What is here seen as beautiful gardens was at one point the ugliest place in Jerusalem. And ugly for a number of reasons: It was the place where during apostate kings of Judah there was incessant idolatry. It was the place where significant deaths occurred, and it was the place where refuse was relocated. There is some debate whether the idea of the garbage tip was located here, as Josephus omits references to this tradition.
So where was Hinnom? It was the valley separating Zion from the rising country to the west (also called the plain of Rephaim, and today the road leading away to the Jerusalem Railway station is called Emeq Raphaim st.) and the south (also called the hill of evil counsel from a Byzantine tradition of its location being where Caiaphas decided to arrest Jesus). It was at the south-eastern corner of Zion overlooking Hinnom that Solomon erected altars to Molech 1Kings 11:7. Nehemiah entered the middle of the Hinnom at the Tyropean via the gate of the valley on his circumnavigation Neh 2:13.
Ahaz and Manasseh made their children pass through the fire 2Kings 16:3; 2Chron 28:3; 33:6 and it is probable that Hezekiah bore the scars from this, and may have contributed to his description as a scarred man Isa 53:2,14. A reform of this particular place was conducted by Josiah who scattered mens bones here, 2kings 13; 2Chron 34. The involvement with this idolatry was to lead to a peculiar death. Tophet heb “place of fire” was a segment of the Hinnom valley where children were burnt to Molech. 2Kings 23:10; Isa 30:33; Jer 7:31,32 and styled as “burnt offerings to baal” Jer 19:5 It became a place of so much death, there was no place for burial Jer 19:6; 7:32,33. The location is described as being near the east gate Jer 19:2. The fire would not be quenched because Israel did not see the spirit of the sabbath Jer 17:27. This was a particular warning to Manasseh’s house 2Kings 21:12cf Jer 19:3,4.
The nature of the fall of Jerusalem was to be in the manner of this offering, Jer 19:8; 17:27 and so the warning to the Jewish community was that not understanding the spirit of the law would lead to the same type of death as seen in the time of Nebuchadnezzar. (Incidentally the language of this section of Jeremiah, esp ch 22, is used within the message of Christ on the sermon on the mount) So the ideas of the valley of Hinnom are used in the NT: the Greek Gehenna continues the hebrew idea of the Valley (Gae) of Himmon: [Both Rotherham and Youngs literal translations retain the idea of the valley of Hinnom and retain as Gehenna, rather than translate as others such as Tyndale as Hell, and others to contain the latin / vulgate idea of inferno.]
- Matt.5:22 whoever calls someone “you fool” will be liable to Gehenna.
- Matt.5:29,30; Mark 9:43,45,47 better to lose one of your members than that your whole body go into Gehenna.
- Matt.10:28 rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.
- Matt.18:9 better to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna.
- Matt.23:15 Pharisees make a convert twice as much a child of Gehenna as themselves.
- Matt.23:33 to Pharisees: you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to Gehenna?
- Luke 12:5 Fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into Gehenna
- James 3:6 the tongue is sets a fire leading to Gehenna, a description of cascade of events from the speech.philosophy of the circumcision party leading to the final conflagration in AD70 Acts 10:45
Two particular deaths happened on the edge of the valley of Hinnom: that of Jehoiakim and Judas. Jehoiakim (BC609-599/8) was reprimanded by Nebuchadnezzar for his false allegiance in his turning after oath to Babylon to rebellion with Egypt. Following his execution he was dismembered and flung into the area of the altars of Molech with the respect of the burial of an ass Jer 22:17-19; 36:30 This pointed to the constant refusal by the king to be redeemed by Yahweh. Ex 13:18 and a refusal to hear the words of the roll Jer 36:27-31.
The amazing irony of the picture of the death of Jehoiakim was that Nebuchadnezzar was given the very same words of advice to repent Jer 22:3 cf Daniel 4:27 and in the very same year Jer 36:9 cf Daniel 2:1. While Jehoiakim was feeding the word of God into the fire Jer 36:23 Nebuchadnezzar was feeding the servants of God into the fire in Dan 3, only to be astonished at the power of salvation The princes of Jehoiakim did not rend their garments in repentance Jer 36:24 but the king of Babylon understood that those who walk in pride would be abased Dan 3:27; 4:34-37. The princes of Jehoiakim would become a dunghill and house destroyed in the destruction of Jerusalem, the same fate of them those that spoke against the God of Daniel. The lesson from this comparison is that God can choose whoever he wants to save, even a Babylonian king! and position does not affect the outcome of our life, but rather our attitude to the work of Deity with us.
cf Judas was also to be dismembered in the same place. Falling headlong he burst, falling to the same manner of death as the king of Judah, Acts 1:18. This field of bloody dismemberment became known as Aceldama, the field of blood, and is marked on the SW corner of Jerusalem on the Madaba mosaic map, Acts 1:19. The sad fact was it was “the potters field” Matt 27:7 and only those who resisted or hardened themselves to the moulding of the potter would end as dashed pots here, Isa 45.
There is a prophetic nature to this location. Rulers who refuse to hear will gather here to be dashed in pieces Psalm 2:9,10, an indication not only of their sad refusal to hear the word of Yahweh, but also of the great lengths that Yahweh has gone to proclaim the nature of His dealings with men until His final vindication, willing that not one who would repent should perish Ps 2:10.