Why “the Earth Is the Lord's” Should Comfort and Convict Us
- Betty Dunn Contributing Writer
- Updated Jul 27, 2021
Who governs the earth’s bounty—as well as its people—is a timeless question answered by Psalm 24. The first verse states, The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
When I read the first verse of Psalm 24 as a teenager in the 1970s, the Earth Movement was in full swing. The media cautioned people about the dangers of pollution and depleting natural resources. In the 21st century, the scientific community has to heighten its warnings about the environment. The threat of global warming, for example, may result in catastrophes, such as cities washed into an expanding ocean and severe drought leading to food shortages. Some of these dire predictions about the environment are coming true. In my home state, Flint, Michigan, had a water pollution crisis five years ago that shut down drinking water facilities. Each spring for the past decade or so there are unexplainable die-offs of animals around the world. These phenomena are wake-calls, the result of humans’ poor stewardship of the earth. We haven’t always been the best caretakers of God’s gift to us of the natural world.
God’s gift may be viewed as more like a rental space than a home. We are here temporarily and pass our places on earth to the next generation of people. The return of a “breakage deposit,” our investment in the future of the earth, is based on how well we care for the earth in our time.
Government is part of the picture of caring for our environment. Regulations placed on industry to curb the destruction of the earth are a politically charged issue. The desire for corporate and individual profit vies with protecting the earth from permanent harm. There are global summits on how to manage natural resources to safeguard decisions made about the use of natural resources.
Psalm 24 speaks to how God is also in charge of the world, and they that dwell therein. People are part of God’s creation, at the top of the food chain, but still under God’s authority.
What Does “the Earth Is the Lord's” Mean in Psalm 24:1?
The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; For he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters, Psalm 24:1-2.
The Psalmist confirms God’s role as Creator of the natural world we enjoy. These verses also establish God as the Ruler of the earth’s people, all who live in it. In Psalm 24:7-10, the psalmist describes God’s role as the sustainer of His people: when we seek his face (Psalm 24: 6) we will receive blessings from the Lord and vindication from God His savior (Psalm 24:5). In an article titled “The One True God as Creator, Ruler and Sustainer of All,” the Biblegateway.com author references Paul’s instruction to the early Christian church.
“The God who made the world and everything it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them, and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being” Acts 17:24-28.
God continues to be involved in the world. He sustains us. We are dependent on God for our existence in our personal lives, political communities, and earth setting. “For by Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). Chaos would reign if God did not oversee the world.
The requirements of citizenship in our God’s kingdom are found in Psalm 24:3-6.
Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?
The next verse sheds lights on the role of people on earth:
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false (Psalm 24:4).
I don’t know of too many worshippers of Baal in modern western civilization. There are, however, lots of people worshipping the false god of materialism at whatever cost to the environment.
In his sermon on Psalm 24, Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said in the mid-19th century, “To comprehend it fully, it should be understood that Jerusalem, as the city of God, was by the Jews regarded as a type of heaven . . . The court of the tabernacle was the scene of the Lord's more immediate residence--the tabernacle his palace, and the ark his throne.” Membership in God’s kingdom has huge benefits, in King David’s day and ours. We have the fullness of an earthly home. We need to take good care of our home.
What Is the Context of Psalm 24:1-3?
Bible scholars believe this sacred psalm was sung when the ark of the covenant was returned to the Israelites after it was captured in battle by the Philistines. Philistine leaders returned the ark to Israel in fear of the Lord’s promise He would support the victory of the Israelites in battle with every other nation. The Israelites placed the ark in the house of a man named Obed-edom for three months and then they took it up to the tabernacle at the time of the glorious procession described in Psalm 24.
The words of Psalm 24 are thought to have accompanied King David’s sacred dance of joy as he led the procession into Jerusalem and then placed the ark within the curtains of the Jewish tabernacle on the hill of Zion, from then on established as Jerusalem, the royal city of the kingdom of God. Psalm 24 is called a Song of Ascension in Charles Spurgeon’s popularly cited sermon. The psalmist celebrates the return of the ark and recognizes the Lord as the King of glory in the new Jewish capital. In Psalm 24:7-10, God as the King of glory enters the gates of Jerusalem.
Why Should We Place Our Faith in God's Sovereignty Rather than in Our Rulers?
As Paul wrote in I Peter 2:13-17, Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
In my understanding, these are directions for us to live primarily by God’s rules but obey authorities placed on earth by God. The last three, short sentences in the passage above, from I Peter, spell out our obligations in the kingdom of God. First, Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood—we must live peaceably with each other in a community. Next, Fear God. Fear, as in respect and obey God. And finally, Honor the emperor.
Civil rights protesters have often abided by government restrictions. I think of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, a peaceful protester who landed in jail about 30 times during his campaigns. Nelson Mandela was also imprisoned by an unjust government system and served a 27-year prison sentence. Mother Theresa worked within the confines of the authority of the Roman Catholic church. These spiritual, social, and political leaders abided by God’s rule first, but they also endured government rule. It is a tough pill to swallow, but in Romans 13:1 it says, Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established.
4 Important Takeaways for Understanding and Applying “the Earth Is the Lord's”
God is a more stable, righteous ruler of earth and its people than any human leader. Charles Spurgeon preached, “Let it be noted, however, upon what insecure foundations all terrestrial things are founded. Founded on the seas! Established on the floods! Blessed be God the Christian has another world to look forward to and rests his hopes upon a more stable foundation than this poor world affords. They who trust in worldly things build upon the sea; but we have laid our hopes, by God's grace, upon the Rock of Ages; we are resting upon the promise of an immutable God, we are depending upon the constancy of a faithful Redeemer.”
The sovereignty of God over the earth conflicts with the western world’s view of creation. Remember that while native people left ownership of the earth to a higher power, modern leaders and settlers adopted the mindset that the world was given to them by God to conquer. This idea has shaped our modern view in caring for the quality and longevity of clean air and water, fertile soil, and sustainable wildlife. Being caretakers of creation conflicts with the idea that creation is a human possession, something to own and control, independent of God.
Humans benefit spiritually from communing with nature, recognizing God in the snowflake, the mountains, and our backyard garden. These pieces of nature are the fullness of earth, gifts from God.
Remember to be humble caretakers as God sustains our lives and the earth. In the book of Job, God humbles Job and his indignation over losing his livestock, servants, and health. God asks Job, Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? (Job 38:4), in the middle of verse after verse of exquisite poetry extolling the wonder of His creation. Job sheepishly replies, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). God’s description of His creation convinces Job of God’s sovereignty.
People have only so much control over their own lives. We are part of God’s creation, although God did put us at the top of the food chain in Genesis. God is in the details of the natural world and our lives.
The second half of Psalm 24:1 says that not only is the earth the Lord’s, but also the world, and all who live in it. The concept of God’s sovereignty versus our free will is a tough theological issue. There is a God who rules over all, yet there is chaos in the universe. And the example of Job reveals human’s desire to control our own destiny. Job believes he was a good man and should have a good life. It doesn’t always work that way.
God is in our lives from beginning to end, however: Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them (Psalm 139:16). And it is comforting to know Jesus said, “I am always with you, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
New Testament Scripture expands upon this concept of God in charge. Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring…Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:13-15). In modern terms, this is “letting go and letting God.” We can still pursue a personal goal. Yet we do need to learn to accept the truth that we are not totally in control of what happens next.
“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; His understanding has no limit” Psalm 147:4-5.
Dedicated to Kimberly Edith Anderson Harris (1954-2007), a true lover of nature and God.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/ipopba
Betty Dunn hopes her writing leads you to holding hands with God. A former high school English teacher, editor, and nonprofit agency writer, she now works on writing projects from her home in West Michigan, where she enjoys woods, water, pets and family. Check out her blog at Betty by Elizabeth Dunning and her website, www.elizabethdunning-wix.com.
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