A tiny seed can grow into a huge tree. Tree seeds fall to the ground from their parents with a full set of instructions on how to grow. Once the coat around the seed is moistened, the embryo cells expand and burst out in a process called germination. The embryo uses food stored in the seed to power its initial growth until the leaves can start producing food. Once the roots are in the soil and the first leaves are in the sun, the plant is ready to really start growing. Trees keep getting taller and thicker while they are alive. The tallest tree is over 110 metres (360 feet) tall, and scientists think some trees may have been as much as 150 metres (490 feet) tall.
Jesus compared something that is large with something that is small when He said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt. 19:24NIV). The camel was the largest animal in Israel and the eye of a needle was the smallest opening. Camels are about 2m high and the eye of a needle was about 1mm. The difference was a factor of about 2,000, which is over 3 orders of magnitude (103).
What is the size range that we can detect without technical aids? The most distant individual star visible to the unaided eye is about 4,000 light years (3.6×1019m) away. Did you know that 99% of the stars we can see are in our galaxy? Galaxies can be seen up to 2.5million light years (2.3×1022m) away (Andromeda). On the other hand, the smallest object we can see is the thickness of spider silk which is about 2×10-6m (2 microns). The range between these two extremes of what we can detect with the unaided eye is 28 orders of magnitude (1028). That’s a factor of 1 with 29 zeros after it!
What is the range that we can detect with technical aids? Telescopes can detect light from 13 billion light years (1.17×1026m) away. As it is too far away to measure directly, this distance is estimated from assumptions about the universe. At the other extreme:
– Atoms are about 10-10 m (one angstrom) in size.
– The nucleus of an atom is about 10-14 m in size.
– Protons, neutrons and electrons are about 10-15 m in size.
– Other subatomic particles have been detected, such as neutrinos, which are usually treated as points in space and time.
The range between these two extremes of what we can detect with technical aids is 42 orders of magnitude (1042). That’s a factor of 1 with 43 zeros after it! It ranges from protons, to atoms, to ants, to people, to planets, to galaxies to the whole universe.
In Psalm 8 (a song of praise) David makes a comparison between the universe and humanity. “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens … When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (Ps. 8:1-4).
The Message says, “I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry, moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?” (Ps. 8:3-4)
It’s all about God’s greatness. It begins with a name and a title. “Lord” (“Yahweh” in Hebrew) is God’s name. And David says He is “our Lord”, which means that God is Israel’s master. But then He extends God’s rule to all humanity by saying that God’s name (or reputation) is majestic “in all the earth”. Majestic (or magnificent or awesome) means superior in power. Then he extends God’s rule even further by saying God has set His glory (or shows His majesty) “in the heavens”. He then explains that in this context the heavens include the moon and stars. So, he’s referring to the universe of stars and galaxies, which God has made. In a figure of speech he says that they are “the work of your fingers”, “which you have set in place”. And we have seen that the universe is huge.
Then David contrasts humanity with the universe by saying “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them”? The size difference between us and the universe is 22 orders of magnitude for what we can see unaided and 26 orders of magnitude for what we can see with technical aids. He is amazed that God remembers us and cares for us when we are so tiny compared with the vast universe. He remembers and cares for each one of us.
God made us to be in the middle of a range of sizes from the atoms to galaxies. We seem to be insignificant and tiny compared to the universe, but huge compared to atoms. But David said that God crowned us with glory and honor because we were made to rule over the rest of God’s creation (Ps. 8:5-8). He gave us a job to do.
The context of Psalm 8 is as follows:
– In Psalm 6 David prays for God’s help and deliverance from prolonged illness and his enemies.
– In Psalm 7 David prays for God’s help and deliverance from his enemies.
– In Psalm 8 David praises God.
– In Psalm 9 David thanks God for punishing his enemies.
– Psalm 10 is a prayer for God’s help and deliverance from the wicked.
So Psalm 8 is in the middle of psalms dealing with the struggles and troubles of life. At these times let’s remember that God is great because He made the universe and because He cares for us (humanity).
The musical style of this psalm is “according to gittith”. We don’t know exactly what this is, but the same style is mentioned in Psalms 81 and 84, which are for celebrating a Jewish festival and for expressing a longing to serve God in the temple. So the musical style for Psalm 8 may be joyful.
Lessons for us
Because the book of Psalms is only half way through the Bible, we know more than David did! We know there are more galaxies and stars in the universe than he saw. And Paul wrote, “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Rom. 1:20NLT).
So let’s realize that there is an awesome God behind His magnificent creation. And let’s recognize that God made our creation and reject the idea of evolution that it made itself. And let’s value all of His creation by caring for it, in particular human life that is created in God’s image.
And there is about 1,000 years of history in the Bible after the days of David. God also remembered and cared for us by sending Jesus to die for our sins. He calls those who have accepted His forgiveness His children. And these children will rule with Jesus in His coming kingdom. That’s when we will be crowned with glory and honor!
Written, September 2017
Scientists have estimated that the number of stars in the observable universe is 7 x 1022, which is “7” followed by 22 zeros! This is similar to their estimate of the number grains of sand on planet earth of 7 x 1021, which is “7” followed by 21 zeros. These are big numbers!
Many years ago (about 2,100BC), God promised Abraham: “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17). He was given this promise (“I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth”) before he had any children (Gen. 13:16; 15:5) and it was repeated (Gen. 28:14). Isaac and Jacob were given similar promises and Moses recorded them (Gen. 26:4; 32:12; Ex. 32:13). And its fulfilment was confirmed by the writer of Hebrews: “And so from this one man, and he as good as dead (he was childless at 99 years of age), came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore” (Heb. 11:12).
The Bible says that the Israelite population grew rapidly in Egypt (Ex. 1:7-12). Moses wrote that the promise was fulfilled when they were about to enter Canaan (Dt. 1:10; 10:22; 28:62). “The Lord your God has increased your numbers so that today you are as numerous as the stars in the sky” (Dt. 1:10). As there were about 600,000 men in the exodus, their population would have been at least 2 million (Ex. 12:37; 38:26). This shows that God keeps His promises.
The statement, “as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” was probably a metaphor or simile for a very large number. Apparently about 1,000 stars could be seen in the night sky in ancient times. But from the light in the night sky it is clear that there were more stars than this. The Bible says that although we can’t count all the stars, God can (Gen. 15:5; Ps. 147:4). Likewise for the grains of sand on the sea shore and the dust of the earth. In the ancient world these were symbols and illustrations of very big numbers. And modern science has verified that these are indeed very big numbers. In Abraham’s case they were symbols and illustrations of a large number of descendants.
For example the sand on the sea shore is used as a hyperbole for a large number (Gen. 41:49; Josh. 11:4; Jud. 7:12; 1 Sam. 13:5; 2 Sam. 17:11; 1 Ki. 4:20; Ps. 78:27; 139:18; Is. 10:22; 48:19; Jer. 15:8; Hos. 1:10; Hab. 1:9; Rom. 9:27; Rev. 20:8) or for something that is beyond measure (1 Ki. 4:49; Job 6:3).
We have seen that although the promise wasn’t fulfilled in Abraham’s lifetime, it was fulfilled at a later date. Likewise God has given Christians promises that He will fulfill after our lifetime. For example, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:17-18). Also, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). This means that although we suffer in life, we are promised a glorious inheritance. Something fantastic is coming. There is a contrast between present suffering and future glory. The glory outweighs the suffering and it’s eternal instead of temporary. Like Abraham, we don’t see any evidence of this future glory now, but it’s assured.
Focusing on this promise helps us get through suffering and difficult times without giving up in despair. Then we can live in a way that glorifies God.
We have seen that God keeps His promises. Because He kept His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He will also keep this promise to His followers today.
Written, August 2015
The idea of seven heavens is found in Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. In Islam and Judaism, the divine throne is said to be in or above the seventh heaven. In Hinduism, the god Brahma lives in the seventh heaven. However, none of these ideas are mentioned in the Bible.
It is thought that the myth of seven heavens came from ancient astrologists who could identify seven great heavenly objects (the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) and assumed that each was moving in a separate heaven, in a series of layers above the earth. These were the only objects that people could see in the sky that moved with respect to the fixed stars. They gave us the names of the week: Sunday after the sun, Monday after the moon, and Tuesday to Friday after the Norse versions of Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus, and Saturday after Saturn.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “samayim” (Strongs #8064) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and has the following meanings according to the context in which the word is used:
- The earth’s atmosphere: “the rain had stopped falling from the sky” (Gen. 8:2NIV).
- The realm of the stars: “the stars in the sky” (Gen. 22:17).
- The dwelling place of God and the angels: “Hear from heaven, your [God’s] dwelling place” (2 Chron. 6:21).
Another expression representing the dwelling place of God is “the highest heaven” (literally the heaven of heavens): “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Dt. 10:14). This expression doesn’t represent multiple heavens, but the uniqueness of God’s home compared to the atmosphere and the stars.
In the New Testament, the Greek word “ouranos” (Strongs #3772) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and has the following meanings according to the context in which the word is used:
- The earth’s atmosphere: “the birds of the air” (Mt. 6:26).
- The realm of the stars: “the stars in the sky” (Heb. 11:12).
- The dwelling place of God and the angels: “Father in heaven” (Mt. 6:9; 12:50).
- God: “I have sinned against heaven [referring to God, by metonymy] and against you” (Lk. 15:18).
Christ’s incarnation and ascension is described as: “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens” (Eph. 4:10). This expression doesn’t represent multiple heavens, but the uniqueness of God’s home compared to the atmosphere and the stars.
Paul said that he was “caught up to the third heaven”, which was “paradise” (2 Cor. 12:2-4). If God’s dwelling place is the third heaven, then the other two heavens are the earth’s atmosphere and the universe beyond the earth.
So, the Bible refers to three different heavens, not seven heavens. These are three usages of the word “heaven”, not a series of layers above the earth. God dwells in the “highest heaven”, which is unique (Lk. 2:14). It is not necessarily physically uppermost or furthest from the earth, but it is superior and supreme. That is why Jesus is “exalted above the heavens”; He is greater than anything in the atmosphere and the rest of the universe (Heb. 7:26). Today, we mainly use the word “heaven” for God’s dwelling place.
Written, April 2012
When I was on vacation in South Australia there were two explosions – one in a restaurant and another in an explosives factory. The debris was scattered across the neighborhood, killing several people. It reminded me of the evolutionists’ idea that the universe was formed from a “big bang.”
According to the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1 NIV). The Hebrew word for “heavens” (samayim) can also refer to the atmosphere (Gen. 8:2); or the sun, moon and stars (Gen. 1:15-17); or God’s dwelling place (Ps. 2:4). At least eleven times, the Bible says that God “stretched out” or “stretches out” the heavens. The context of two of these passages may be the atmosphere (Jer. 10:12; 51:15), for another two it is the stars and galaxies (Job. 9:8; Isa. 45:12), while the remainder relate to either of these alternatives (Ps. 104:2; Isa. 40:22; 42:5; 44:24; 48:13; 51:13; Zech. 12:1). The theme of all these passages is the greatness of God as Creator of the universe (Isa. 42:5; 44:24; 45:12; 48:13; 51:13; Zech. 12:1).
The events of creation were supernatural acts of God (Ps. 33:6,9; 102:25). As these events were outside human experience, the Old Testament writers used figurative language as there was no other way to describe them in the Hebrew language. They wrote that God “stretches out the heavens like a tent” (Ps. 104:2), and “He stretches out the heavens like a canopy (or curtain), and spreads them out like a tent to live in” (Isa. 40:22). The Hebrew word natah means to stretch, spread out or extend in every direction. It represents what one does in pitching a tent by unrolling the canvas and “stretching it out.” For example, Abram “pitched (natah) his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east” (Gen. 12:8). As a simile of God’s creation of the heavens, in the six days of creation (Ex. 20:11), God stretched out the heavens like a tent.
The stellar heavens are mentioned on the fourth day of creation: “God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky (samayim) to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so. God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness” (Gen. 1:14-18).
When we apply this image to the creation of the stars and galaxies we see that God stretched out the heavens (universe) to a vast size to make room for all the stars and galaxies. Vast size and the assumption that the speed of light is constant give the universe an apparent old age. This is like the rest of creation which seems to have been created in a mature form. For example, on the sixth day of creation, God created Adam and Eve as mature adults. They were a unique creation; no other people were created in this manner. Likewise, if the original heavenly bodies were created in a mature form, on the seventh day they would have had an apparent old age.
So God created the stars and the galaxies with a “big stretch” not a “big bang.” The next time you stretch something out, like a tent, remember that in the beginning God stretched out the universe and that the vast expanse of stars and galaxies “declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1).
Published, June 2008