The James Webb Space Telescope is delivering dazzling images. They are nearly 100 times the resolution of the great Hubble Space Telescope and are providing a sensational look into the far reaches of our universe. It has shown us the creation of new stars inside the famous Pillars of Creation nebula and stars being formed in the Carina Nebula. We have seen direct images of exoplanets that orbit other stars, a planetary atmosphere, a moon’s atmosphere and, through infrared light, the most distant, most ancient galaxies ever.
After decades of delays and billions of dollars, this complex, costly and risky telescope finally launched in late 2021. As it hurtled through space at a mile per second, nasa administrator Bill Nelson said: “A shepherd grazing his sheep would look up at the night sky. He became a poet. And he penned the words, The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament shows his handiwork. That shepherd, that poet, became king. And those immortal words in Psalm 19 encapsulate the expressions that we have today—the handiwork of God—as we peer back in time, over 13 billion years ago, [and] capture the light from the very beginning of the creation.”
How extraordinary that while life on our world is descending into terrible darkness, we are being given our clearest and brightest glimpses ever into the heavens. What incredible scientific discovery! Mr. Nelson was onto something when he quoted David—but the true meaning of the Bible’s revelation about the universe is far greater than he realizes!
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1). Looking at the night sky, David celebrated the fact that God has revealed Himself in designing, creating and sustaining the universe. God’s glory and handiwork are out there for everybody to see. The heavens truly do reveal God! The more that science discovers, the more obvious this becomes.
“Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge” (verse 2). The Hebrew for “uttereth” means to pour out or send forth. One translation says, “Day after day it prophesies.” What a fascinating word. The heavens are constantly pouring forth prophecy! What are they saying? What is their prophecy?
This is truly an inspiring subject to study, to come to better know the Creator behind that prophecy. We must be able to see the great God. Especially as times grow more violent and chaotic, we need to be aware of God and His purpose.
God asks: “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth” (Isaiah 40:25-26). Man worships the creation, but God says, Lift up your eyes and behold who created these things! The universe is impressive, but we must see God behind it. Sadly, man rarely does.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [this should read suppress] the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Yes, here on Earth, men suppress the truth, even when it is as real and inescapable as the Earth they are standing upon and the universe itself!
“Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them” (verse 19). As Psalm 19 says, He has shown it in His creation. But this may even be more specific, talking about direct revelation about astronomy God bequeathed to us by Seth, Abraham and other great men of the Bible! The Witness of the Stars author Ethelbert W. Bullinger argued that God revealed a great deal more about astronomy in the past than we realize. There are indications of this in the Bible.
Psalm 147:4 says God has all the stars and celestial bodies not only numbered, but even named. Job knew some of those names. He said that God “spreadeth out the heavens …. Which maketh Arcturus, Orion, and Pleiades, and the chambers of the south” (Job 9:8-9). These are the names of stars or constellations of stars. God was trying to bring Job into the universe. He was trying to bring David into the universe. And He is trying to bring you into the universe!
God can name 120 billion galaxies and each of their hundreds of billions of stars! (But even that is nothing compared to the full scope of what He is doing with the universe.) He has given us some of those names to help us set our minds on the cosmos in a practical way. He is trying to get you to understand your true potential, which extends far beyond Earth!
Job must have been quite an astronomer. But he made the mistake men usually make: He got his mind on his own projects and works and off of what God was building and the laws of God that sustain His great project.
God confronted Job directly to correct his perspective. He asked Job: “Canst thou bind the sweet influences of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion? Canst thou bring forth Mazzaroth in his season? or canst thou guide Arcturus with his sons?” (Job 38:31-32). Job, do you recognize the influence the Pleiades star cluster has on the universe? Can you somehow stop that from working like a clock? Can you break up the great constellation Orion? Can you ensure that the brilliant stars of Mazzaroth appear when they ought, or lead those in Arcturus, with all the smaller stars attached to that system, across the sky?
These questions overwhelmed Job. He had been acting like his building projects were equal with God’s. But he had no power over these heavenly bodies. God does! God was impressing on this pitiful man’s mind that the universe does not operate by mere happenstance. There is a great Being behind it all. Lift up your eyes!
Rather than seeing how the heavens declared God’s glory, Job was focusing on his own glory. But he was left speechless as he more vividly saw the laws of God and the power of God at work. I’m not trying to humiliate you, God told him, I’m trying to educate you! Don’t be overawed by some building project on Earth—get your mind on the building project I plan to give you for eternity in the universe! (Hebrews 2:8). God wanted Job to see his potential. He wants the same for you!
Astronomy is a wonderful subject to study. God revealed some understanding of astronomy to Job. Other people He worked with also considered the heavens. According to the Babylonian historian Berosus, Abraham was “a man righteous and great, and skillful in the celestial science.” He was a great astronomer and mathematician. Josephus said he analyzed “phenomena that were visible both at land and sea, as well as those that happen to the sun and moon, and all the heavenly bodies.” The Prophet Amos spoke of the “seven stars,” or Pleiades, and Orion (Amos 5:8).
Josephus wrote that astronomy was, at one time, revealed from God. He believed that one reason God gave people before the Flood lives of several hundred years was “the good use they made of it in astronomical and geometrical discoveries, which would not have afforded the time of foretelling [the periods of the stars] unless they had lived 600 years; for the great year is completed in that interval” (Antiquities of the Jews, Book i.3.9). He then referenced several ancient authors (whose works were since lost) to corroborate this view. Consider why God allowed people like Adam, Seth and Methuselah to live such long lives (Genesis 5:5, 8, 27). Perhaps it was because He wanted to develop this system of astronomy to encourage man if he were inclined to look into it.
Historians often credit the Babylonians and Chaldeans with being geniuses in science, mathematics and even astronomy. But as Bullinger wrote, “Sir William Drummond says that the traditions of the Chaldean astronomy seem the fragments of a mighty system fallen into ruins.” So even the understanding the Chaldeans had, which would have come from Abraham, was mere fragments of “a mighty system.” I’m sure that “mighty system” came from God—and it fell into ruins because people never value what God gives!
When Josiah ruled as king of Judah, “he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets [margin: 12 signs or constellations], and to all the host of heaven” (2 Kings 23:5). How typical of rebellious mankind: God creates the great universe to reveal Himself to them, but man just worships the creation rather than the Creator! (Romans 1:25). Human beings never seem to see the God behind it all!
We must not get distracted by material things. We must see the great God who wants us to think about those stars and their names and to recognize His awesome, limitless power! We must see God—the God of the Bible—as He truly is.
I am writing a longer feature for the coming print edition of the Trumpet magazine (of which this short article is a part) about the revelation in Psalm 19. I hope you will read it. In the meantime, if you are interested in what the Bible says, you will be very inspired to read our free booklet Our Awesome Universe Potential.