What does “The Pit” mean in the Bible?
What is the “Pit” mentioned so often in the Bible?
This is not as easy as you might suspect. Lots of words, some Hebrew and Greek. Attention to context.
I use 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 clear.
Let us begin with the Old Testament and carefully trace the meaning, for there are many false teachings built upon a misunderstanding of “The Pit.” There are three words in Hebrew that translate “pit.” I give you the Strong’s item number for your own research:
953. Boring: Essentially a hole used as a cistern or prison. Translated as cistern, dungeon, fountain, pit and well. Joseph, in Genesis, was thrown into a well. One of David’s strong men killed a lion that was in a den. David cries out that God has delivered him from a terrible boredom, 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 of these last things, and translators will often capitalize it: “The Pit.”
7585. Sheol. The pit. Hades. The world of the dead. Including its inhabitants. In translation, grave, hell, pit. It is the word most commonly used in Hebrew to date to convey the idea of something happening in the next world. Although not often translated as pit, it is quite often translated as hell. Much more than a hole in the ground, although that hole, a grave, could certainly be the entry point of the Pit. As righteous spirits go somewhere, “up,” the lost also take a direction when they leave the body. Down. In a pit. And of course, their spirits are long gone when they’re buried in the ground, so we don’t need to attach a ghostly meaning to the graveyard. Mandatory. Their soul’s destination is an entirely different world where evil reigns and is punished by that reign. Very alive, in a deadly way.
Those who dared to come against Moses quickly went to Sheol. Numbers 16. David claims that the wicked will go to Sheol. The son of David says that false women and their clients will be in Sheol. But it is not always so clear. Jonah claims to have called upon God from the belly of Sheol. And we know where he’s been. Also Jesus, according to David: God promised that he would not leave Jesus’ soul in Sheol. Definitely the place of the dead, but still a place from which one can be taken. But still also a pit. This shows us how much the prophet was punished and how far Jesus was willing to go for us.
7845. Shahat. Pit, (figurative): destruction. Translated Corruption, destruction, ditch, grave, pit. The use of this word seems to overlap with both of the above words and has no specific meaning in our study. We also use different words to express the same idea. In the case of this study, we can say Hellfire, Hell, Pit, Lake of Fire, Hades and mean the same thing in each case.
In the New Testament “pit” is translated by the Greek frehar, which brings us back to the Hebrew bore. A pit, a hole in the ground, a pit, a well. Jesus spoke of a certain donkey that fell 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 not only has the definite article attached, but also includes the word “bottomless.”
A hole in the ground. Kazanche. Pit. No bottom. Possible? Of course. Through gravitational attraction, objects float on and around the interior of the Earth, falling forever, without peace, without destination. Maybe being pulled sideways to ledges along the way for torture, maybe swimming in the lake of fire now and then, then back to falling?
Only at the end of the Bible does this truth come to light. The pit, spoken of by the prophets and historians of the Old Testament, turns out to be a place of indescribable horror, where Satan gathers his troops and sends them from time to time to the planet. The Antichrist himself waits there, according to John, fueled by poison and power, to walk the Earth for his few years before his public death. Oh, the fall has already been long for Satan, from the top of the Heavenly Mountain to the atmosphere of the earth, to the earth and then underground, to a pit whose bottom cannot be reached.
Although “the pit” is not translated any other way in the New Testament (except when the woman at the “pit” calls this “pit” the “pit” of Jacob), we know that sheol became Hades in Greek. It also means the place of the dead, with all that goes with that. But we’re concentrating on the word “pit” here.
We should consider all these words as one family (pit, grave, hole, hell, well, cistern, prison) and carefully check each context to see what is being said. The basic meaning of all of them is simply a hole in the ground. It could be a harmless hole filled with water. It could be a simple grave, where bodies are temporarily stored, but not souls. Or it could be the larger “hole” that John saw at the end of God’s revelation of the truth to His church, which covers the full extent 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 Spirit, while His body lay in a hole in the ground, soon to be taken out of the underworld forever. While He was near, He did declare His triumph over the evil spirits. We are not told that He suffered there. It seems that His suffering for sin was done on the cross, not in the grave.
The pit, from the perspective of eternity, is Satan’s prison. This is the place of the dead. It is the place of entry into eternal suffering apart from God for those who have so desired to be separated from Him. This is a place to avoid. This escape can only come through the blood shed by the immaculate Son of the Living God.