The New Testament describes heaven and eternal life. But what does the Old Testament say about life after death?
In the Old Testament, in verses where the notion of life after death is mentioned, the most common reference is to SHE’OL.
She’ol was thought of as a subterranean world, a place of darkness to which all dead people go, both the righteous and the unrighteous, regardless of the moral choices made in life. It was a place of stillness and darkness, cut off from life. And cut off from the LORD God.
The inhabitants of Sheol are called “shades” (rephaim), entities without personality or strength.
Beyond She’ol, there was a place called ABADDON. It is not mentioned as often. When it is mentioned, it often appears in the text alongside Sheol. People thought of Abaddon as a place of destruction.
But there are some outliers. And they are very interesting. Here they are, from earlier to later:
In 1 Samuel chapter 28, king Saul compels the WITCH OF ENDOR to conduct a seance and summon the deceased prophet Samuel. She successfully does so. That attests to Samuel still existing after he died.
In some verses, such as Psalm 49:12, the author speaks of death as the end. There is nothing more. We PERISH.
In Psalm 139:8, we see the word HEAVEN.
The prophet DANIEL foresees a day when deceased people will awake. Some will awake to “everlasting life.” Others will awake to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2).
That is the first time two after-death destinations are mentioned:
- The Good Place
- The Bad Place
In the inter-testamental period, Judas MACCABEES made a sin offering on behalf of deceased people. The text says he had the “resurrection” in mind.
Deuteronomy 32:22. For a fire is kindled in my anger, that burns to the lowest Sheol, devours the earth with its increase, and sets the foundations of the mountains on fire.
1 Samuel 28:11. Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up to you?” He said, “Bring Samuel up for me.”
1 Samuel 28:12. When the woman saw Samuel, she cried with a loud voice; and the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!”
1 Samuel 28:13. The king said to her, “Don’t be afraid! What do you see?” The woman said to Saul, “I see a god coming up out of the earth.”
1 Samuel 28:14. He said to her, “What does he look like?” She said, “An old man comes up. He is covered with a robe.” Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground, and showed respect.
1 Samuel 28:15. Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me, to bring me up?”
Job 10:21. before I go where I shall not return from, to the land of darkness and of the shadow of death;
Job 10:22. the land dark as midnight, of the shadow of death, without any order, where the light is as midnight.’ ”
Job 17:13. If I look for Sheol as my house, if I have spread my couch in the darkness,
Job 17:14. If I have said to corruption, ‘You are my father;’ to the worm, ‘My mother,’ and ‘my sister;’
Job 17:16. Shall it go down with me to the gates of Sheol, or descend together into the dust?”
Job 26:5. The departed spirits tremble, those beneath the waters and all that live in them.
Job 26:6. Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering.
Job 28:22. Destruction [Abandon] and Death say, ‘We have heard a rumor of it with our ears.’
Job 31:12. For it is a fire that consumes to destruction [Abandon], and would root out all my increase.
Psalm 6:5. For in death there is no memory of you. In Sheol, who shall give you thanks?
Psalm 30:9. What profit is there in my destruction, if I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise you? Shall it declare your truth?
Psalm 49:12. But man, despite his riches, doesn’t endure. He is like the animals that perish.
Psalm 49:14. They are appointed as a flock for Sheol. Death shall be their shepherd. The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning. Their beauty shall decay in Sheol, far from their mansion.
Psalms 49:20. A man who has riches without understanding, is like the animals that perish.
Psalm 86:13. For your loving kindness is great toward me. You have delivered my soul from the lowest Sheol.
Psalm 88:3. For my soul is full of troubles. My life draws near to Sheol.
Psalm 88:4. I am counted among those who go down into the pit. I am like a man who has no help,
Psalm 88:5. set apart among the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more. They are cut off from your hand.
Psalm 88:6. You have laid me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.
Psalm 88:10. Do you show wonders to the dead? Do the departed spirits rise up and praise you? Selah.
Psalm 88:11. Is your loving kindness declared in the grave? Or your faithfulness in Destruction?
Psalm 89:48. What man is he who shall live and not see death, who shall deliver his soul from the power of Sheol? Selah.
Psalm 115:17. The dead don’t praise the LORD, neither any who go down into silence;
Psalm 133:3. like the dew of Hermon, that comes down on the hills of Zion: for there the LORD gives the blessing, even life forever more.
Psalm 139:7. Where could I go from your Spirit? Or where could I flee from your presence?
Psalm 139:8. If I ascend up into heaven, you are there. If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there!
Proverbs 1:12. Let’s swallow them up alive like Sheol, and whole, like those who go down into the pit.
Proverbs 15:11. Sheol and Abaddon are before the LORD—how much more then the hearts of the children of men!
Proverbs 27:20. Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied; and a man’s eyes are never satisfied.
Ecclesiastes 9:3. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one event to all: yes also, the heart of the sons of men is full of evil, and madness is in their heart while they live, and after that they go to the dead.
Ecclesiastes 9:5. For the living know that they will die, but the dead don’t know anything, neither do they have any more a reward; for their memory is forgotten.
Ecclesiastes 9:10. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor plan, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in Sheol, where you are going.
Isaiah 5:14. Therefore Sheol has enlarged its desire, and opened its mouth without measure; and their glory, their multitude, their pomp, and he who rejoices among them, descend into it.
Isaiah 14:9. Sheol from beneath has moved for you to meet you at your coming. It stirs up the departed spirits for you, even all the rulers of the earth. It has raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.
Isaiah 25:8. He has swallowed up death forever! The Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces. He will take the reproach of his people away from off all the earth, for the LORD has spoken it.
Isaiah 26:19. Your dead shall live. My dead bodies shall arise. Awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust; for your dew is like the dew of herbs, and the earth will cast out the departed spirits.
Isaiah 38:10. I said, “In the middle of my life I go into the gates of Sheol. I am deprived of the residue of my years.”
Isaiah 38:18. For Sheol can’t praise you. Death can’t celebrate you. Those who go down into the pit can’t hope for your truth.
Ezekiel 31:14. to the end that none of all the trees by the waters exalt themselves in their stature, and don’t set their top among the thick boughs. Their mighty ones don’t stand up on their height, even all who drink water; for they are all delivered to death, to the lower parts of the earth, among the children of men, with those who go down to the pit.’
Ezekiel 31:15. The Lord GOD says: ‘In the day when he went down to Sheol, I caused a mourning. I covered the deep for him, and I restrained its rivers. The great waters were stopped. I caused Lebanon to mourn for him, and all the trees of the field fainted for him.
Ezekiel 31:16. I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to Sheol with those who descend into the pit. All the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, were comforted in the lower parts of the earth.
Ezekiel 31:17. They also went down into Sheol with him to those who are slain by the sword; yes, those who were his arm, who lived under his shadow in the middle of the nations.
Ezekiel 31:18. To whom are you thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? Yet you will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the lower parts of the earth. You will lie in the middle of the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword. “ ‘This is Pharaoh and all his multitude,’ says the Lord GOD.”
Daniel 12:2. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
Amos 9:2. Though they dig into Sheol, there my hand will take them; and though they climb up to heaven, there I will bring them down.
2 Maccabees 6:26. For even if for the present time I would remove from me the punishment of men, yet whether I live or die, I wouldn’t escape the hands of the Almighty.
2 Maccabees 7:9. When he was at the last gasp, he said, “You, miscreant, release us out of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us who have died for his laws up to an everlasting renewal of life.”
2 Maccabees 7:14. Being near to death he said this: “It is good to die at the hands of men and look for the hope which is given by God, that we will be raised up again by him. For as for you, you will have no resurrection to life.”
2 Maccabees 12:43. And when he had made a collection man by man to the sum of two thousand drachmas of silver, he sent to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice for sin, doing therein right well and honorably, in that he took thought for a resurrection.
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.