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Isaiah 38:10 (ESV):

I said, In the middle of my days I must depart; I am consigned to the gates of Sheol for the rest of my years.

We find similar expressions by David, Job and Jesus:

Be gracious to me, O Lord! See my affliction from those who hate me, O you who lift me up from the gates of death, [Psalm 9:13 ESV]

they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. [Psalm 107:18 ESV]

Have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness? [Job 38:17 ESV]

18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. [Matthew 16:18 NASB]

What are the "gates of Sheol"?


Related: What is hell? sheol/hades/prison/lake of fire/outer darkness

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"The gates of death" is a Hebraism that almost personifies the grave and death. Observe the Cambridge commentary on Job 38:17 -

  1. have the gates of death Or, were the gates? Death is personified; it is Sheol, the place of the dead, ch. Job 28:22. This is a lower deep than the recesses of the sea; Job, no doubt, went down there also.

We see this in the surrounding material (V6-8):

On what were its [the earth] foundations set, or who laid its cornerstone, ... Who enclosed the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb

Thus, there is considerable literary metaphor and licence in the passage of Job 38.

There is a similar phenomenon in other places that talk about death and sheol/hades. For example, in Isa 38, Isaiah expresses a lament in very poetic language using numerous metaphors such as (V12, 13):

My dwelling has been picked up and removed from me like a shepherd’s tent. I have rolled up my life like a weaver; He cuts me off from the loom; from day until night You make an end of me. I composed myself until the morning. Like a lion He breaks all my bones; from day until night You make an end of me.

In the case of Ps 9 we have the helpful comments of Ellicott:

(13, 14) It is natural to take these verses as the cry for help just mentioned. Consider.—Literally, see my suffering from my haters.

My lifter up from the gates of death.—For the gates of sheol, see Note to Psalm 6:5. (Comp. Psalm 107:18, and the Homeric phrase “the gates of Hades.”) We might perhaps paraphrase “from the verge of the grave,” if it were not for the evident antithesis to “gates of the daughter of Zion” in the next verse. We understand, therefore, “gates” in sense of “power,” “rule,” the gate being the seat of the judge or king, and so, like our “court,” synonymous for his power. (Comp. Sublime Porte.)

This shows the pattern of the Hebrew metaphor well. There are no literal gates of sheol/hades.

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שְׁאוֹל The "Grave" [is] Prison (where souls can remain cut off from living) based on Jonah 2:3 & Isaiah 38:10 which is deep under the earth; the opposite of heaven (where souls live eternally) [compared with Psalms. 139:8] - it does not mean hell.

[Psalms 139:8] - "If I ascend to heaven, You are" there; (אִם־אֶסַּק שָׁמַיִם שָׁם אָתָּה ) "if I descend to Sheol, You are there too" (וְאַצִּיעָה שְּׁאוֹל הִנֶּֽךָּ).

Prison (like a grave) is below earth. | The "gates" of Sheol are prison doors like the jaws of a great fish in [Jonah 2:3] "And he said: I called out from my distress to the Lord, and He answered me; from the belly of the Sheol I cried out, You heard my voice." (וַיֹּאמֶר קָ֠רָא֠תִי מִצָּ֥רָה לִ֛י אֶל־יְהֹוָה וַיַּֽעֲנֵנִי מִבֶּ֧טֶן שְׁא֛וֹל שִׁוַּעְתִּי שָׁמַעְתָּ קוֹלִֽי)

Lifelong Imprisonment is described in [Isaiah 38:10]- I said, "In the desolation of my days will I go into the gates of the grave; I am deprived of the rest of my years." (אֲנִי אָמַ֗רְתִּי בִּדְמִי יָמַי אֵלֵכָה בְּשַֽׁעֲרֵי שְׁא֑וֹל פֻּקַּ֖דְתִּי יֶתֶר שְׁנוֹתָֽי) - Gates of Sheol are simply doors to prison, where a person is cut off from living life.

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