What is the “Pit” mentioned so often in the Bible?
This one’s not so easy as one might suspect. Many words, a little Hebrew and Greek. Attention to context.
I’m using the King James Bible and the Concordance based on it by another “James”, James Strong. Different translations may have used different words in English, but the Hebrew is pretty straightforward.
Let’s start in the Old Testament, and trace the meaning carefully, for there is much false teaching built on a false understanding of “the Pit.” There are three Hebrew words that translate “pit.” I give you the Strong’s item number for your own research:
953. Bore: Basically, a hole that is used as a cistern or a prison. Translated cistern, dungeon, fountain, pit, and well. Joseph, in Genesis, was thrown into a bore. One of David’s mighty men killed a lion that was in a bore. David cries out that God has delivered him from a horrible bore, showing us that the word can also be taken figuratively.
Now, there are times when the word is used to speak of death and the grave, and even possibly eternal punishment, as in Ezekiel 31. When the definite article is used with it, it can mean all these latter things, and translators will often capitalize it: “the Pit.”
7585. Sheol. THE Pit. Hades. The World of the Dead. Including the inmates of it. Translated grave, hell, pit. This is the word that, by far, is used most often in the Hebrew to communicate the idea of something ongoing in the next world. Though not often translated pit, it is rendered as hell quite often. Far more than a hole in the ground, though that hole, a grave, may surely be the entry point of the Pit. As righteous spirits go somewhere, “up,” the lost likewise take a direction upon leaving the body. Down. Into a Pit. And of course their spirit is long gone when they are buried in the ground, so we do not have to attach spooky significance to a graveyard. Necessarily. Their soul’s destination is an entirely different world, where evil reigns and is punished by that reigning. Very much alive, in a deadly sort of way.
Those who dared come against Moses went quickly to Sheol. Numbers 16. David claims that the wicked will go into Sheol. David’s son says that false women and their customers will be in Sheol. But not always is it that clear. Jonah claims that he called to God out of the belly of Sheol. And we know where he was. Also Jesus, per David: God promised He would not leave Jesus’ soul in Sheol. Definitely the place of the dead, but still a place from which one can be retrieved. But still also, a pit. It shows us how much the prophet was being punished, and how far down Jesus was willing to go for us.
7845. Shakhath. Pit, (figuratively): destruction. Translated Corruption, destruction, ditch, grave, pit. The usages of this word seem to overlap with both of the above words, and carry no specific significance in our research. We too use different words to express basically the same idea. In the case of this study, we might say, Hell-fire, Hell, the Pit, the Lake of Fire, Hades, and mean the very same thing in every instance.
In the New Testament, “pit” is translated by the Greek frehar, which takes us back to the Hebrew bore. A pit, a hole in the ground, a cistern, a well. Jesus talked about a certain donkey falling into a certain pit.
The only other time it is used in the New Testament (as “pit”) it takes on an entirely different meaning, and has not only a definite article attached, but also includes the word “bottomless.”
A hole in the ground. A cistern. A pit. With no bottom. Possible? Of course. Through gravitational pull the objects are carried along and around the innards of the Earth, falling forever, no peace, no destination. Perhaps being pulled aside to ledges along the way for torment, perhaps a swim in the lake of fire occasionally, then back to falling?
Not until the end of the Bible does this truth come out. The pit spoken of by prophets and historians of the Old Covenant turns out to be a place of unutterable horror, where Satan amasses his troops and sends them out to the planet occasionally. The antichrist himself waits there, according to John, being fueled with venom and power to strut around the Earth for his few years, before his public demise. Oh, it has been a long fall already for Satan, from the top of the Heavenly Mountain to the atmosphere of earth, to the land, and then below the land, to a pit whose bottom cannot be reached.
Though “pit” is not translated any other way in the New Testament (except where the woman at the “pit” calls that “pit” Jacob’s “pit,”) we do know that sheol has become Hades in the Greek language. It also means the place of the dead, with all that goes with that. But we are concentrating on the word “pit” here.
We must see all these words as a family (pit, grave, hole, hell, well, cistern, prison), and check each context carefully to see what is being said. The basic meaning of all of them is merely a hole in the ground. It can be a harmless hole filled with water. It can be a simple grave, where bodies, but not souls, are stored temporarily. Or it can be the greater “hole” that John saw at the end of God’s revealing of truth to His church, that encompasses the entire scope of the prison created for those who have rejected God and His Son.
We are told that Jesus went and preached to such a prison company as a Spirit, while His body lay in a hole in the ground, soon to be taken out of the underworld forever. While he was in the vicinity, He did indeed announce His triumph to the evil spirits. We are not told that He suffered there. It would seem that His suffering for sin was accomplished on the cross, not in the grave.
The Pit, from eternity’s standpoint, is Satan’s prison. It is the place of the dead. It is the entry place into eternal suffering apart from God, for those who so desired to be apart from Him. It is a place to be avoided. This avoidance can only come by way of the blood shed by the spotless Son of the Living God.