Yesterday, a facebook acquaintance asked me for help understanding a common misconception about the Bible. He said that one of his friends wanted to know how anyone could believe the Bible when it contains such outrageous claims like the claim that the earth is resting on pillars instead of being a globe suspended in space. Here is the answer that I gave:
The Bible does not say that the earth rests on pillars. There are only three verses which speak of the pillars of the earth, and all three are using figurative language to refer to leaders among men. This is the same figure of speech that Paul used in Galatians 2:9 where he spoke of Peter, James and John being pillars in the church.
The first verse that mentions the pillars of the earth is I Samuel 2:8.
"He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the LORD'S, and he hath set the world upon them."
The first part of this verse tells us that it is God who lifts people into positions of leadership. This is a familiar theme that is repeated all throughout Scripture. The second part of the verse explains why it is God who makes this determination. God determines who will be in leadership because the positions of leadership all belong to Him. He is the One who created those roles, and He is the One who determines who will fill those roles. The positions of leadership in the earth, the pillars of the earth, are the Lord's.
The second reference to the pillars of the earth is a little more difficult to understand. It is found in Job 9:6, but let's add verses 4 and 5 to our consideration as well.
"He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and hath prospered? Which removeth the mountains, and they know not: which overturneth them in his anger. Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble."
To understand the reference to the pillars of the earth in verse 6, we have to first ask who verse 5 is speaking of when it says "they know not." Obviously, this verse is not talking about the mountains because mountains cannot know anything in the first place. This verse can only be speaking of the people mentioned in verse 4 who had hardened themselves against God. These people will never prosper. God moves entire mountains, and these people know not what to do. God shakes the earth and the leaders thereof tremble in fear. The book of Job is a revelation of the character of God in opposition to the mischaracterizations that Job's friends had of God, and Job understanding the pillars of 9:6 to be leaders fits perfectly with the purpose of the book.
The final reference to the pillars of the earth is found in Psalm 75:3, but let's include verses 2 and 4 to get the sense of the context.
"When I shall receive the congregation I will judge uprightly. The earth and all the inhabitants thereof are dissolved: I bear up the pillars of it. Selah. I said unto the fools, Deal not foolishly: and to the wicked, Lift not up the horn:"
This passage is obviously referring to a judgement of people. The judge here promises to judge uprightly, and he says that before his judgement all the inhabitants of the earth will be dissolved. He will tell the fools to stop being foolish, and he will tell the wicked to stop bragging about themselves. And in the middle of this passage we see that the judge can do this because he is the one who bears up the pillars of the earth. This should cause us to think back to I Samuel 2:8 where we noticed that God is the One who both creates and fills the roles of leadership in the earth. Here in Psalm 75, we find that He is also the One who holds those leaders in their position, and when He decides to remove them from leadership, their societies are dissolved away. There is nothing that anyone can do to prevent His judgement.
These are the only three verses that mention the pillars of the earth, and when we take the time to understand them, we can see that all three are using the term "pillars" as a figure of speech for human leaders.
"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Proverbs 9:9)