Mr. Joel Minderhoud, science teacher in Covenant Christian High School and member of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan
As the summer season is upon us in North America, many of us will likely take the opportunity to visit a beach. As you relax on the beach, basking under the warm summer sun and watching the waves lap upon the shore, take a moment to pick up a handful of sand and ponder this unique aspect of God’s creation. What passages of Scripture come to mind? What spiritual truths does God reveal in His Word through this particular product of the work of His hand? Let us consider what God reveals to us in this portion of His elegant book of creation as we examine it in light of His Word.
Identity and variety of sand
We have been studying minerals in this rubric. Although sand is not a mineral, it is a mixture of different materials, the most common constituent being the mineral quartz (silicon dioxide). These quartz particles are generally mixed with other small, granular substances, such as broken rock fragments, minerals (like iron oxide), and decaying biological materials, such as sea shells, coral, and micro-organisms. Since much of the earth’s crust is made of granite rock, which contains an abundance of quartz and feldspar (aluminum-silicon dioxide mineral), fragments of quartz and feldspars will naturally accumulate in the sand as the earth’s crust erodes through the forces of water, wind, and freeze-thaw cycles.
Many of us in North America who have not traveled much elsewhere might assume that all sand is light brown in color, due to its composition. But sand comes in many different colors depending on the kinds of materials found in various specific geographical locations. The sand found at many tropical islands, for example, contains an abundance of calcium carbonate from the shells and skeletons of marine organisms. This calcium carbonate makes the sand much whiter than quartz/feldspar/iron oxide sands. In contrast, particulate matter from corals, mollusks and microorganisms can add a red hue to sand, giving it a pink color, as found in Bermuda. And sand that contains particles from volcanic eruptions might have a black or green color, as is found in Hawaii.
Besides its color, the texture of sand also varies based on location. Water erosion tends to shape the sand crystals differently than wind erosion. Water-eroded sand has more angular grains, whereas wind-eroded sand contains more rounded particulate matter.
A handful of sand at the beach, therefore, tells a rich story to the careful observer. Both color and texture reveal much about the geological nature of the area and its natural surrounding influences, such as wind, water, volcanic activity, and type of organisms in the water.
While new sand certainly does form through the erosion process, it would be a mistake to assume that all sand is the product of current erosion as we observe it today. This is the geological teaching of worldly scientists, who maintain that the earth is billions of years old. They teach that the sand we observe is from millions upon millions of years of erosion. Their teaching is based on the false doctrine of Uniformitarianism— that all biological, geological, and other processes on earth continue in the same way as they always have, without change—a teaching of which we have shown the error in a previous article.1 Rather, we confess that God created the earth about 6,000 years ago and that a global flood—a wonder-work (miracle) of God—brought monumental changes to our earth. Sand, therefore, is not the product of millions of years of erosion, but is a marvelous work of God both at the Flood and at the original creation.
As you look at a handful of sand, with all of its tiny grains, and glance down the shoreline at the length of the beach, it becomes immediately apparent that to number all the grains of sand would be an utter impossibility. With the use of satellite photography, it has been determined that approximately 30% of all coastal regions are sandy beaches. This amounts to about 120,000 miles of sandy coastline in the world. But how deep does the sand in those beaches go? And how far inland does that sandy beach extend? If one were to have access to these dimensions, one could perhaps make a rough estimate of the volume of sand. But actually to number the grains of sand is simply impossible.
To better appreciate the immense amount of sand on the earth, consider the following. Next to water, sand is the most consumed raw material on earth. One of the most common uses of sand is in the production of concrete. Every cubic yard of concrete (27 cubic feet) requires 17 cubic feet of sand. Each year over 5 billion tons of concrete are produced for the construction of roads, buildings, and bridges. To put this in perspective, one would be able, every year with this amount of concrete, to build a wall 30 feet tall and 30 feet wide that wraps entirely around the earth’s circumference! And concrete is not the only use for sand. Sand is also melted down to make glass for windows, as well as for computer and cell phone screens. It is also an important ingredient for the computer chip industry. It is estimated that the annual global consumption of sand for all uses is 40 billion tons. And some estimate that a single teaspoon of sand contains some 40,000 grains. Clearly, the amount of sand upon the earth is unfathomable (and uncountable)!
“How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand…” (Ps. 139: 17-18).
The majority of Scripture passages that speak of sand draw our attention to its innumerable quantity. That innumerable amount of sand is used to teach God’s people about two important spiritual truths. One of these truths is, as we learn from these verses in Psalm 139, God’s innumerable thoughts unto us.
Our God is a personal, covenant God who knows all things. As the all-knowing God, Jehovah has a perfect and precious plan for each of our lives. Psalm 139 teaches that our all-knowing, covenant God has thoughts to usward that are precious and innumerable. We are in the thoughts of Almighty God! This demonstrates the deep covenant love God has for us His adopted children. In a loving marriage, a wife thinks often of her husband, and likewise the husband of his wife. Vastly more so does our heavenly Father have innumerable precious thoughts towards us. What a covenant love He has for us!
God’s precious thoughts towards us are manifested in how He speaks of us and what He desires for us. As His thoughts towards us are those of love, God speaks of His love for us. On the basis of the work of Christ, God calls us Hephzibah—those in whom He takes delight—and “the holy people, The redeemed of the L³´µ” and “Sought out, A city not forsaken” (Is. 62:4,12). And as His thoughts towards us are those of love, His sovereign plan for us is a plan of peace and good! “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jer. 29:11). Imagine, thoughts of peace and love are the thoughts of our blessed God and Father towards us, His covenant children! Expressed in loving words and actions to us! What could be more precious!
We would do well to ponder these thoughts when we sometimes fret over the thoughts of sinful man towards us that are not the thoughts of peace and love, but rather the thoughts of evil. Especially painful is reproach during times of family strife or church schism, when we may be hurt even by our “familiar friends” (Ps. 41:9). We read in the Psalms (52, 58, 59, 64, etc.) of the great hurt King David (and King Jesus) endured due to the sinful tongues of men. We do well, I say, when it is also our lot to endure the pain from the piercings of the tongue, to consider that our God has innumerable precious thoughts towards us. By faith, we know and trust that God’s thoughts toward us are the precious thoughts of peace and love. If we should count them, they are more in number than the sand of the seashore.
Remember also that our ever-merciful High Priest, Jesus Christ, truly knows our suffering! “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Let us patiently endure harsh reproach for the sake of Jesus Christ. In fact, “blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matt. 5:11). Regardless of how others view us, remember how God views us—as His precious covenant children for whom He has infinite thoughts of peace and love.
Then there is the second spiritual truth to be learned from the innumerable sand upon the seashore. It directs us also to consider God’s covenant promise to gather His universal church—a multitude that no man can number—and to prepare His church for glory. “That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies” (Gen. 22:17). God is gathering His universal church—each member, grain by grain. And how does he gather them? Again, look to the sand. Just as sand is shaped and formed through harsh erosion processes, so we are shaped through all sorts of heavy trials. God gathers His people through judgments, perfectly preparing us for glory through unique trials and afflictions. And in doing so, God surely does us good. God is good and faithful. Always! Do not be discouraged in your trials, but be comforted that God’s promises never fail and “that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). The innumerable sand on the seashore reminds us that our God will bring us and His entire universal church to our place in glory. What a multitude that will be! Though we cannot count each saint, as we cannot count each grain of sand, God knows each of His children by name. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man can number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9-10). Hallelujah! Worship the King of the church!
Grains of sand without number! A spiritually rich picture of the blessed reality that God has innumerable precious thoughts towards you! And that He is faithfully gathering His church—a diverse and innumerable host—for their perfect place in glory! “By all His creatures let His Name be honored and adored; Let all that breathe, in praise unite to glorify the Lord” (Psalter #411, stanza 2).
1 Standard Bearer. Volume 95, No. 2 (October 15, 2018).