Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. – Psalm 16:9-10
The term “Sheol” occurs 63 times in the Bible, all of which are found in the Old Testament. Of those, over half occur in the books of Job, Psalms, and Proverbs. This makes sense: wisdom literature is where you’d expect to find conversations about death.
Nowhere in the Old Testament, however, do we find a direct, worked-out understanding of the afterlife. Listen to David’s lament in Psalm 6: “In death there is no remembrance of You. In Sheol who will give You praise?” and to the celebration in Psalm 9 that “The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.” Today, Sheol is active in inducing fear: “the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me…”
You can hear that, in the minds of each writer, Sheol is not just the destination of the wicked, but is synonymous with death itself. Look through Job and Proverbs – in fact look through every reference in the Old Testament – and you’ll conclude that Sheol is everyone’s destination, but not a place to be hoped for.
One of the principles we hold to at You Can Read the Bible is to allow the characters and writers to think and feel in their own moment. It is unfair to imagine future understandings back into their lives, which would reorient their writings (and even their actions) around concepts that never occurred to them. Even though the concept of the afterlife developed over time, and is more thoroughly discussed in the New Testament, this is how God decided to reveal His word. I encourage you to remember what is in the back of the minds of the writers and characters when they consider death, and the shadow it casts over life.
Today the pendulum swings from yesterday’s discussion of wickedness to a celebration of the hope known by the righteous. The theme of refuge is noticeable throughout, as is the LORD’s capacity to rescue and guide. The readings seemingly drive toward a climax in Psalm 19, when the focus expands from the personal to the cosmic, marveling that the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Our verses for this week are Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Psalms 15 through 19. Now let’s read it!
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.