23 January 2017

The Bible and the Cosmos (1): The Earth--Landmass or Sphere?

Over the past several Sundays, we looked at the biblical passages in the Genesis creation story. We read that God brought forth the cosmos--the heavens and the earth-- in six 24 hour days.

Then he rested.

So what exactly was it that God hath wrought? What was the ancient Hebrew understanding of the cosmos?

The next few posts this week will look at scriptures outside of Genesis to see what light they shine upon the Genesis account.

According to the Bible, God created a landmass--NOT A PLANET--called earth. The Hebrew word for earth means ground, soil, or land. This land must be flat because the land has an end or edge to it.

Other passages alluding to God's creation celebrate his power in bringing forth a so large a land mass.  Hebrew writers did not know its extent. They did not known it constituted the surface of a sphere. They only could describe its extent as ends:

"Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell?" Proverbs 30:4

"Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding." Isaiah 40:28

The immense and unknown extent of the land mass could also be used to strike fear in the hearts of Israel. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses warns Israel  before they began the conquest of their holy land that infidelity to God will result in divine discipline throught foreign conquest and dispersion from their land. In their dispersion they will be cursed to worship idols. Moses declares:

"The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth; a nation whose tongue thou shalt not understand" Deut. 28:49

"And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; and there thou shalt serve other gods, which neither thou nor thy fathers have known, even wood and stone." Deut. 28:64

In contrast, the Psalmist used the same expression to describe the universal blessing of peace that he believed that God brings:

"He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire." Psalm 46:9

And the prophet Isaiah exhorted his readers to praise God for the coming of his annointed one and the victory to come:

"Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise from the end of the earth, ye that go down to the sea, and all that is therein; the isles, and the inhabitants thereof." Isaiah 42:10

And he utilized this expression in his anticipation of the universal worship of the Hebrew God:

"Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else." Isaiah 45:22

Now today, event though we know the earth or land is the surface of a sphere, we use the expression "ends of the earth" as a literary convention. As will be shown, we use many biblical expressions that way. But only someone with modern scientific understanding of our cosmos could suggest that the Hebrew writers of scripture used such expressions as figures of speech. The point of "figures of speech" is that we take  literal statements and give them a new, specialized meanings for rhetorical effect. The biblical expression "ends of the earth" does not function as a figure of speech. It is the literal statement which serves as the basis for modern figures of speech. Its writer believed in a flat landmass that had edges that he described as "the ends of the earth."

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