“7 He stretches out the north over empty space; He hangs the earth on nothing.
8 He binds up the water in His thick clouds, yet the clouds are not broken under it.
9 He covers the face of His throne, and spreads His cloud over it.
10 He drew a circular horizon on the face of the waters, at the boundary of light and darkness.
11 The pillars of heaven tremble, and are astonished at His rebuke.
12 He stirs up the sea with His power, And by His understanding He breaks up the storm.
13 By His Spirit He adorned the heavens; His hand pierced the fleeing serpent.
14 Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways, and how small a whisper we hear of Him! But the thunder of His power who can understand?”
There are many books that are claimed to be direct revelation from God to mankind, the Bible, the Qur’an, the Vedas, the Book of Mormon, and others. Even a cursory examination of these books shows that they are incompatible with each other and therefore are mutually exclusive – which means that at most only one can be true.
In light of this, it is reasonable to suppose that God, knowing that there will be books falsely attributed to Him, would authenticate the one book that is truly from Him. In the case of the Bible, the surest attestation is the testimony of Jesus Himself. In asmuch as He proved His claim to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead (e.g. John 2:18-22; Romans 1:3-4), we must accept what He said about the Bible, and He fully endorsed it (e.g. John 10:35; Matthew 22:29; Mark 12:36, 14:49; Luke 24:27,44; John 5:39), both the thirty-nine canonical books of the Old Testament and the New Testament that He commissioned His apostles to produce (Mark 3:13-14; Matthew 13:52; 28:18-20; Ephesians 2:20; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21, 3:15-16).
However, there are other ways in which God can show which is book is truly from Him. One is by means of predictive prophecy accurately foretelling specific events far in advance. Such evidence carries a great deal of weight, since people cannot foretell the future, not in detail, not far in advance, and not events that are unexpected. Actually, we cannot so much as foretell who will win the Stanley Cup in 2027 or the presidential election in 2024. No wonder, then, that the God of the Bible explicitly tells us that He uses predictive prophecy so that we may know that He is the Only True God (Isaiah 44:24-45:7, 46:9-11).
Another means is the inclusion of advanced scientific knowledge. These are statements of facts that are very familiar to us and so we take no special note of them – until we realize that the peoples of the ancient world had no way of knowing them, as they require modern scientific methods to discern. Such statements, therefore, constitute strong evidence for divine authorship.
One noteworthy example is in Job 26:7, which states, “He stretches out the north over empty space;He hangs the earth on nothing.” We don’t give this a second thought, as the fact that earth is suspended in empty space is as familiar to us as our own name. Of course we know that the earth is suspended “on nothing,” and since it is so well known us we don’t stop to wonder whether people knew it at the time Job was written.
The answer is: they didn’t. How could they? The concept of solid matter floating on nothing is not only not a given, it is counter-intuitive. The law of gravity sums up what we observe everywhere around us, viz. that solid objects don’t float on nothing; they fall down. Always. No wonder, then, that Job’s contemporaries all thought that the earth must be resting on something, whether on water or solid pillars or Atlas’s shoulders or two giant elephants standing on the back of an even bigger sea turtle swimming in an infinite sea of milk. The idea, then, that God “hangs the earth on nothing” was not within their scope of imagination – yet there it is, in the Bible, and it was a long time before that we found out it is actually correct. In fact, it was more than a thousand years later that Anaximander of ancient Greece first posited
a model of the universe that had an unsupported earth at the centre of a series of concentric spheres – and then it was just an unproven conjecture.
Now, to get around the force of this evidence for the divine authorship of the Bible, skeptics argue that the passage is only figurative, poetic language that was not meant to be taken literally. They point to verse 11, which speaks of “the pillars of heaven” and insist that the writer of Job must have subscribed to the ancient world view that the heavens must be supported by solid pillars, inasmuch as things don’t float. This statement, then, in Job is a scientific error, they say.
There are three problems with the claim that Job 26 is figurative, poetic language and not meant to be taken literally. First, the skeptic does not explain how the writer in his supposedly “figurative” language managed to get the fact that the earth floats on nothing exactly right, though no one else knew this.
Second, figurative language has a correspondence with what it is representing. When figurative language speaks, for example, of the trees of the field clapping their hands (Isaiah 55:12), one can imagine the branches of trees swaying in the breeze resembling clapping, which itself is a sign of approval. Or when the Psalmist speaks figuratively of taking shelter under God’s “wings” (Psalm 91:4), it is drawing on the familiar image of a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings for protection. Figurative language, then, conveys meaning because it corresponds to known realities – yet the idea of the earth hanging on nothing was an utterly alien concept to the people of Job’s day.
Third, as one reads through this passage, with its description of the nature of clouds and the horizon of the spherical earth, he can see that it is straightforward language correctly describing features of the natural world. It is special pleading, then, to insist that verse 7 be taken as figurative language when the rest of the passage clearly is not figurative.
What, then, about the “pillars of heaven”? The skeptic asserts that this is problematic, since pillars are solid upright objects designed to support things, and so the mention made here of “pillars of heaven” shows that the writer of Job held to the ancient and incorrect belief that the heavens are held up by solid pillars.
The skeptic is wrong, however, for he has overlooked a crucial fact. It is true that the word “pillar” in the Bible often refers to an upright solid supporting structure, as in Genesis 31:45 (“So Jacob took a stone and set it up as a pillar”) and Exodus 27:17 (“All the pillars around the court shall have bands of silver; their hooks shall be of silver and their sockets of bronze”). Yet by no means does “pillar” always refer to something solid.
Consider the following:
“And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.” (Exodus 13:21a)
“Now it came to pass, in the morning watch, that the LORD looked down upon the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud.” (Exodus 14:24a)
“And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke.” (Joel 2:30)
In fact, the Bible often speaks of pillars of fire, cloud, and smoke. In these cases, the meaning of “pillar” is a roughly vertical column of particulate matter and/or hot gases (See the second definition of “pillar” in the Oxford English Dictionary), and the Hebrew word translated here as “pillar” (ammud) is also used for solid pillars.
So now we know that “pillars” are. But what would “pillars of heaven” be? The Hebrew word (shamayim; plural in form, it can be translated as “heaven” or “heavens”) refers to three different things, viz. the atmosphere (air layer) of earth, the entire expanse of space, and the spiritual dwelling of God (the “third heaven” of 2 Cor 12:2). Can we find pillars in any one of these? Are there, perhaps, roughly upright columns of particulate matter and/or hot gases in outer space?
Consider the following images:
|Gas Pillars in the Eagle Nebula (M16), known as the “Pillars of Creation” (Image from NASA)Do these look like pillars of smoke? Or pillars of clouds? How about the next one?|
|This is the Stellar Spire in the Eagle Nebula (Image from NASA). It is about 90 trillion kilometres high, about twice the distance from the Sun to the nearest star. By definition, it certainly qualifies as a “pillar.”
Image credit: NASA, H. Ford (JHU), G. Illingworth (UCSC/LO), M. Clampin (STScI), G. Hartig (STScI), the ACS Science Team and ESA
|This is the Cone Nebula (NGC 2264), a star-forming pillar of gas and dust (Image from NASA). Note NASA’s description of this: “The Cone Nebula is a cousin of the M16 pillars, which the Hubble imaged in 1995. Monstrous pillars of cold gas like the Cone and M16 arecommon in large regions of star birth. Astronomers believe the pillars are incubators for developing stars.”
(Taken from http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_686.html. Bolding and underlining added.)
So the conclusion is clear; there are indeed “pillars of heaven” in outer space. The Bible is not wrong here. On the contrary, the existence of these nebulae is a discovery of modern science, and our ability to see and photograph them depends on modern technology. Again we must ask how the writer of Job knew of the “pillars of heaven.”
We must borrow words from Joseph of the OT to apply to the skeptic: “as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). The skeptic intended to challenge the reliability of Scripture, but in so doing he has led us to discover that there is not only one example of advanced scientific knowledge in Job 26; there are two.