By Whitney Hopler, Crosswalk.com
Many of us know the song “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” from our children, or from our own childhoods. This beloved spiritual has a simple refrain and different choruses from various renditions over its history. “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” continues to be a popular song because of its powerfully encouraging message, which is based on Bible verses about God’s care for creation. While this song often appeals to children because of its simple purity, it also features valuable lessons for adults. Let’s explore this inspiring song’s history, meaning, and lessons together.
Where Did the Song “He's Got the Whole World in His Hands” Come From?
“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” is a traditional spiritual song that was first published in 1927, in a hymnal called Spirituals Triumphant, Old and New. Prior to that, it was likely sung for many years in African-American communities and passed down through their oral traditions. About 30 years after the song was published, it got attention from mainstream audiences after a British singer named Laurie London recorded it for wide release. That rendition of the song rose to the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1958. Since then, many popular singers have released their own versions of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” including Mahalia Jackson, Marian Anderson, Pat Boone, and Andy Williams.
What Is the Meaning of This Song?
This song’s meaning points us to the wonder of God’s unlimited power and loving care for all creation. Various versions of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” over the years mention different parts of creation that God holds in his hands: people (from babies to adults), creatures (various animals), elements of nature (like the sun, moon, stars, land, and sea), and even the weather (such as rain and wind). It describes how God is present and active with all he has made. That message reminds us that God is in ultimate control of our world, so we can be encouraged and trust God in any circumstances.
“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” celebrates how God holds the destiny of everyone and everything – and how God uses that wondrous power with love. Throughout the Bible, we see God’s awe-inspiring care for creation at work. But certain Bible verses highlight how our whole world is in God’s hands. Here are those verses:
Job 12:7-10: “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”
Isaiah 40:12: “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?”
Psalm 95:3-7: “For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.”
1 Chronicles 29:11-13: “Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.”
Ecclesiastes 9:1: “So I reflected on all this and concluded that the righteous and the wise and what they do are in God’s hands…”.
Psalm 89:13-15: “Your arm is endowed with power; your hand is strong, your right hand exalted. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, Lord.”
Psalm 136:1,12: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. … with a mighty hand and outstretched arm; His love endures forever.”
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3 Lessons Adults Can Learn from “He's Got the Whole World in His Hands”
Even though this is a simple song, it presents powerful lessons based in biblical truth. Here are 3 key lessons for adults from this song:
1. We should be awestruck by the power of our Creator to care well for all of creation – including us. “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” sings about God’s unlimited power, and how God uses that power for good purposes in creation. There is nothing in the world that is beyond God’s control; everything is “in his hands”. That awesome reality should fill us with awe. Psalm 65:8 proclaims: “The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.” Exodus 15:11 asks us to consider: “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” This song directs our attention to God’s awe-inspiring power to care for everyone and everything he has made.
2. We can strengthen our faith by spending time in nature. The song highlights how the Creator is at work in the creation. Many versions of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” mention various aspects of nature that are in God’s hands. We can see evidence of God’s handiwork everywhere in nature. Psalm 19:1 declares that, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” The Bible points out in Ephesians 2:10 that we are God’s handiwork ourselves: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” In Romans 1:20, the Bible explains that “God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” We can strengthen our faith by spending time in nature, because the wonder of God’s work is on clear display around us, inspiring us to connect with God. Research explained in my book Wake Up to Wonder shows that experiencing wonder in nature inspires people to feel awe, which then strengthens their well-being by boosting their health and happiness. The research also reveals that enjoying nature benefits well-being by inspiring people to feel connected to something beyond themselves – including becoming more aware of God’s presence with them. “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” celebrates how nature reminds us of God’s loving care, inspiring us to trust God with faith.
3. We never need to worry that any situation is too hard for God to handle. By encouraging us that God cares for us all, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” helps us see that we can trust God to help us in any situation. This song reminds us that we can take the advice in Philippians 4:6: “Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.” Since God has the whole world in his hands, he is able to intervene in any circumstances when we pray for his help. As God himself tells Abraham in Genesis 18:14: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” The answer is a resounding “no”, Jesus tells us in Matthew 19:26 when he says, “with God all things are possible” and in Mark 10:27 when he says, “all things are possible with God.” When we listen to or sing this song, we remind ourselves that God is all-powerful, so we can turn our worries into prayers and ask for his help in any situation.
This is a simple song with a significant message. People of all ages can derive spiritual encouragement and wisdom from this beloved song. Don’t hesitate to enjoy “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” for a powerful reminder of God’s presence and care!
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/ipopba
Whitney Hopler is the author of the Wake Up to Wonder book and the Wake Up to Wonder blog, which help people thrive through experiencing awe. She leads the communications work at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. Whitney has served as a writer, editor, and website developer for leading media organizations, including Crosswalk.com, The Salvation Army USA’s national publications, and Dotdash.com (where she produced a popular channel on angels and miracles). She has also written the young adult novel Dream Factory. Connect with Whitney on Twitter.