Pit In the A. V. this word appears with a figurative as well as a literal meaning. It passes from the facts that belong to the outward aspect of Palestine and its cities to states or regions of the spiritual world. With this power it is used to represent several Hebrew and Greek words, and the starting-point which the literal meaning presents for the spiritual is, in each case, a subject of some interest.
1. Of these bor, בּוֹר (root בָּאִר, cognate בּאֵר, beer, a well), occurs most frequently, and means a deep hole or pit, dug in the first instance for a well, or a cistern hewn or cut in stone, a reservoir, which the Orientals are in the habit of preparing in those regions where there are few or no springs, for the purpose of preserving rain-water for travellers and cattle. These cisterns and trenches are often without water, no supply being obtainable for them except from the rain. In old decayed cisterns the water leaks out, or becomes slimy (Jer 2; Jer 13). Such cisterns or pits, when without water, were often used in the East apparently for three purposes:
(1) As a place of sepulture (Ps 28:1; Ps 30:4; Isa 38:18), hence יוֹרדֵי בוֹר, "they that go down to the pit"-a phrase of frequent occurrence, employed sometimes to denote dying without hope, but commonly a simple going down to the place of the dead (see Gesen. Lex. s.v.); also, "the graves set in the sides of the pit" (Ex 32:23), the recesses cut out for purposes of burial; or they might be the natural fissures in the rocks, abounding in all limestone formations, of which the rocks of Syria and Palestine chiefly consist.
(2) A prison: "they shall be gathered as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up" (Isa 24:22; also Jer 37:16; Ex 12:29). The pit or dungeon was a common place of punishment in the East, and very dreadful it was, as the case of Jeremiah illustrates (Jer 38:4,9). To be doomed to the pit was often to be left to a slow death by starvation; and to be saved from such a doom was regarded as the greatest of all deliverances. Hence it was used
(3) as a place of destruction (Zec 9:11). In the case of Joseph, Reuben suggested the pit as a device for saving his brother; the others hostile to Joseph adopted it as the most secret, and, they might think, the least guilty method of making away with him (Ge 37:22-29).
As remarked above, in this word, as in the cognate בּאֵר, bee (which is likewise rendered pit in Ge 14:10; Ps 55:23; Ps 69:15; Pr 23:27), the special thought is that of a pit or well dug for water (Gesen. Thesaur. s.v.). The process of desynonymizing which goes on in all languages seems to have confined the former to the state of the well or cistern, dug into the rock, but no longer filled with water. Thus, where the sense in both cases is figurative, and the same English word is used, we have pit (bedr) connected with the "deep water," "the water- flood," "the deep" (Ps 69:16), while in pit (=בּוֹר) there is nothing but the "miry clay" (Ps 40:2). Its dreariest feature is that there is "no water" in it (Zec 9:11). So far the idea involved has been rather that of misery and despair than of death. But in the phrase "they that go down to the pit" (בּוֹר) it becomes even more constantly than the synonyms noticed below (sheol, shachath) the representative of the world of the dead (Eze 31:14,16; Eze 32:18,24; Ps 28:1; Ps 143:7). There may have been two reasons for this transfer:
1. The wide, deep excavation became the place of burial. The "graves were set in the sides of the pit" (bor) (Eze 32:24). To one looking into it, it was visibly the home of the dead, while the vaguer, more mysterious Sheol carried the thoughts further to an invisible home.
2. The pit, however, in this sense, was never simply equivalent to burial-place. There is always implied in it a thought of scorn and condemnation. This, too, had its origin apparently in the use made of the excavations, which had either never been wells, or had lost the supply of water. The prisoner in the land of his enemies was left to perish in the pit (bor) (Zec 9:11). The greatest of all deliverances is that the captive exile is released from the slow death of starvation in it (shachath, Isa 51:14). The history of Jeremiah, cast into the dungeon or pit (bor) (Jer 38:6,9), let down into its depths with cords, sinking into the filth at the bottom (here also there is no water), with death by hunger staring him in the face, shows how terrible an instrument of punishment was such a pit. The condition of the Athenian prisoners in the stone quarries of Syracuse (Thuc. 7:87), the Persian punishment of the σπόδος (Ctesias, Pers. 48), the oubliettes of mediaeval prisons, present instances of cruelty more or less analogous. It is not strange that with these associations of material horror clustering round, it should have involved more of the idea of a place of punishment for the haughty or unjust than did the sheol or the grave. SEE WELL.
2. Sháchath, שִׁחִת, of which, as well as in the cognate שׁוּחָה, shuchâh (rendered "pit" in Pr 20:14; Jer 2:6; Jer 18:20,22), שׁחוּת. shechuth ("pit," Pr 28:10), שׁחַית, shechith ("pit," La 4:20; "destruction," Ps 107:20), and שַׁיחָה, shichah ("pit," Ps 57:6; Ps 119:85; Jer 18:22), as the root שׁוּחִ shows, the sinking of the pit is the primary thought (Gesen. Thesaur. sv.). It is dug into the earth (Ps 9:16; Ps 119:85). A pit thus made and then covered lightly over, served as a trap by which animals or men might be ensnared (Ps 35:7). It thus became a type of sorrow and confusion, from which a man could not extricate himself, of the great doom which comes to all men, of the dreariness of death (Job 33:18,24; Job 28:28). To "go down to the pit" is to die without hope. It is the penalty of evildoers, that from which the righteous are delivered by the hand of God. SEE TRAP.
3. Sheol, שׁאֹל, in Nu 16:30,33; Job 17:16. Here the word is one which is used only of the hollow, shadowy world, the dwelling of the dead, and as such it has been treated of tinder HELL.
4. Other Hebrew words rendered pit in the A. V. are the following: גֵּב, geb, something cut out, hence a cistern in the rock (Jer 14:3); and the cognate גֶּבֶא, gebe (Isa 30:14; Jer 14:3); גּוּמִוֹ, gumdts, something dug (only Ec 10:8); and פִּחִת, pachath, an excavation (2Sa 17:9; 2Sa 18:17; Isa 24:17-18; Jer 48:43-44; "hole," Jer 48:28; "snare," 1Sa 3:21). The term mahamoroth, מִהֲמֹרוֹת, rendered "deep pits" (Ps 140:10), properly signifies streams, whirlpools, abysses of water. The rabbins, Symmachus, and Jerome understood pits of water.
5. The Greek terms are the following: in Re 9:1-2, and elsewhere, the "bottomless pit" is the translation of τὸ φρέαρ τῆς ἀβύσσου. The A. V. has rightly taken φρέαρ here as the equivalent of bor rather than beer. The pit of the abyss is as a dungeon. It is opened with a key (Re 9:1; Re 20:1). Satan is cast into it, as a prisoner (Re 20:2). In Mt 12:11, "pit" is the rendering of βόθυνος, a deep hole or "ditch" (as rendered in Mt 15:14; Lu 6:39). SEE CISTERN.