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Holman Bible Dictionary

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The dust of the earth and by extension the soil of territory controlled by a farmer, a tribe, a nation, or God's entire created world.

In Semitic languages, the root meaning of land or ground is “red plowed land.” This implies land with a high iron content or similar coloring agent.

The land or ground as a material substance played an important role in ancient Hebrew thought. In Genesis 2:1 God formed the male half of humankind from dust of the ground. God breathed into the man's nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living creature (Genesis 2:7). God is pictured as using dry, loose material on the surface of the ground from which He, like a potter, formed man. There is a play on words in the Hebrew text here: ‘adam (the Hebrew word for “humankind”) was made from ‘adamah (the Hebrew word for “ground”). Every beast and every bird was also formed from the ground (Genesis 2:19)

After sin entered the Garden of Eden, God described death in terms of the basic elements from which Adam was created: Adam would work and eat “til thou return unto the ground; (for out of it wast thou taken; for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). The creation accounts (“You are dust or ground”) thus point to the close connection of person and body.

The bold statement that humankind was made from the dust of the ground must be balanced against the statement that humankind was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The Bible indicates that humankind as unique creatures do survive death through resurrection (John 5:28-29; Philippians 1:21-24; 2 Corinthians 5:1).

In the Old Testament, an altar was important in worshiping the Lord. Exodus 20:24-25 shows altars made of two materials—ground or earth (Exodus 20:24) and stones (Exodus 20:25). The stone altars were not to be hewn, that is cut with a tool. The passage seems to favor altars made of ground.

The surface of the ground must be tilled to produce food. In the beginning of Genesis 2:1, the writer pictured the earth with nothing growing, with no rain, and with no one to till the ground (Genesis 2:5). After the fall (Genesis 3:1), God sent Adam and Eve away from the garden. Adam was to till the ground from which he was taken (Genesis 3:23). Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, became a tiller of the ground (Genesis 4:2-10). His offering from the fruit of the ground was not accepted by the Lord, while Abel's offering of the firstling of his flock was accepted. Cain responded by murdering his brother. The ground that formerly produced for Cain now protested the blood of Abel that fell upon it (Genesis 4:10). As a punishment, God cursed the ground where Cain was concerned so that it would no longer produce for him (Genesis 4:12).

Note how intimately ground and people are connected. God is a vital part of this connection. If His people hearken to his commands, He will bless the ground which will then produce grain, wine, and oil. This contributes to their total well-being (Deuteronomy 7:13).

Ground or Land as property During the severe famine in Egypt, the Egyptians used all their money and sold all their cattle to Joseph for food (Genesis 47:13-17). The next year, when they needed more food but had no more money or cattle, they sold themselves and their lands to Joseph. Ten times this narrative designates their individual lands or grounds as ‘adhamah (ground or land) (Genesis 47:18-23). In Genesis 47:20, the totality of their former lands that had been turned over to Pharaoh is called ‘erets (meaning earth or land). In this crisis, the Egyptians lost their lands and their freedom. Note the close association between property and persons.

Ground with its produce as the sphere of living A series of blessings and curses is part of Deuteronomy 28:4,Deuteronomy 28:11,Deuteronomy 28:18,Deuteronomy 28:33,Deuteronomy 28:42,Deuteronomy 28:51. The people, their land, and the ground where they live will be affected by their obedience or disobedience. Faithfulness to God affects the very land where people live.

The importance of the concept of land for the ancient Hebrews is also seen in Job's final speech defending his integrity at the close of his dialogues with his three friends. He used as a witness his property and how he handled it. He said his land or ground would cry out if he did not rightly pay his workers or if, to increase his own lands, he had exploited or destroyed those who owned land around him (Job 31:38-40). The implication here is that the ground was fruitful because Job had been faithful to God and God had blessed his land (compare Deuteronomy 28:4,Deuteronomy 28:11,Deuteronomy 28:18,Deuteronomy 28:33,Deuteronomy 28:42,Deuteronomy 28:51).

Qualities of Ground or Land Israel's land was a good land from which Israel could be removed because of disobedience (Joshua 23:13,Joshua 23:15). Amos threatened Israel with exile to a polluted land (Amos 7:17). Israel's land was also called a fat or rich land when they came into it (Nehemiah 9:25). When Moses investigated the burning bush, he learned that the ground upon which he stood was ground of holiness (Exodus 3:5). The people of Judah in captivity in Babylon had difficulty singing their songs in a strange or foreign land (Psalms 137:4). These and many other qualities depend on circumstances that affect the land and the people.

Whole inhabited earth—a ground where people live This unusual universalizing of ground is found in two of the most important texts of the Old Testament. God told Abraham that all the families of the inhabited earth would be blessed in him (Genesis 12:3). This is enigmatic: God did not tell Abraham how they would be blessed. God said the same thing to Jacob (Genesis 28:14): Through what God did in Abraham's family, blessing would come to all families of the inhabited earth. On the other hand, God's punishment would also be over the whole inhabited earth. “In that day, that the Lord shall punish… and the kings of the earth (ground) upon earth (ground) (Isaiah 24:21). In the New Testament, Revelation expands on this apocalyptic theme. All human families in the ground where they dwell determine their destiny in terms of what God did in Abraham's posterity—Christ.

A. Berkeley Mickelsen

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'LAND, GROUND'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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