1 Samuel 28:19 (ESV):

"Moreover, the LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines."

When the author tells Saul that "tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me", can an implied heaven or hell be interpreted from the text?

3 Answers 3


If we want to understand the text, we have to read the text as it was written in the context of what it says, and not superimpose our own later theological concepts upon it.

In Hebrew, there is no "heaven", there is only ha'shamayim, which is "the skies" (it is a dual plural).

Nor is there any "Hell". "Hell" is a word from Norse cosmology that means the underworld, a place of dishonor. To the Norse, we live in Midgard: Middle Earth. The valorous dead go to Asgard - the overworld of the gods and live in the hall of valor there - Valhallah - while the dishonored dead descend to Hel, below Midgard, where they dwell in a degree of shame. That's where we get the word "Hell", and the concept of "Hell" as a place for the damned. But the Hebrew does not contain this concept. Rather, the Hebrew is Sheol, which is simply the place to which the spirits (not souls) of the dead depart.

Also, while we see things in terms of a "soul" that detaches from the body, again, that is not what the Hebrew Bible says. In Hebrew, "breath" and "spirit" are one word and one and the same thing. It is the breath that comes from God and animates life, and the breath that departs at death (for Sheol). The word we translate as "soul" in Hebrew is really literally the word "breather". A living body is a breather - a soul. When it dies, the breath/spirit is withdrawn and the body falls back to the dust of the earth whence it comes. The spirit proceeds to Sheol.

Now then, in the older Hebrew Scripture, there is no sense of the punishment of souls in Sheol. Hebrew tradition contained it, but it wasn't written into Scripture until hinted at in the late books of the Old Testament (which are not in the Protestant Bible), and not fully revealed until Christ. It is Christ who divides Sheol (translated into Greek as "Hades" and, unfortunately, into English as "Hell") into Gehenna - a parched prison of fire and torment, where spirits go "until the last penny is paid" - and Paradise, where he promised the "good thief" dying alongside him he would be that day. Apparently the "Jewish section" of Paradise is where Abraham is, as the good dead such as Lazarus went to Abraham's bosom.

Now, if one examines the Jewish traditions for clarity, one discovers that Gehenna is purgatorial in nature. Jewish tradition is that spirits of sinners descend to Gehenna where they are purged in fire, and then most of them eventually pass to Gan Eden, which is the Hebrew for Paradise. In other words, if we're going to insist on incorporating Western linguistic structures into our translations, "Hell" is Sheol, "Heaven" is Paradise or Gan Eden, and Gehenna is "Purgatory". That fits the Jewish belief.

But, again, in the Old Testament, the dead never go up into the sky, they go into Sheol.

And actually, if one reads carefully, the dead do not go into Heaven in the New Testament either, at least not permanently. Revelation is the clearest about this.

Read carefully what happens: as the world ends, everybody is resurrected bodly - brought forth out of Hades ("Hell") to stand before the judgment seat. The City of God comes DOWN out of the sky ("Heaven") to earth and replaces the old Jerusalem and old earth that has passed away. Those who pass judgment then walk through the gates of the City of God, which is not "up there" but actually right down here on the earth, to live with with.

Those who are rejected are thrown into the Lake of Fire, to die again: the second death. But note that Hades/Hell/Sheol has itself been thrown into the Lake of Fire, and death also...which means that the second death is IT - burnt up, gone for good, done.

There is a long tradition of saying that one burns forever in the Lake of Fire, but the text does not actually SAY that. What it says is that the lake burns forever (just as the fires of Gehenna never were quenched and worm never ceased). What it does NOT say is that those thrown into that everlasting lake of fire continue to "live" in a spiritual sense. It says, rather, that they die.

The more natural read of that is that they are completely destroyed and gone for good, not that they linger, dead but alive. However, the Christian tradition is that they just burn there, dead but somehow alive also, in death, forever and ever.

That is a very long held and ancient belief. But it's not actually what the Scripture SAYS. It's an interpretation of the second death, and an elision of the everlasting nature of the fire with the thought that the life, too, in the fire is everlasting.

So, when Saul consulted the Witch of Endor, he was breaking the commandment of YHWH against seeking to communicate with the dead by way of a medium. He did successfully communicate with the dead, specifically with the spirit of Samuel, from Sheol. Samuel was not pleased with Saul, and gave him dire words of doom.

Saul died the next day, laden with sins, and then, following Jewish eschatology, descended to Gehenna. How long he stayed in Gehenna, and whether he crossed over into Gan Eden ever, or will pass judgment at the end of the world, Scripture does not say. We can only speculate, and who are we to dare to do so?


The Idea in Brief

The Hebrew Bible indicates in several places that there is conscious existence after death. For example, when the Biblical text indicates that "tomorrow you [King Saul] and your sons shall be with me," there is implied existence after death in this passage. That is, Samuel stated that Saul "had disturbed" him (1 Sam 28:15) and thus Samuel appears to have been in conscious existence, but resting.


One "Tosefta-Targum to the Prophets" connects 1 Sam 28:19 to Daniel 12:2, which makes explicit mention of "eternal life." Kaufman (2005) quotes from Kasher (1996) in his original work of the Targumic Toseftot to the Prophets (Sources for the Study of Jewish Culture Volume II), Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies. That is, the following Tosefta to the Jerusalem Talmud --written in Jewish Palestinian Aramaic-- provides the parallel reading for 1 Sam 28:19:

Tosefta 060, Subtext 1 (1 Sam 28:19)
ומחר את ובנך גביי בגניז חיי עלמא

"And tomorrow you and your sons [will] gather in the lower regions alive forevermore"

The quote is the parallel reading to the Hebrew Bible, and is an apparent allusion to Daniel 12:2, which states the following in the Masoretic Text:

Dan 12:2 (MT)
... וְרַבִּים מִיְּשֵׁנֵי אַדְמַת־עָפָר יָקִיצוּ אֵלֶּה לְחַיֵּי עֹולָם

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life....

In other words, both texts above point to conscious existence after death, and in the case of Saul, his existence (as well as his sons) was to be with Samuel on the very same same day. Please note the following passage in this regard:

1 Sam 15:34-35 (NASB)
34 Then Samuel went to Ramah, but Saul went up to his house at Gibeah of Saul. 34 Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death; for Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel. (Emphasis added)

From this point in Chapter 15 onward, there is no mention in the text of the prophet Samuel and King Saul ever meeting again except for the very day of his death. (The very night with the witch of Endor was the same day that Saul died.) In other words, the references above suggests conscious existence after death, since the text of First Samuel conveys that Samuel made actual visual contact with King Saul. That is, King Saul also had seen Samuel "coming up from the ground," which was the place that Saul and his sons would soon join Samuel upon their deaths that very day .

In the Hebrew Bible there is no explicit expectation that anyone had ever gone "up" to heaven after death (the exceptions are Enoch and Elijah, but they never appear as dying in the Hebrew Bible); on the contrary, the righteous had the explicit expectation of descending down into Sheol. For example, Jacob (Gen 37:35), Job (Job 14:13) and Hezekiah (Is 38:9-11) mention their expectation of going down into the earth after their death, which included something more than their body buried in the ground. For example, the passage in Jonah 2:5-7 provides us an explicit reference and description of Sheol. That is, Jonah mentioned his descent into Sheol notwithstanding that his corpse remained in the belly of the great fish in the sea. In other words, Jonah had died in the belly of the great fish and his soul had descended to the "roots of the mountains," which is an allusion to the underworld of Sheol (since there were no roots of any mountains in the belly of the great fish). In other words, Jonah had descended into the "belly" of the earth, which was Sheol. He was of course resuscitated by the Lord, which had an apparent effect on his message and ministry to Nineveh at that time.


In addition to the comparisons as noted between 1 Sam 28:19 and Daniel 12:2 (discussed above), there are two more references in the Hebrew Bible that suggest conscious existence and resurrection after death.

Job 19:26-27 (NASB)
26 “Even after my skin is destroyed,
Yet from my flesh I shall see God;
27 Whom I myself shall behold,
And whom my eyes will see and not another.
My heart faints within me!

Isaiah 26:19 (NASB)
19Your dead will live;
Their corpses will rise.
You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy,
For your dew is as the dew of the dawn,
And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.

In summary, the Hebrew Bible indicates that people have conscious existence after death, which includes eventual resurrection. The condition of that existence (rest or otherwise) will relate to ones hope and trust in the Lord.

Kaufman, Stephen, ed. (2005). The Late Jewish Literary Aramaic Additions to the Targum of the Prophets from the files of the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon Project (CAL). Cincinatti: Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, vid. 1 Sam 28:19.


Yes, but the answer might surprise you.

The rabbi's explain "in my abode" -- Because Saul felt shame for having slain the priests of Nob, he was forgiven this sin and could enter Heaven with Samuel provided he would enter battle and sacrifice his life to God (under the assumption that death is a punishment that atones for murder that the sinner regrets). Per Rashi, Rabbi David Kimchi (aka the Redak), and Metzudath David, citing Babl. Talmud Berachot 12b. See also Ritva (a.k.a. R Yom Tov ben Avraham al-Asevilli, 1248-1330 Spain) commentary on the Talmud's discussion.

Quick note on Necromancy. The rabbis, e.g. Rav Saadiah Gaon, considered the woman who called Samuel from the dead a fraud, and a surprised one when God actually caused the soul of Samuel to appear. Others say Saul had a combination hallucination and prophecy. See Judaica Book's Book of Samuel 1 at 234-236.

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