Question: "What does it mean that "the earth is the Lord's" (Exodus 9:29)?"
Answer: When Pharaoh oppressed the Israelites as slaves in Egypt, his actions were an attempt to subvert God’s plans in the earth. Pharaoh, who thought he himself was God, did not fear Yahweh or comprehend that He is the one and only God of all the earth and all peoples of the world. In the seventh plague, God sent a hailstorm upon the land. When Pharaoh pleaded with Moses to ask God to stop the plague, Moses said, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the LORD. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the LORD’s” (Exodus 9:29).
With His power to start and then stop violent plagues involving weather, the God of Israel showed Pharaoh that He is the God of the elements and the entire world and all the people in the world, even the people of Egypt. The plague’s gravity is stressed as “the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now” (Exodus 9:18). The storm affected all the land of Egypt. Every plant, beast, and human who did not heed God’s word of warning and seek shelter was struck down and killed by lightning and hail. Yet the people of Israel who were in nearby Goshen experienced no hail and suffered no ill effects from the storm (verse 26). Yahweh wanted Pharaoh to know that He—and not Pharaoh—is the one true God who controls the land.
The earth is the Lord’s speaks of God’s sovereignty as ruler, creator, and owner of all the world: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him” (Psalm 24:1, NLT). God’s sovereignty means that He has the ultimate power, authority, wisdom to do whatever He chooses within His creation—the earth, the heavens, and everything in them. God made the point to Pharaoh, just before the plague of hail, that He was sovereign over Egypt and its king: “By now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up a for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:15–16).
When God renewed His covenant with the Israelites and allowed them to enter the Promised Land, He required them “to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees” (Deuteronomy 10:12–13). Along with these demands, God appealed to Israel to recognize His absolute dominion as Lord over heaven and earth: “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Deuteronomy 10:14).
To God belongs not just heaven, but the highest heaven. To the Lord belongs the earth and all that is in it. A God such as this might seem to be above caring for our needs. Yet the Lord told Israel that He chose her because He loved her above all other nations (Deuteronomy 10:15, NLT). Of all the world’s peoples, Israel was the Lord’s treasured possession (Deuteronomy 7:6–11). Believers in Jesus Christ are also recipients of God’s great love (John 3:16; 13:1; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:4; 5:2; 1 John 4:10, 11; Revelation 1:5).
In a practical teaching to the Corinthian church about food offered to idols, the apostle Paul quoted Psalm 24:1, saying, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (1 Corinthians 10:26). Jews often spoke this verse in mealtime prayers. Paul used it here to say that the Lord is the only real God over all things, and, thus, idols are irrelevant. In Paul’s mind, all food ultimately belongs to God. To Timothy he also taught that “everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).
Whether the food had previously been offered to an idol didn’t matter because the food was not the problem—the problem centered on weak Christians whose consciences were scarred by past sins. Mature believers should refrain from eating meat sacrificed to idols primarily out of concern for others—weaker brothers and sisters in the church. Christians are always to act in a spirit of love and self-control, keeping the good of others in mind and God’s glory at the forefront of their priorities.
The Bible says that the earth is the Lord’s. The whole world belongs to God (Exodus 19:5). He is the possessor of heaven and earth: “The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it” (Psalm 89:11; see also Genesis 14:19, 22). In Isaiah, God’s sovereignty is pictured this way: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (Isaiah 66:1). We acknowledge the greatness, power, authority, wisdom, majesty, splendor, and sovereignty of our Lord when we appreciate that everything in heaven and earth belongs to Him (1 Chronicles 29:11).