To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.
1 O LORD, thou hast searched me, and known me.
2 Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off.
3 Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways.
4 For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
5 Thou hast beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it.
7 Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
8 If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.
9If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;
10 Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me.
12 Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.
13 For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
15 My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
17 How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!
18 If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.
19 Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God: depart from me therefore, ye bloody men.
20 For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain.
21 Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?
22 I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts:
24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
A prayer to be delivered from the wicked. Experiencing what it is like to live under the Lord’s light and searching.
Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, The Abyss,
and Tartarus: Images of Hell
The Psalmist declared to God: “If I make my bed in the depths of hell, thou art there” (139:8).
The Hebrew word for “depths” is Sheol, and many translations simply leave the word untranslated. Sheol in the Old Testament view was essentially the place beneath the earth to which the dead were thought to go. Thus, Sheol can refer to both the literal grave and to the netherworld.
As the netherworld, it is similar to the Greek Hades, the dark and sorrowful domain of the dead (as seen in Homer’s Odyssey, book 11). In fact, it is usually translated as “Hades” in the Septuagint.
In a single verse, however, Sheol can refer both to the gated kingdom of the netherworld and to the dusty grave (Job 17:16). In Greek mythology Hades was also a god, unlike what we see in the Hebrew Bible.
On the other hand, the Bible sometimes portrays Sheol as a beast with gaping jaws (Is 5:15; 14:9; Hab 2:5; NIV in each case, “the grave”).
Visions of Sheol as a fearsome site sometimes appear in prophetic judgments and warnings. Ezekiel 31-32 includes elaborate depictions of the hordes now confined to Sheol, and this vision serve as a warning to Egypt.
Similarly, in Lk 16:19-31, Jesus recounted the parable of the rich man in Hades (NIV “hell”) as a warning to his audience to repent.
The range of meanings the word Sheol carries explains what seem to be inconsistencies in the text. On the one hand, no one praises God in Sheol (Ps 6:5); one who is in the grave cannot testify to God’s glory before the assembly of Israel at the temple (cf Ps 51:14).
On the other hand, God is present even in Sheol (139:8, NIV, “the depths”); even the dead in the netherworld are not beyond his power. It is significant to note that Sheol in the Old Testament refers simply to the habitation of the dead – not specifically to hell, the location for punishment of the wicked dead.
In the New Testament, especially when the reference is citing the Old Testament, Hades refers again either to the grave or to the netherworld of the dead (e.g., Act 2:27, 31), which states that Jesus was not left in Hades; NIV, “the grave”).
In Rev 20:13 Hades is the netherworld, which yields up to the dead God’s Judgment. Another New Testament term, abyss, can also refer simply to the place of the dead (Rom 10:7, citing the Old Testament; NIV, “the deep”).
But the word usually describes a locale for the imprisoned demonic powers (Lk 8:31; Rev 9:1-2; 20:1). In classical Greek abyss connotes unfathomable depths, such as the sources of a spring.
A New Testament term with Jewish roots is Gehenna, named for the Hinnom Valley south of Jerusalem. Because child sacrifice was carried out in this valley (2 Kgs 16:3), it was desecrated by King Josiah (2 Kgs 23:10).
Jeremiah 7:32 declared that God would judge Judah there, and thus, during the intertestamental period, the term came to be used for the domain where the wicked would receive eternal punishment.
Jesus often spoke of Gehenna as a place of fiery punishment (Matt 5:22; 10:28; 18:9, NIV in each case, “hell”). Also, indicating that Gehenna’s original purpose was as the site of punishment for demons, although wicked humans would also be consigned there (Matt 25:41; NIV, “eternal fire”).
A similar word, a verb that means “to cast into Tartarus,” appears in 2 Pet 2:4 (NIV, “sent…to hell”) to describe the place where wicked angels are punished. Tartarus in Greek literature is the deepest part of Hades and a locale of eternal punishment.
We are wise not to make to much of the origins of these words. Gehenna has little to do with the historical Valley of Hinnom. Similarly, the Greek words in the New Testament for the apostles imply that the Greek myths were credible.
The word Sheol, we do well to note, is pure Hebrew with no known origin or parallels in any other language.