4

I admit one can get this impression from the following passages, which are commonly cited to make this point:

17 The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence.

[Psalm 115:17 ESV]

4 Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. 5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?

[Psalm 6:4-5 ESV]

10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?

[Psalm 88:10-12 ESV]

Likewise, Isaiah said:

18 For Sheol does not thank you;
death does not praise you;
those who go down to the pit do not hope
for your faithfulness.
19 The living, the living, he thanks you,
as I do this day;
the father makes known to the children
your faithfulness.

[Isaiah 38:18-19 ESV]

Does it follow from these passages that both David and Isaiah didn't expect to be in paradise, in the presence of God, where they would be able to worship Him and praise Him, as soon as they died? Were they expecting silence, darkness and forgetfulness instead? If so, were their expectations accurate?


Related questions:

8
  • 3
    Acts 2:34 says David did not ascend to heaven. Jan 26 at 16:09
  • @AlexBalilo - Right, good point. What about Sheol though? Jan 26 at 16:12
  • @AlexBalilo I hope you read the context of Acts 2:34 and are not suggesting that King David never went to heaven in the end? We read: “Although my house is not so with God, Yet He has made with me an everlasting covenant, Ordered in all things and secure. For this is all my salvation and all my desire; Will He not make it increase? 2 Samuel 23:5
    – Cork88
    Jan 26 at 17:55
  • 3
    @Cork88. You are free to infer. I stick to what was plainly stated. Even Jesus said no one has ascended to heaven. Jan 26 at 18:40
  • @Alex Balilo - Nobody ascended to Heaven by their own power. Yet, God allowed for ascension which is by His power: “So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭5:23-24‬ ‭What do you make of that?
    – Cork88
    Jan 26 at 19:54

2 Answers 2

2

I propose two plausible answers to this question:

  1. We could infer that David & Isaiah held views similar to later Jewish writers...that might be true.

OR

  1. We could acknowledge uncertainty as to what they believed on topics on which they didn't speak.

Neither David nor Isaiah had read the New Testament [citation needed], so it is difficult to be certain how much of the New Testament's afterlife theology was known to them. (Note that it is possible for something to be both true and unknown)

It is possible to read Isaiah 14:9-10 as a description of consciousness by the wicked in Sheol; it is also possible to read it as a metaphor (or both!).


Commentary on the referenced passages

Psalm 115:17

This Psalm contrasts the works of God in heaven with those of men on earth (see verses 3-4).

This theme is emphasized again at the end of the Psalm, as the Psalmist speaks of the blessings God provides to people on earth & the actions people on earth take in worship of God:

14 The Lord shall increase you more and more, you and your children.

15 Ye are blessed of the Lord which made heaven and earth.

16 The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord’s: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.

17 The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.

18 But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and for evermore. Praise the Lord.

  • If the last 2 verses speak of actions taken in the afterlife, they contradict one another (i.e. after we're dead we won't praise ^ after we're dead we'll still praise for evermore).
  • If the last 2 verses speak of actions taken on earth they are quite compatible: our people/children (see verse 14) will praise God on this earth forever--but from our perspective (on earth) the dead go silent--we hear nothing from them. The people who are praising God on earth are the living people of Israel (notice there's no mention of Sheol here).

Thus the Psalmist either believes:

  1. He will never die OR
  2. He will praise God for ever--including after he dies OR
  3. His people/descendants on earth will praise God forever

#1 conflicts with the message of the Psalm (to say nothing of many of the other Psalms), #2 would support the consciousness of the dead, and #3 (the most likely option) would mean he's just talking about actions on earth.

I suggest #3 fits best with the focus of the Psalm, contrasting the works of God in heaven with those of men on earth. In that case, the Psalmist is quite correct: dead corpses on earth are silent and do not praise God.

--

Psalm 6:4-5

I find Gill's commentary on this passage well-stated:

For in death there is no remembrance of thee,.... Of the goodness, truth, power, and faithfulness of God; no notice can be taken nor mention, made either of the perfections or works of God, whether of nature or of grace, by a dead man to others; he is wholly useless to men on earth with respect to these things; in the grave who shall give thee thanks? for mercies temporal or spiritual; the dead cannot praise the Lord among men, only the living; see Psalm 30:9; wherefore the psalmist desires that he might live and praise the Lord: this argument is taken from the glory of God, which end cannot be answered among men by death, as by life. It does not follow from hence that the soul either dies or sleeps with the body, and is inactive until the resurrection morn, neither of which are true; or that the souls of departed saints are unemployed in heaven; they are always before the throne, and serve the Lord day and night; they remember, with the utmost gratitude and thankfulness, all the goodness and grace of God unto them, and praise him for all his wondrous works: but the sense is, that when a saint is dead, he can no more serve and glorify God on earth among men.

While in Sheol, David will not be doing the things he's doing now (in life) to praise God and teach His message. He sees an end to his ability to do what God sent him (David) here to do.

--

Psalm 88:10-12

This says nothing about consciousness or unconsciousness of the dead, but does perhaps suggest the futility of procrastinating turning to the Lord. It asks a question which is graciously answered elsewhere--yes indeed the dead will rise.

See a more extensive related discussion in my comments on Ecclesiastes 9 here.

--

Isaiah 38:18-19

Verse 18 describes despair, not consciousness.

See also the final paragraphs (above) in the discussions of Psalm 115 & Psalm 6.


Conclusion

David & Isaiah tell us relatively little of their afterlife theology, but they do speak of Sheol, which can be understood through the words of later Jewish & Christian writers.

JewishEncyclopedia provides the following helpful statements on Sheol:

  • It connotes the place where those that had died were believed to be congregated
  • [Sheol] seems to have been viewed as divided into compartments...one beneath the other
  • Here the dead meet.
  • In the compartments of Sheol, one is often presented as a place of rest for the righteous, and one a place of anguish for the wicked.

This is quite compatible with the view of the afterlife described in the parable of the rich man & Lazarus in Luke 16. This may be what David & Isaiah believed, or it may be that in their time some of this had not yet been revealed.

2

The Bible's statements about exactly what and where heaven is, are much more vague than most realise. Here is a sample:

  • Matt 8:20 - And Jesus says to him, "Foxes have holes, and the birds of the heaven nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere He might lay the head." See also Luke 9:58.
  • Eph 6:12 - because to us the wrestling is not against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
  • Eph 3:10 - His purpose was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms,
  • Eph 1:3 - Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms.
  • Eph 2:6 - and He raised us up together and seated us together in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus

Thus, whatever "heaven" is it also is the supposed place of evil satanic forces against whom we battle (Eph 6:12). See appendix below for more information.

The important point is that most of what we "understand" about heaven is based on something other than Bible exposition. This is not to suggest that heaven does not exist, but that we actually know less about it than commonly thought.

What most people mean by "heaven" is better termed, "The New Jerusalem" which only occurs in Revelation in highly symbolic language.

Enoch and Elijah

Again, the data on Enoch and Elijah is scant and extremely terse.

  • In the case of Enoch we know that he did not die and experience death (Heb 11:5) because "he was no more, because God had taken him away" Gen 5:24.
  • In the case of Elijah, the record succinctly states that "suddenly a chariot of fire with horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up into heaven in a whirlwind." 2 Kings 2:11. Compare this with Eph 2:6, 6:12, etc.

The important point is this, Elijah and Enoch were clearly different from the vast bulk of the rest of us who do not end our earthly lives this way. The Bible is at pains to pint out the power and privilege in this life does not mean we go to a different place - we all go to She'ol, a place of darkness and silence (ie, the grace) to await the resurrection (John 5:28, 29, Dan 12:2, 3). See Eze 32:20, Eze 31:14, etc.

The OP's quoted texts document this well. David even famously said at the end of his life:

  • 1 Kings 2:1, 2 - As the time drew near for David to die, he charged his son Solomon, “I am about to go the way of all the earth ...". However, David expected to see God after his resurrection, when he awoke, Ps 17:15.
  • There is no record of the death of the prophet Isaiah in the Bible. However, as Isaiah clearly says in Isa 38, he did not expect to be praising God from the grave because only the living do that.

APPENDIX - Heaven

Here we want to discuss the idea of heaven as the destiny for the righteous; that is the “third heaven” (2 Cor 12:2-4). The very scant Biblical data on this idea is found in:

  • 2 Peter 3 describes three “worlds”. The first was the antediluvian world which was destroyed by water. The second is our world which will destroyed by fire to be replaced by the third world consisting of a new heaven and new earth.
  • Heb 11:16 talks about a better country, a heavenly one, that is, designed and constructed (perfectly) by God. However, the location is not disclosed.
  • John 14:2, 3 talks about rooms in the Father’s house but does not mention heaven. However, Jesus says He came from heaven (John 3:13, 1 Cor 15:47, John 6:41) and this passage tells that Jesus returning there to prepare a place (in quintessential wedding imagery) and will come back to take us there.
  • Col 3:1-4 discusses Christ seated at the right hand of God and the saints appearing with Him in glory. Again, heaven is not mentioned explicitly but implied.
  • 1 Thess 4:16, 17 promises that the Lord will descend from heaven and the saints will be caught up to meet the Lord, in “clouds”, “in the air”.
  • Isa 65:17 promises unmitigated happiness and joy of a great and noble kind because former problems will not be remembered. Matt 5:12. However, whether the saints will be in “heaven” or on earth is not stated.
  • Rev 20:1-6 gives a further hint by promising important things such as the saints reigning with Jesus (where is not stated) while the wicked are dead on earth. Following the 1000 years (Rev 21:1-4), the New Jerusalem descends from heaven to earth. In this act heaven and earth are merged.

Further, while heaven (more correctly, the New Jerusalem) as a place is described in many Bible passages, especially Revelation, all such descriptions are clearly quite symbolic. Thus, we know very little of heaven, presumably because it is beyond description!

However, there is one very important piece of information about which there is no doubt. The reward of the righteous is to be with Jesus 1 Thess 4:17, Rev 21:4, 5. Indeed, it is this very prospect that so fills the righteous with unspeakable joy (Isa 25:9) and the wicked with so much anguish that they request destruction (Rev 6:15-17). Both groups have their wish granted.

The Bible appears to be far more concerned about the character of the inhabitants of heaven/New Jerusalem than the details of heaven itself.

  • God is present personally, Rev 21:1-4, John 14:3
  • People commune directly and personally with God, Rev 22:4.
  • Only Righteous people live in heaven/New Jerusalem, Rev 21:7, 8, 2 Peter 3:13.
  • Nothing impure or unclean enters the New Jerusalem, Rev 21:27. Thus, heaven will not be a repeat of the imperfect governments on earth. The New Jerusalem is ruled by a perfect and benevolent God who is kind, gracious and omniscient. Rev 11:15.

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