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Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology


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The Old Testament . "Pit" denotes a large hole in the ground. Pits were used to catch wild animals (Ezekiel 19:1-8 ) or to collect water for drinking ("cisterns, " Deuteronomy 6:11 ). Sometimes they were used as dungeons or prisons (Genesis 37:24 ; Exodus 12:29 ; Jeremiah 38:6 ).

Very often, however, "pit" is used figuratively. For example, enemies seek to harm the psalmist by "digging a pit" for his life (Psalm 35:7 ). Commonly it is a metaphor for Sheol ("the grave, " Psalm 16:10 ) or death (Psalm 30:9 ). Since God did not reveal the hope of resurrection and the glories of heaven until late in Old Testament times, many expressions are quite negative. Everyone dies, so no one can avoid the pit (Psalm 49:9 ). It is a place of destruction (Isaiah 38:17 ), a dark and deep place where the dead are without strength, forsaken by the living, and forgotten by God (Psalm 88:3-6 ). There is no thanksgiving, praise, or hope there (Psalm 38:1-8 ).

The New Testament . In the New Testament "pit" is used literally of a place into which an animal (Matthew 12:11 ; Luke 14:5 ) or the blind (Matthew 15:14 ; Luke 6:39 ) might fall (the latter is also a figure for the spiritually blind Pharisees). In addition, it is used metaphorically for an underworld dungeon: a gloomy prison for the fallen angels (2 Peter 2:4 ) or a bottomless abyss for Satan during the millennium (Revelation 20:1-3 ).

William B. Nelson, Jr.

See also Death, Mortality ; Hell

Copyright Statement
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

Bibliography Information
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Pit'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. 1996.

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Monday, November 23rd, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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