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Discovery Magazine 4/1/2000

Burning Outside the Walls

In the Bible, walls and gates often were used for protection against all sorts of bad things. In fact, walls were even used to separate a city’s inhabitants from disease and its own trash, as well as other things that cause a city to be dirty and smelly.

Jerusalem was a major city of the Bible that had walls. If the people in Jerusalem had kept their garbage inside the walls, the city soon would have been overrun with dirty, nasty trash. Imagine what it would be like if all your family’s trash was dumped in your bedroom!

To avoid such a stinky mess, the people of Jerusalem took their trash outside the walls to a place called "the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom." It was also known as "Gehenna." At one time, Gehenna was a fine place to live, but King Josiah put a terrible curse on it (2 Kings 23:10). He cursed the valley because some people in the past used it as a place for worshipping idols. It was in this valley that they had offered human sacrifices to the false god Molech. After the curse of Josiah, people began to throw their dirty garbage and dead things into this valley. In order to get rid of the garbage they set it on fire. Gehenna was a place of rotten smells, ugly sights, and uncomfortable heat. If you lived in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus, you would not have wanted to perform the chore of taking out the trash!

Jesus used this nasty place to explain to people the horror of being lost eternally. In Mark 9:45, Jesus said: "It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched." In the original language, Jesus used the word Gehenna instead of hell. People in Jerusalem understood His point, because they knew how bad Gehenna was. Jesus used their knowledge of this rotten, smelly, burning place to explain how terrible hell will be. He then reminded them of the fact that God does not want anyone to go to hell (read Ezekiel 33:11). In fact, the Bible tells us that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

Isn’t it nice to know that when we believe in and obey Jesus, we don’t have to worry about ever seeing a place like Gehenna?

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