Sheol and Hades are NOT “The Grave”

One very common misunderstanding is the idea that “Sheol” simply means “the grave”.  It does not.  Both Sheol (Hebrew) and it’s New Testament counterpart, Hades (Greek) are references to the underworld and the beings who ran it.  That’s right, the Bible agrees somewhat with the mythologies that there was an underworld at one time.  Even Jesus spoke of it as if it were quite real.  Even so, many are made uncomfortable by it all, and seek to interpret the Bible in such way as to erase any details that they find unsavory.  One of the most common ways of doing this is simply to assume that every time Sheol is mentioned, it is interpreted as “the grave”.

The facts below will demonstrate that Sheol and the grave are not the same, were not thought of as being the same, were not written of in the same style, and ought never to be confused with one another.  In short, Sheol is the place where the spirits of the dead went to await judgment/resurrection.  The grave, on the other hand, is a reference to whatever place the dead body was deposited—generally in a hole in the ground, or in a tomb carved into the rocks.

Let’s consider what may be learned about Sheol/Hades and about graves and tombs by carefully reading the texts that mention them.  We’ll start with looking at various attributes about Sheol/Hades.

Things Owned by Sheol/Hades

Sheol had depths.
Deuteronomy 32:22 For a fire is kindled by my anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol, devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.
Psalm 86:13 For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
Proverbs 9:18 But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.
Isaiah 7:11 “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”

Sheol had cords.
2 Samuel 22:6 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
Psalm 18:5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.

Sheol had bars.
Job 17:16 Will it go down to the bars of Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?”

Sheol had power.
Psalm 49:18 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.
Psalm 89:48 What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?
Hosea 13:14a Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol?

Sheol had pangs.
Psalm 116:3 The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.

Sheol had a sting.
Hosea 13:14b Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

Sheol had a mouth.
Psalm 147 :7 As when one plows and breaks up the earth, so shall our bones be scattered at the mouth of Sheol.

Sheol had a belly.
Jonah 2:2 saying, “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.

Sheol had an appetite.
Isaiah 5:14 Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure, and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down, her revelers and he who exults in her.

Sheol had gates.
Isaiah 38:10 I said, In the middle of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years.

Sheol had a middle.
Ezekiel 32:21 The mighty chiefs shall speak of them, with their helpers, out of the midst of Sheol: ‘They have come down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.’

Things Owned by Graves, Tombs, and Sepulchres

If you note the language above, you’ll see that many of the passages make use of the word “of”, as in “…of Sheol”.  In this section, I search “of the grave”, “of the tomb”, and of the sepulchre”.  See what little is to be found in comparison to “of Sheol” above.

Tombs had entrances.
Matthew 27:60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb (mnēmeion) and went away.
Mark 15:46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb (mnēmeion) .
Mark 16:3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb (mnēmeion)?”
NOTE: The word mnēmeion is used in each of these passages.  It’s the ordinary word for a grave.  Sheol and Hades are not used here.

Graves and Sepulchres.
There are no returns searching “of the grave” and “of the sepulchre”.  Nor could I find any other passage showing that “the grave” or “the tomb” own anything or have any attributes, other than the entrances shown above.

People Owned Graves, Tombs, and Sepulchres

NOTE: The following passages all have graves/tombs that belonged to specific people.  See how common are such mentions.  Note that none of these passages use the word Sheol.  Instead, these passages use the ordinary terms, qeber, qĕbuwrah, and mnēmeion.

2 Samuel 3:32 the grave (qeber) of Abner
2 Samuel 19:37  the grave (qeber) of my father and my mother.
2 Kings 13:21 the grave (qeber) of Elisha
Judges 8:32 the tomb (qeber) of Joash his father
Judges 16:31 the tomb (qeber) of Manoah
2 Samuel 2:32 the tomb (qeber) of his father
2 Samuel 4:12 the tomb (qeber) of Abner
2 Samuel 17:23 the tomb (qeber) of his father
2 Samuel 21:14 the tomb (qeber) of Kish
1 Kings 13:22  the tomb (qeber) of your fathers.’”
2 Kings 23:17 the tomb (qeber) of the man of God
Genesis 35:20 Rachel’s (qĕbuwrah) tomb
1 Samuel 10:2  Rachel’s (qĕbuwrah) tomb
2 Kings 21:26  his tomb (qĕbuwrah)
2 Kings 23:30 his own tomb (qĕbuwrah)
2 Chronicles 16:14a the tomb (qeber) that he had cut for himself
Job 21:32  his tomb (qeber)
Isaiah 14:19 your grave (qeber)
Matthew 27:60 his own new tomb  (mnēmeion)
Acts 2:29 his tomb  (mnēmeion)
Acts 7:16 the tomb  (mnēmeion) that Abraham had bought

People Did Not Own Sheol/Hades

There is not one single passage of scripture in the entire Bible that speaks of Sheol or Hades in the way the passages above speak of tombs and graves belong to people.  There is no “his Sheol”, “their Sheol”, “her Sheol”, “Sheol of his father”, or any such thing—nor with Hades.  If Sheol and Hades were equivalents of “the grave” or “the tomb”, we should expect to see them employed in these ordinary ways, yet we do not.

Qualities of a Being

In not one instance do we see these grave/tomb words being used as of a living being with a personality.  Qeber, qĕbuwrah, mnēmeion are all used quite ordinarily, as of common objects or things.  In no place are they said to be jealous, impatient, greedy.  Nor are they said to have any authority, any task, or any agenda.  They are, just as we would expect, holes in the ground or in the rock, into which human corpses were deposited.

Sheol and Hades, on the other hand were often written of in ways that suggest that they have not have been places only, but also entities.  Consider the following.

Psalm 49:15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.

Proverbs 27:20 Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man.

Proberbs 30:16 Sheol, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, “Enough.”

Song of Solomon 8:6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as Sheol. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.

Isaiah 5:14 Therefore Sheol has enlarged its appetite and opened its mouth beyond measure, and the nobility of Jerusalem and her multitude will go down, her revelers and he who exults in her.

Isaiah 14:9 Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations.

Isaiah 28:15 Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have an agreement, when the overwhelming whip passes through it will not come to us, for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter”;

Isaiah 38:18 For Sheol does not thank you; death does not praise you; those who go down to the pit do not hope for your faithfulness.

Hoseah 13:14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

Revelation 6:8 And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.

Revelation 20:14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

Not once is any such thing said about graves and tombs (qeber, qĕbuwrah, mnēmeion)

If we are honest with the texts, it is not difficult to see a stark difference between Sheol/Hades and graves and tombs.

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