Friday, February 15, 2008

Sheol - Job 7:9

The twelfth time Sheol is mentioned in the Bible is in Job 7:9. Chapter 7 is one of the most anguishing parts of Job's discourse, as he pointedly questions the persistent trials he suffered.

As usual, translating from Hebrew, we get:

"The cloud fades - vanishes - so he who goes down to Sheol shall not come up." - Job 7:9

The KJV renders it this way: "As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away: so he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more."

This compares the person who goes to Sheol to a fading, vanishing cloud. It is an apt description, since our bodies dissolve and turn to "dust" after death.
Here, like we've seen so far, Sheol clearly means the grave.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sheol - The book of Job

To recap, so far we have learned that Sheol is in the ground and very little more. Our examinations of the first 11 times it is mentioned have yielded "grave" as the best possible translation of this Hebrew word.

Now, we move on to the book of Job, which is a fascinating story of the nature of suffering and what we perceive as personal injustice. Sheol is mentioned 8 times in the Job alone!

Although the majority of Job is considered Hebrew poetry, we can still glean some insights on Sheol and how the Jews viewed it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sheol - 1 Kings 2:6 and 1 Kings 2:9

The tenth and eleventh time the word Sheol is used in the Old Testament is in 1 Kings 2:6 and 1 Kings 2:9 which are part of a very bloody chapter.

At this juncture, King David is near death and gives some commands to his son Solomon, who is next in line for the throne. He gives his command to Solomon to kill Joab, who was a rather wicked and bloodthirsty commander of the army.

"And do according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray hair go down to Sheol in peace." - 1 Kings 2:6

Obviously, this also refers to the grave. There is no way that Solomon could control whether Joab had a peaceful time in Sheol if it meant a place of torment.

Then King David tells Solomon to kill Shimei who also was a thorn in his side during his rule.

"And now, do not acquit him, for you are a wise man, and you know that which you shall do to him, and shall bring down his gray hair, with blood, to Sheol." - 1 Kings 2:9

This also is referring to the grave, just like the previous entry.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sheol - 2 Samuel 22:6

The 9th time we see the word Sheol in the Old Testament is in 2 Samuel 22:6.

This time, King David is singing a praise song to YHVH for deliverance from his enemies.

To put it in context, I'm including the whole sentence from v.5 to v.7
"When surround me the waves of death; the torrents of wickedness overwhelm me, the cords of Sheol are round about me; confront me the snares of death; in my distress I called on YHVH and to God."

The Hebrew here is a little choppy, so let's clean it up:
"When the waves of death surround me, the torrents of wickedness overwhelm me, the cords of Sheol are around me and the snares of death confront me, in my distress I called on YHVH and to God."

David was clearly alive when he wrote this, and had not been killed by Saul or any of his enemies, but surely believed that it was possible that he would be. The adjectives used - waves, torrents, cords, and snares - all describe a sense of being inexorably trapped. Waves and snares describe death, which pursue and eventually catch us all. "Torrents of wickedness" describe not only the people that tried to kill David, but also the lingering fear of death. Finally, cords of Sheol describe much the same as snares of death - it is not something we can escape.

No matter how we look at this one, Sheol means nothing more than the grave. You can't escape it. Only Jesus did!

Sheol - 1 Samuel 2:6

The 8th time we see the word Sheol in the Old Testament is in 1 Samuel 2:6. Note that neither Joshua, nor Judges (the 6th and 7th books of the Old Testament, respectively) give any mention of the word Sheol.

In this context, a young woman named Hannah is saying a prayer of thanksgiving to YHVH for giving her a son, Samuel, whom she "loaned" to YHVH for all of his life. Her prayer encompasses 1 Samuel 2:1 to 1 Samuel 2:10 and is a good example of a praise to God.

Of interest to us, when looking at Sheol, is the passage at 1 Samuel 2:6 which states:
"YHVH kills and keeps alive. He brings down [to] Sheol and brings up."

When we look at this passage it should be pretty clear what we've discovered already. Sheol is the grave - a place of death, and it is down beneath the earth.

Sheol - Deuteronomy 32:22

The 7th time we find the word Sheol used in the Old Testament is in Deuteronomy 32:22 which is also the final time we see it in the Pentateuch (or the Five Books of Moses).

This time, it is in the context of a song that Moses gave the congregation of Israel shortly before his death. (cf. Deut 31:30)
This song begins from Deut 32:1 until Deut 32:43 and is typical of Hebrew poetry in that God is portrayed as a loving God, then it shows His anger at the betrayal of His people and their subsequent punishment and finally ends with redemption and hope. It is a recurring theme in the Old Testament.

However, our study is about Sheol and Hell. Deuteronomy 32:22 says (translated directly from Hebrew):
"For a fire is breaking out in My anger, and it shall burn to lowest Sheol, and it shall devour the earth and its produce, and it shall scorch the foundations of the mountains."

Clearly the "it" refers to the fire, except the obvious place of "its" produce, which refers to the earth.
This passage describes the totality of God's wrath at some future time period, since the earth has not been devoured by fire, nor have the mountains been scorched in human history.

Bear in mind that this is not only a poetic description of God's wrath to Israel for their idolotry, but also a glimpse of end-time prophecy where all nations will be punished.

But does this tell us that Sheol, the grave, is a place of burning? Clearly not in this context. God's wrath, manifested in fire, has not taken place yet. So, Sheol, at least in this passage is not burning, yet.

There is something else interesting about this passage, in that it uses an adjective "lowest" to describe Sheol. This has the implication that there are different "depths" of Sheol. Let's keep that in mind as we continue on with the remaining 57 instances of Sheol in the Old Testament.

Friday, February 1, 2008

A Young Man Named Levi

I saw a special on TV a few weeks back called "Jesus Camp" for the first time.

Now, I want to say up front that I didn't really care much for the "documentary" because I thought it portrayed Christianity in an almost cult-like fashion. And, I will readily admit that my perception is primarily influenced by the fact that I am not a Pentacostal/Charismatic type of believer.

That aside, I was smitten by the sincerity and zeal of one of the youngsters portrayed in the film, a young man by the name of Levi. How apt, I thought - Levi, named after the Israelite tribe responsible for the care and feeding of the Lord's flock.

Festooned with a ponytail and sincere, boyish face, Levi fearlessly articulated and opined about Jesus in front of a sea of rapt faces. His family, equally zealous to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, took the lad all over the country as part of his missionary work. Levi was seen, unplussed and unafraid, in Washington D.C. at the steps of the Supreme Court building demonstrating his cause.

My fascination with young Levi prompted me to look him up on the Internet and email him and his parents. Interestingly, he replied to me, and we've been sharing our thoughts on Jesus, suffering, and other Christian topics.

And as I read Levi's words, I am left wondering if he will one day be one of the great Evangelists who fearlessly step forward to feed the flock and convince the unbelievers of the Saving Grace and Salvation that comes from Jesus alone. He's a teenager now, and I'm hoping that the pressures of the world, and all the temptations therein, will not sway this young man from a very noble destiny.

Only time will tell.

JC Masters

Wow, it's February, and I'm way behind...

Being a writer has its own challenges. It's not like we punch a clock or anything, or have a boss who stands over us while we bang out words for you to consume.

No, a writer lives on his own time schedule. Beats his own drum, so to speak.

I have to admit, I have stepped off the cliff of activity into the oblivion of procrastination and unmotivation. And, if I were working for anyone but the Lord Jesus Christ, I might have been alright with that.

But no. I *am* doing this for Him, and I'm ashamed at the late night TV watching and overall slacking. When I have a "real" job, I am often heard saying, "Work as if you are working for the Lord." Well, now I'm working for the Lord, and I've been caught napping.

Oh, sure, I can come up with all kinds of reasons, legitimate and not. But, in the end, it's just excuse making at it's finest.

Well, no more. It's time to get back on track. Even though I will miss my (albeit self-imposed) deadline, I will continue to move forward to produce my new book, "What the Hell? Simple Answers to Life's Most Burning Questions" for Christians and non-Christians alike.

But it will not be available in mid-February like I promised. Probably mid-March.

Thankfully, my Boss is infinitely forgiving and I fall upon the throne of grace humbly accepting His forgiveness and encouragement to move forward.

Thank you for understanding, Jesus. I love you, my friend, Lord, and Savior.

JC Masters

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Why I Don't Believe Bill Wiese Went To Hell

Occasionally, my research for my upcoming book, "What the Hell? Simple Answers to Life's Most Burning Questions", takes me to the testimonies and personal experiences of others regarding Hell.
Recently, I came across the book, "23 Minutes In Hell", by Bill Wiese. Now, I don't know Bill Wiese and I have nothing against the man. In fact, as a fellow Christian, I am overjoyed that he is seeking to spread the gospel in his own way. However, after reading his book, cover to cover, I was left thinking that either the man was deceived, or was intentionally pushing an agenda. Not knowing him, as I said, I dare not conjecture which.

The book speaks of him somehow being catapulted into a Dante's Inferno type of Hell while, presumably, asleep in his bed. Now, if you are not familiar with Dante's Inferno, it is a part of a larger poem written by a man named Dante Alighieri in the 14th century which greatly influenced the Church's perception of Hell. Inferno, of course, was a fictitious poem, not having anything to do with Biblical Scripture, but was more about Dante's political angst against some of his enemies at the time.

Wiese borrows a significant amount of the descriptors in Inferno in his alleged trip to Hell. I don't fault him for that, as it is the meat and drink of modern Christianity, however wrong it may be.

There are, however, some very strange inconsistencies in Wiese's story which require the observant reader to take notice. I will address them individually.

1. He claims to have gone to bed at Midnight on 23 NOV 1998 and was "catapulted out of my bed into the very pit of hell." (p. 2) So, by his own testimony, he was in bed at the time of his "departure" to hell, he says, at 3:00 am. However, his wife, Annette, whom he appropriately and tenderly describes in his book, says this on p. 46: "I woke up to screams coming from down the hallway. My first reaction was to look to my right to see if Bill was there beside me in bed. He wasn't." So, the million dollar question is, how did Bill get from being in his bed to laying on the floor several rooms away if he was in Hell the whole time, with no way to control his body in the meantime?

2. Annette continues on with this: "I turned to my left and looked at the digital clock, and noticed that it was 3:23 a.m. I got out of bed and WALKED down the hallway to the living room where I found Bill in a fetal position with his hands grasping at the sides of his head. His breathing was erratic, and he was screaming, "I feel like I'm going to die!" I thought he was having a heart attack." - Emphasis mine. I don't know about you, but if someone *I* loved was in a fetal position on the floor, and their screams woke me up, I would RUN, not walk to wherever they were. Her testimony does not match what a prudent person would do under those circumstances, and the rest of her story is similarly unbelievable. She didn't call 911 when she believed he was having a heart attack, even when he was screaming the entire time she was praying over him. No woman I have spoken to, even Christian ones, has agreed that they would have done the same under similar circumstances, knowing what Annette knew at the time she had awoken.

3. He claimed several times during the book, that he was unable to think of the Lord during his time in Hell because Jesus Himself prevented it. (p. 37) There are two problems with that. First, how would he know that the demons in his cell were blaspheming against a God he didn't know? (p. 4) Second, in his alleged encounter with Jesus, all Jesus said was, "I kept it from you" but did not otherwise give an explanation. Wiese offered an explanation, but that didn't come from Jesus.

4. Upon arrival to his cell, initially, Wiese said he could not stand due to an inexplicable weakness, which apparently never got better. (p. 2) However, after getting soundly whupped on by 2 of his 4 giant demon captors, somehow, with his chest ripped open and in the new found pitch blackness, he was able to stand up and walk away. He offered no explanation how he somehow "adjusted" to his predicament and got stronger, even as his circumstances got much, much worse.

5. After escaping his cell and demonic tormentors, he said he was taken back there to get roughed up again, prone on the floor. Then, all of a sudden, he was standing next to the pit of fire 10 miles away without any explanation as to how he was carried such a vast distance instantaneously, or how he managed to stand up after being nearly drawn and quartered. (p. 14)

6. During his encounter with Jesus, he claimed that he arose from the bottom of the cavern and was rising in the air. Then suddenly Jesus appeared, and he fell to His feet. How is that possible when both are floating in the air? What could he have fallen on?

7. His testimony, indeed the title of the book, indicates that he had been in Hell proper for 23 minutes, but clearly that couldn't be the case because he claimed that Jesus took him out of Hell and into outer space, and then back to his home. That time between his departure from Hell and his arrival at home clearly would have eaten into his 23 minutes.

8. His "abduction" at 3:00 am - Now this may picking nits, but why would Jesus take Bill at the tail end of what is referred to as the "Witching Hour"?

9. Finally, and this is perhaps the most damning (pardon the pun) to his story, but Scripture clearly states that folks don't go to Hell and return back to the earth. In fact, according to the Lazarus and the rich man parable, it is strictly forbidden because nobody would believe the person anyway. Jesus ABSOLUTELY would not violate His own Word. And for Wiese to have actually gone to Hell and come back would contradict God's Word. This beats even the previously mentioned contradictions in Wiese's story.

So, that leaves us with the nagging question, why would Wiese experience this, if he experienced it at all? Bear in mind that Wiese is a professed Christian since 1970 and has had 28 years to learn the Bible and Hell mythology as it pertains to Christianity today - prior to this event. I don't think he hallucinated it, but he may have dreamed it. And he could have just made it up.

If he dreamed it, then he clearly was being deceived. I have no clue why he would make it up, other than to add more validity to the Hell scare tactics that have produced recalcitrant and often backsliding pseudo-converts througout the ages.

Does this mean that his book is entirely bad? No, not really. He does make some standard Christian points that Jesus, not our own "goodness" or good works, is the way to Heaven. That's the gospel in a nutshell, and thankfully Wiese does not waver from that point at any time. Does he use a substantial portion of his biblical references inappropriately or out of context. Yes, and that's a very pervasive scourge in modern Christian writings that is incredibly annoying, not to mention dangerous.

All that being said, I believe Bill Wiese to be an earnest Christian man who is doing what he can to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others, in his own way. Do I believe his story? Absolutely's inconsistent as well as being unbiblical. But I, in no way doubt his faithfulness to Jesus or his commitment to spreading the Gospel.

I will email him to see if he wants to address any of the points I made, or to clarify areas of confusion on my part, and if he deigns to answer, I will put it here for all to see.

May the Peace and Love of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you always,

JC Masters

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Sheol - Numbers 16:30, 33

The 5th and 6th times the word Sheol is used in the Old Testament is in Numbers 16:30 and right afterward in Numbers 16:33.

Before we look at those passages, Numbers 16 details a story about how three men, Korah, Dathan and Abiram, along with 250 other influential leaders, were questioning Yahweh's appointment of Aaron and Moses as leaders. Moses humbled himself before his accusers and prayed to Yahweh publicly to show them His will.
Then Dathan and Abiram made some false accusations against Moses, who became angry and prayed to Yahweh.

Moses, after getting Yahweh's instructions, tells the congregation to get away from the tents of those three men. What happens next is very interesting.

Moses puts it on Yahweh to perform His will by showing a miraculous sign that Moses himself certainly could not produce. He says in v. 30, "But if YHVH creates a new thing and the ground opens her mouth and swallows them, and all that they have, and they go alive, to Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised YHVH."

This tells us that Sheol is in the ground. This makes sense because graves are in the ground. But what's interesting is that it says that these people will go alive to Sheol. Fortunately, v. 33 sheds more light on this.

And they sank, they and all they had, alive to Sheol, and the earth covered over them, and they perished from among the assembly.

So this tells us that the errant people were alive when they sank into the earth, and were destroyed in the process. The Hebrew word for perished in this verse is 'abad which means to be destroyed. It is used many times in the Old Testament.

Even though those people went down, alive, to Sheol, they didn't stay that way. Common sense tells us that if the ground were to open up, swallow us, and cover us up, that our chances of survival in such an event would be slim to none.

In any case, there is no reading of suffering, torment or any other continuing consciousness or existence, in these passages.