1 Jan 2003

Some Old Testament uses of the English word hell

Submitted by theshovel
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionSend to friendSend to friendPDF versionPDF version

First off, realize that a few different words used in the Bible ended up being translated “hell” for us English-speaking folks, and since we have had them all thrown into the mix it seems to validate a consistent “Biblical” teaching known as the doctrine of “hell”. Many of the uses of the English word have obviously given much problem to the basic concept of the burning place of everlasting suffering simply because they had nothing to do with it. But our need for doctrinal consistency somehow ignores those square pegs in the round holes.

Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.Isaiah 14:15

Okay, you quoted this OT reference, but let’s look at a few more so that a clearer picture shows itself. But I want you to ask yourself something as you read them: “If I had never been taught the modern version of hell what is the most obvious conclusion I would make regarding the word as used in these verses?” Okay?

The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me;2 Samuel 22:6

[It is] as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?Job 11:8

Hell [is] naked before him, and destruction hath no covering.Job 26:6

For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.Psalm 16:10

The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.Psalm 18:5

Let death seize upon them, [and] let them go down quick into hell: for wickedness [is] in their dwellings, [and] among them.Psalm 55:15

For great [is] thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell.Psalm 86:13

The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.Psalm 116:3

If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.Psalm 139:8

Okay, so what is the most consistent idea in these statements? It’s sure not the hell of the hellfire and brimstone preachers. But there is a place that would have been in the minds of those who heard and used the OT word for hell … and that is simply the place where the body went into the ground never to rise again. “Sorrows of hell … snares of death”. Hell, at least as used in the OT, speaks of the defeat of mankind.

I suspect our logic has caused us to think in terms that are so far removed from simple life and living — and dying — in the unplugged world. Death and hell are the two most connected words all through these OT passages, but also used are corruption and destruction. It was the final end for all people, it was the silent grave, it was the corruption of the once living and breathing body, it was the destruction that all faced where the earth would swallow them up. They knew what happened to the body that was laid in the ground and how the ground simply absorbed the person right back into the earth. We’re simply too clean for we have kept the earth from sucking the bodies back into it by insulating them in caskets. And yet we still understand the final silence.

Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.Isaiah 14:15

The sides of the pit of molten rock where they would burn forever … or simply the sides of the pit that was the grave where the body was dropped into the ground from which all knew there was no return but only decomposition?

The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me;2 Samuel 22:6

WHO was compassed about by the sorrows of hell, and WHO was prevented by the snares of death? It was not the suffering of the person who was buried in the ground — it was the suffering and pain of the person who was dreading the impending doom of the finality of death.

I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to hell with them that descend into the pit: and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, shall be comforted in the nether parts of the earth.Ezekiel 31:16

Any surprise then that God gave Ezekiel the message to pass on that He would cast the evil one down into the same fate as those who are thrown into the pit? Notice how it designates hell as the nether parts of the earth which are simply the lower parts of the earth. In other words, down into the ground where your body is taken back into the earth where there is no return.

By the way, the most used Hebrew word where we now read hell was transliterated as Sheol. Here is a definition I copied from an online lexicon.

1. sheol, underworld, grave, hell, pit
1. the underworld
2. Sheol - the OT designation for the abode of the dead
1. place of no return
2. without praise of God
3. wicked sent there for punishment
4. righteous not abandoned to it
5. of the place of exile (fig)
6. of extreme degradation in sin

The King James version translates 65 of this Hebrew word this way: grave, 31; hell, 31; pit, 3. While the New American Standard translates 66 uses of the word as Sheol. We seem to gravitate more to the word hell than the word sheol to support the contemporary view.

Jim Minker

Related Content: 

Add new comment

Random Shovelquote: More blessing? (view all shovelquotes)

Are you approaching them (those you counsel) with principles of more blessing if they stop sinning?  source