Christians sometimes speak of Satan as “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 3:4) and assume that this means he has godlike authority in the present age. The world system, they assume, is under satanic influence. This results in a pessimistic outlook on life in which the Christian hope lies in holding on for dear life until the end of the age, when Christ will return to defeat Satan and establish his reign on earth. The biblical narrative, however, is more optimistic.
In Joshua 3, the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land. They had travelled through the wilderness for forty years, having been delivered from slavery in Egypt. Yahweh had shown himself to be more powerful than the Egyptian gods in the plagues, but now a new threat lay before them. The Canaanites were a powerful people with each tribal group serving its own local gods. The question before the Israelites was whether or not Yahweh would prove to be more powerful than the Canaanite gods, as he had proven more powerful than the Egyptian gods.
Joshua stood before the people to prepare them for battle and encouraged them with the words that God had given to him. “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan” (Joshua 3:10–11). “The Lord of all the earth” translates the Hebrew name Adon Kol Ha-arets.
In ancient thought, the gods were confined to a particular sphere of influence and, often, to a particular locale. That is why so many nations worshipped a pantheon of gods. Sun gods had a sphere of influence than rain gods, for example, lacked. Sacrifice must be offered to all the gods to ensure a well-ordered life. There were gods of hills and of valleys but never a god of the hills and the valleys (see 1 Kings 20:28). A god of the hills might promise victory in the hill country but had no promise of victory in the valley. The gods were sometimes thought to be confined to their own places of worship: temples, high places, etc.
Standing in opposition to this theology was the claim of Israel’s God. He was not a God of mountains or valleys but “the Lord of all the earth.” Whether in the mountains or in the valleys or in the deepest sea, he remained Lord. This was an important encouragement for his people as they entered Canaan—territory thought to be the domain of other gods—in obedience to his directions. They needed to know that he was with them, and would prosper them, even in a land where he was thought (at least by the pagans) to have no influence. The truth of Adon Kol Ha-arets empowered their obedience and ensured their victory.
Joshua was not the first, and would not be the last, to encourage his people that Yahweh was Adon Kol Ha-arets. Moses reminded Israel that “to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it” (Deuteronomy 10:14). The psalmists repeated this claim time and again. “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (24:1). “In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land” (95:4–5). “The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it” (89:11). Hannah prayed, “The pillars of the earth are the LORD’s” (1 Samuel 2:8) and David added, “All that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours” (1 Chronicles 29:11). The New Testament affirms this truth: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” (1 Corinthians 10:26). Jesus claimed that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him and commissioned his disciples on the basis of that authority (Matthew 28:18–20).
From cover to cover, Scripture affirms that Yahweh is Adon Kol Ha-arets—the Lord of all the earth. This is an objective reality. Sproul is correct: “There’s only one supreme Lord over all the world, and that’s God.” By his authority, as he did for Israel, he empowers our obedience and ensures our victory.
Before we dig deeper into these two truths, it may be helpful to ask, in what sense is Satan the god, or the prince, of this world (or this age) (see John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4)?
While Satan has no real authority over this world, far too many give their allegiance to him and thereby makehim their god. Like the Canaanites, who served other gods, unbelievers in our world give their allegiance to Satan rather than Adon Kol Ha-arets. While Satan objectively does not have godlike authority, many choose to serve him as if he did. He is their god because they worship him as their god, not because he has any real divine authority. Christians need to embrace afresh the truth that Yahweh—the God of the Bible—is Adon Kol Ha-arets: the Lord of all the earth. Embracing this truth will help us in the two ways addressed above.
First, embracing the truth of Adon Kok Ha-arets will empower our obedience. The Israelites had a seemingly insurmountable task before them as they stood on the banks of the Jordan River. But they could obey because Adon Kok Ha-arets would empower their obedience.
Jesus taught a similar truth. Warned his disciples that the time of his death was drawing near, he said, “I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (John 14:30–31). Satan had already begun to work in Judas’s heart and was coming in what he believed was his hour of triumph. Jesus, however, assured his disciples that “the ruler of this world” had no real claim on him. Satan had no power to stop Christ’s obedience. Even in death, he would serve his Father.
Christians have the same confidence as we face the devil. Satan has no claim on us. He has no ability to coerce us to do his bidding. We can choose to obey him, but the gospel empowers us to resist and to instead show our love for the Father by obeying him.
Second, embracing the truth of Adon Kok Ha-arets will ensure our victory. Israel could be confident of victory because their God was not a localised God. His authority extended over the entire earth, including Canaan.
Though he still opposes and accuses God’s people, “the ruler of this world” has been “cast out” (John 12:31). Practically, this means that we can approach the Great Commission with confident hope. Immediately after telling his disciples that the ruler of this world would be cast out, Jesus added, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (v. 32). At the cross (v. 33), he defeated Satan and thereby stripped him of his ability to deceive the nations.
For centuries, the nations of the world, by and large, had had their eyes blinded by Satan but the cross brought that blinding influence to an end. According to Jesus, the cross would be the means by which he would draw the nations to himself. Christians should therefore approach the preaching of the gospel with confidence, knowing that Satan’s influence to deceive has been greatly diminished in the cross. We can expect gospel fruit because, through the preaching of the cross, Christ will draw all peoples to himself.
Adon Kol Ha-arets means “Lord of all the earth.” This name declares God’s dominion over the entire world. The name was a foundation for Israel’s faith as the people entered the Promised Land to drive out the Canaanites. God possessed the entire world and was quite capable of empowering their obedience and ensuring their victory. Adon Kol Ha-arets did that for his people in Canaan and he will do the same for his people today through the gospel.