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Post new topic   Reply to topic    Reformed Theology Institute Forum Index » Old Testament » Heaven, the firmament and the waters
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PostPosted: 06-04-2017 2:53 pm
Post Number: 26054
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(Please forgive any discontinuities, gaps in logic or even incomplete thoughts as I posted this over two sittings and I may have lost some of the force in the interim...)

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

 Gen 1:1-2

For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
 Exodus 20:11

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

 Gen 1:6-8

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
  Gen 1:20

 In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.
 Gen 7:11

Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens.
 Psalm 148:4

As usual, there are a couple of intertwined thoughts that prompt me to ask a question. In this case they both have to do with domain or extent. And there is a chance this will be thoroughly addressed by the underlying Hebrew, so I ask your patience while I ask what may be obvious (but that I may be too ignorant to see). I offer a little of the thought process and the question itself.

The broader extent is that of what Moses is telling us God actually created (in Gen 1). Gen 1:1 is well known by all of us (in English!) and when reading it lately, I was particularly struck by the fact that heaven is here singular. In and of itself, that really isn't noteworthy because there is nothing in that term that a priori requires one of either the entire universe or earth's atmosphere to be in view. Even Exodus 20:11 seems pretty universal in scope ("...all that in them is..." must include the stars per Gen 1:16 - though it seems almost amazing that such a feat is written in three words almost seeming to be an afterthought - "...the stars also"). So from that standpoint, the conclusion that Moses' account in Gen 1 (and 2) is addressing God's creation of the entire universe - as opposed to that of earth and its immediate atmosphere - seems clear.

But in drilling down to the details, it seems that the waters (no pun intended) are a bit murkier. For almost right off the bat, the "heaven" of Gen 1:1 seems to be given context (in 1:6-8) as immediate to the earth. These waters are both above and below the firmament which God calls "Heaven" (in 1:8 - though I'm not sure why the translators here capitalized it but not in 1:1). And the extent of the firmament seems to be that in which the birds fly (1:20). But again we see the heavenly bodies :

And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

  Gen 1:16-17

So here, heaven seems to imply the universe. But what do we make of the firmament dividing betwen the waters above and the waters below? The flood account in Gen 7 describes the waters of the deep and the waters above ("...windows of heaven...") as flooding the earth. This seems to be a fairly strong reference to heaven being the immediate atmosphere of the earth.

Even Psalm 148:4 references (post-flood) waters above the heavens as well as the "...heavens of heavens..." - which is a pluralization of the Gen 1:1 heaven (I believe - please correct if I am wrong) and seeming to imply that the heaven of Genesis 1:7-8 (and by extension Gen 1:1?) is singular and local.  Which if read back into Exodus 20:11 would mean that the creation account could (on the surface, at least - and that may be the issue here) be talking about earth and its immediate surroundings.

But there are obvious problems with that. First, the creation of the lights. The sun, moon and stars are clearly not in the earth's atmosphere. So how is that understood in light of the separation of the waters? The light itself appears in the heaven that is immediate to the earth. So that is a potential explanation - but that would mean they already existed and only now did God create a firmament in which the light would reach the earth. That is, that the firmament implies natural laws of the propagation of that which was created on day 1 (light itself - not that which produces light). This really makes a hash of the creation account (if held).

So is the problem here that I am trying to drill down to details that are not to be understood as being in the creation account? Or is this remedied linguistically? Or is it simply the case that the only way to consistently read the text is to read "heaven" as always being something closer to "heavens" or "universe"? In the end, if the waters above are beyond space (or in deep space) this also answers the question satisfactorily as it clearly defines "heaven" of Genesis 1 to be all of space.
If God promises life, He slayeth first; when He builds, He casteth all down first. God is no patcher; He cannot build on another's foundation. - William Tyndale

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