brim'-ston, brim'-stun (gophrith; to theion):
The word translated "brimstone" probably referred originally to the pitch of trees, like the cypress. By analogy it has been rendered "brimstone" because of the inflammability of both substances. Sulphur existed in Palestine in early times and was known by most of the ancient nations as a combustible substance. In the vicinity of the Dead Sea, even at the present time, deposits of sulphur are being formed. Blanckenhorn (ZDPV, 1896) believes that this formation is due to the action of bituminous matter upon gypsum, as these two substances are found associated with each other in this district. Travelers going from Jericho to the Dead Sea may pick up lumps of sulphur, which are usually encrusted with crystals of gypsum. Deuteronomy 29:23 well describes the present aspect of this region. That the inhabitants of the land had experienced the terrors of burning sulphur is very probable. Once one of these deposits took fire it would melt and run in burning streams down the ravines spreading everywhere suffocating fumes such as come from the ordinary brimstone match. No more realistic figure could be chosen to depict terrible suffering and destruction. It is not at all unlikely that during some of the disastrous earthquakes which took place in this part of the world, the hot lava sent forth ignited not only the sulphur, but also the bitumen, and added to the horrors of the earthquake the destruction caused by burning pitch and brimstone.
The figurative use of the word brimstone to denote punishment and destruction is illustrated by such passages as
Deuteronomy 29:23; Job 18:15; Psalms 11:6; Isaiah 30:33; Ezekiel 38:22;
Luke 17:29; Revelation 9:17.
James A. Patch