What do we understand when we read Job 26:7?
He stretches out the north over the empty place [תּוֹהוּ tohuw, nothing], and hangs the earth upon nothing. (KJVER)
We are told two things. One is that the Lord stretched the north over an empty place and the second is that He hung the earth upon nothing.
From astronomy we know that the planet is hung on nothing. It is freely orbiting around the sun. In the gravitational field of the sun it is actually falling towards the sun but because of its speed it moves in a stable orbit. But nothing holds it up, because there is no up or down in space.
The direction we give to the north or south are convenient terms, but north is not any more important than south. What is truly amazing though is the fact that the Scriptures have such a statement, when more than 3,000 years ago, around the time the book of Job was written, the ‘science’ of the day (actually myths in Hindu culture) taught the earth was held on the back of four giant male elephants who stood on the back of a giant female turtle. That is probably where they get their elephant god from. And then there is in the ancient Greek mythology, Atlas, a giant Titan god, who held the earth on his back. But the Bible does not describe a fanciful myth but describes what we know to be true.
There is that joke: A woman, who believed that the elephants and the turtle actually held up the earth, was asked what held up the turtle. She said another turtle. And before the questioner could point out the obvious problem she said: “Aha, I know what you are going to say. But the answer is, there are turtles all the way down.”
The illustration shown here is with a flat earth on the back of the elephants, riding on the turtle. The flat earth is a myth as much as the elephants and the turtle are. It is isn’t science. Science involves really knowing by direct investigation or by eye-witness account. Astronomy alone has shown the earth is a sphere. Even a lunar eclipse shows the spherical shape of the earth shadow on the lunar surface.
If the second part of Job 26:7 is scientifically accurate, then does it not follow that the first part must also be true? Is there an empty place in the north where there are no stars? No, there isn’t? But I don’t think the meaning is that. I believe the word ‘north’ is a reference to the creation of the stars in the sky, which God placed in empty space, space that was empty prior to being filled with stars. The act of creating the stars defines the space. There was no space there before He created the stars.
The north simply signifies the heavens created as part of the world that God made. The stars are seen to move around the north star, which would have been well known. The Hebrew word translated ’empty place’ (in the KJV) has the meaning of ‘nothing’. Thus it means God created the stars and placed them in space. Without those stars there would be nothing there.
The Bible is accurate. In this verse the intention was not poetry but a simple description of the creation of the world comprising the earth hanging in space, surrounded by the stars, which God created above. It is very similar language to that found in Isaiah 40:22:
It is He that sits upon the circle [חוּג khûg] of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretches out the heavens as a curtain, and spreads them out as a tent to dwell in: (emphases added) (KJVER)
The Hebrew word khûg is translated ‘circle’ having the meaning of the great circles on the globe or a sphere. This then describes a spherical earth in space and the starry heavens created all around it. The words translated ‘stretches’ and ‘spreads’ imply nothing more than God setting the stars up in the sky like one puts up a tent. Isaiah 40:22 is an accurate description of our spherical globe. It was created for its inhabitants, who, to God looking down from outer space, seem to be like grasshoppers, because we are so small in comparison to the planet. It is travelling in space amidst the stars, which God created all around. There is no mythology there.
When you understand the meaning of the Hebrew word חוּג khûg, which describes a spherical globe, these modern-day claims that the Bible describes a flat earth make absolutely no sense. This is reinforced in Proverbs 8:27:
When He prepared the heavens, I was there: when He set a compass upon the face of the depth: (emphasis added) (KJVER)
The Hebrew word translated as ‘compass’ here is the same Hebrew word חוּג khûg. The meaning in this verse is that when God created the starry heavens God’s Spirit was there, and so was He when God created the spherical surface of the earth. This is indicated by ‘set a compass’ meaning He inscribed the earth with the great circles along the lines of longitude on its spherical surface. In Genesis 1:2 we read that when God began to create the world He started with water freely floating in space and it would have naturally formed into a ball, a sphere, under it own gravity. This verifies that the word ‘compass’ has the meaning of the great circles, the longitudinal circles on the earth surface. Very clearly God created a spherical world, not a flat earth, and it isn’t suspended on anything.
There are only three verses in the OT with this Hebrew word חוּג khûg. The last one makes a reference to the heavens above the earth.
Job 22:14, “Thick clouds are a covering to Him, that He sees not; and He walks in the circuit [khûg] of heaven.” (KJVER)
Here the Hebrew word khûg is translated ‘circuit’. It would make no sense to have a circuit about a flat earth but around a spherical earth where the clouds are located makes perfect sense.
Note, there are many similarities between Indo-European and Semitic languages.1 Hence, the Hebrew word khûg may be related to the European words kugel (Middle High German), kula (Polish), kugla (Serbo-Croatian), gugā (their Proto-Indo-European root),2,3,4 and the modern Arabic word for ball, globe, orb or bowl — ‘kurah’. The ‘kh’ in the Hebrew is a guttural ‘g’. All of these clearly do refer to a spherical object.
Bible commentator John Gill wrote:
Isaiah 40:22 It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth,…. Or, “the globe (z)” of it; for the earth is spherical or globular: not a flat plain, but round, hung as a ball in the air;
(z) על חוג “super sphaeram”, Pagninus; “globum”, Montanus, Vatablus; “super orbem telluris”, Vitringa.
There does seem to be a good tradition of interpreting the word khûg to mean sphere or orb.
- Santes (or Xantes) Pagnino (Latin: Xanthus Pagninus) (1470–1541) was a Dominican, and one of the leading philologists and Biblical scholars of his day.
- Benedictus Arias Montanus (1527–1598) supervised the translation of the Antwerp Polyglot Bible and Franciscus Vatablus (d. 1547) another Latin Bible.
- Vitringa: Dutch Protestant Hebraist (1699-1722). He wrote a commentary on Isaiah.
- Levin, S., Semitic and Indo-European: The Principal Etymologies, vol. 1, John Benjamins, USA, 1995.
- Buck, C.D., A Dictionary of Selected Synonyms in the Principal Indo-European Languages, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 907–8, 1949.
- Proto-Indo-European Etymological Dictionary (PDF).
- Proto-Indo-European Etymological Dictionary, Asociación Cultural Dnghu; dnghu.org.