I am currently studying Ezekiel. I came across some language that at first I wasn’t sure what to do with. Then I remembered some past studying that I had done. Let me post the first passage which had me wondering what in the world these scriptures meant. In the middle of a passage pronouncing destruction on Tyre, the prophet had this to say:
Ezekiel 26: 19 For thus says the Lord God: When I make you a city laid waste, like the cities that are not inhabited, when I bring up the deep over you, and the great waters cover you, 20 then I will make you go down with those who go down to the pit, to the people of old, and I will make you to dwell in the world below, among ruins from of old, with those who go down to the pit, so that you will not be inhabited; but I will set beauty in the land of the living. 21 I will bring you to a dreadful end, and you shall be no more. Though you be sought for, you will never be found again, declares the Lord God.
I post it in the ESV because that is the version I am studying as I initially read through Ezekiel. I consult KJV and NKJV, so feel free to use whatever version you like. But this language struck me as being more like the lore of old rather than a biblical view. Let’s come to some conclusions here.
God is going to destroy the city of Tyre. When He does, He will bring waters over the top of the city. At that time, the inhabitants of the city will “go down” or descend into what is described as a pit, a people of old, and a world below. All three of these terms are contrasted with the land of the living. The city will not be found since the inhabitants will be destroyed because they have been carried into the world below, a world which contains a previously destroyed people.
As I pondered this language which struck me in a new way, I remembered about the gates of Sheol. Read my post here to understand what Jesus meant by the gates of Hades, which Hebrew equivalent is the gates of Sheol. In short, four times in the OT there is mention of the gates of Sheol, Job 38:17, Psalm 9:13, 107:18, Isaiah 38:10. The grave was not simply a place where you lay dead. Instead, it seemed to be a realm to which the dead existed in the afterlife with gates surrounding it, sort of like a kingdom of the dead. My previous post on the subject also cites apocryphal literature for those who are interested.
So when I came across the Ezekiel 26 passage, it reminded me of the gates of Sheol. Here was language to suggest that these citizens of Tyre would not cease to exist when they were judged by God, but would be carried into an underworld of death. They would go into this pit where others currently exist, but they would never again be found in the land of the living. If this wasn’t enough, I got another eyeful when I came across Ezekiel 31:15-18.
15 Thus says the Lord God: On the day the cedar went down to Sheol I caused mourning; I closed the deep over it, and restrained its rivers, and many waters were stopped. I clothed Lebanon in gloom for it, and all the trees of the field fainted because of it. 16 I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol with those who go down to the pit. And all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, were comforted in the world below. 17 They also went down to Sheol with it, to those who are slain by the sword; yes, those who were its arm, who lived under its shadow among the nations. 18 Whom are you thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? You shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the world below. You shall lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord God.
The passage in context is directed toward Egypt but concerns Assyria. God is explaining what He did to destroy Assyria to prove what He can and will do to Egypt. Notice the language in this passage as well. The cedar, which is Assyria, goes down to Sheol (the grave, the land of death) as the deep is closed over it. I’m not sure what to think about “the deep closing over” as this destruction occurs, but it’s identical to the language describing Tyre’s destruction. Again, Sheol is the pit and the world below, the world of those who are killed in judgement. As if that wasn’t enough, I got another taste of this language in Ezekiel 32. Although it is lengthy, I post it because I want you to read the scripture more than I want you to read my words about the scripture.
17 In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 18 Son of man, wail over the multitude of Egypt, and send them down, her and the daughters of majestic nations, to the world below, to those who have gone down to the pit: 19 Whom do you surpass in beauty? Go down and be laid to rest with the uncircumcised. 20 They shall fall amid those who are slain by the sword. Egypt is delivered to the sword; drag her away, and all her multitudes. 21 The mighty chiefs shall speak of them, with their helpers, out of the midst of Sheol: They have come down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword. 22 Assyria is there, and all her company, its graves all around it, all of them slain, fallen by the sword, 23 whose graves are set in the uttermost parts of the pit; and her company is all around her grave, all of them slain, fallen by the sword, who spread terror in the land of the living. 24 Elam is there, and all her multitude around her grave; all of them slain, fallen by the sword, who went down uncircumcised into the world below, who spread their terror in the land of the living; and they bear their shame with those who go down to the pit. 25 They have made her a bed among the slain with all her multitude, her graves all around it, all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword; for terror of them was spread in the land of the living, and they bear their shame with those who go down to the pit; they are placed among the slain. 26 Meshech-Tubal is there, and all her multitude, her graves all around it, all of them uncircumcised, slain by the sword; for they spread their terror in the land of the living. 27 And they do not lie with the mighty, the fallen from among the uncircumcised, who went down to Sheol with their weapons of war, whose swords were laid under their heads, and whose iniquities are upon their bones; for the terror of the mighty men was in the land of the living. 28 But as for you, you shall be broken and lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword. 29 Edom is there, her kings and all her princes, who for all their might are laid with those who are killed by the sword; they lie with the uncircumcised, with those who go down to the pit. 30 The princes of the north are there, all of them, and all the Sidonians, who have gone down in shame with the slain, for all the terror that they caused by their might; they lie uncircumcised with those who are slain by the sword, and bear their shame with those who go down to the pit. 31 When Pharaoh sees them, he will be comforted for all his multitude, Pharaoh and all his army, slain by the sword, declares the Lord God. 32 For I spread terror in the land of the living; and he shall be laid to rest among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword, Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord God.
This language is so graphic and not to be taken lightly. Prophesying against Egypt again, God commands Ezekiel to lament for them and to send them down to the world below. Ezekiel sends them to this realm by pronouncing judgement against them. Again, the world below is the pit; although now, we have a reference to “being laid to rest” at the time of going down into the pit. Yet there are notable people speaking out of the midst of Sheol. Individual nations which have previously been judged by the LORD are waiting for Egypt to join them in this underworld. They have graves in the underworld, which is the world of death. Note the spiritual condition of these fallen warriors. Their sins are still upon their bones while they dwell in the land of Sheol. The use of the term “uncircumcised” to describe all who are there stands in contrast to God’s people who were circumcised. It’s the OT equivalent of stating that they are heathen.
As God pronounced His judgement upon nations and individuals, they were not to be destroyed in the sense of ceasing to exist. God intended to send them to the grave which is defined in these passages. The grave is a place with a name: Sheol. It is described as the underworld, as a pit, and as the realm of the dead. The dead exist in this place as people awaiting others to join them. Entire people groups are pictured as being in Sheol. Once they enter the grave they will never again be allowed in the land of the living.
This is what makes Jesus’ statement concerning the gates of Hades not prevailing against the church so marvelous. His work would produce something so amazing that the gates of Sheol would not be able to hold back the dead as He led them forth in resurrection victory. Not even the realm of the dead could contain what Jesus would do.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman