God promises an inheritance to His children more infinite than the sands of the earth or the stars in the sky.
On a recent beach trip, threading my way between the dunes and enjoying the ocean breeze, I heard a small child behind me call out, “Running on sand is hard!” I turned around and cheerfully said, “Of course it is! You’re running on tiny rocks!”
That’s essentially true—and insignificant though one grain of sand may be, the countless tons of it all over the earth represent a vital part of God’s intricately designed ecosystem, the tiniest fragments of the earth’s crust providing a foundation for myriad life functions and contributing to many human endeavors. The Bible even uses sand as a metaphor for a profound concept.
Anyone who visits a beach learns quickly that sand is pretty, sand is fun, and sand is everywhere! And it gets everywhere! Every bit of it, at the beach or in your house, was moved there from somewhere else—whether by wind, water, or the bottoms of your kids’ feet.
Sand forms from rock erosion by wind, rain, and surf over long periods of time and is found across the earth’s surface. While sand can be formed from just about any stone, and can be light or dark, glassy or rough, metallic or non-metallic, pure or mixed with shells and fossils, it is mostly composed of silica, the same stuff that makes up quartz—that extremely dense rock so common in the earth’s crust—and is also the basic ingredient melted to make glass. Sand may mix with organic debris to form soil and clay, and large, uniform layers of it form beaches and deserts. Sand is an important part of God’s creation.
With so much of it around, it was inevitable that mankind would put it to use—and it really is quite useful (when it isn’t littering the floor) for many purposes, such as construction, conservation, agriculture, household products, and even art and recreation. (Who doesn’t love a really cool sandcastle?) Despite its abundance around the world, our use of it outpaces its natural formation, leading scientists to classify sand as a nonrenewable resource. There are many different varieties and textures of sand, so it is logical that some sands are more suitable for some products than others, and thus supply doesn’t always meet demand, especially in heavy industries like cement-mixing. This is a more serious problem than many realize.
Another issue is that sandy environments are easily polluted and even destroyed by human activity and development. Conservation laws often regulate these factors in coastal regions and wetlands in order to limit denuding and destroying the terrain. The sand on beaches and deserts may seem to stretch away endlessly, but it really is as finite as the air and water that help create it.
While mankind certainly benefits from sand, we’re hardly the only life-form that does.
Shifting sand may be difficult to build permanent homes on (Matthew 7:24–27), but it is necessary for many ecosystems, and quite a few wild creatures use sand for temporary nesting. Certain sea turtles are well-known examples, laying and then leaving their eggs in coastal dunes every year before the newly hatched young perform their amazing mass exodus to the ocean. This delicate process is particularly threatened when human activity damages coastal areas. Without healthy, sandy nesting areas, these creatures would quickly go extinct.
Even deserts—including some of the world’s most arid regions, such as the great African Sahara or the Gobi Desert in Mongolia—though often thought of as lifeless wastelands, have diverse animal populations burrowing, scampering, hiding, and hunting in the sandy terrain. One entertaining viral YouTube video featured a species of Sicarius, a large brown South American spider famous for using sandy camouflage to hide from predators. Comically, this arachnid YouTube star, living in an aquarium tank, dug itself into sand much lighter in color than its body, while the voiceover humorously pointed out that the spider was blissfully ignorant of just how uncamouflaged it was in that situation! But one can easily recognize how well adapted such a creature is to its natural environs—and how exposed it would be without a precious patch of brown sand.
Marine encyclopedias document the rich array of sand-dwelling creatures that fill Earth’s oceans and coasts with life and color, living in and even filtering sand for their food. Many species of undersea flora even incorporate sand into their bodies as they grow, firming the otherwise weak connective tissues and allowing them to produce dazzling coral reefs. And consider: Many of these sand- and silt-dwelling life-forms, especially the hard-shelled creatures that filter our planet’s waters, die and leave parts of themselves to become sand! Their shells settle continuously to the ocean floor and erode into tiny, sand-like debris, which time and pressure eventually crushes into layered strata of limestone and sandstone—solid rock, formed by geological cycles.
It’s amazing to consider that when God created our world, He designed how earth, wind, and ocean would interact (Job 38:4–11)—right down to the smallest particles, creating a perfect environment for men and beasts. As marine biologist Rachel Carson (1907–1964) once poetically wrote, “in every grain of sand there is the story of the earth.”
Are the countless grains of sand really countless? With so much sand, one might consider its grains impossible to number, yet researchers have actually tried to estimate an answer to this seemingly “astronomical” question.
Science writer David Blatner… says a group of researchers at the University of Hawaii, being well-versed in all things beachy, tried to calculate the number of grains of sand. They said, if you assume a grain of sand has an average size and you calculate how many grains are in a teaspoon and then multiply by all the beaches and deserts in the world, the Earth has roughly (and we’re speaking very roughly here) 7.5 × 1018 grains of sand, or seven quintillion, five hundred quadrillion grains. That’s a lot of grains! (“Which Is Greater, The Number Of Sand Grains On Earth Or Stars In The Sky?”, NPR.org, September 17, 2012).
When I used the word astronomical, I had good reason.
Sixteen times the New King James Version of the Bible uses a phrase like “sand of the sea” as a metaphor for an incalculable number, and twice in Genesis, God promised to make Abraham’s descendants as the “dust” of the earth. Another passage relating God’s promise to multiply Abraham’s descendants uses a different, but similar, metaphor: “the stars of the sky” (Hebrews 11:12). And certainly, the relatively small number of stars visible to the naked eye cannot be compared to the many galaxies with billions of stars that are truly out there—an astounding host, enough to make all the grains of sand of our planet seem like a handful of dirt in the ocean.
Were the inspired authors of the Bible even aware of that? We can’t know for certain, but even if they weren’t, we know the God who created all of it—stars and sand, earth and heavens—was. And we cannot but believe that such a mind as would promise that His spiritual children would “inherit all things” (Revelation 21:7) truly has great things in store for His creations. Theirs is a glorious destiny—even though they, like the earth itself, were first made from little more than dusty, sandy clay (Genesis 2:7), by the work of His hands.