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Holman Bible Dictionary

Earth, Land

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Earth and land are the principle meanings of the Hebrew word erets. Earth and land differ in the degree of space involved: “earth” encompasses the whole planet; “land” designates a limited area.

Erets as Entire Created Sphere or Material Realm In Genesis 1:1,2 the earth ( erets ) is created with the heavens. However, the sentence structure stresses the earth more than the heavens. Creation brought to the earth both form and content. Light made the earth's form and content visible. The waters were separated and put in appropriate places. An earth that was exceedingly good came from God's creation (Genesis 1:31 ).

Other parts of the Bible also speak of God creating the earth (Isaiah 40:28 ; Isaiah 45:12 ). The Bible stresses God's personal involvement: “Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth” (Isaiah 48:13 ). Compare Job 26:7 ; Isaiah 42:5 ; Isaiah 45:18 . The whole earth is the result of God's creative activity. Biblical writers distinguished the heavens from the waters beneath it: Graven images were forbidden of “any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth” (Deuteronomy 5:8 ).

Erets as Specific Territory or Land Interpreters and translators must decide whether erets means the whole earth or a specific land. The literary context (that which comes before and after the word) helps determine the precise meaning.

Naaman, the commander of the army of Syria, came to Elisha to be healed of leprosy. The maid of Naaman's wife told her mistress that Elisha could cure Naaman of leprosy. She was called “the maid that is of the land (erets ) of Israel” (2 Kings 5:4 ). Naaman, however, said of Elisha's God, “I know that there is no God in all the earth (erets ), but in Israel” (2 Kings 5:15 ). The context indicates that the same word in one verse means “land” and in another verse means the more comprehensive “earth.”

The territory of Babylon is called “the land of the Chaldeans” (Jeremiah 50:1 ,Jeremiah 50:1,50:8 ,Jeremiah 50:8,50:25 ); yet in Jeremiah 50:23 , Babylon's great military power is called “the hammer of the whole earth.” Again, within one chapter, erets means both “land” and “earth.”

Erets as Ground that Produces The prophet Haggai condemned his people for being concerned with their own houses while the house of the Lord lay in ruins. The Lord had judged them. A literal translation would be, “There has been no dew from the heavens, and the land [or ground] has withheld its produce” (Haggai 1:10 ).

Zechariah promised that the Lord would not deal with the remnant of His people as He had in former days. “The vine shall give her fruit, and the ground (ha'arets) shall give her increase” (Zechariah 8:12 ).

Jeremiah was perplexed (and so was the Lord) about those who went far from Him. They never asked (again in literal translation), “Who brought us up from the land [specific territory] of Egypt?” They never asked who led them “in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that none passes through and where no person dwells” (Jeremiah 2:6 ). God brought them into a territory described as a garden land to enjoy the good fruits that the land or ground produced. Tragically, they defiled that land (Jeremiah 2:7 ). Although the people were blessed by what the land or ground produced, they did not respond to the covenant God who had blessed them with it.

Erets as What Is Beneath the Earth or Land—the Underworld The prophet Ezekiel wrote literally of “the land of lowest places” ( Ezekiel 26:20 ). People of Tyre were going there (Ezekiel 26:15 ,Ezekiel 26:15,26:20 ). The people of Egypt were going there (Ezekiel 31:2 ,Ezekiel 31:2,31:14 ,Ezekiel 31:14,31:16 ,Ezekiel 31:16,31:18 ; Ezekiel 32:18 ,Ezekiel 32:18,32:24 ). The RSV translates erets in this case as “the nether world.” The NIV uses “the earth below.” Sheol was another name for the place of the departed dead (Ezekiel 31:15-17 NAS).

Hezekiah, when he became ill and then recovered by God's action, described his fear of being confined to the gates of Sheol. “I shall not see the Lord, even the Lord in the land of the living” (Isaiah 38:11 ). His bodily dwelling would be “removed from me as a shepherd's tent” (Isaiah 38:12 ). Job described life after death as a life in a land of darkness and deep gloom, deep shadow and chaos (Job 10:21-22 ). David saw those who sought to destroy him as being judged by God and as going down to “the lower parts of the earth” (Psalm 63:9 ).

In the Old Testament, the heavenly realm, the earthly realm, and the sub-earthly realm all described the place of God and angels, the place of people now alive, and the place of those who have died. The New Testament reveals more. Believers go to be with Christ (Philippians 1:21-24 ). In both the Old and New Testaments, earthly decisions and actions influenced future destiny.

Theological Questions Regarding Erets To whom did the land of Canaan belong? Who was to own and use the land?

According to Joel 2:18-19 , the land of Canaan belonged to Yahweh. God was jealous “for his land.” He would judge the nations because they had “parted my land” (Joel 3:2 ). God promised Abraham that He would establish His covenant with Abraham and with his descendants as an everlasting covenant; all the “land of Canaan” was to be for an everlasting possession (Genesis 17:8-9 ).

Do these verses tell us who is to own and use the land? No, because Israel broke that covenant. Paul spoke of an old covenant and a new covenant ( 2 Corinthians 3:6 , 2 Corinthians 3:14 ). Jeremiah spoke about both covenants. The new covenant was not like the old “which my covenant brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:32 ). The Holy Spirit testifies to Christians about the new covenant (Hebrews 10:15-18 ). The land belongs to the Lord, and He may apportion it to whomever He pleases.

Use and Ownership of Land (erets) Those who joined land to land, house to house, field to field (in land monopolies) were condemned (Isaiah 5:8-10 ). Woe was pronounced on selfish wealthy people—those at ease in Zion, those who lay on beds of ivory (Amos 6:1 ,Amos 6:1,6:4 ). Micah pronounced woes upon those who “covet fields, and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away” (Micah 2:2 ). To prevent consolidation of land in the hands of a few, Leviticus proposed a fifty-year jubilee to return property to families (Leviticus 25:1 ). “The land shall not be sold for ever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me” (Leviticus 25:23 ). People were to permit redemption of the land to prevent its being controlled by only a few. The Lord of heaven and earth is also the Lord of individual lands. All of the earth as well as specific parts should be used to promote a good life for the inhabitants. People are to give thanks to the One who provided them with the means to achieve such a life.

A. Berkeley Mickelsen


Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Earth, Land'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hbd/e/earth-land.html. 1991.

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