There are two literal senses of the biblical "heaven." The most used is when this word refers to the abode of the spirit beings. However, the heaven which is mentioned in the creation story refers to the entire complex made up of the sun, the moon, the stars and the sky. (The heaven may refer to the sky on its own.)
Though, the Biblical heaven may not always possess any of the above given senses. The other heaven of the Bible is clearly world governance. There are several passages from which we can easily make this meaning and some of them are right here.
(1) The first passage that helps us to deduce the figurative sense of heaven is Isaiah 65:17-18. The passage says:
- "Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be ye glad and rejoice forever in that which I create: for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy."
(2) In Daniel 8:10 we read about a little horn which grew very strong and attacked the army of heavens and cast some of the stars to the ground and trampled on them. Obviously, there is no way we can read this passage literally. The phrase "the army of heavens" may refer to the leaders of Israel. This phrase may symbolize the king of Hebrew kingdom and his subordinates such as the administrators of the countries that were outside Jerusalem.
(3) Isaiah chapter 14 describes the fall of the ancient mighty Babylonian kingdom. The author develops his theme by directing his words to the king of this ancient kingdom. Note Isaiah 14:12–14 which reads thus:
- "How have you fallen from heaven you shining one, son of the morning! How have you been cut down to the ground you who have been weakening the nations? For you have said in your heart; I will ascend up to the heavens; I will lift my throne above the stars of God. I shall go up above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most high."
The earth figuratively refers to ordinary humanity. This sense more often appears at the time when humans are viewed as subjects of God. That is, when they are under the sovereignty of God. The figurative earth may again refer to any group of people under the governance of any other person or government. Thus, the earth refers to the people who occupy the lowest rank in the social hierarchies. Figuratively, the earth may be used synonymously with the ground.
Normally this usage of earth can be derived contextually. For instance read Isaiah 65:17-25. While this passage is more often quoted as detailing the nature of the future literal new heaven and new earth the context does not at all allow the popular literalist understanding: the context in that passage does not suggest the literal meaning of earth and heaven but the nonliteral. Basically, earth in those biblical books like Isaiah and Jeremiah may be known based on how other associated words are used. Those occasions are when other known figurative words are used in conjunction with the earth in such a way that the literal meaning of earth may not be the right one for a passage to be meaningful. For example, take the statement "in the day of the lord the stars shall fall to the ground (earth) like figs usually do when shaken by a mighty tempest." In the Bible falling may symbolize the situation when a leader loses power and become a common human. The picture of figs being shaken by a wind brings the images that the fallen things will never rise again. The stars more often resemble rulers. So, based on this context "earth" may symbolize being a common person. Hence our above statement if it were to be read nonliterally it will read thus: "in the lord's day the rulers will lose power such that they will never rise again to the point of being ordinary humans."
In Hebrews 12:25-26 the author addressed the Christians saying "they should not refuse God because his voice once shook the earth." The event which the author is referring to by "God once shook the earth" is normally attributed to the record of Exodus 20:18-20. This passage tells that the people of Israel were gathered before Mount Sinai and then they started to see thunderings, lightnings and voices. The people became frightened, retreated and stood very far away saying to Moses: "Speak thou to us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us lest we die." So, it's in this sense that the earth once moved after God spoke. Though, the author was not implying any geographic earthquake. The children of Israel in that passage--the subjects of Moses or say God in this case--are the "earth."
The symbolic earth has connotations of a well organized and ordered condition. Basically, it resembles people who follow certain codes, rules and principles that organize them. Therefore this sense excludes people in governing positions as well as those that refuse to follow or obey laws more especially those ordained by God. The latter, as we agreed, are likened to "heaven" whereas the former, as we shall soon see, are represented by a "roaring sea."