For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and He has set the world upon them. (1 Samuel 2:8)
He stretches out the north over empty space; He hangs the earth on nothing. (Job 26:7)
At first glance, these verses appear to contradict each other: how can the earth rest on pillars and at the same time hang on nothing?
In addition, the idea of earth having “pillars” and “foundations” seems to defy observations made by astronauts who have seen our planet from afar. To some, it may even sound vaguely like certain pagan beliefs, such as the Hindu idea that the earth is supported on the backs of four elephants that stand on the shell of a gigantic tortoise. But we should not view these biblical statements as myths, because God’s Word is truth (John 17:17).
The supposed contradiction quickly disappears when we examine the context of each passage and recognize it as figurative language. First Samuel 2:8 was spoken during a prayer by Hannah after she dedicated her son Samuel into the Lord’s service. Job spoke the other verse while talking with his friends about man’s weakness in light of God’s majestic power. This sort of poetic imagery (pillars, foundations, etc.) is commonly used in Scripture to describe how God upholds the world. For example, consider what the Lord said to Job:
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? To what were its foundations fastened? Or who laid its cornerstone[?] (Job 38:4–6)
We know that the earth does not literally have foundations and a cornerstone like a building; instead, God uses this figurative language to create a mental picture for Job. In the same way, animals do not talk and laugh, yet God also tells Job that the horse “
laughs at fear” and “
when the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’” (Job 39:22, 25, ESV).
This is something we are all familiar with in everyday speech. For example, if someone is not particularly sane, we might say he’s “got bats in the belfry,” “losing his marbles,” “coming unglued,” or “vacant upstairs.” All of these are obviously not literal statements but rather figures of speech that give a more interesting look at the concept being expressed.
Critics of our ministry often ridicule Answers in Genesis because we endorse the historical-grammatical hermeneutic. They claim that we must take everything in the Bible in a wooden literal sense. However, the historical-grammatical hermeneutic recognizes figures of speech are used in everyday language, and we should interpret them as such. When we interpret Scripture, we strive to find the author’s intended meaning. Just as we use figurative language today, so also the writers of Scripture often used figures of speech, especially in passages written using poetic language like the examples above.
So, God hangs the earth on nothing, but it’s not just dangling in space. He has firmly fixed an orbit for our planet and upholds it securely in its proper place in our solar system.