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.
1 Behold, bless ye the LORD, all ye servants of the LORD, which by night stand in the house of the LORD.
2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD.
3 The LORD that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion.
An exhortation to praise God: the vanity of idols. Enjoying the worship in the house of the Lord and flowing out to bless others because of it.
An Akkadian Prayer to the Gods of the Night
There are several short Akkadian liturgies known as Prayers to the Gods of the Night. These poems, which are prayers to the celestial stars, were recited at night. One example describes the silence of the city when doors were bolted, the palace was quiet and the people were asleep.
Even the major deities (e.g., the sun god) had retreated into the lap of heaven, meaning that they were not visible at that time. The petitioner addressed the night gods, represented by the various constellations, asking for a favorable omen. He then performed a ritual of extispicy (seeking an answer to his inquiry through an interpretation of the form of the animal organs).
It may be that Psalm 134 is also an evening liturgy, but it is vastly different from the Akkadian poems. Psalm 134 may be a dialogue of praise sung between Yahweh’s worshippers as they left the temple in the evening and the Levites who would guard it by night.
The worshipers exhorted the Levities to continue to praise the Lord throughout the night, while the Levites in turn pronounced a benediction upon the congregants.
Yahweh doesn’t cease to work simply because it is nighttime; indeed, the Protector of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps (121:4).
The Israelites were not to worship the heavenly bodies as the surrounding nations did, for they are not divine beings but simply part of God’s creation that also glorify him (Gen 1:14-18; Ps 8:3; 136:7-9; 148:3). Worship of the Lord is to continue uninterrupted by day and night.
2 How he sware unto the LORD, and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob;
3 Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed;
4 I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or slumber to mine eyelids,
5 Until I find out a place for the LORD, an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob.
6 Lo, we heard of it at Ephratah: we found it in the fields of the wood.
7 We will go into his tabernacles: we will worship at his footstool.
8 Arise, O LORD, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength.
9 Let thy priests be clothed with righteousness; and let thy saints shout for joy.
10 For thy servant David’s sake turn not away the face of thine anointed.
11 The LORD hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.
12 If thy children will keep my covenant and my testimony that I shall teach them, their children shall also sit upon thy throne for evermore.
13 For the LORD hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation.
14 This is my rest forever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it.
15 I will abundantly bless her provision: I will satisfy her poor with bread.
16 I will also clothe her priests with salvation: and her saints shall shout aloud for joy.
17 There will I make the horn of David to bud: I have ordained a lamp for mine anointed.
18 His enemies will I clothe with shame: but upon himself shall his crown flourish.
The happiness of brotherly love and concord. Living a life to experience Christ specifically for the church as God’s chosen and desired dwelling place.
Historians in the Ancient World
The poet of Psalm 132 looked back to the covenant with David and to the history of the ark of the covenant as the basis for his prayer – a reflection that the Bible is rooted in history, not theology divorced from human events and cultures.
The works of ancient historians, because they provide context, are of great value in Biblical studies. Important historians include:
Herodotus of Halicarnassus (c 484-425 B.C.): His great work is called the Historia (“investigation”).
An account of the wars between the Greeks and Persians, his work includes other stories as well, including an interesting, if not fully credible, account of ancient Egyptian culture.
Thucydides (c 460-400 B.C.): Perhaps the greatest ancient historian, this Greek general wrote a lucid and gripping account of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) between the Athenians and the Spartan alliance.
His work, which models scrupulous research and careful writing, has survived intact but ends abruptly.
Manetho: Manetho, an Egyptian priest who lived during the reign of Ptolemy (305-282 B.C.), compiled a history of Egypt. Unfortunately, his work has survived only in fragments, as quoted by other ancient writers (e.g., Josephus and Eusebius). His division of Egyptian into 30 dynasties is still followed.
Berosus: The first true historian of the Mesopotamian region was this Babylonian priest. In about 290 B.C. he authored three books in Greek on Babylonian history.
Berosus’s history also survives only in pieces, as cited by Josephus and Eusebius. His original work covered the history of the region from the mythological past to the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians.
Demetrius the Chronographer (3rd century B.C.): Demetrius, a Jewish historian, recorded the history of his people, focusing on Biblical Israel background and to resolve exegetical difficulties. His work too survives only in fragments.
Flavius Josephus (c A.D. 37-100): Josephus was the most famous Jewish historian (this is the same one mentioned above). His History of the Jewish War, describing the A.D. 66-70 war between Judea and Rome, ranks with Thucydides’ history works.
Josephus, of a priestly background (a Pharisee), began the war as a combatant for the losing side. He also wrote chronology of the Jewish people from earliest times to nearly A.D. 100 (Antiquities of the Jews).
Josephus used the Septuagint as his primary source for the Biblical period but was also influenced by Hellenistic culture. He is our chief source of information regarding Herod the Great, and he referred to John the Baptist, Jesus, and James, the brother of Jesus.
Polybius (c 200-118 B.C.): Although a Greek, Polybius was the greatest historian of early Rome. His history is a major source for the study of the Punic Wars (Rome vs. Carthage).
Publius Cornelius Tacitus (c A.D. 56-120): Tacitus was the primary historian of the Roman Empire. His Histories and Annals focus on the imperial history of the 1st century A.D.
Dio Cassius (died c A.D. 229): His work described the history of Rome from it’s founding to the time of Alexander Severus (A.D. 222-235). Unfortunately, much of it has been lost.
Suetonius (c A.D. 69-112): Suetonius (The Lives of the Caesars) wrote a biography of the early Roman emperors.
Plutarch (c A.D. 46-119): Another biographer, he authored the Parallel Lives of Famous Greeks and Romans, a valuable resource for Greek and Roman history.