northern kingdom of Israel (2 Kings 1:17; 3.1). In 842 bce, a year before he died, King Jehoram received a letter from Elijah — he was still alive ten years after he "went up to heaven in a whirlwind" (2 Chronicles 21:12-15).

Let's take a look at the word used here as 'heaven'. In Hebrew, the word is shamayim (שָמַיִם Strongs #8064/AHLB #1473-A[N]). It is translated different ways in Scripture, e.g., 'heaven' (191 times [NASB]), as where the Lord dwells; 'the sky above' (50 times [NASB]), as in the atmosphere we breathe.

Elijah already knew he was going away that day, as did the disciples of the prophets (2 Kings 2:3). But notice that Elisha would not leave his side. So the "fiery chariot with fiery horses suddenly appeared and separated one from the other". We must take the words in the context they are written. What is it that makes people think Elijah was taken to be with Yahweh? Well, the "fiery chariot with fiery horses" might be a clue. As well as him being taken "up to heaven in a whirlwind". But Scripture says the prophets thought he must have been dropped on some mountain or in some valley (2 Kings 2:16) and fifty men searched for him for three days without success (2 Kings 2:17). They clearly did not think Elijah was next to the Lord's throne in heaven. They expected he had been relocated some place elsewhere on earth. And as it turns out, Elijah had been transported through the sky to some other earthly location. As stated previously, King Jehoram received a letter from Elijah ten years after he "went up to heaven in a whirlwind".

Was Enoch 'Taken Up' to heaven?

It is generally accepted that Enoch, son of Jared, was taken up to heaven by the Lord, and that he never experienced death. It comes from the passage:

"When Enoch had lived 65 years, he begot Methuselah. After the birth of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years; and he begot sons and daughters. All the days of Enoch came to 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God took him." (Genesis 5:21-24)

Most people read that verse with the understanding that, after he had lived 365 years, the Lord gathered Enoch to Him in heaven. But what exactly does it say in the passage above? Let's break each part down and examine the order in which each event happened:

  • Enoch had lived 65 years;
  • then he begot Methuselah;
  • then Enoch walked with God for 300 years;
  • during those 300 years Enoch begot sons and daughters;
  • Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God took him.

When we break it down, we can see that nowhere does it say that Enoch was taken up to heaven and never died. He did "walk with God" for 300 years. But then Noah also "walked with God" (Genesis 6:9). Yahweh told Abram he should walk with Him (Genesis 17:1), and others "walked with God" (Genesis 48:15). Many people 'walk with God'. Don't you 'walk with God'? The phrase basically means to walk in the way that the Lord has commanded you, that's it. And notice that while Enoch "walked with God", during that same time, "he begot sons and daughters. It was during those 300 years that Enoch had the rest of his children. As for the part that states, "then he was no more, for God took him", notice that it was after Enoch had his children and after he walked with God that he was no more. The statement "God took him" does not necessarily mean Enoch was taken directly into heaven. In fact, from what we have learned so far in this series, it's the last thing it could mean:

"But mortals languish and die; man expires; where is he? The waters of the sea fail, and the river dries up and is parched. So man lies down never to rise; he will awake only when the heavens are no more, only then be aroused from his sleep" (Job 14:10-12).

"As a cloud fades away, so whoever goes down to Sheol does not come up; he returns no more to his home; His place does not know him." (Job 7.9-10)

When we take a step back and actually look at the Hebrew words used, and how the passage is constructed, many times it's then that we see the truth and how it's very different from what was handed down over the years.


  1. Note that she says he is coming up from the earth (Sheol), not coming down from above (heaven).
  2. Dates are approximate.

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