Today I want to answer the question of why the ancient Hebrews believed the way they did concerning the afterlife?
As I explained in my last post, in stark contrast to the modern gentile believer, the ancient Israelites for the most part believed that whatever reward or blessings they received from God happened only during this lifetime and were based on how obedient they were to God’s Law.
Their focus was on the here and now, NOT on some heavenly ideal to be enjoyed after death.
There is actually a very simple and logical reason for why they felt that way.
First, are you aware that the Old Testament contains practically zero information about what happens to somebody after death?
There doesn’t even appear to be a hint of the possibility of an afterlife.
Generally speaking, the ancient Hebrews believed that death was a natural end to existence, just as birth was its natural beginning.
This is not to say that they viewed death lightly or in a casual manner.
They just didn’t give much thought to what happened to a person after death.
Again, there focus was on LIFE and being blessed by HASHEM during their time on this earth.
Having said that, the ancient Hebrews actually did have a word to refer the the place of the dead.
They called it SHEOL.
However, what this word actually meant to the ancient Hebrews is far removed from what is taught in most churches.
Most pastors and bible teachers will say that SHEOL is just the Old Testament version of the New Testament term “hades”, which is normally taught as referring to hell.
However, to the ancient Hebrews SHEOL was NOT hell.
To their mindsets, it was basically the grave.
It was where BOTH the righteous and unrighteous ended up after death.
But again, they weren’t harboring this idea that one’s soul or disembodied intellect was in someway conscious of its existence in SHEOL.
Again, they just thought of SHEOL as the grave.
Death and the grave was a mystery to them, and SHEOL was just a word referring to that nebulous something which they had no clue was.
After Babylon from around 550 BC, the Hebrews did develop some ideas that there might be an afterlife after death.
However, they never entertained any thoughts that it could be much better than one’s life on earth.
Unfortunately, any thoughts about life after death are scattered in tiny snippets throughout the TANACH (Old Testament) and are difficult to piece together in an organized fashion.
One thing I can say for sure is that the Israelites didn’t have this idea of going to “heaven” where one would live in the presence of God for all eternity.
In fact, in the Old Testament, the general assumption was that SHEOL or the grave was what permanently SEPARATED one from God.
It is this notion of separation that leads some Christian pastors and Bible teachers to INCORRECTLY assume and then teach that Sheol was the “Old Testament version of hell“.
I say “incorrectly” because the TANACH makes it clear that ALL people descend to SHEOL upon death.
And again, to the ancient Hebrew mind, this was just another way of saying that all die and all go to the grave.
SHEOL was considered to be that great equalizer for all mankind.
It didn’t matter if you had led a righteous or wicked life, or were rich or poor etcetera.
It was the destination where EVERYBODY ended up after death.
Therefore, to the ancient Hebrew mind, what mattered was LIFE!