Some friends came to North Florida to visit. We ended up taking them to one of the nicest cities anywhere: St. Augustine. It is full to the brim with interesting things to do. There are many historical sites, and it is adjacent to one of the most beautiful coastline areas found anywhere.
We had been walking around the old city when it began to rain. So I went to get the car. As I was walking over to the parking area, I overheard two young boys talking. They were walking by the old city cemetery and the younger boy asked a typical kid question.
“That’s a cemetery,” said the older boy.
“What’s a cemetery?”
“That’s where the dead people go.”
“Cause when you get old, you got to get dead.”
In the last essay I introduced the four words used in the Bible to identify the place or state of the dead when it comes to being separated from God. Of the four words Sheol is the only one used in the Old Testament. The remaining three are then exclusive to the New Testament. The words are each used to identify characteristics of or the location, place or state of the dead: the nether world. Although the word Sheol does not appear in the New Testament, its meaning does, and there Hades is used to correspond to that. The word Hades, like Sheol, is indiscriminant as to whether it refers to the place of paradise or torment, and so its exact meaning must be gleaned from the immediate context. It is found four times in the New Testament. The third word (Tartaros) indicates an action of being cast down or thrown into the place of torments. As we noted last time, it is used only once.
The third word, Gahenna (or literally Ge-Hinnom), found twelve times in the New Testament and used almost exclusively by the Christ, is the hardest of the four words to define. In the last foray, I stated that it makes reference to a particular location outside of the walls of Jerusalem — the valley of Tophet or the valley of Hinnom. The etymology of the name is clear, but how a specific symbology became attached to it is slightly more difficult to assess.
Gahenna was used by Jesus to indicate destruction and burning, the ridding of filth and decay. It had to carry this meaning to the people of that day.
In Matthew 5:22, the Lord had said, “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool’ shall be in danger of hell fire.” The word translated into the English as “Hell fire” or “fire of Hell” is this word Gahenna. The same usage is found in Matthew 18:8, 9 — “And if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.” (See also Matthew 23:15 and 33 and Luke 12:5, amongst others).
Apparently the Valley of Tophet had been the site of human sacrifices offered to Molech (the principal god of the Ammonites), and later also became a place of Baal worship. It is mentioned in 2 Kings 16:2, 21:6 and notably in Jeremiah 7:32 and 19:6, where it was prophesied that it would become a place of punishment. So it was known in this way to readers of the books of the Kings and the prophets.
These are the words used to describe the places where many will go when they “get dead” — that is unless they have served God while here.
As we progressed in the thoughts associated with the first essay, I had noted that people can be false with or without any religious notions behind them. And as religions can be false and teach godlessness just as easily as they might teach the truth, so the participants in such religions will end up paying the price as they also serve themselves rather than God. We noted that things would be no different for the reprobate than it would be for the self-serving religious man or woman. There would be no difference in outcome for those who care nothing at all for truth than for those who think they have the Word of God, when in reality they may have something opposed to it. Each kind serves his or herself, and they in turn (although perhaps even unwittingly) also each serve the god of this world.
In all, every one of these, without some change becomes a child of Hell. I don’t think we would be wrong in using the analogy that Jesus used of any proselyte of the Pharisees to describe these others — “…you make him twice as much a son of Hell as yourselves.”
This is how the word Gahenna conveyed to those of that day a picture of punishment. This is what it should convey to us.
The Apostle Paul had asked this rhetorical question in his letter to the Roman church: “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves as servants to obey, you are that one’s servant whom you obey, whether of sin to death or of obedience to righteousness?” Yet many ignore or discount such things and will continue on in the path of sin whether bound by some learned religious ethic or knowing of none. All of these are bound with the cords of sin that if not cut will carry them off down the road to Hell. So say the scriptures.
The psalmist mentioned the conditions and characteristics that apply when we turn away from God and seek after other things out of our own direct rejection of the word of God. If we cease to do good and reject God, his goodness and his will as remarked upon in Psalm 36, then unless we eventually turn from those things while yet standing upon this earth, neither Christ nor his Word can offer us any hope. Such folks then are equal candidates for Hell and without some recognition and mediation; they are sealed, posted, set and delivered for destruction.
So that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood; and so it may not happen, when he hears the words of this curse, that he blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall have peace, even though I walk in the imagination of my heart’ as though the drunkard could be included with the sober. The Lord would not spare him; for then the anger of the Lord and His jealousy would burn against that man, and every curse that is written in this book would settle on him, and the Lord would blot out his name from under heaven. (Deuteronomy 29:18-20)
The sort of people described in the first four verses of Psalm 36 may tell themselves that what they are doing is godly and true, but such telling in reality does not perform God’s will and still seeks only after its own course — so it fails the test and is found to be false. It is weighed out in balance against God’s Word and is found void and wanting. And we are told in the passage above that the name of this type of person will in turn be blotted out from under heaven. They will simply disappear. They live but are committed to a dark and distant place completely beyond the reach of any help or hope — gone from view and notice without so much as a trace remaining. “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The person who thinks that such things might be acceptable to God says within themselves, “I shall have peace, even though I walk right now in the imagination of my own heart; as though the drunkard could be included with the sober.” Yet the Law of Moses stated plainly “the Lord would not spare him.”
They feel blessed though they serve a god of their own device, saying, “My soul is blessed” for I have done mighty works. This is exactly how the reprobate of Israel thought. And the reprobate may be bold enough in his falseness even to say that his service to his fabricated god is all that matters. But God says, “You thought that I was altogether such a one as you; but I will reprove you, and set it in order before your eyes.”
Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
Yet sinners will still flatter themselves that they shall escape judgment. And the self-serving “religious” sinners will continue to flatter themselves that they serve God when they are serving only the created and not the creator. They practice lawlessness.
Each one in each group is both careless and secure. They give no attention to God’s word, yet they may be able to quote John 3:16 with seeming ease. When viewed in the harsh light of the abiding Word of God they are clueless as to what it means to worship God. And they have no interest in finding out. What they do is okay within their thinking so it surely must be okay with God. They pursue the day and its bounty without as much as a thought on the end product. They believe they are in the right. They are threatened neither by the Word of God nor by its warnings. They do not consider Hell or the signs and warnings posted of it, and they believe that others, and not they, shall be cast there — if any are to be cast there at all.
Those that do believe in Hell flatter themselves that they will not end up there. It is always for someone else, not them. Many believe that there is no such thing as another world let alone a nether world. You may know some people that have said flippantly that they shall not age or die, and who continue to do as they have always done. The songwriter said, “You could wake up in the morning dead.” But they believe that as they never have seen it, that there is no such place and that there will be no end to things, even though within they know that everyone will go to the house of the dead. “When you get old you got to get dead.” Oftentimes age is not a factor.
Some fool themselves with the false notion that there is no God. Our modern world is full of this type. “Science” tells us that we are descendants of small sea creatures and later land animals and that these all came from one-celled protozoa. Life spurted up from primordial ooze without any cause, reason and thought, and yet some beings managed in the ensuing eons to be fashioned into sentient form quite by accident. “The fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God.’”
Others lawlessly act as if there is no order and no rule. “They murder the widow, the stranger and the fatherless, yet they say the Lord shall not see it.”
It matters not to God, who views them as all the same, and who will meter out the same reward to each as he has the same end laid out for them all. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows that will he also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”
Some flatter themselves that death is yet a long way off. Do you know of someone who was taken quickly or violently out of this life? A friend of mine suffered a cerebral aneurism while awaiting seating for his engagement dinner at a posh restaurant in South Florida. He was dead before he hit the floor. Some thought for a brief moment that he was clowning, for he was ever the trickster. But he had gone on into eternity and to his reward in a flash and no one present could stop the proceedings. I was one of those at the time who did not consider the weight and meaning of such things. In time I have come to understand and respect things more.
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”