The word she’ôl is used 65 times in the Old Testament and it’s translated as “hell” 31 of those times.
Deu 32:22 For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.
This verse above is the first verse in the Bible that describes “hell” as a consuming fire.
This is the first verse in the bible to use the word “fire”.
Gen 15:17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a *burning (fire or fiery) lamp that passed between those pieces.
The word “fire” in Hebrew is ‘êsh H784 and its used 377 times in the Old Testament with its first appearance showing up in Gen 15:17.
The verse just before it Gen 15:16 says: “But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full/complete.”
So anyone can see here that fire’s first mention is associated with separation.
To further drive this point home, the second use of this word “fire” is found in Gen 19:24.
Gen 19:24 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;
So, the very first times this Hebrew word ‘êsh, or in English “fire” is used in the Scriptures, it’s obvious that the author wanted to depict or stir in one’s mind the idea of punishment, separation and judgment.
Now back to the verse where “fire” is brought into our biblical vernacular for the first time.
Gen 15:17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a fiery lamp/torch passed between those pieces.
Pieces of WHAT? you may ask. Well let’s look a bit further back in chapter 15 to say… verse 7.
Gen 15:7-16 And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord GOD, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcasses, Abram drove them away. And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him. And He (God) said unto Abram, “Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance. And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.”
The Amorites are the descendants of Canaan, the 4th son of Ham Gen 10:16. The influences of the Amorites, the children of Canaan on the descendants of Abraham and their iniquity was made evident in the introduction of these practices:
Uncovering the nakedness of (sleeping with) mom, dad, sister, brother, aunt, uncle etc.
Offering children to the god Molech.
Laying with a man as with a woman.
Laying with animals.
Turning to Mediums and Familiar Spirits.
Cursing father or mother.
Committing adultery with neighbor’s wife.
Laying with daughter’s in law.
Those among Abraham’s seed that would follow after these practices would be cut off and separated.
Those “pieces” that God led Abraham to cut down the middle and have the pieces face opposite one another, represented Abraham’s descendants or rather his “seed”, the opposition/division between them and the righteous judgment of God separating them by fire. Let me explain:
Abraham had 3 wives over the course of his life, Sarah, Hagar, and Keturah, all of which bore him children. The Heifer, the She-goat and the Turtledove are all feminine nouns, which point to those animal pieces representing the seed or offspring of those 3 wives, whereas the Ram and the Young Pigeon are masculine nouns eluding to male characters such as Isaac, Jacob or Joseph and their descendants.
I would tend to believe that the Ram would represent Isaac, due to the “ram in the thicket” the Lord provided to spare his life. Also it’s important to note that Isaac’s seed WAS split right down the middle and were at odds with one another in the biblical accounts of Jacob and Esau. The Ram was one of the animals that was split down the middle and it’s pieces were placed against one another. The Young Pigeon and the Turtledove that were amongst the animals that were not NOT cut in two and divided, from hence forward in Scripture are the two animals sacrificed for a sin offering after the birth of a child.
Lev 12:6 And when the days of her purifying are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtledove, for a sin offering, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest:
So whomever the Turtledove and Young Pigeon represent in the message from God to Abraham, they symbolically and scripturally represent; an undivided sacrifice for the atonement of sin. Set apart and undivided.
Back to the topic at hand “Hell” and what it was perceived as in the Old Testament.
The first time the word “‘êsh” or fire is described, it’s by the O.T. writers as existing in the place called “hell” in Deut 32:22
“For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.”
Before I begin to break some biblical verses down for you, I would like to point out that since the beginning of time, humankind has known that death and the grave are inevitable. Everyone dies, it’s what happens after you die that one lives to prevent or enjoy.
For example: Prov 23:14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.
This verse in no way is suggesting that if you beat your child with the rod you will deliver them from death.
Psa 9:17 The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.
If hell is just another word for the grave or death, then how is the judgment for the wicked any different than the nations that remember God?
2Sa 22:6 The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me;
If hell is just death, how can there be sorrows there?
Psa_116:3 The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.
How can there be pains of hell if it’s just the grave or death?
If you look at all the Old Testament verses that use the word she’ôl you will find that they all have to do with the reward of the wicked. All people die, and succumb to the grave, so hell is not the resting place for those that have simply died and are waiting for the final judgment. Hell gets thrown into the Lake of Fire at the the Final Judgment in Rev 20:14
Dan 12:2 And many who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, but others to shame and everlasting contempt.
***So the soul is eternal, its WHERE we spend eternity that is in question.**
There is Eternal Life and there is Eternal Damnation. Both are mentioned or eluded to in the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Mat 25:46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
Mar 3:29 But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:
Now lets examine how hell is depicted in the New Testament of the Bible~
The very first time the word “hell” appears in the New Testament it makes its appearance like this:
Mat 5:22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.
So the word “hell” and it’s very first appearance shows up with the word “fire” right next to it. The oldest manuscripts of the 4 Gospels is the Book of Mark, and this is how Mark used the word “hell” for the very first time in his writings.
Mar 9:43 And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:
Mark uses the phrase hell fire or the fire that shall never be quenched two more times in chapter 9, verses 45 & 47.
If hell was just death and the grave as some argue, then why did Jesus say this?
Mat 10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
Luk 12:5 But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.
*This right here shows the threat being after one’s body is already dead.
Jesus said this, clearly showing us that “hell” is a place of damnation.
Mat 23:33 Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
The most important and trustworthy description of HELL in the entire Bible is that of Jesus Christ Himself in the Gospel of Luke chapter 16.
Luke 16:20-26 “And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime received thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a *great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” (*there is the separation by fire that Abraham was shown at the beginning of this article, in the vision from God)
Now remember, this is Jesus telling this story to His disciples. There is no possible way that Jesus would lead them astray and invoke false images of a place He would warn us about more than anyone else in the Bible. Jesus was the living embodiment of the Truth and would never implement imagery that would portray something that was anything less than the Truth. So pray on that for a minute. Jesus depicted torment and flames, not just merely death or ceasing to be.
That’s right folks, you read it correct, Jesus spoke more about “Hell” in the Bible than anyone else.
Out of the 23 occurrences in the New Testament where the authors used the word “hell”, 16 of them is Jesus speaking.
12 x’s the word geenna G1067 is used and it means: the place of the future punishment call “Gehenna” or “Gehenna of fire”. This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction.
11 x’s Jesus uses this word geenna to describe Hell.
2x’s in the book of Matthew and 2x’s in Luke, and 1x in Revelation, Jesus uses the word hadēs to describe hell, and it means: the nether world, the realm of the dead.
16 out of the 23 mentions of Hell in the New Testament are spoken by Jesus.
So in this simple break down of scripture, I have shown you that Hell since the Scripture’s beginning has been associated with fire, and eternal damnation. I have pointed out the first uses of the words Hell and Fire in the scriptures and how they were to be interpreted based on their usage. I have also shown you the most credible testimony of all in the Bible, JESUS to guide you into how you should perceive Hell.
I pray this article has you thinking and desiring to do a study of your own on the topic of hell.
2Ti 2:15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
2Co 6:17-18 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.