Realm of the Dead

This entry is part 86 of 207 in the series Inquiring Minds

What was the realm of the dead and can you explain the biblical worldview?

There are a number of rebellions in the book of Numbers. Beginning in Numbers 12:1-16 before the Israelites spy out the land, Moses’ brother and sister, Aaron and Miriam , oppose his leadership. It seems to be over a family dispute but gets public. God strikes Miriam with leprosy for seven days.

I guess the people didn’t get the message. In Numbers 14:1-12, right after Moses sends spies into the land of Canaan, the people want to go back to Egypt. Got almost kills them all with the pestilence but Moses goes to bat for them.

Big surprise. Once again, the people rebel. In Numbers 16, three of the chief leaders rise up against Moses. They mischaracterize him as an arrogant man. And they refuse his leadership. Moses presents a test the next day for 250 chiefs of the tribes who stand against him.

They fill their sensors at the tabernacle and that the whole of Israel moves away from them as these 250 men, leaders of tribes, find that Aaron’s sensor is the one God accepts. Their punishment is to be swallowed up by the ground, the camps and everyone in them.

It was more than 250 men. Their families and everyone in that area where the ground opened up was swallowed. God takes leadership seriously and when he ordains the leadership, no one should stand against it. David understood this when he talked about not touching the Lord’s anointed.

But the question brings us to another point. What is the worldview of how everything works within creation? The biblical worldview was simpler than our worldview might be today. The ancients believed the world could be divided into three partitions.

The first partition is the land that we walk on. This is the realm of humanity. Everyone lives and breathes and works on this part of the world. Especially in the biblical times no human being expected to fly in the sky.

The second partition is the sky or the heavens. From the Old Testament to the New Testament views on these three partitions were expanded. In the Old Testament, they would have understood the sky to be one partition in which the birds, the stars (including the sun and moon), the planets, and heaven where God dwells are all the same area.

In the New Testament, the skies or heavens were expanded into three sub- partitions. The first heaven was the realm of the birds and anything that could fly in the atmosphere. The second sub partition above it was the realm of the stars and planets, the universe. The third heaven, which Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 12:2 is God’s realm. This is the place where God dwells with his saints.

The third partition in the biblical worldview is the underworld. In the Old Testament, this is named Sheol, the grave, or the pit. Ancient Israelite understanding of the underworld wasn’t well-defined.

They talk about going to the pit where their ancestors dwell. Some of them say things like joining their fathers. As far as we understand it today, they believed that this place was the place they went where they died. It is uncertain if they believed that one day they would be moved from this place to another.

Sometimes it sounds like they believe in the resurrection after death. If this is the case, they would have understood Sheol to be a holding place for their souls until the Lord arrived and took them with him.

In the New Testament, after the influence of the Greeks, Persians, and Romans, they had an understanding of Hades, the underworld as an inescapable afterlife where you are alive in some fashion. You can’t leave the underworld.

This will be the place they considered. Jesus described it in several ways when he preached and taught. This doesn’t mean that he accepted all of these understandings of the underworld in his time. It means he used them as illustrations when he spoke of that place.

Hell is the place you don’t want to go. It is the place where the unrighteous who don’t know Christ end up. These are some of the basic understandings of the biblical worldview. We still work with most of these understandings, especially from New Testament times.

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