What is Sheol (or Hell)?

In the Old Testament, Sheol is translated as hell, grave or pit. In some Bible versions it is left untranslated. The Bible tells us that Sheol is the place where dead people go.

Jacob said he would go to Sheol (translated grave in some versions) if anything happened to Benjamin, his favourite son:

Genesis 42 verse 38

38 He said, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he only is left. If harm happens to him along the way in which you go, then you will bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to Sheol.”

David suggests that Solomon his son should bring Shimei's head down to Sheol for cursing him earlier:

1 Kings 2 verse 9

9 Now therefore don’t hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man; and you will know what you ought to do to him, and you shall bring his grey head down to Sheol with blood.” 

The Psalmist makes it clear that the dead are in Sheol:

Psalms 6 verse 5

5 For in death there is no memory of you. 
In Sheol, who shall give you thanks? 

The prophet Isaiah echoes the same sentiments:

Isaiah 38 verses 18 - 19

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. 
19 The living, the living, he shall praise you, as I do today. 
The father shall make known your truth to the children. 

The book of Ecclesiastes encourages us to be diligent now because we can't do anything in Sheol:

Ecclesiastes 9 verse 10

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. 

These chapters have links to this theme: