“The pit” is called “Sheol” in some translations, and this psalm presupposes that actual places exist in the realm of the spirit. Not quite.

Just as heaven cannot really be reached by flying “up,” so Sheol, the place of the dead, cannot really be reached by digging “down.” Yet spatial terms are the only tools we have to describe where the spirits of the dead “go.” So the Bible regularly describes Sheol, the place of the dead, as a downward hike toward the center of the earth, as if a huge underground grave existed for semicomatose spirits waiting for something. The Bible also describes people ascending into heaven (Elijah in 2 Kings 2:11; Jesus in Acts 1:9).

We might more accurately say that Sheol is the Old Testament’s “waiting area,” where the souls of the dead rest (and in some passages, suffer the pain of judgment). Nowhere is Sheol described as a place to be eagerly anticipated, and how souls graduate from Sheol into some other happier place is not terribly clear.

In the New Testament, however, there questions are answered much more directly. The souls of those who trust in Jesus for salvation enjoy His presence in a place of joy and reunion (John 14:1-4). Soul who depart this life apart from the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross must anticipate, at a minimum, the boredom of the Old Testament’s picture of Sheol: and at worst, an eternal environment of suffering the penalty for their own sins (Matthew 13:42).

Psalm 33:19 – 19 To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.

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