A deep or sunken place, either natural or artificial. The pits of bitumen into which the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fell were evidently natural sunken places in the area (Ge 14:10); whereas the pit into which Joseph’s brothers threw him was evidently a man-made waterpit. (Ge 37:20-29) The two principal Hebrew words for pit are bohr (also meaning “waterpit” or “cistern”) and shaʹchath.
The Hebrew word sheʼohlʹ is translated “pit” three times in the King James Version. (Nu 16:30, 33; Job 17:16) However, Sheol actually refers to the common grave of mankind rather than to an individual grave. In Job 17:13-16 we find Sheol and the pit (Heb., shaʹchath) used in parallel by Job as places of darkness and dust. Similarly, David’s prayer to God at Psalm 30:3 says: “O Jehovah, you have brought up my soul from Sheol itself; you have kept me alive, that I should not go down into the pit.” In Psalm 88:3-5 reference is made to Sheol, the pit, and the burial place in that order.—See also Job 33:18-30; Ps 30:3, 9; 49:7-10, 15; 88:6; 143:7; Pr 1:12; Isa 14:9-15; 38:17, 18; 51:14; see GRAVE; SHEOL.
Jonah also used the word for “pit” in a figurative sense when he compared the inside of the fish to “the belly of Sheol” as well as to “the pit.” (Jon 2:2, 6) Such association of the pit with death and the grave was quite natural in view of the ancient custom of using or excavating a pit as a grave site.
Pits were evidently used as a means of trapping or ensnaring an enemy or for catching animals, and so are used in a figurative sense to stand for dangerous situations or intrigues besetting God’s servants. (Ps 7:15; 40:2; 57:6; Pr 26:27; 28:10; Jer 18:20, 22) Sometimes the pits were netted to enmesh the victim caught in them. (Ps 35:7, 8) According to the Law, if a domestic animal fell into an excavated pit and died, the owner of the pit was required to make compensation to the owner of the animal.—Ex 21:33, 34.
A prostitute and “the mouth of strange women” are spoken of as “a deep pit.” This is because a prostitute, often by persuasive speech, ensnares men to have relations with her.—Pr 22:14; 23:27.
The cisterns used by the Hebrews and other Orientals to store water were basically excavated pits. These were often shaped like a bottle; the mouth was generally narrow, only 0.3 m (1 ft) or so wide for the first meter (3 ft) down, and then the lower part widened out into a bulbous-shaped cavity.—See CISTERN.
The Greek word phreʹar, “pit,” in the expression at Revelation 9:1, 2, “pit of the abyss,” is the same word that John uses in his Gospel account to describe “the well” at Jacob’s fountain where Jesus met the Samaritan woman. (Joh 4:11, 12) Phreʹar in its simplest meaning refers to such a well or pit dug in the earth; it may, however, be used in referring to any pit or abyss, including the unfathomable one from which the locusts of the Revelation ascend. (Re 9:3; see ABYSS.) The Greek word boʹthy·nos, rendered “pit,” may also mean “ditch.” (Mt 12:11; 15:14, ftn; Lu 6:39) Peter, in 2 Peter 2:4, speaks of the demon angels as confined to “pits [Gr., sei·roisʹ] of dense darkness.”—See TARTARUS.
See also LIONS’ PIT.