Finding Hell in the Old Testament

It has come to my attention that we need more teaching from the Bible on the fear of the Lord, and particularly the dangers of hell.  An Episcopal preacher once told me that he was raised in a denomination that constantly preached on hell and used scary stories regularly to motivate obedience to God.  He said that as a young adult he left his church because of it.  He could not accept that a loving God would put people He loved in hell.  I decided to see if there are any statistical information on what people today believe about heaven and hell.

A 2004 Pew Research Institute poll showed 55% of Americans believe in both heaven and hell, 17% believe in heaven but not hell, 4% believe in hell but not heaven, the rest believe there is no heaven or hell.  Interestingly, more recent polls say that there is a growing percentage of Americans that believe in heaven and hell, 60% according to a 2014 Vanity Fair poll.

In a 2014 CBS News poll 82% of those who said they believe in heaven and hell said they were headed to heaven, 2% said hell, the rest said they didn’t know.

Not to be outdone by the pollsters of today, I did a poll of my own.  I asked all my facebook friends to respond to this question: If you died today where do you believe you would go: heaven or hell?   All who replied said, “Heaven.”  100%!  All my facebook friends believe they are going to heaven, or at least all that replied.

How about us here at the Signal Mountain Church of Christ on this March 25th 2018 morning? 

Would you take a card and write your answer to this question?  If you died today, do you believe you would go to heaven or hell? If you are not sure, indicate with NS. 

We finished Deuteronomy and are in Joshua.  Did you know that thus far in our Bibles the word “hell” has not occurred? Unless you have the KJV or NKJV at Deuteronomy 32:22. That’s actually the Hebrew word Sheol, which occurs 66 times in the OT, 19 of those times it is translated “hell” in the King James and New King James, the other 47 times it is translated “grave” or “pit.” The word means grave, or place of the dead. The concept of eternal punishment is not in the word Sheol. Translating it as “hell” creates false understanding, such as in Psalm 139:8. Here it appears that God is in hell. I would prefer the translation “grave” or “place of the dead” instead of “hell” which most English translations give to the Hebrew word, “Sheol.”  The greek equivalent is “hades.” We have read through Job and now all of the books of Moses.  But we have yet to read about an eternal punishment described by Jesus and called “hell.”  Does that make anyone uncomfortable?  I mean, do you think God should have put more of the fear of hell in these Israelites than He did? Maybe that’s the problem!  Maybe they needed more teaching about “hell.”  I believe God said exactly what He should have said to them, don’t you?  In fact, instead of hell, God warned them of something more immediate. 

So… Instead of hell, what we DO read about is the punishment of God called “cursed.”  This is the Old Testament equivalent of the New Testament concept of hell.  This word, “Cursed” occurs 151 times in the Old Testament!  If we observe it carefully and listen to God’s description of one who is cursed, I think we might even smell the smoke of hell on it.

What’s a curse?  We think of words that are called curse words. Some people today think of being under a curse as a superstitious notion.  But is that true? God’s word gives us reason to take this idea of being cursed very seriously.  Blessed or cursed in relationship with God is of tremendous and ultimate importance.  You really want to be under the blessing of God and not under His curse.  I think we’d do well to teach this to our kids as surely as we teach about heaven and hell. Heaven and hell are AFTER WE DIE.  God’s blessing or curse hits home right now, while we live AND after we die! Did you get that? A blessing from God starts now and lasts longer than your earthly life.  God is eternal and His words last as long as He does.  When God blesses you, it really doesn’t matter what others do, you will be just fine.  But, we must also know:  If God curses you, it doesn’t matter what else happens, unless you repent, you will be forever doomed, starting NOW.  That’s the truth.  Whether we accept it or not.  Do not sell your soul for pleasures here.  Do not turn from God and think you will be ok. You won’t, not now and not forever!  Don’t take lightly your relationship with God.  It is a matter of blessing or cursing, life or death, heaven or hell, here and now AND FOREVER AFTER.  Do you know this?  Do you?  Deeply and fully, do you realize the enormity of what this means?  

Deuteronomy 27-28 describes both God’s blessing and God’s curse.  The fullest description of it falls on the curse.  In Deuteronomy 28 there are 14 verses to describe God’s blessing, all of it is earthly.  Now we know that there is much more in store with God’s blessing!  But God knows who He is talking to here.  Israel needs  to hear this warning.  In fact, God says that the very blessings they receive can easily dull their senses so that they forget God and turn away from God and fall under His curse.  So God’s word through Moses gives us a fuller description of the curse.  Verses 15 through 68, of Deut. 28, take us through places that many of us won’t even read to our kids. 

God’s curse is so severe, so terrible and so degrading, just reading it makes you cringe and realize that there are things worse than dying, far worse.  God’s curse removes His blessing from those under it and leaves only the consequences of their sin and His wrath against it.  

This chapter is the most excruciating depiction of life without God that I can imagine.  It is written to warn its hearers and generate the horror of God’s curse so that His people will NEVER GO THERE!  But, MANY do not believe and do not take seriously God’s warnings. MANY take the broad path that leads to destruction.  MANY turn away from God’s instruction for life.  MANY will not accept His warnings.  And therefore, MANY will meet their doom under the eternal curse of an Almighty God.

We are either on the Lord’s side, or we are not.  We are either living under His blessing or under His curse.  God’s word sets before us LIFE and DEATH and says: NOW CHOOSE LIFE!  

The one thing God does not do is force us to choose Himself.  He chooses us, but we must decide to choose Him.  Jesus gave His life on the cross to take UPON HIMSELF the punishment of the curse of God for all of us who will follow Him.  God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life.  This beautiful verse juxtaposes God’s love and life against the word perish. God does not want any to perish, but all to repent and come to the truth and enjoy His blessing.

Here’s the application: 

Last week we talked about Deuteronomy 6 where God instructs us in how to love Him and pass that onto our children.  One key principle of passing this on is this: Love God and talk about Him and His word all the time. Do we as parents love God?  Our children see us and they know what we love.  They will be impressed most to love what you and I as parents love.  If we don’t, they probably won’t.  But if we do love God, and if we show it by our conversations and how we decorate our homes and by our actions day in and out, this will impress it on our children.

Today we move from Deut. 6 to Deut. 28 and take Solomon’s counsel in Ecclesiastes 12: Fear the Lord and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Ask yourself this question: Do I fear the Lord?  Do I demonstrate reverent fear of God in my conversations, in my actions, in my choices, attitudes and life?  Do my children know that I fear the Lord?  How am I showing it to them? Am I modeling the fear of the Lord to my children?  

Or… Am I expecting the Bible classes, youth programs and sermons of this church to do that job for me?  

If my children don’t see and know that I fear the Lord, they probably won’t.  Psalm 34 gives us great counsel in this.  (Read)

*** Other comments:

After God created man and woman in His image and likeness, God pronounced His blessings on them.  After their sin of partaking of the forbidden fruit, God pronounced the curses upon the earth, the man, the woman and the serpent.  God had a plan for redeeming man from under the curse and to restore His blessing upon us.

When God called Abram, God blessed Abram in Genesis 12:1-3 saying, “I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great.  Then God pronounced that whoever blesses Abram will be blessed and whoever curses him will be cursed.  Finally, God said, “Through you all nations will be blessed.”  It is through Abraham that God brought the ultimate redeemer who took the curse upon Himself and bestows on all who believe and obey Him the blessing of freedom from sin and it’s curse.  He credits us with His own righteousness and favor and pours out all spiritual blessings upon us for this life and forever in glory with Him.

Just trace God’s blessings and curses through the Bible and you will see heaven and hell from a new perspective. 

Finding Hell in the Old Testament