What does it mean that 'the earth is the Lord's' (Exodus 9:29)?
It seems that the Pharaoh during the time of Moses did not recognize God's authority over His creation. God told Moses that Pharaoh wouldn't let Israel go free unless he was forced to do so (Exodus 3:19), and so God would work miracles to demonstrate His authority so that Pharaoh would submit and release the people of Israel. God further explained that for a while He would harden Pharaoh's heart so that Pharaoh would not let Israel go free (Exodus 4:21). This would allow God to multiply His signs and wonders, demonstrating His power and glory (Exodus 7:3).
After several of the signs had taken place, Pharaoh confessed his sin to Moses and Aaron, acknowledging that he was ready to let Israel leave (Exodus 9:26–28). Moses responded, saying that he would spread out his hands to God and the current plague of thunder and hail would stop, and when that happened, Pharaoh would know that the earth is the Lord's (Exodus 9:29). Moses told Pharaoh he could see through the insincerity of Pharaoh, and that Pharaoh and his servants did not yet fear the Lord (Exodus 9:30). Just as Moses had suggested, once the hail and thunder ceased, Pharaoh changed his mind and would not let the people go (Exodus 9:34–35). Even after Pharaoh knew that the Lord was the authority over the earth, he still refused to let Israel go as God had demanded through Moses.
The earth is the Lord's because, as the Creator of all things, God has authority over all things. Pharaoh had a false sense of his own power, thinking that just because he was in a position of high authority that somehow he was sovereign. Pharaoh learned of his limitations the hard way when his entire army was destroyed in the Red Sea as God again demonstrated His authority over nature (Exodus 14:28).
Many years later, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar would learn the same truth that the earth is the Lord's and that God is sovereign over all His creation. Nebuchadnezzar thought that he himself had built the kingdom of Babylon. He was so filled with pride (Daniel 4:30) that he didn't recognize that it is God who appoints authority and raises up kings (Romans 13:1). After a period of humiliation, Nebuchadnezzar recognized that God has the power to humble the proud (Daniel 4:34–37).
Through what happened with Pharaoh, Moses saw that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below, and that there is no other who has the authority He has (Deuteronomy 4:39). God Himself acknowledged that to Him belong the heavens and the earth and all of their contents (Deuteronomy 10:14). Even pagan nations, when hearing of the works of God, recognized that the Lord is God of both the heavens and the earth (Joshua 2:11). David reminds readers of Psalm 24:1 that the earth is the Lord and everything it contains—including all those who live in this world. God has authority not only over the things He created but also over the creatures—the people He created belong to Him.
This becomes one of life's ultimate questions that each person has to address: will we acknowledge that God is sovereign over His creation, or will we assert our own sufficiency (like the kings of Egypt and Babylon before they were humbled). In Romans 1:18–21 Paul explains that, when we deny God's truth, it is in unrighteous rebellion, not because we don't know that He exists. Paul asserts that we do know—that every creature has seen His invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature displayed in what He has made (Romans 1:20). This leaves all of us without excuse. We all have the knowledge that He exists and that He has authority.
In Psalm 14:1 David reminds us that the fool says in his heart that God doesn't exist. The fool may deny that the earth is the Lord's, but he doesn't really believe what he says, although he declares it so steadfastly. Rather than walking in foolishness, and rather than having to learn the lesson painfully like Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar did, we ought to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of our Creator, and He will lift us up (1 Peter 5:6). What we can't accomplish for ourselves He does for us if we approach Him in humility.
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