The Old Testament. "Pit" denotes a large hole in the ground. Pits were used to catch wild animals (Eze 19:1-8) or to collect water for drinking ("cisterns, " Deut 6:11). Sometimes they were used as dungeons or prisons (Gen 37:24; Exod 12:29; Jer 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 (Isa 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 (Matt 12:11; Luke 14:5) or the blind (Matt 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 (Rev 20:1-3).
William B. Nelson, Jr.
See also Death, Mortality; Hell