Eretz and the Kingdom of God

Eretz graphic

I have always been fascinated by the word “eretz” [אֶרֶץ]
We first find the word in Genesis 1:1 “When God began to create the heavens and the eretz”. [See this post]
Traditionally we have always translated the word as “earth”, and we have a mental picture of the world hanging in space, like an apple on a string, being watched over by a distant God.

If we move on to Genesis 6:11, though, we find that ha eretz, the earth, has become corrupt. So a problem arises. If eretz refers to the globe, the entire physical earth, what does it mean if the eretz becomes corrupt? The surrounding text makes no reference to the physical world, but rather to the inter-personal relationships of the people on the earth. “The earth was filled with violence”.
Clearly we have more than a physical entity in view here; rather we have an entity, the eretz, that has a moral character – it has a relational aspect, an accountability for its actions. Verse 12 makes the connection “God saw the eretz and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on earth.”
So the eretz takes on the moral nature of the inhabitants of the eretz. It is not just referring to rocks and hills, fields and streams; it is not just referring to the physical globe as such; but it is referring to the entire domain of human activity.
Eretz seems to be referring to a kingdom of the earth, which extends over the physical surface of the earth.
This image is then extended when we look at eretz in relation to the various nations of the world. We find references to eretz Israel 2 Kings 5:4, eretz Mizraim (Egypt) Deut 11:10; eretz Moav (Moab) Deut 1:5 and many others as well.
So clearly we can almost use “kingdom” as a synonym for “eretz”. But it is not an abstract kingdom that is being referred to. It is a kingdom attached to some solid ground (adamah).
Eretz is a relationship between the physical occupants of its domain, both human and non-human. Eretz Israel is a kingdom with a geographical location (albeit shaky round the edges); eretz Mizraim is a kingdom with a geographical location; and so on.
Graham Goldsworthy in his book “Gospel and Kingdom” defines the kingdom of God as God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule”. I think these three aspects – people, place and rule – sum up the meaning of eretz very nicely.
But this is not a clear-cut issue. There are some instances where the Bible seems to be referring simply to the physical stuff alone. Gen 42:6 is one such example. “Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the eretz”. At first glance we seem to have a simple reference to some physical stuff. However, the sentence before this one tells us that “Joseph was governor over all the eretz”. Thus it is to his eretz, the stuff that Joseph governs, that the brothers bow down. Once again we see a kingdom attached to the geography.
So eretz can refer to the whole planet under the dominion of God, and it can also refer to individual dominions governed by kings, princes and officials appointed by them. It is most commonly used, though, to refer to eretz Israel, either specifically or by implication.
We also note that as the Bblical story moves on to the major and minor prophets, eretz no longer gets used to refer to local kingdoms and dominions. It almost exclusively only refers to either Judah and or Israel (the kingdom of God) or the whole earth. We often find the phrase “the nations [goyim] of the earth” or the “kingdoms [mamlkhot] of the earth [eretz]”. So the Bible moves us from a whole collection of kingdoms to one kingdom ruled by God – in the words of Revelation “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of God and of His Messiah”.
When we look at eretz in this way, it also affects our understanding of Genesis 1:1, but I shall deal with that in another post.

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