The pillars of the earth is a poetic phrase that is used a few times in the Bible. Looking at the use of the term in context sheds some light on what “the pillars of the earth” are.
First, we should note that the phrase itself is metaphorical and not to be taken literally. Just as people today might speak of “the four corners of the earth” without meaning the earth is square, the Bible speaks of “the pillars of the earth” without meaning the earth is flat or set on actual pillars. Whereas some translations such as the NKJV, ESV, and NASB use the phrase the pillars of the earth, other translations simply have “the foundations of the earth” (NIV, CSB, BSB).
In Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving, she says, “The pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them He has set the world” (1 Samuel 2:8, ESV). In this way, Hannah observes that God has set and ordered the world as it is, and He controls the very building blocks of the earth. Her wording brings to mind the construction of a strong house: the Builder of the earth is God Himself, and He upholds and supports its continued existence. As the Maker and Sustainer of the world’s “pillars,” God exercises control over every living thing.
The pillars of the earth also appear in the book of Job. In answering his friend Bildad, Job talks about how God’s mighty power disqualifies any man from contending with Him: “They could not answer him one time out of a thousand” (Job 9:3). Job describes God as one who overturns mountains and “shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble” (verse 6, ESV). Job uses the word pillars to refer to the rocky foundations of the earth. God alone has these in His power, and He can shake things up if He sees fit.
In Psalm 75:3 Asaph quotes God: “When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars” (ESV). The context is God’s judgment of the wicked at a time of His choosing when He will bring down the evildoer and exalt the righteous. The shaking “pillars” of the earth in this psalm seem to be a reference to unsteadiness and unrest in society, due to the onslaught of wicked men. God promises to intervene and restore society to stability. Or it could be that the “pillars” in Psalm 75:3 are the righteous, whom the Lord promises to keep from falling. For examples of people being described as “pillars,” see Psalm 144:12, Galatians 2:9, and Revelation 3:12.
When people in the Bible use the phrase the pillars of the earth, they are not giving a scientific description of the shape of the world. The Bible does not teach that the earth sits on pillars, piers, or poles. Speaking of “the pillars of the earth” was simply a poetic way to denote foundations.