Does the Old Testament teach the Concept of soul sleep in Sheol?
1 Samuel: Samuel & Saul and the woman of Endor who had a familiar spirit, an evil spirit as a companion.
28:8 Saul disguised himself...and...came to the woman by night: and he said ...divine unto me by the familiar spirit, and bring me him up, whom I shall name unto thee.
28:9...the woman said unto him, behold thou knowest what Saul hath done, how that he hath cut off those that have familiar spirits…wherefore then lay- est thou a snare for my life, to cause me to die.
28:10 And Saul sware to her...as the Lord liveth, there shall no punishment happen to thee for this thing.
28:11 Then said the woman, whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, bring me up Samuel.
28:12 And when the woman saw Samuel, she cried...saying Why hast thou deceived me? for thou art Saul.
28:13 ...Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth.
28:14...And Saul perceived that it was Samuel...
28:15 And Samuel said to Saul, why hast thou disquieted me...Saul answer-ed...I am sore distressed...and God is departed from me, and answereth me no more...
There’s a notion in some schools & churches today that souls of the dead in Old Testament days went to Sheol under the earth. The souls of the righteous dead are said to have lived a sleepy inactive existence there, and were trans-ferred to heaven in New Testament times. Supposedly, the evil dead went to a separate Sheol compartment, or region, for punishment until the judgment. Actually, Sheol refers to hell or the grave, and clearly, Old Testament saints never went to hell.
Today some suggest such mythical notions of the afterlife are supported by this passage in Samuel in the presumption that the soul of a dead Samuel was summoned up from under the earth, though they are perplexed that this could be done by a woman with an evil spirit. And to some the apparent disquiet- ing of Samuel's soul suggests the soul of this righteous man was asleep under the earth in Sheol before the summons. It also seems to some that there are other scriptures that support the notion of soul sleep in Sheol under the earth, as in Acts 2:34 that says For David is not ascended into the heavens (went to Sheol instead?)
But John 3:13 tells us something similar to the Acts 2:34 statement, and its meaning contradicts the suggested contemporary interpretation of the Acts verse. John 3:13 states And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven even the son of man. This tells us that, at the time it was written, no one but Christ had yet ascended to heaven, and that includes Old & New Testament saints. Now John 3:13 was written no earlier than the middle of the 1st century A.D. at a time when many New Testament saints had died, and we know that they all went to heaven. Paul tells us this in 2 Corinthians 5:8, written around the middle of the 1st century A.D., that says, We are…willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Thus disembodied souls & spirits had gone to heaven when John 3:13 first said no man had yet ascended, so the ascension refers to something else. John 3:13 doesn’t support a modern Sheol concept, and Acts 2:34 parallels John 3:13, so it does not sound as if the soul of David went to Sheol. The contemporary Sheol theory begins to crumble under careful scrutiny.
Now we look at 1 Corinthians 15:20,23 where we see that Christ is the first- fruits of the dead, meaning that Christ is the only one who has so far been bodily resurrected and ascended in the Resurrection body. Thus in Acts 2:34 & John 3:13 the comments about ascending into heaven refer to a bodily ascension. Neither David nor any New Testament saint is complete without his body, so we realize that souls and spirits of David and all New Testament saints have gone to heaven, but in their complete embodied being, haven’t yet ascended into heaven since the general resurrection has not yet happened.
Soul sleep and an underground Sheol compartment for the souls of Old Test- ament saints are not taught in scripture. This is seen by 2 Kings 2:11 where Elijah at his departure from earth goes up by a whirlwind into heaven and into a heaven-bound fiery chariot, not down into Sheol for sleep. Genesis 5: 23 tells us God took Enoch, doubtless to Himself in heaven since He trans- lated Enoch (Heb.11:5 – converted his embodied being to a spiritual one suitable for heavenly domains, similar to the concept of language translation from one form to another). Thus Elijah and Enoch did not experience Sheol, going directly to heaven in a translated spiritual form. And the modern idea that Old Testament saints went to Sheol because heaven wasn’t open to them until Christ died is wrong, for He was slain in a promissory sense from the foundation of the world (Rev.13:8). Indeed, Proverbs 15:24 says, The way of life is above to the wise that he may depart from hell (Sheol) beneath. This shows us heaven above was for the wise and hell (Sheol) below was for the unwise in Old Testament times. Psalm 139:8 says, If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell (Sheol)…thou art there. This shows that men could go to heaven above or make their bed in hell (below). None of the souls of saints ever went to an underground Sheol.
We now return to the intriguing passage in 1 Samuel 28 to take a closer look to see what's really happening there. The first clue to what is actually going on is seen in the observation that somehow truth has come upon this scene of foul spiritual practice when Saul's true identity is suddenly revealed to the woman as Samuel appears. And the basic teaching of the passage is revealed in the observation that the woman with the evil spirit is the only one who is surprised by events unfolding before her. This woman would be accustomed to summoning apparitions (her familiar spirit imitating men) and would have no power whatever over the souls of just men, so we realize that her surprise is due to the occurrence of events very different from what she anticipated. She describes Samuel in terms of gods, an Old Testament term referring here to men of high spiritual authority as the earthly Samuel was, so she evidently is astonished at seeing the real Samuel. Indeed, scripture here plainly shows us, contrary to the woman's expectation of an apparition, that the real Samuel appeared, and the real Samuel, visible to mortals, is real only if he's complete with his body. In a literal interpretation of this passage, a bodily-resurrected Samuel speaks to Saul. It's not a disquieted soul coming up from a sleep in Sheol, but a soul disquieted from perfect blessedness with God in heaven coming down for reunion with his resurrected old body coming up from the grave in the earth. Thus, it's not soul sleep indicated in this passage, but body sleep. Of course it's not the evil spirit that has brought all this to pass. Rather, God, who had refused to speak any more to Saul for his disobedience, chose an unusual way to speak to him one last time, which was to pronounce Saul's death.
Now Heb.1:1 says God spoke at sundry (several) times and in divers (varied) ways to Old Testament fathers. In 1 Samuel 28, we witness the most unique way that God ever "spoke" (communicated) to a man. He evidently reunited Samuel's soul in heaven with his body in the grave to speak to Saul (prefig- ures the bodily Resurrection), but isn't a firstfruits from the dead, for no new resurrection body is involved). Samuel would be displeased with Saul’s med- dling that was the cause of his soul in God's presence in heaven being distur- bed by a temporary separation from God for reunion with his old sleeping body. He is awaiting the Resurrection of the Just and a new resurrection body, and he might be displeased with Saul, as the passage suggests he was.
This Samuel passage stimulates study of the Rapture that centers on 1 Thess. 4:14,16:
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him…For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first.
In this passage, we find every comfort regarding the power of life over death that we shall ever need. Throughout the centuries the church doubtless has posed the question of whether Christians in the domain of eternity will ever again recognize the saved loved ones they have said good-bye to. There has always been that grievous thought that, in that uncertain future realm, we all might have some new life form that would forever vanquish our memory of those we have loved greatly in the earthly life. This would be a natural react- ion to the fact that Christ Himself in His resurrection body was unrecognized by His friends, but that served only to teach certain vital things about faith to depressed forlorn disciples.
The answer to our fears in this matter is found in Thessalonians. Here the promise of the eternal Word of God banishes from our hearts forever all negative thoughts about reunion with saved loved ones in eternity, and here is a scriptural promise at the foundation of eternal life. The body left in the earth is said to sleep in Jesus, meaning it is watched over and preserved by the very one who spoke all life & matter into existence (Christ is the Word the Father speaks). The body at death is in the final state ordained of God after years of growth & cell changes, and it should be this final state that will be preserved, as the final human body of Jesus, the first-fruits of the dead, was preserved. Our dead bodies will turn to dust & gas in the grave, but not one molecule of their structure at death can be lost because of He who over- sees. Thus, in the day when He returns with the souls & spirits of departed saints, He will send them into the earth to reunite with sleeping bodies that have experienced a reintegration of every finalized molecule, and will call forth with the creation power of His voice the very same body of each saved loved one we once held so dear, and will restore it to the spirit and soul, and to our fellowship for all eternity. And this time the bodies of Christ's people will be like His, having a resurrected form no longer subject to death, sin, old-age, sickness and earthly faults and limits.
what of those things by which we wronged departed loved ones in the
limits of our earthly frame & nature, things that so often stir
our memories to the bottomless depths of grief? We shall have all
eternity to make them right in the limitless perfect power of
God! And who would forsake our hope by diminishing our confidence in
this promise of the future by imagining there might be unsound
unreliable doctrine in the Word of God's promise? Without confidence
in God’s inerrant Word that is with us, there is no certain hope of
anything. Shall we prefer the text-tinkering of scholars? We either
believe God, or we believe the nonsense of modern scholars.