WORLD: tevel. Feminine noun. (Strong’s 8398).
Sounds like: tey-veyl
The world is a complicated place. We are all inhabitants of it and we are all fellow-citizens in it, yet we seem to do our very best to ruin it. Doomsayers tell us that the world is set for destruction and although many stand up and count themselves as world warriors, our allegiance was never meant to be owed to the world. The apostle James wrote:
…Do you not know that friendship with the world [Greek: kosmou] is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
We are to be allies of YHWH, not the world. Our allegiance is to God and God’s allegiance is to us. Speaking of Himself, Yeshua (Jesus) said the following:
“For God so loved the world [Greek: kosmon], that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world [kosmon] to judge the world [kosmon], but so that the world [kosmos] might be saved through Him.”
What exactly is the world according to the Bible? We know God loves it and wants to save it, but what exactly is He saving?
The World in Creation
According to the Bible the earth is the planet and the world is everything that rests on it… and both were created by YHWH.
Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world [w-tevel], even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
Over and over we read that YHWH established the unmovable world:
- Tremble before Him, all the earth; indeed, the world [tevel] is firmly established. Let the heavens be joyful, and the earth rejoice; and let them say among the nations, “YHWH reigns.” (1 Chronicles 16:30-31. See also Psalm 96:7-13).
- YHWH reigns, He is clothed with majesty; YHWH has clothed and encircled Himself with strength. Indeed, the world [tevel] is firmly established; it will not be moved. Your throne is established from of old; You are from eternity (Psalm 93:1-2).
- It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world [tevel] by His wisdom; and by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens (Jeremiah 10:12).
- The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; the world [tevell] and all it contains, You have established them. (Psalm 89:11).
In the Bible the word tevel (world) appears almost exclusively in poetry, and it was frequently used in creation memorial poems:
Psalm 33:6-9 (see also Psalm 18:13-15)
By the word of YHWH the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their lights.
He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He puts the depths in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear YHWH; let all the inhabitants of the world [tevel] stand in awe of Him.
For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood firm.
The earth was the dwelling place, but the world was the complete package of creation… It included all the inhabitants that dwelt on the earth (humans, mammals, fish and birds, vegetation) and all the elements that carved themselves into the earth (minerals, water, wind, dust, lightning and fire).
YHWH created the world, He cared for the world, and it was His right to judge the world, but He would judge fairly with the righteousness of a loving God.
The World is Mine… and it’s Mine to Share
YHWH, Himself, claimed that everything that the world contained was His. Such being the case, offering a sacrifice seemed redundant. The goat and the bull didn’t really belong to the farmer anyway:
[YHWH:] “Hear, My people, and I will speak; Israel, I will testify against you; I am God, your God.
I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices, and your burnt offerings are continually before Me.
I will not take a bull from your house, nor male goats from your folds. For every animal of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine.
If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is Mine [ki li tevel], and everything it contains.
Shall I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of male goats?
Offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High; call upon Me on the day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honour Me.”
YHWH had proprietary rights to the world. He was the great Creator, Establisher, and Owner, but He wasn’t interested in sole possession. He wanted to share the world with the inhabitants who lived there:
The earth is YHWH’s, and all it contains, the world [tevel], and those who live in it. For He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.
Who may ascend onto the hill of YHWH? And who may stand in His holy place?
One who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to deceit and has not sworn deceitfully.
He will receive a blessing from YHWH and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Your face—even Jacob. Selah
Anyone pure in heart could stand in the holy place of God. A person, in whom there was no deceit, (such as the disciple Nathaniel in John 1:47) was welcome to share in God’s goodness.
From the beginning, sharing was the whole point of creation:
Then God said, “Let Us make mankind in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the livestock and over all the earth, and over every crawling thing that crawls on the earth.” So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every animal of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.
God made the world to share it with His image bearers. And humans, as the image bearers, were to accept these gifts and treat all the inhabitants of the earth with the kindness and mercy equal to their benevolent God. Subduing the earth meant putting it into good practice and helping it flourish, not letting it grow wild and unattended. We were to guide the world to live its best life; we were never meant to pillage the planet and hold hostage its inhabitants. But that’s exactly what we’ve done.
YHWH Carries the Weight of the World
Job’s mysterious friend, Elihu, pointed out that the whole world was placed upon YHWH. The world was His and He took responsibility for it. He knew the sins of the people, but He wouldn’t leave them hanging under the weight of their own iniquity. He was a merciful God and He would find a way to save them:
[Elihu] “God certainly will not act wickedly, and the Almighty will not pervert justice.
Who gave Him authority over the earth? And who has placed the whole world [tevel kullah] on Him?
If He were to determine to do so, if He were to gather His spirit and His breath to Himself, humanity would perish together, and mankind would return to dust.
But if you have understanding, hear this; listen to the sound of my words:
Shall one who hates justice rule?
And will you condemn the righteous mighty One, who says to a king, ‘You worthless one,’ to nobles, ‘You wicked one’; who shows no partiality to the prominent, nor regards the rich as above the poor, since they are all the work of His hands?
In a moment they die, and at midnight people are shaken and pass away, and the powerful are taken away without a hand.
For His eyes are upon the ways of a person, and He sees all his steps. There is no darkness or deep shadow where the workers of injustice can hide themselves.”
YHWH was, and is, ultimately fair. He placed the world upon Himself and lifted up those whose heart was in genuine relationship with Him. He watched, He saw, He protected and He saved.
Judging the World
The world would be judged. Those who pillaged the earth and oppressed its inhabitants had to be held accountable. Judgement of the earth was a common refrain in the Bible. For those not in right relationship with YHWH, He watched and responded to them in kind:
But YHWH sits as King forever; He has established His throne for judgment, and He will judge the world [tevel] in righteousness; He will execute judgment for the peoples fairly.
YHWH will also be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble; and those who know Your name will put their trust in You, for You, YHWH, have not abandoned those who seek You.
Seeking YHWH was essential to being in a right relationship with Him. God’s judgement on the world would show exactly what righteousness was meant to look like:
The way of the righteous is smooth; O Upright One, make the path of the righteous level.
Indeed, while following the way of Your judgments, YHWH, we have waited for You eagerly; Your name, and remembering You, is the desire of our souls.
At night my soul longs for You, indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently; for when the earth experiences Your judgments, the inhabitants of the world [tevel] learn righteousness.
Judgement was a teaching lesson. The various exiles in the Bible were a testament to God’s judgement. The prophets preached repentance because God’s judgements were coming and there was a chance to learn, repent, and grow. Some held onto righteousness and turned back to YHWH, but many in the world did not.
The Adversary and the World
Truth be told, the world is in a heap of trouble. Not many on this planet are living out their original mandate: being YHWH’s reflection on earth. We were made to be His image bearers on the planet, reflecting the beautiful qualities of God. But more and more, the people of this planet are reflecting a different kind of deity. The Adversary (ha-Satan) of God has worked very hard to become the deity in residence on this planet. He is turning YHWH’s image bearers into his own image bearers… and humans seem more than happy to reflect the chaos and death so cherished by the Adversary.
Long before the nation of Babylon was a full on threat to Israel, Isaiah spoke prophetically about the king of Babylon. From the earliest days (tower of Babel era), Babylon was the image of God’s enemy. The image of the king of Babylon was the primary leader in opposition to YHWH. Isaiah spoke prophetically of the king of Babylon, the great Adversary, whom YHWH would rise up against:
Isaiah 14:3-4, 12-22
On the day that YHWH gives you rest from your pain and torment, and from the hard labour into which you were forced, you will sing this song of contempt against the king of Babylon:
How the oppressor has ceased, and how his fury has ended!…
…How you have fallen from heaven, you star of the morning, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the earth, you who defeated the nations!
But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’
Nevertheless you will be brought down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit.
Those who see you will stare at you, they will closely examine you, saying, ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms, who made the world [tevel] like a wilderness and overthrew its cities, who did not allow his prisoners to go home?’
All the kings of the nations lie in glory, each in his own tomb. But you have been hurled out of your tomb like a rejected branch, clothed with those killed who have been pierced with a sword, who go down to the stones of the pit like a trampled corpse.
You will not be united with them in burial, because you have ruined your country, you have killed your people. May the descendants of evildoers never be mentioned.
Prepare a place of slaughter for his sons because of the wrongdoing of their fathers. They must not arise and take possession of the earth, and fill the surface of the world [pene tevel] with cities.”
“I will rise up against them,” declares YHWH of armies, “and eliminate from Babylon name and survivors, offspring and descendants,” declares the YHWH.
Those who have rejected YHWH fall prey to the Adversary and his plans to devour and defile the world. Metaphorically they have become part of the nation of Babylon, promoting chaos and plundering the earth:
The earth will be completely laid waste and completely plundered, for YHWH has spoken this word. The earth dries up and crumbles away, the mainland [world: tevel] dries out and crumbles away, the exalted of the people of the earth dwindle. The earth is also defiled by its inhabitants, for they violated laws, altered statutes, and broke the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and those who live on it suffer for their guilt. Therefore, the inhabitants of the earth decrease in number, and few people are left.
But there is hope. In Hannah’s song of Thanksgiving she sang:
1 Samuel 2:6-8
“YHWH puts to death and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and brings up.
YHWH makes poor and rich; He humbles, He also exalts. He raises the poor from the dust, He lifts the needy from the garbage heap to seat them with nobles, and He gives them a seat of honour as an inheritance; for the pillars of the earth are YHWH’s, and He set the world [tevel] on them.”
Isaiah spoke of the Adversary as one who wanted to raise himself above all others and become like the Most High. In contrast, as sung by Hannah, YHWH, Himself, lifted up the poor and needy and said that they were like the Most High. YHWH’s reflection did not project power and status. YHWH reflected freedom, freedom from oppression and status barriers, and freedom from the chains of death.
YHWH: Saving the World, Returning the Garden
The Apostle Paul said that humans were:
“…held in bondage under the elementary principles of the world [Greek: kosmou]. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons and daughters. Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba! Father!”
YHWH had a plan in place to save us from oppression, bondage and death. He would take these things and turn them upside down: oppression to validation, bondage to freedom, and death to life. Part of YHWH’s redemption was expressed in beautiful garden imagery. He would defeat death and replant His people and they would grow and flourish in His presence:
On that day YHWH will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, with His fierce and great and mighty sword, even Leviathan the twisted serpent; and He will kill the dragon who lives in the sea.
On that day, “A vineyard of beauty, sing of it! I, YHWH, am its keeper; I water it every moment. So that no one will damage it, I guard it night and day.
I have no wrath. Should someone give Me briars and thorns in battle, then I would step on them, I would burn them completely.
Or let him rely on My protection, let him make peace with Me, let him make peace with Me.”
In the days to come Jacob will take root, Israel will blossom and sprout, and they will fill the whole world [the face of the world: pene tevel] with fruit.
Death would be dissolved and there would be a return to the Garden. Eden would flourish and the world would be like a well-watered, fruit-filled, vineyard, protected by YHWH night and day.
The prophetic book of John’s Revelation is the famous end of the story. YHWH wins! And one of the great proclamations, recorded in John’s dream, was this:
Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
“The kingdom of the world [kosmou] has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah; and He will reign forever and ever.”
That was the win! The kingdom of the world had been under frightful oppression of the Adversary. In the end, YHWH would reclaim the world and align it with the kingdom of YHWH and His Messiah. That was the end-game.
But first YHWH sent His Anointed One (Messiah) to put the world back on track. The Messiah would pay the price which would allow humans to return home, free from death, to the Father. But it would come at a terrible cost. Apparently YHWH thought the world was worth dying for.
Yeshua and the World
Yeshua (Jesus) entered the world as every human does, through the womb of a mother. He fulfilled the prophecies of his coming, being born of a virgin in the town of Bethlehem (Isaiah 7:14, Micah 5:2). He started His public ministry later in life and He began it in a very unusual way. He faced the Adversary in his territory… the wilderness:
…the devil took Him [Jesus] along to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world [Greek: kosmouh] and their glory; and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: ‘You shall worship YHWH your God, and serve Him only.’”
Yeshua faced His opposition in hostile territory before the battle commenced. The Satan tried to bargain with Yeshua and offered something that wasn’t even his to give away. All the kingdoms of the world were seemingly under his dominion, but YHWH stated, as we read earlier, that the World was His! The Adversary may have had some control, but he never had ownership. The world was YHWH’s, but it was stained by the defilement of the Deceiver.
This was why the apostle James wrote:
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world [Greek: kosmou].
A pure world, under the dominion of God, was not oppressive, it was liberating. The stained world needed to be cleansed and Yeshua’s blood, as a sacrificial lamb, would symbolically wash away the sins that polluted the planet. John the Baptizer prophesied Yeshua’s role:
The next day he [John the Baptizer] saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world [Greek: kosmou]!”
Holding onto the world as it was meant holding onto oppression and death. Yeshua preached against living in a worldly way:
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what good will it do a person if he gains the whole world [Greek: kosmon holon], but forfeits his soul?”
The Adversary had tried to bribe Yeshua with all the kingdoms of the world, but Yeshua preached that gaining the whole world (which was drowning in oppression and death) wasn’t worth even a fraction of life and liberty.
In its present state, worldly living is not Godly living. The world is not under the right dominion; the Adversary has corrupted it beyond recognition.
And so Yeshua died to save the world… save it from its own destruction under leadership of the Adversary. The Satan wanted the Messiah dead, only because he did not understand the plan. Had he known the plan he never would have let Yeshua go to the cross.
But Yeshua held the plan close to His heart. Even at his trial He refused to defend His innocence, instead He allowed the world to judge, sentence Him and send Him to the cross:
Therefore Pilate entered the Praetorium again, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “You are the King of the Jews?”
Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own, or did others tell you about Me?”
Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests handed You over to me; what have You done?”
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world [Greek: kosmou]. If My kingdom were of this world [kosmou], My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?”
Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this purpose I have been born, and for this I have come into the world: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”
Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?”
But Pilate wasn’t genuinely seeking the answer, and he received no response because Truth was standing directly in front of him. Like most of the world, Pilate was looking right at the answer, but didn’t see it.
Yeshua went to the cross, died painfully, and was sent to the grave… but He did not stay there. He conquered the grave, He conquered oppression, and He conquered the sins of the world. However, He did not need to conquer the world, because the world was already YHWH’s. Instead, Yeshua brought the world back into alignment with “good”… just as it was in the Garden of Eden:
And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.
At the beginning of John’s Gospel message he highlighted Yeshua’s role in the world. He was the Light-bringer and the Guardian, bringing the children home:
This was the true Light that, coming into the world [Greek: kosmon], enlightens every person. He [Jesus] was in the world [kosmo], and the world [kosmos] came into being through Him, and yet the world [kosmos] did not know Him.. He came to His own, and His own people did not accept Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of a man, but of God.
Yeshua’s sacrifice brought us back to YHWH, so we could stand in His presence, as the children of God. John later wrote:
1 John 2:15-17
Do not love the world [Greek: kosmon] nor the things in the world [kosmo]. If anyone loves the world [kosmon], the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world [kosmo], the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world [kosmou]. The world [kosmos] is passing away and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God continues to live forever.
Loving the world is not for us… our love should be for the Father, and by loving YHWH we are able to reflect His love onto the world that we live in:
1 John 4:7-9
Beloved, let’s love one another; for love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. By this the love of God was revealed in us, that God has sent His only Son into the world [Greek: kosmon] so that we may live through Him.
Life, and all the wonderful things that come with it are a gift from God. We live through Him because He died for us and then conquered the finality of death. This is why we praise God… because He loved us and He saved us by laying down His life to set us free.
The World Rejoices!
The earth is filled with inhabitants of all descriptions… everything that lives and breathes, everything that grows and moves… and all of it was made to worship YHWH, the King of all Creation. In the poetic ending of created history everything would worship God. The whole world was an orchestra meant to praise YHWH:
Shout joyfully to YHWH, all the earth; be cheerful and sing for joy and sing praises. Sing praises to YHWH with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn shout joyfully before the King YHWH.
May the sea roar and all it contains, the world [tevel] and those who dwell in it. May the rivers clap their hands, may the mountains sing together for joy before YHWH, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world [tevel] with righteousness and the peoples with fairness.
We live in this world, and we ought to rejoice and praise YHWH within it! Sing and be happy. We were once destined for the grave, but now we are truly alive!
Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-6
And you were dead in your offenses and sins, in which you previously walked according to the course of this world [Greek: kosmou], according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience… But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our wrongdoings, made us alive together with Messiah (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Messiah Jesus…
YHWH lifts us up and places us beside Him on equal ground so that we can walk alongside Him and be in His presence. What kind of God does that? Certainly not any of the Ancient Near East gods of the other cultures prevalent during the era of the Tanakh. For them, humans were made for servitude to the gods, but YHWH was no ordinary god. He was the extraordinary Creator… the God of love and relationship, who wanted to partner with His creation. YHWH, King of the heavens, King of the earth, and King of the inhabited world so loved the world that He died for it, conquered death, raised up and is waiting for His people to come home. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, and the whole world is invited in! Let the world rejoice!
Next week: Revisiting KNOWLEDGE