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Who should praise God?

Psalm 148

In the Christmas carol, “Joy to the world”, “heaven and nature sing” at the coming of the King (Jesus Christ). But how can nature sing?

The final five psalms in the book of psalms (146-150) have a theme of praise. Each of them begin and end with “Praise the Lord”. In this post on Psalm 148 we see that all creation (nature) praises God.

Psalm 148 has been categorized as a nature psalm. These psalms praise the Lord as the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. God is separate from nature because He created it. This made Jewish beliefs different to the common beliefs of ancient times that various objects in nature are divine. Just think about the gods of Egypt, Canaan, Greece and Rome. The theological description is that God is “transcendent”, which means He is independent of the creation. But the creation (nature) is also sustained by His mighty power; He sustains “all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3NIV). And the creation (nature) declares (shows) God’s greatness (Ps. 19:1). Psalm 148 says,

 “1 Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise Him in the heights above.
Praise Him, all His angels;
praise Him, all His heavenly hosts [angels].
Praise Him, sun and moon;
praise Him, all you shining stars.
Praise Him, you highest heavens
and you waters above the skies [clouds].

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for at His command they were created,
and He established them for ever and ever—
He issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
stormy winds that do His bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle,
small creatures and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all nations,
you princes and all rulers on earth,
12 young men and women,
old men and children.

13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for His name alone is exalted;
His splendor is above the earth and the heavens.
14 And He has raised up for His people [Israel] a horn [king?],
the praise of all His faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to His heart.

Praise the Lord.”

The psalm is framed with “Praise the Lord”, which is like a refrain (chorus). The key words in the psalm are “praise” (13 times) and “all” (10 times). It’s an inclusive song of praise as it includes everyone.

The key feature of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. The first section gives examples of praise “from the heavens” (v.1-4). While another section gives examples of praise “from the earth” (v.7-12). These verses say who is praising God.

The other verses (v.5-6, 13-14) give the reasons for the praising. Who are they praising? The Lord who created everything at His command (Ps. 148:5).

Context

The psalm was probably written when there was a king in Judah (Appendix). It seems to be a time when the Israelites were a distinct nation and not in disarray. It’s written to Jews who were probably living in Judah.

Praise from the heavens – v.1-4

The heavens are described as “the heights above” the earth. From this section we see that the psalmist uses the term “heaven” to describe the atmosphere, the universe, and the abode of angels. This is consistent with the rest of scripture.

Who is praising God from the heavens? The angels (v.2). The universe of the sun, moon and stars (probably including the planets) (v.3). And the clouds (v.4).

Angels are God’s invisible agents. They praised God at Christ’s birth (Lk. 2:13-14). They continually praise God’s holiness and eternity (Rev. 4:6-8). And after they have finished their earthly ministry, numerous angels will encircle God’s throne and sing in a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb [Christ], who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (Rev. 5:11-12).

The universe of sun, moon and stars can praise God because He made it immensely huge to demonstrate His massive power. From the Bible we know that the cosmic world didn’t begin very small and simple and grow to be more complex like in the idea of the big-bang. God “stretched it out” when He created it. So it was created to be mature and well-developed from the beginning, and not primitive.

Praise from the earth – v.7-12

In ancient times, the other part of the universe was called the “earth” or the “land” – either English translation of the Hebrew word erets (Strongs #776) is appropriate depending on the context. In this passage it includes the ocean, the atmosphere, the landscape, vegetation, animals and people. It seems  unusual to include the atmosphere as part of the earth as elsewhere in the Bible, the sky (atmosphere) is included as part of the heavens. But of course events in the atmosphere can have a significant impact on the earth and its inhabitants.

Who is praising God from the earth? The marine life and the ocean depths (v.7), lightning, hail, clouds, and strong winds (v.8), mountains, hills and trees (v.9), animals (v.10), rulers (v.11), and people (v.12).

The landscape can praise God because He sculpted it during the flood in Noah’s day, rearranging the surface of the earth by laying down thick layers of sedimentary rock, and then displacing, distorting and eroding them by lifting up parts to form mountains and causing other parts to descend to form the floor of oceans. And there was also horizon movement that formed continents (continental drift). Then volcanoes formed more mountains. After this, ice carved out glaciers in the ice age.

The atmosphere of clouds and storms can praise God because in the beginning He made the gases that comprise it. And He made the laws that govern it’s motion across the earth (the winds) and the laws that control the water cycle (clouds, lighting, hail, and snow).

The plants, animals and ecosystems of the earth can praise God because He created them to be mature and well-developed from the beginning, and not primitive. From the Bible we know that the biological world didn’t begin very small and simple and grow to be more complex like in the idea of evolution.

Together the heavens and the earth describe everything in the universe. Every created thing is invited to praise the Lord. Nature is to praise God.

A person went to a restaurant. They sat down and admired the décor, including the lighting and the paintings on the wall. They were pleased with the table settings; the delicious smell of the food; the well-dressed waiters; and how efficiently the restaurant was being run. But they didn’t have a meal, which is the main reason to visit the restaurant! Many enjoy the décor of the universe, but they don’t enjoy the God who made it. Our purpose is to offer thanks and praise to God (v.11-12). To miss out on this it to miss everything.

Why praise God? – v.5-6, 13-14

There is praise from the heavens because God created them (v.5) and their existence is secure (v.6). Verse 6 probably refers to the boundaries or limits God placed on all creation. The laws of nature are constant and reliable. (God’s moral laws are also constant and reliable.) It’s predictable (rather than chaotic) and science is possible.

There is praise from the earth because God’s splendor is above the splendor of the universe (v.13). He is greater than His creation. He is unique. And God is praised because “He has raised up for His people [Israel] a horn [king?]”. This figure of speech can mean that Israel was strong or that it was ruled by a king (Appendix). It also shows God’s saving power (He saved faithful Israelites) and could be a prophecy pointing to Jesus Christ.

Personification

Personification is a figure of speech in which a non-human thing is given human attributes.

In this psalm animals (great sea creatures, wild animals, cattle, small creatures, birds), topographical features (ocean depths, mountains, hills), meteorological parameters (clouds, lightning, hail, snow, stormy winds), celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars), and trees (fruit trees, cedars) praise God. This is an example of personification that covers all the main spheres of God’s creation. Of course, angels and people also praise God (v.2, 12).

Personification of nature occurs in 15 psalms (19, 50, 65, 66, 69, 76, 96, 97, 98, 100, 104, 121, 145, 148, and 150). This includes four nature psalms (19, 65, 104, and 148). Two other nature psalms don’t have personification (8, 29).

The Bible says that the heavens (sun, moon and stars) show God’s glory to us by fulfilling their God-given roles (Ps. 19:1-4a). Extending this principle to the rest of creation – each part of God’s creation shows God’s glory to us by fulfilling its God-given role (Job 26:14). By their order, complexity (intricacy), fine-tuning, power and splendor, each part of creation (nature) alludes to the far greater intelligence, power and splendor of their Creator.

When will they praise?

Obviously not all nations and peoples praised God when this psalm was written. And not all nations and peoples praise God today. Maybe this psalm looks ahead to Christ’s return to establish His millennial kingdom on earth. Certainly in a coming day everyone will praise the Lord when, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).

Meanwhile, all creation praises God by being what He’s made them to be. Similarly we can praise God by being who He’s made us to be, where He’s put us and by doing what He’s given us to do.

Discussion

What has changed since Psalm 148 was written? Since then Jesus has come and fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament of a Messiah. And we have the New Testament. So believers have some new reasons to praise God.

And at the end of the psalm it alludes to God’s care for His people (v.14). At that time it was Hebrews living in the kingdom of Israel or Judea. Today it’s salvation of believers through Jesus Christ.

But in future God will still be praised in heaven because He created all things at the beginning of time (Rev. 4:11). And at the end of time, “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them” will praise God (Rev. 5:13).

Why not join the rest of creation and choose to praise God while you can? Don’t be shown-up by the rest of creation!

What else can we learn from Psalm 148? The folly of worshipping nature instead of the true God by attributing creative powers to nature. That’s worshipping creatures instead of the Creator (Rom. 1:25). The psalmist says that nature praises and worships God! So we should do likewise (v.11-12).

Conclusion

In Psalm 148 everything in the cosmic world, the atmospheric world, the oceanographic world, the topographic world, and the biological world praises God. This means that all creation praises the Creator. They can do this by expressing their order, complexity, fine-tuning, power and splendor, which alludes to the far greater intelligence, power and splendor of their Creator.

Let’s do this voluntarily now before it’s compelling.

Appendix: What does “horn” mean in Psalm 148:14?

The Hebrew word qeren (Strongs #7161) is translated “horn”. It occurs 13 times in the book of Psalms. The 12 occurrences of this word outside Psalm 148 mean:
– the physical horns of the altar (118:27)
– A symbol of a Davidic king (132:17)
– A symbol of strength (18:2; 22:21; 75:4, 5, 10twice; 89:17, 24; 92:10; 112:9). In ancient times the horn of the wild ox was frequently a metaphor for military strength. If an ox is charging, you want to stay away from its horns!

Psalm 148:14 says, “And He [God] has raised up for His people [Israel] a horn [king?],
the praise of all His faithful servants,
of Israel, the people close to His heart.” (NIV)

In this context, “horn” couldn’t mean the horns of the altar.

Could “horn” symbolize a Davidic king? Yes, because the horn is established by God as in 132:17.

Could “horn” symbolize strength? Yes, because the NIV text note says, “Horn here symbolizes strength”. And the NET translation notes say:
Hebrew: “and He lifted up a horn for His people.” The horn of an ox underlies the metaphor (see Dt. 33:17; 1 Ki. 22:11; Ps. 92:10). The horn of the wild ox is frequently a metaphor for military strength; the idiom “exalt/lift up the horn” signifies military victory (see 1 Sam. 2:10; Ps. 75:10; 89:17, 24; 92:10; Lam. 2:17). Another option is to take the “horn” as a symbol for the Davidic king, through whom the Lord gives His people military victory.

And the NET version of Psalm 148:14 is:
“He has made His people victorious,
and given all His loyal followers reason to praise – the Israelites, the people who are close to Him.”

So “horn” can mean that Israel was strong or that it was ruled by a monarch. In each case, God was protecting the nation of Israel. As the Jews were weak after going into exile in 586BC, this implies that this psalm was probably written before this date. So I disagree with the academic view that Psalm 148 is postexilic because of its location near the end of the book of Psalms.

This figure of speech also shows God’s saving power for His people – He provided leadership and strength to the nation of Israel. And, with hindsight, it could be a prophecy pointing to Jesus Christ, a descendant of king David (Lk. 1:69). Today God’s saving power is shown when someone is forgiven from their sin, rebellion and indifference toward God by trusting in what Jesus has done for them. They then have a special relationship with God.

Written, June 2019


The greatest miracle

Michelangelo knew that Adam was created as an adult & not an infant, but most scientists don't know that the earth was created "adult" and not "infant" as is assumed in the big-bang idea

Michelangelo painted “The creation of Adam” and other biblical scenes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome (1508-1512). It seems to reflect the idea that humanity has been created in the image and likeness of God. And, as discussed below, Adam is shown as a male adult. Why is the first miracle in the Bible the greatest?

Creation

The Bible begins with, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1NIV). This is the absolute (not relative) beginning of space-time. It begins with a creative act of God and rules out many false ideas that people have today (Appendix A). This creation is a reason to praise God (Appendix B). “The heavens and the earth” is a figure of speech called a merism in which two opposites are combined into an all-encompassing single concept. For example, a shop that is open “day and night” is open 24 hours per day. “The heavens and the earth” means the universe (or everything that has been created). It’s mentioned in the ten commandments as, “in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Ex. 20:11). Then God describes how He created everything (Genesis 1:1 – 2:25).

Isaiah says that God is the one and only Creator,
“For this is what the Lord says—
He who created the heavens,
He is God;
He who fashioned and made the earth,
He founded it;
He did not create it to be empty,
but formed it to be inhabited—
He says: ‘I am the Lord,
and there is no other'” (Isa. 45:18).
God created the earth and the heavens and everything in the earth, which was made to be perfectly suited for humanity.

And an angel said that God “created the heavens and all that is in them, the earth and all that is in it, and the sea and all that is in it” (Rev. 10:6).

A miracle

This is the first miracle in the Bible. It was creation out of nothing. The word “Creator” is synonymous with God. No one else can create something from nothing. According to the Macquarie dictionary, a miracle is “an effect in the physical world which surpasses all known human or natural powers and is therefore ascribed to supernatural agency”. Miracles display God’s power.

Other great miracles in the Bible are the incarnation of Christ (His coming into the world), the resurrection of Christ from the grave, the salvation of sinners and the new creation.

If we can believe the first verse in the Bible, no other verse in the Bible should be a problem. If God can create the universe out of nothing (the Bible says, by His command, Ps.148:5), then raising people from the dead and causing a virgin to conceive would be easier. If God can do the greater, then He can also do the lesser. If God has the ability to create everything, then the other biblical miracles are consistent demonstrations of His power.

Apparent age

The Bible says it took 6 days to create the universe, whereas science says it took about 14 billion years. Did you know that they are both right? And the Bible says it took 6 days to create the earth and its inhabitants, whereas science says it took about 4.5 billion years. Did you know that they are both right?

The vegetation that was created on the third day of creation was unique because it didn’t come from seeds and had no seedling stage. Instead of developing from a seed, it began life as mature plants with fruit so that it could be eaten by the animals and Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation (Gen. 1:29-30; 2:16-17). As it can take an apple tree about ten years to bear fruit, on day six the apple trees had two ages: 3 days actual age and at least 10 years apparent age (if they grew from seedings).

The creatures that were created on the fifth and sixth days of creation were unique because they didn’t come from eggs and had no juvenile stage. Instead of developing from an egg, they began life as mature creatures so that they could reproduce and be named and enjoyed by Adam and Eve on the sixth day of creation. As it can take a male elephant 25 years to be sexually mature, on day six the male elephants had two ages: 1 day actual age and at least 25 years apparent age (if they grew from infancy).

As God created mature plants and mature animals during the days of creation, this implies that He also created mature ecosystems. All the cycles of nature were established and in equilibrium by the end of the sixth day of creation. They didn’t have to develop from simple to complex as imagined by the uniformitarian hypothesis. As it can take say 100 years to produce a mature ecosystem after a volcano erupts, on day six the ecosystems had two ages: 1-3 day actual age and at least 100 years apparent age (if they developed from a bare landscape).

Adam and Eve, who were created on the sixth day of creation, were unique because they had no mothers and no childhood. Instead of developing from a zygote, they began life as mature adults who could reproduce (like in Michelangelo’s painting). This is an example of irreducible complexity (Appendix C). As it can take people about 20 years to reach adulthood, on day seven Adam and Eve had two ages: 1 day actual age and at least 20 years apparent age (if they grew from infancy).

Similarly, on day six the earth had two ages: a few days actual age and about 4.5 billion years apparent age (if it developed according to the uniformitarian hypothesis and if Adam and Eve could use current scientific methods). And on day six the universe had two ages: a few days actual age and about 14 billion years apparent age (if it developed according to the big-bang model and if Adam and Eve could use current scientific methods). They are both right because God created a mature earth in a short period of time. He did it suddenly, not gradually and piece by piece.

Likewise, today the earth has two ages: about 6,000 years actual age and about 4.5 billion years apparent age (if it developed according to the uniformitarian hypothesis). And today the universe has two ages: 6,000 years actual age and about 14 billion years apparent age (if it developed according to the big-bang model). They are both right because God created a mature universe in a short period of time. He did it suddenly, not gradually and piece by piece.

Is this deceptive?

So while the universe is actually about 6,000 years old, to scientists it seems to be about 14 billion years old. Is the fact that it can have two ages (actual and apparent) that differ by billions of years deceptive? The answer is “no”, because God has given us the actual age of the universe in the Bible. The Bible says that Adam was created on the sixth day of creation and it gives a detailed chrono-genealogy of his descendants to Abram (Gen. 5:1-32; 11:10-26). The way the Bible is written enables the determination of the dates of some important ancient events.

The Bible is a historical book and it gives an outline of the history of the world. As it’s written from God’s perspective, it’s an accurate history that we can trust.

Discussion

Christians accept many miracles in the Bible, but they may doubt some like creation. How can we make such a judgment? For example, they usually accept that Jesus made wine out of water at a wedding (Jn. 2:1-11). As it was “choice wine”, the wine was mature. In those days it took 1-3 weeks to produce wine. So although the time it took to produce this wine was actually less than one hour, it would have appeared to have been 1-3 weeks in age (if it had been produced in the usual way).

Likewise, Christians usually accept that Jesus fed a crowd of 5,000 men (plus women and children) with five loaves of bread and two fish (Mt. 14:15-21; Mk. 6:35-44; Lk. 9:12-17; Jn. 6:6-13). The fish taken from the Sea of Galilee for human consumption may have been at least one year old. So although the fish that were eaten were actually less than a few hours old, they would have appeared to have been at least one year in age (if they grew from infancy).

These are examples of how, because of divine miracles, things can have two ages; actual and apparent. The same is the case for the creation at the beginning of time. But in the case of creation there are differences between our knowledge of things that can and can’t be studied by observational science.

The lifetime of vegetation (plants), creatures, ecosystems, and people can all be studied by observational science. But the lifetime of the earth beyond history and the lifetime of the universe can’t be studied by observational science. So observational science can’t be used to determine the age of the earth or the universe. This means that the Biblical record is the most reliable record of the age and history of the earth and the universe.

This situation has implications for scientists who extrapolate backwards in time past recorded history. Obviously, according to the historical record in the Bible, the earth’s real history is no longer than about 6,000 years and scientists shouldn’t extrapolate backwards past then. If they do, there is something wrong with their assumptions and their findings are purely theoretical and don’t match reality.

This is a boundary condition problem. Theoretical models always assume certain boundary conditions and the model only applies within these constraints. The problem with the big-bang model is that it violates a boundary condition imposed by God. If we extrapolate backwards in time for 6,000 years we reach the initial condition after God created the universe. Beyond that we are making assumptions about a miracle which is nonsense! So the supposed 14 billion age of the universe is nonsense. It’s purely hypothetical.

Conclusion

Creation is the greatest miracle in the Bible because it rules out many false ideas that people have today and it’s one of the main reasons to praise God.

Furthermore, creation is the greatest miracle because it has the greatest difference between the actual age and the apparent age. Also, it’s the original miracle and the others are later consequences.

Appendix A: False ideas

The following ideas are shown to be false because they are inconsistent with Genesis 1:1:
– Atheism (there is no God). God created the universe and has existed from before this time.
– Agnosticism (it is impossible to know whether God exists). God has revealed Himself in Scripture as Creator.
– Pantheism (everything is god; god and creation are the same thing) – God is distinct from His creation because He created it.
– Panentheism (everything is in god). God transcends what He created.
– Polytheism (there is more than one god). Only one God created all things.
– Materialism (mass-energy is the only reality) and naturalism (natural laws describe all things). God created mass-energy and nature.
– Humanism (humanity is the measure of all things). God created humanity, so God is the measure of all things.
– Evolutionism (all life originated from matter by natural processes). God created all things.

Appendix B: Creation is a reason to praise God

The fact that He is the all-powerful Creator is a reason to praise God. In heaven He is praised,
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for You created all things,
and by Your will they were created
and have their being” (Rev. 4:11).
God deserves our praise. Because God is Creator of everything, He is Lord of all. He is sovereign (supreme ruler) over history.

And Paul described God as “the Creator—who is forever praised” (Rom. 1:25). Those who don’t praise the Creator worship His creation instead, which is an act of idolatry.

Appendix C: Irreducible complexity

The Bible teaches that God created a mature fully-functioning universe, not one that was primitive and that need to develop piece-by-piece. This is consistent with the fact of irreducible complexity. The earth and the universe is more complex than scientists imagine (Job was taught this fact). There are complex systems and cycles and interactions between the components. An ecosystem is a small example of this.

For example, Adam was a real person who was created suddenly out of nothing (Gen. 5:3-5; Rom. 5:14; 1 Cor. 15:22, 45; 1 Tim. 2:13-14; Jude 1:14). As mentioned above, he began life as a fully functioning adult human being. All the processes of the human body were present and fully developed at the beginning. Otherwise, Adam would not be able to function as a human being. For example, blood must be circulating as soon as he was created.

Reference

Sarfati J. (2015), “The Genesis account”, Creation Book Publishers.

Written, May 2019

Also see: God created a huge universe


One strange rock

one-strange-rock 1 400px“One Strange Rock” is a National Geographic television documentary series. It tells the story of how life survives and thrives on planet Earth, as told by eight astronauts from their unique perspective of being away from Earth. It lists 12 things that make life possible on Earth.

  1. Our planet recycles life-friendly carbon over time

Carbon dioxide is one of many greenhouse gases that trap heat and keep the Earth’s surface warm enough to support life. The static surfaces of Venus and Mars (our nearest planets) keep carbon locked in the air and rocks. But Earth dynamically cycles this vital element through its air, land, and sea due to the constant action of plate tectonics.

  1. We have an ozone layer to block harmful rays

The stratospheric (high-altitude) layer of ozone shields life from lethal radiation. It acts as a filter for the shorter wavelength and highly hazardous ultraviolet radiation from the sun.

  1. We have a big moon to stabilize our axial wobble

Earth is titled with respect to the sun, and teeters as it spins. This tiny wobble can shift the climate from hot to icy – and might vary more without the moon’s stabilizing pull. The wobble with the moon is 2 degrees, but without the moon it would be 20 degrees.

  1. Earth’s varied surfaces support many life-forms

The dramatic effects of plate tectonics formed different surface habitats and terrains.

In my opinion the global flood in Noah’s time and the associated tectonic movements and erosion had a major influence on the Earth’s landforms. Most of the world’s mountain ranges are composed of sedimentary rock full of marine fossils laid down by the flood. After the flood, sheet flow eroded large plateaus (like the Blue Mountains in New South Wales) and channel flow cut large gorges (like the Grose valley in the Blue Mountains) that now have underfit rivers.

  1. Our magnetic field deflects solar tempests

Sparked by charged particles from the sun, mesmerizing auroras are a visual reminder of our magnetic field, which deflects the bulk of our sun’s damaging radiation and solar flares.

  1. We’re just the right distance from the sun

Its neither too hot nor too cold so that water can be liquid on its surface. Its too hot on Venus and too cold on Mars (our nearest planets).

  1. We’re situated safely away from gas giants

If the orbits of the solar system’s biggest planets were much closer, tugs from their powerful gravity could cause disastrous fluctuations in Earth’s distance from the sun.

  1. The sun is a stable long-lasting star

Stars more massive than the sun burn hotter and usually are not long-lasting. Less massive, younger stars are often unstable and prone to blasting their planets with bursts of radiation.

  1. We have giant planets that protect us from afar

Jupiter thins out the asteroid belt, protecting Earth from overly frequent collisions.

  1. The sun offers protection from galactic debris

The sun engulfs its planets in a bubble of charged particles that repel dangerous radiation and harmful materials coming from interstellar space.

  1. Our galactic path steers us clear of hazards

The solar system is comfortably nestled in a safe harbor between major spiral arms, and its nearly circular orbit helps it avoid the galaxy’s perilous inner regions.

  1. Our location is far from stellar crowds

There are relatively few stars near the sun, reducing risks to Earth from gravitational tugs, gamma-ray bursts, or collapsing stars called supernovae.

So Earth is an ideal place to live.

An ideal place

National Geographic summarizes, “Earth is well-equipped as a planet and ideally placed in our solar system and galaxy to support life. Our planet is flush with life thanks to a fortuitous set of conditions, from the optimal chemical makeup of our planetary core to our safe distance from the hidden black hole at the heart of our galaxy”.    

National Geographic says that Earth is in an ideal place in the universe for its inhabitants to thrive. It’s the most incredible place in the universe because it’s so perfectly calibrated for its inhabitants. It’s the only haven for life in the whole universe.

National Geographic call this “a fortuitous set of conditions”, but it looks like the perfect design of an intelligent Creator to me. According to our knowledge, these set of conditions don’t occur accidentally or naturally. They use the evolutionary creation myth to explain it, “Earth began as a single grain of dust. It grew into a living breathing world. Sustained by a web of interconnected systems”. This is pure imagination and speculation. They think this miracle is more believable by assuming that it’s the result of a process over billions of years of supposed history. They say, “Somehow our planet cooked up stardust and made life”! They have a lot of faith, because this goes against all the experience of observational science that life only comes from life, it never comes from non-living material alone.

That’s the explanation given by those with the worldview of naturalism, which assumes that God doesn’t exist. Instead they assume that matter exists eternally and is all there is. Nature is all there is. So, it’s called naturalism.

A word from the Creator 

But what does God think of our Earth? The prophet Isaiah wrote, For this is what the Lord says— He who created the heavens (stars), He is God; He who fashioned and made the Earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— He says: “I am the Lord, and there is no other” (Isa. 45:18NIV). Here is an explanation of the “fortuitous set of conditions” that make life possible on Earth. They were created, fashioned, made, and formed by God. Earlier in this book Isaiah taught that God made the Earth and the stars (Isa. 40:21-26). It was made for people and the animals. They were present from the beginning, not billions of years after the beginning (Gen. 1:1 – 2:2). Whereas naturalism says that the Earth was mostly empty and humanity only appeared billions of years later.

The Hebrew word translated “inhabited” in this verse, yashab (Strongs #3427), occurs 62 times in the book of Isaiah. He uses it to describe such things as:
– the people living in Jerusalem (5:3; 8:14; 12:6; 22:21; 44:26).
– the people on Earth, (18:3; 26:9, 18, 21; 38:11; 40:22).
– and people living in other locations.

This verse is in a passage that says that the Creator God is the only true God who is superior to idols (44:6-45:25). The immediate context is saying that God is unique. For example, “there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me” (45:21).

Discussion

I have not quoted any of the dates used by National Geographic as these are speculative and not calibrated against any historical records. Instead they are derived from their naturalistic worldview.

Lessons for us

National Geographic lists 12 things that make life possible on Earth. And these are all essential for life. However, its evolutionary creation story is weak because it assumes naturalism.

But the Bible tells the true story of how life survives and thrives on planet Earth, as told from the unique perspective of the God who created it and sustains it. He provides some of the facts that are missing in the National Geographic’s worldview. That’s one of the reasons why I think Christian theism is a better worldview than naturalism.

Reference: “One strange rock”, National Geographic (March 2018) 33, 3, 78-87.

Written, April 2018


What is the meaning of the Hebrew words “adamah” and “erets” in the book of Zephaniah?

zephaniah resizedIn my exegesis (critical explanation or interpretation) of the book of Zephaniah, I was amazed that most modern Bible translations have “earth” and not “land” for the Hebrew words adamah (Strongs #127) and erets (Strongs #776).

Zephaniah 1:2-3

This passage says (NIV):
“I will sweep away (“destroy” NET) everything
from the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away both man and beast;
I will sweep away the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea—
and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”
“When I destroy all mankind
on the face of the earth,”
declares the Lord.

The Hebrew word adamah (Strongs #127) used twice in Zephaniah (1:2-3) means “ground” or “land” and is translated “earth” in the NIV, ESV, HSCB and NET Bibles. According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon of Hebrew words, in these verses it means “ground” as earth’s visible surface. This is supported by “the face” (#6440) meaning the surface of the ground (Brown-Driver-Briggs). Because of possible confusion with the whole planet, I prefer “land” (which is used by the CJB, DRA, GNV, ISV, NABRE and NKJV Bibles – see BibleGateway.com) or “ground” (which is used by ASV, DARBY and YLT Bibles). The NASB states that the literal meaning is “ground”. This is consistent with original readers understanding that the judgment was on the land of Judah (the next verse describes an attack on Judah), not the whole earth.

According to the Macquarie dictionary, the word “earth” can mean: the planet, its inhabitants, the surface of the planet, the ground, or the softer part of the land. The appropriate meaning of the word “earth” in a particular text is determined by the context of the word. As there are no other words in this passage or the rest of the book that refer unambiguously to the whole planet or all its inhabitants, the first three possible meanings are ruled out. Therefore, the preferred meaning for adamah in Zephaniah (1:2-3) is the ground, the land or the surface of the earth within the country of Judah.

So a better translation of Zephaniah 1:2-3 is:
“I will sweep away everything
from the face of the land (of Judah),”
declares the Lord.
“I will sweep away both man and beast;
I will sweep away the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea—
and the idols that cause the wicked to stumble.”
“When I destroy all mankind
on the face of the land (of Judah),”
declares the Lord.

Zephaniah 1:18

This passage says (NIV):
“In the fire of His jealousy
the whole earth will be consumed,
for He will make a sudden end
of all who live on the earth”

The Hebrew word erets (Strongs #776) used twice in Zephaniah (1:18) means “earth” or “land” and is translated “earth” in the NIV, ESV, HSCB and NET Bibles. According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon of Hebrew words, in the Old Testament it can mean: the whole earth, its inhabitants, a region, its inhabitants, or ground (surface of ground). As there are several alternatives, the one chosen should largely depend on the context of the word. Because of possible confusion with the whole planet, I prefer “land” (which is used by the ASV, CEB, CJB, DARBY, DRA, GNV, ISV, LEB, NKJV, WEB, YLT and mentioned as an alternative in the NET). This is consistent with original readers understanding that the judgment was on the land of Judah (the next verse addresses the nation of Judah), not the whole earth. The ERV states that both adamah and erets can also mean “land” or “country”. The NLT uses “land” for the first occurrence and “earth” for the second! In a footnote, it says “or land”.

So a better translation of Zephaniah 1:2-3 is:
“In the fire of His jealousy
the whole land (of Judah) will be consumed,
for He will make a sudden end
of all the people living in the land (of Judah)”

The word erets in Zephaniah

The Hebrew word erets (Strongs #776) is mentioned eight times in the book of Zephaniah1:18 (twice); 2:3, 5, 11; 3:8, 19, 20. The table below shows how it is translated in four modern versions of the Bible; how I would translate it; and the context.

From this table, it is evident that:
– I only agree with the versions on about 25% (2/8) of the occasions (where they use “land”).
– On the other 75% (ranging 63% to 88%) of occasions (shaded yellow), the versions use “earth” (which has global connotations) even though it is evident from the context that none of these verses refer to the whole planet or all its inhabitants.
– The translators are always using “earth” when the context involves more than one country. However, they are also using it for a single country (1:18)!
By the way, the NKJV uses “land” or “nation” on 50% (4/8) of these occasions.

The phrase kol erets in the prophets

The phrase “all the earth/land” kol erets (Strongs #3605 and #776) occurs in Zephaniah 3:8 and 3:19 and is used in the Bible by other prophets. A study was made into the translations of this phrase in the prophetic books by various versions of the Bible. The results are tabulated in a similar format to that described above. The verses are listed in approximate chronological order.

From this table, it is evident that:
– I think that the phrase refers to the whole earth or all its inhabitants in about 13% (6/48) of the verses. The context of these verses is the sphere of God’s reign and God’s sovereignty. The other versions of the Bible agreed with this interpretation.
– These versions of the Bible translated the phrase as “land(s)” “country” or “countries” in about 56% (27/48) of the verses (but the NET used “earth” in three of these verses). The context of these verses is a country/land or a group of countries/lands. So it was used for both individual countries and groups of countries. I agreed with this interpretation. By the way, the fraction for the NKJV was 50%.
– However, the major difference between these versions and how I would translate the phrase is that they use “earth” where I use “land” (shaded yellow) in: Isa. 10:14 (except the NIV); 25:8; Zeph. 1:18; 3:8, 19 (except the NIV); Jer. 50:23; 51:7, 25, 41, 49; Hab. 2:20; Lam. 2:15; Ezek. 35:14; Dan. 8:5 (except the NET); Zech. 1:11. This is about 31% (15/48) of the verses. It shows that the translators are not only using this practice in Zephaniah, but in at least seven other prophetic books as well. Why are they doing this? Is it when it refers to more than one country? This is mainly the case, except for the countries of Babylon (Jer.50:23; Hab. 2:20), Edom (Ezek. 35:14) and Judah (Zeph. 1:18). So they are not consistent.

It is interesting that these versions of the Bible all tend to translate the phrase in a similar fashion in a particular verse. They agree on 90% of occasions (it is 80% when the NKJV is included). However, I can’t explain why they sometimes choose “country”/”land” for an individual country and sometimes they choose “earth”. Also, I can’t explain why they sometimes choose “countries”/”lands” for a group of countries and sometimes they choose “earth”.

Conclusion

I have shown that although four modern versions of the Bible usually translate the Hebrew words adamah and erets (Strongs #127 and #776) in the book of Zephaniah as “earth”; the word “land” would be a better translation.

A study was made of the translations of the phrase “all the earth/land” kol erets (Strongs #3605 and #776) in the prophetic books by four modern versions of the Bible. This showed that the poor translation in Zephaniah was evident in about 31% of the occurrences of the phrase in the prophetic books. The context of many of these is groups of countries (but some are single countries). I was unable to determine why these versions of the Bible all tend to translate the phrase in a similar fashion in a particular verse. Are the translators assuming that in the days of the prophets a group of nations was viewed as comprising the whole earth? But this doesn’t explain all the translations! The methodology seems to be inconsistent. Are they using some other criterion? Could the consistency between different versions indicate collusion or plagiarism?

Written, November 2014

Also See: God’s warning


Good news that brings great joy

Prince GeorgeI went to a funeral yesterday, which had been postponed until after the birth of a baby. The safe arrival of a baby can bring joy amidst despair. It is good news. This was particularly true in the days before modern medicine when some mothers and babies didn’t survive child birth. It’s a significant event that is anticipated by the parents and their family and friends. But the birth we remember at Christmas was unique in bringing joy to both earth and heaven. We see that God changes despair into joy.

Joy on earth

At Christ’s birth the shepherds were told, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord” (Lk. 2:10-11NIV). This was good news for a nation that despaired for at least 500 years when they were ruled by foreign powers and lacked a proper king (Herod was not a Jew). They were looking for the promised Messiah to lead a rebellion against the Romans and bring them lasting peace and prosperity (Is. 9:6-7; Lk. 23:2-5). They also knew that their Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2, 4; Jn. 7:42).

God revealed to two elderly people that baby Jesus was the promised Messiah. Simeon could now die in peace (Lk. 2:29). Anna thanked God and told others who were looking forward to being freed from foreign domination (Lk. 2:38).

But the good news was not restricted to Jews in Israel. Gentile astrologers from east of Israel came to worship “the one who has been born king of the Jews” (Mt. 2:1-2).

On 22 July 2013 a son was born to Prince William and Kate Middleton The birth of an heir to the throne, such as Prince George, brings joy to a nation. Because Christ’s was a royal birth, there was joy in Israel. But what made this event different to the birth of Prince George?

Joy in heaven

Prince George was given a family name. Jesus was also given a family name (the same as Joshua: “Jesus” is from Greek, while “Joshua” is from Hebrew), but it was “because He will save His people from their sins” (Mt. 1:21). The Jews wanted to be delivered from Roman rule. But instead they are promised to be saved from their sins!

There was also joy in heaven at Christ’s birth – the angels praised God, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Lk. 2:14). They also declare that Christ is the source of peace on earth. This peace is available to those who repent of their sins and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That’s how people are saved from their sins. This joy continues today because there is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents and turns to God (Lk. 15:7, 10).

From despair to joy

Through the birth of a baby, God changed the Jewish despair into joy. However, Jesus wasn’t only a Savior for the Jews, but for all the people of the world (Jn. 3:16; 4:42). Through Jesus joy is available to those who accept His gift of salvation and this joy extends to heaven.

Do you realise the significance of Christ’s birth? The significance of His life, death, resurrection and ascension?  Have you caused rejoicing in heaven? Let’s remember these things at Christmas (Lk. 2:19).

Remember God can change despair into joy.

Written, December 2013


What are the new heaven and new earth like?

In the Bible, the words translated as “heaven” or “heavens” can mean either:

  • The earth’s atmosphere
  • The realm of the stars
  • The dwelling place of God and the angels

The term the “heaven and earth” is mentioned in 26 verses of the NIV Bible. Most of these are describing what God created in the beginning of time (Gen. 14:19; Ps. 115:15, Isa. 37:16). It refers to the universe. The physical world of the earth, its atmosphere and the realm of the stars.

The term the “heavens and earth” is mentioned in 15 verses of the NIV Bible. Likewise most of these are describing what God created in the beginning of time (Gen. 1:1; Jer. 32:17; Acts 14:15). It refers to the universe. The physical world of the earth, its atmosphere and the realm of the stars.

New heavens and new earth

The term “new heavens and new earth” is mentioned in two verses (Isa. 65:17; 66:22). Isaiah lived until at least 680 BC, which is about 75 years before the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem when Daniel was captured and deported to Babylon (in 605 BC) and about 94 years before the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem (in 586 BC) and took more captives. The book of Isaiah is about God’s judgment and deliverance of the Jews. Isaiah predicted that the judgment was imminent (Ch. 1-39), but they would be eventually restored (Ch. 40-66). It ends with restored people living on a restored earth under the rule of the Messiah.

In this portion of the book, Isaiah is looking ahead to when the Jews would be in exile in Babylon.  Isaiah 63:15 – 64:12 is a prayer of those in exile seeking deliverance from their captivity. The prayer is answered in Chapters 65-66, which mentions the new heavens and the new earth.
“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isa. 65:17NIV).
“‘As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,’ declares the Lord, ‘so will your name and descendants endure’” (Isa. 66:22).

This new creation is characterised by (Is. 65:17-25; 66:19-24):

  • Longevity and no infant mortality (65:20)
  • There will be death and therefore sin will be present (65:20), but Satan will be bound (Rev. 20:2-3).
  • Children will be born (65:23)
  • No war or calamity (65:23)
  • Wild animals will be tame and not dangerous (65:25)
  • Jews return to Jerusalem (66:20)
  • Jewish worship and priesthood will be re-established, which implies that the temple will be rebuilt (66:21)
  • All humanity will worship the Lord (66:23)
  • Resurrected Christians will rule the world with Jesus Christ (Rev. 20:6)

So the Jews are promised a time of great blessing which has not yet occurred. When he spoke to Jews who rejected Christ, Peter called this the “times of refreshing” when God will “restore everything”, which was predicted by the Old Testament prophets (Acts 3:17-24). As it is referred to as a 1,000 year period in Revelation 20:1-7, this is often referred to as the Millennium.

Heaven and the Millennium

Outline of future eventsBut those who trusted God before the death of Christ also go to heaven (God’s dwelling place). Although most of the promises they were given were physical (like the Millennium), they also had a heavenly hope. They realised that this earth was not their final home: “admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth” and “they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:16a). Therefore, the verses in Isaiah probably include the eternal state of heaven. The main difference between the two is that there is sin in the Millennium, but not in heaven. Their temporal relationship is shown in the timeline. The Bible indicates that the sinful world vanishes after the Millennium and before the eternal state (Isa. 51:4-6; Rev. 20:11; 21:1).

A new heaven and a new earth

The term “a new heaven and a new earth” is also mentioned two verses (2 Pt. 3:13; Rev. 21:1). 2 Peter 3 comments on those who doubt God’s final judgment of the physical world. They are called scoffers (v.3). As the earth was devastated by a global flood in Noah’s time, in future the universe will be devastated by a fire (v.6-7, 10-12). At this time the sinful world is replaced by a sinless one (Mt. 24:35; 2 Pt. 3:10; Rev. 21:1). This judgement occurs before the “day of God”, which is the eternal state. It’s God’s final triumph over sin and evil. Christians are told to look forward to the “day of God” and “a new heaven and a new earth” – these terms are equivalent. They are told, “But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Pt. 3:13). They look forward to God’s new creation where there will be no sin (Rom. 8:21). In this sense, it will be like God’s original creation. The physical universe will be transformed and renewed in a similar manner to the bodies of believers (Rom. 8:20-23). So it seems as though the eternal state has a physical component.

Most of the book of Revelation describes future events. These include the second advent of Christ as a warrior who defeats all His enemies (19:11-20), and then as a king who reigns over the earth for 1,000 years (20:4-6). The final event is the new heaven and new earth, which is the eternal state (21:1-22:5). John says, “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Rev. 21:1).

This new creation is characterised by:

  • God is present – it’s His home (22:3)
  • No sadness, suffering or death and therefore no sin (21:4). It will be a place of harmony, peace and joy (Col. 3:20).
  • Only Christians will be there – non-Christians are excluded (21:27). It’s their eternal home where they have a close relationship with the Lord (21:3, 7; 22:4).
  • Christian will have new bodies, like that of the risen Lord (Phil. 3: 21).
  • Christians will be worshipping and praising the Lord, serving Him and reigning with Him (22:3, 5)

It is also described in: “Heaven and hell: What is heaven like?

Lessons for us

We can see that those who trust God are promised a future time of blessing. It’s what they longed for (Heb. 11:16a; 2 Pt. 3:12-13). They look ahead and forward, not behind and backwards. Are we anticipating a time without sin and being in the presence of our Savior?

In view of this we should “make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him” (2 Pt. 3:14). It should change our behavior. Are we pure? Are we blameless? Are we holy? Are we at peace or is there strife?

Written, July 2013