A Prayer of Jesus
I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will


In Isa.66:24..Mark 9:44,46,48, we read:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.  Do you know what that means?


The Mount on which Jerusalem was built slopes off to the South to a deep valley that runs East / West at the bottom of the slope.  The Bible indicates that it was the location of altars to Baal and/or Molech before and during the time of David.  Thereafter even the Israelites offered up children there (II Kings 23:10) so that under King Josiah, the Jews counted it so defiled that they did not use it except as a place for burning waste, dead animals, and such.  It's subsequent reputation as an accursed place due to the idolatrous altars, child sacrifice and the like, has never been lost.  I visited there in 1987 to see for myself the piles of garbage that someone had dumped and set aflame.  One could see the smoke rising here and there along pathways winding about through the low vegetation.  Used for the disposal of dumb animals by the Jews in both pre and post Exilic Israel (Babylonian Exile, 597 - 538 BC), my guess is that the animals were not always burned, at least not completely, so that to see both smoking and burning areas and decomposing, wormy carcasses was not unusual.  This being a continual thing, it was a place where 'their worm did not die' and where 'the flame was not quenched.' 

It was of this place that Isaiah spoke, a real valley that had always been known as the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, which became Gehenna in our Greek New Testaments, usually translated 'hell.'  Isaiah 66 ends with a prophecy of divine judgment according to which faithful Jews would be gathered from all the nations to Jerusalem to rejoice, and to look down into the Gehenna to see the awful suffering that God would impose on their enemies and the unfaithful of Israel, for their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. Isaiah's vision was not of eternal judgment after death.

The Jews returned from their exile bringing visions of resurrection and eternal judgment that they probably had absorbed from Zoroastrians in Babylon.  During the following centuries, the concept of divine judgment to follow life in this world developed.  The Valley of the Sons of Hinnom, Gehenna, became the perfect representation, to them, of the judgment of God on the wicked hereafter. 

Jesus appealed to this idea in Mark 9:42-50, and also in Matthew 18:6-9.  We need not take the image literally because it draws directly from the facts of the very real and present Valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna.  That image constituted the worst fate people could conceive for a judgment on the wicked, and Jesus used it in that way.  The details apply only to the Valley of Hinnom; the awfulness applies to the judgment of the wicked on the Last Day.  Isaiah meant it as a prophecy of the restoration of Israel and the destruction of "the men that have rebelled against me." Jesus applied the image to suggest the awfulness of the final punishment of unrepentant sinners.  The immediate comparison was that it is better to enter into eternal life maimed than to be thrown into the Valley of Hinnom to burn or be eaten by worms.

Return to Q&A    . Email    . Return to home page
Valid HTML 4.01!