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I'm specifically talking about the following passages:

David

What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? [Psalm 30:9 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]

17 The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence. [Psalm 115:17 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]

Isaiah

9 Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations. 10 All of them will answer and say to you: ‘You too have become as weak as we! You have become like us!’ 11 Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, the sound of your harps; maggots are laid as a bed beneath you, and worms are your covers.
[Isaiah 14:9-11 ESV]

17 Behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness; but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back. 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 38:17-19 ESV]

Job

10 But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he? 11 As waters fail from a lake and a river wastes away and dries up, 12 so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep. [Job 14:10-12 ESV]

13 If I hope for Sheol as my house, if I make my bed in darkness, 14 if I say to the pit, ‘You are my father,’ and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’ 15 where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? 16 Will it go down to the bars of Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?” [Job 17:13-16 ESV]

18 “Why did you bring me out from the womb? Would that I had died before any eye had seen me 19 and were as though I had not been, carried from the womb to the grave. 20 Are not my days few? Then cease, and leave me alone, that I may find a little cheer 21 before I go—and I shall not return— to the land of darkness and deep shadow, 22 the land of gloom like thick darkness, like deep shadow without any order, where light is as thick darkness.”
[Job 10:21-22 ESV]

At face value, it looks like neither David nor Isaiah nor Job believed they would be in paradise, in the presence of God, where they would be able to worship Him and praise Him, as soon as they died. Nor did they seem to have expected to enter into any sort of blissful state. Instead, they refer to death in pessimistic terms, such as silence, darkness, forgetfulness, destruction (other translations say oblivion or nothingness), sleep, worms, maggots, weak, dust, "bars of Sheol", devoid of praise, devoid of hope, etc.

In fact, we find similar pessimistic language in Ecclesiastes chapter 9:

5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun. [ESV]

10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. [ESV]

Question: How do Christians who believe that the saints enter a blissful state as soon as they die explain David, Isaiah & Job's pessimistic outlook on death?


Mirror question on Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Peter Turner
    Jan 26 at 22:16
  • 1
    In a nut-shell, these were all written B.C. David, Isaiah, and Job did go down to Sheol after they died. They were then triumphantly led up to Heaven by Christ. Feb 5 at 1:00

4 Answers 4

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+50

Fear of the unknown

Death is frightening to many people [citation needed] - it represents an unknown, a departure from that which is familiar - these are attributes that make people apprehensive. It is unsurprising that people often look upon death with negative emotion.

For David, death meant leaving behind a remarkably luxurious & powerful mortal existence. As a warrior, he had seen a lot of painful death (e.g. 1 Sam. 18:7), and understandably prayed that this would not be his fate in battle.

For Job, death was the thing that took his family members away (see Job 1:18-19); the reason they were not with him at the moment.

Separation, loss, and the unknown can make death scary even for people who believe in an afterlife.

--

All 3 believed there was hope

And yet, this isn't the end of the story. All 3 of the authors referenced in the OP express--in one form or another--a testimony of the resurrection. They're willing to display their human emotion, their fears, their questions--but they don't stop there. Job in particular asks many longing questions that are only answered later in his poetry.

From Job 19:

25 For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God

This answers questions Job asked earlier in the story. Recovering from trauma is a process, not an event. Job shares much of that process.

From David, in Psalm 16:

10 For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, you will not allow your holy one to experience corruption.

A New Testament interpretation of this passage is that David will not be left in Sheol because he will be resurrected--and he will be resurrected because the Holy One will not die and decay (He will die and rise again).

From Isaiah 26:

19 Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.

The songs referenced here sound less like a funeral dirge and more like a celebration.

--

Long period of bondage

In this section I will specifically offer a Latter-day Saint perspective.

In his great vision of the spirit world, Joseph F. Smith observed:

And so it was made known among the dead, both small and great, the unrighteous as well as the faithful, that redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross (Doctrine & Covenants 138:35)

Up until this time it was all a promise that had yet to be fulfilled. As Ahmad Corbitt observed:

All hope for returning resurrected and clean to God's holy presence rested entirely upon one Being keeping His promise (source)

Then, after the Savior's mortal mission had been completed, that hope was being realized. It was a new era for the dead as well.

Continuing from Joseph F. Smith:

All these and many more [many of the righteous dead have just been named]...mingled in the vast assembly and waited for their deliverance, For the dead had looked upon the long absence of their spirits from their bodies as a bondage. (Doctrine & Covenants 138:49-50)

I do not claim a solid understanding of how time works in the afterlife, but apparently waiting the equivalent of several centuries for redemption was challenging (if you don't believe waiting--even somewhere comfortable--can be challenging, just ask my children).

Back to Joseph F. Smith once more:

Thus was it made known that our Redeemer spent his time during his sojourn in the world of spirits, instructing and preparing the faithful spirits of the prophets who had testified of him in the flesh; That they might carry the message of redemption unto all the dead... (Doctrine & Covenants 138:36-37, see also 1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6)

A new chapter in the spirit world had opened as well--the impassible gulf could be bridged, and messengers could be sent to proclaim the good news to those who had not received it (or had only a partial understanding). I propose that Isaiah himself rejoiced at the prospect that this would eventually happen:

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

--

Specific 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, Psalm 30:9, Psalm 88:10-12

These passages highlight the temporal nature of David's concerns. While his spirit is 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.

In this Psalm, David is grateful to God for preserving his life on earth and wants to praise & serve God on earth in gratitude. I offered a more extensive discussion of two of these passages in this post on the Hermeneutics site.

Job

All 3 passages from Job raise questions that are later answered in chapter 19. Job is struggling with grief, but after much mental anxiety he ultimately shares his conviction that there is hope.

Isaiah 14:9-11

All individuals referenced in the passage appear to be wicked--they are not enjoying a blissful afterlife.

Isaiah 38:17-19

Death is contemplated with despair--that's a normal human attitude. Isaiah is grateful that his life has been preserved and that he can continue to teach God's message.

Ecclesiastes 9

I offered a more extensive discussion of these passages on the Hermeneutics site here. This chapter is focused on events “under the sun”, which refers to the things of this life. In the aforementioned post I also offer a reductio ad absurdum that if Ecclesiastes 9 is used to argue for post-mortal unconsciousness, it could be used to deny the resurrection just as well.

--

Conclusion

There are innumerable reasons why a person may feel apprehension about death, or the process of dying. Even Paul, who spoke somewhat favorably about dying, defended himself vigorously when on trial for his life.

Despite their human nature, Job, David, and Isaiah all convey a message of hope through the resurrection, even if not every step of the path between here and there is blissful.

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  • A note on Psalm 115:17. The last two verses would not contradict each other. The Psalmist is talking about his eternal destiny. Notice that he does not say, "But we will unceasingly bless the Lord from this time forth and for evermore. Praise the Lord." All he says is that he will bless Yahweh forever. He knows that that is his eternal destiny due to the resurrection. For example, I'm sure you will agree that we will live forever with Jesus. We could validly say, "I will live forever with Jesus". Does mean that we will never die? No, only that our eternal destiny is to live forever with Jesus.
    – Rajesh
    Feb 8 at 5:04
  • @Rajesh "Those who live and believe in me will never die. Do you believe this?" Feb 8 at 12:00
  • @MikeBorden - your quote inspired me to ask this question. Feb 8 at 13:40
  • @MikeBorden Let's agree on a few things. (1) It is impossible to be both dead and alive simultaneously. (2) There are 3 types of death; ordinary death, spiritual death(being separated from the only true source of life, God), and the Second Death(the lake of fire, eternal destruction/torment). (3) Martha died. So was Jesus talking about ordinary death? If so, he lied to Martha, because she died(which means she is not alive; one cannot be dead and alive simultaneously).
    – Rajesh
    Feb 8 at 16:18
  • What if Jesus was talking about spiritual death? Would that work? When we have faith in Christ, we are no longer dead in our trespasses and sins; as such, we become a part of the family of God and are connected to the true source of life(this is why we currently have everlasting life[1 John 5:13], even though we aren't actually going to live forever in this current life). If one lives their life believing in Christ and dies an ordinary death, then they would have died while spiritually alive; does that stop them from being connected to God? No! They are still alive in His eyes(Luke 20:38)! :-)
    – Rajesh
    Feb 8 at 16:24
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There are many things presented in the OT, many topics covered or touched upon in the context of historical narrative, poetry, wisdom literature, etc. which, read apart from the new light shed in the pages of the NT, are less than full treatments. That is not to say that the OT is inaccurate or even incomplete but it is, standing by itself, unfulfilled and oft times unexplained.

The prophets and holy men of old who penned the words of the OT often had little or no clarity regarding the very things they wrote and read:

For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. - Luke 10:24

And, while that which is contained in the pages of the OT is sufficient ground for the faith by which salvation comes (Hebrews chapter 11 lists many righteous), it is not ground for perfection of faith:

And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. - Hebrews 11:39-40

This perfection extends toward a perfection of understanding now that the promised Christ has come and sent forth the Spirit of Truth into the hearts of the redeemed to guide them into all truth:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. - John 16:12-15

One striking example of this is the Apostle Paul allegorizing the historical record of Sarah, Hagar, and their children by Abraham. Paul plainly states that these are two covenants allegorically:

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. - Galatians 4:22-26

And then Paul quotes Isaiah 54:1

Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. - Isaiah 54:1 

indicating that the children of promise (those in Christ who are Abraham's offspring) are the subject in view. Just reading Isaiah 54 alone one understands Israel/Jerusalem as the subject matter but Paul points out that the Jerusalem below is in bondage with her children (like Hagar) while the children of promise are free.

Without the NT interpretation it is very difficult, perhaps impossible, to understand that Isaiah 54 refers to spiritual Israel rather than national Israel.

There are many, many examples of such things and the condition of the dead is one of those topics. Just as it would be inappropriate to lessen the import and insight of Paul's teaching by forcing it through the interpretive lens of Isaiah so it is with OT statements of the condition of the dead. When Paul declares:

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. - Philippians 1:21-24

it is not appropriate to force his departure and presence with Christ to contain an unspoken waiting period of unconscious deadness imposed by a strictly OT understanding. Paul is speaking of immanence: He will either remain in the flesh or be with Christ.

Elsewhere, when Jesus corrects the Sadducees regarding the resurrection of the dead:

And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” - Matthew 22:31-32

It is not appropriate to impose upon Jesus' teaching the same limited OT understanding which the Sadducees themselves held and which Jesus corrected.

It is much more appropriate to look back into the old testament through the new testament lens of increased revelation and understand that such statements as:

The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. - 1 Samuel 2:6

are spoken completely ignorant of the new revelation contained within the fulfillment of the promise of Christ:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” - John 11:25-26

Without the NT enlightenment the OT reports exactly what the natural man sees as regards the dead: The body is bereft of whatever quickening force animates it (no movement, no thought, no understanding) and goes into the ground with all the other dead (Sheol). While there certainly can be an OT expectation of a resurrection from the dead (wherever and however they are) it is the NT which declares the immediacy and permanence of that resurrection:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. - John 5:24-25

God is the God of the living and not of the dead. He is the God of Abraham not will someday be again the God of Abraham. It is the NT which should interpret the OT not the other way around. Astonishingly, Abraham is truly dead (OT understanding) and yet truly alive (NT understanding).

And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. - Matthew 22:33

 

 

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  • 1
    Please use chat for this discussion.
    – Ken Graham
    Feb 3 at 13:15
  • 1
    None of this answer has any direct references that support the idea we go to heaven after we die. This new light nonsense has no bearing on that. As another point...if we go to heaven when we die, why the need for the second coming? The second coming itself does not agree with your argument...we do not need the second coming so that sinful bodies may be raised, transformed, and to join up with spirits that have already been ith God in heaven...it doesn't even make logical sense.
    – Adam
    Feb 3 at 19:45
  • 1
    @Adam OP is not asking for a defense of the idea that we go to heaven after we die. OP is asking how those who believe such a thing handle OT texts that appear antagonistic to that idea. Feb 4 at 13:54
  • 1
    How does this answer or even address the question?
    – Dottard
    Feb 7 at 22:17
  • 2
    @MikeBorden - true but they are still inspired writings and so are not wrong but profitable for instruction just as much as the rest of scripture. Job understood the resurrection clearly, Job 19:20-26.
    – Dottard
    Feb 8 at 8:25
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We must understand one important point. God does not reside in the place of the dead. God resides in Heaven. This is indisputable.

Psalm 11:4 The LORD is in His holy temple; the LORD's throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men.

1 Kings 22:19 Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left.

Isaiah 63:15 Look down from heaven and see from Your holy and glorious habitation; Where are Your zeal and Your mighty deeds? The stirrings of Your heart and Your compassion are restrained toward me.

Clearly, God resides in Heaven. And Sheol(שְׁאוֹל), the place of the dead, is notoriously NOT Heaven.

Genesis 37:35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.

Numbers 16:30 But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.”

1 Samuel 2:6 The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

Psalm 18:5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.

Those who go to Sheol go down, not up, where Heaven is depicted as being(cf. Psalm 14:2, Lamentations 3:41, Matthew 28:2, Luke 24:51, John 20:17). Sheol is not depicted as being a glorious place filled with God's presence. Quite the opposite, in contradistinction with how Heaven is presented(e.g. Psalm 6:4-5, Psalm 16:10, Psalm 18:5, Psalm 88:10-12, Psalm 115:17, Hosea 13:14, Isaiah 38:18-19). Here's my deductive argument;

P1: God resides in Heaven(supported by Psalm 11:4, Psalm 14:2, Psalm 18:5, 1 Kings 22:19, Isaiah 63:15, Lamentations 3:41, Matthew 28:2, Luke 24:51, John 20:17).

P2: Sheol is not in Heaven, but a place depicted as being under the earth(as opposed to Heaven being above), full of darkness and silence, devoid of any activity(supported by Genesis 37:35, Numbers 16:30, 1 Samuel 2:6, Psalm 6:4-5, Psalm 16:10, Psalm 18:5, Psalm 30:3, Psalm 49:15, Psalm 88:10-12, Psalm 89:48, Psalm 115:17, Hosea 13:14, Isaiah 38:18-19).

P3: The dead are in Sheol(supported by Genesis 37:35, Numbers 16:30, 1 Samuel 2:6, Job 14:13, Psalm 6:4-5, Psalm 16:10, Psalm 18:5, Psalm 30:3, Psalm 49:15, Psalm 88:10-12, Psalm 89:48, Psalm 115:17, Ecclesiastes 9:10, Hosea 13:14, Isaiah 38:18-19).

C1: God does not reside in Sheol(follows deductively from premises 1 and 2).

C2: The dead are not with God in Heaven, i.e. not in His presence(follows deductively from premise 3 and conclusion 1).

But what about Psalm 139:8? Doesn't it prove that God dwells in Sheol? No. Let's read the context.

Psalm 139:7-10 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.

Is Psalm 139:8 saying that God literally resides in Sheol? Is it saying that God's literal hand literally holds a person in the uttermost parts of the sea? Or is the Psalmist employing symbolism? If one would fancy taking Psalm 139:8 literally(i.e. to be saying that God actually resides in Sheol), they would be obliged to do the same with the entire context(i.e. both the preceding and succeeding verses). You don't get to pick and choose which parts are literal and which parts are symbolic. My suggestion is that the Psalmist is talking about God's omnipresence, i.e. how God is "everywhere at all times" in the sense that He sees everything and everyone and how nothing and no one is hidden from Him. The words are a metaphor for the incomprehensible and awe-inspiring omnipresence of God(as well as His omniscience; this is seen in the preceding verses 1-6). Verse 8 is not saying that God literally dwells in Sheol, just as verses 9-10 are not saying that God literally holds us with His right hand in the uttermost parts of the sea, just as verse 5 is not literally saying that God has encircled us from behind and in front, laying His hand on us. It's symbolic.

So, in conclusion, righteous ones like David and Isaiah do not currently reside in Heaven. Hope this helps!

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  • Wait, the question was scoped to "Christians who believe that the saints go to the presence of God as soon as they die". Are you a Christian who believes that the saints go to the presence of God as soon as they die? Jan 26 at 22:23
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator Oh yes, I'm just realizing that! So sorry, my bad, I failed to pay attention to this question because you had posted one almost identical on BHSE, and I thought this one was just a repeat of that one(the one on BHSE dealt with the exact same passages and exact same subjects of whether or not David/Isaiah thought they were going to Heaven), so I didn't notice this was directed specifically to, as you say, Christians who believe that the saints... etc. etc. But, I wrote an answer, and I'm not going to delete it. So, tell me what you think of it! ;)
    – Rajesh
    Jan 26 at 22:27
  • @Rajesh prob better to ask your own Q , now that you have a good answer! And then I upvote the new one!!
    – steveowen
    Jan 26 at 22:37
  • Hey @Rajesh, your insights about heaven and sheol inspired me to ask this question. Jan 27 at 8:06
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator Yes, I saw, a very very nice question. Good job! I wish I could answer but I can't. I'll give a run down though. "Eternal home" in verse 5 is not a necessary translation. The word for eternal is עוֹלָם, and it can simply mean a long duration of time, not necessarily eternity. For example, Exo 19:9 says that God wants the people to believe Moses עוֹלָם(translated as forever), but obviously, they will be dead someday, so they can't possibly keep believing in Moses for eternity. God just wants the people to believe Moses however long He wants them to, not for eternity.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 27 at 15:57
1

One response is that these were all written Before Christ.

On this understanding, David, Isaiah, and Job did go down to Sheol after they died. They were then triumphantly led up to Heaven by Christ.

The exact timing of this varies. The Roman Catholic church holds that by His death and resurrection, Jesus opened Heaven (CCC 1026, 637). Jesus by descending to Sheol freed those who had gone before Him (CCC 633).

Note whether all who go to Heaven after Jesus' resurrection, go immediately to Heaven is debated within Catholicism.

Others hold they were led to Heaven ~A.D. 70, when Jesus returned to judge Jerusalem and definitively ended the Old Covenantal age.

In either case, the basic response is that David et al.'s views were correct for when they were writing, but are no longer correct.

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