The Rāqîaʿ is the Definition of the Sky According to Genesis 1

The Sky, Earth, And Seas Simply Defined

Then God said: Let there be a rāqîaʿ … so God made the rāqîaʿ … and God called the rāqîaʿ: ‘Sky!’ (šāmayim)…. Then God said: Let the waters … be gathered… and let the dry land (yabbašâ) appear.… Then God called the dry-land (yabbašâ): ‘Earth!’ (ʾereṣ), and the gatherings-of-water (mikwê hammayim) he called: ‘Seas!’ (yammim).

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי רָקִיעַ … וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת־הָרָקִיעַ … וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָרָקִיעַ שָׁמָיִם … וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יִקָּווּ הַמַּיִם … וְתֵרָאֶה הַיַּבָּשָׁה … וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לַיַּבָּשָׁה אֶרֶץ וּלְמִקְוֵה הַמַּיִם קָרָא יַמִּים

– Genesis 1:6 – 10

According to Genesis 1, the rāqîaʿ is not some entity situated above the (spacious) skies, as it is often portrayed, rather it is the basic definition of the sky according to a straightforward reading of the text. The purpose of this article is to take a close look at the nature of this definition, and then to see how the information gleaned might inform this debate. We will do this first and foremost by comparing the creation of the sky in Genesis 1 with the creation of the other two ‘cosmic regions,’ namely the creation of the earth and the seas which occurred on day 3. What we find is an identical pattern in how each ‘cosmic region’ is created: First God calls one of the cosmic regions into being, but at this initial point he only refers to it by what we might call a simple but technical term, rather than by the commonly used name for that region (e.g. ‘sky,’ ‘earth,’ or ‘seas’). This ‘technical term’ provides a simple description of but a single physical characteristic of that region. Only after that region is ‘finished off’ does God give it its commonly used name, which in all three cases happens to be the most frequently used term in the Hebrew Bible for that ‘cosmic region.’ In contrast, the three ‘technical terms’ are only infrequently used in the bible.

A preliminary note on vocabulary is required at this point: ‘Sky’ and ‘heavens’ are both valid translations of the Hebrew word šāmayim, so whenever I use the word ‘sky’ in this article, you can just as well replace that with the word ‘heavens.’ At other times I will use the phrase ‘sky-heavens’ so as to try and pick up connotations of both (English) words at once. If we could marry those two, it would more nicely communicate the Hebrew word šāmayim in my opinion. I more often use the word ‘sky’ instead of ‘heaven’ or ‘heavens’ for practical purposes, that being this: When most people hear the word ‘heaven’ or ‘heavens,’ they immediately think of a supernatural place that transcends the physical cosmos (I’ve learned this over the years in talking with people about this subject matter). Now there is no doubt that the Hebrew Bible supports a dynamic interchange between the physical world and ‘the heavenly,’ but the problem is that what Genesis 1 says about the ‘the heavens’ refers primarily to the physical or natural ‘skies above.’ There can be no doubt about that. Unfortunately though, neither option is perfect. For the word ‘sky’ more often is limited to the sense of ‘the earth’s atmosphere,’ instead of to the entirety of the cosmos. This is just one of a multitude of ‘communication problems’ we must deal with when merging two distinct languages, the problem in this case being that there is no perfect 1 to 1 correspondence between words.

It is not my intent to say everything that needs to be said about Genesis 1 and the rāqîaʿ in this article. We will have to deal with the rest of the day 2 event and related matters in full elsewhere. Even so, it must be understood just how significant this single chapter, Genesis chapter 1, is to a proper understanding of the rāqîaʿ. Consider:

  • Over half of the occurrences of this term (9 of 17) occur in Genesis 1.
  • This is the only place that offers a direct description of what the rāqîaʿ is, or that defines the rāqîaʿ in some sense (by reverse definition: the rāqîaʿ is defined as the Sky itself).
  • Even more, an entire day of creation is devoted to the creation of this entity, the ‘rāqîaʿ,’ in this passage.

Given all of these points, any study on the meaning of the rāqîaʿ should be expected to make Genesis 1 front and center in its analysis, and to plumb deeply into its textual testimony. This provides reason enough for the extended analysis we offer below with regard to the ‘definitional’ nature of the word rāqîaʿ in Genesis 1.

Our main focus in this study will be on the following pattern: When Genesis 1 describes God’s act of creating each of the three ‘cosmic regions’ (sky, earth, and seas), all are first defined by a simple but technical term. Only after that technical entity is completed does God give it its common name. What we find is that the technical term or phrase that is first used occurs only infrequently in the Hebrew Scriptures, while the common name given that entity occurs hundreds or thousands of times, as the following tables make clear.1

 

Occurrences in the Bible of the Technical or ‘Essential’ Terms for the Cosmic Regions

rāqîaʿ

17x in only 6 chapters

Gen 1 (9x); Ps 19:2; Ps 150:1; Ezek 1 (4x); Ezek 10:1; Dan 12:3

mikwê hammayim

‘gatherings of water’

5x

(including any instances where mikwâ and mayim are associated)

Gen 1:10; Ex 7:19; Lev 11:36; Is 22:11; (Jer 17:13). 

yabbašâ

‘dry land’

14x in 10 chapters

Gen 1 (2x) ; Exod 4 :9 ; Exod 14 (3x), Exod 15 :19 ; Josh 4 :22 ; Neh 9 :11 ; Ps 66 :6 ; Is 44 :3 ; Jonah 1 :13 ; Jonah 2 :11

 

Occurrences in the Bible of the ‘Common Names’ of the Cosmic Regions

šāmayim

 

‘heaven/sky’

421x,

Occurs 25 x more often than its technical term rāqîaʿ. We can get a better idea of this spread by discounting the occurrences of both words in Genesis 1, since more than half of all occurrences of rāqîaʿ are in this chapter. In that case, šāmayim:

Occurs 51 x more often than rāqîaʿ (411/8).

yam

‘sea’

396x, which:

Occurs 79 x more often than its technical term mikwê hammayim

ʾereṣ

‘earth’

2,505x, which:

Occurs 179 x more than its technical term yabbašâ

Thus, in the day 3 creation event, ‘dry land’ (yabbašâ – pronounced: ‘yab-bah-SHAH’) is brought into being, and only after this technical entity is formed does God give it the name ‘earth’ (ʾereṣ – pronounced: ‘AIR-etz’). Likewise, God calls into being a ‘gathering of waters’ (mikwê hammayim), and only after its formation does God name this entity seas (yammim). This is precisely the same pattern that is used for the creation of the Sky: first a technical entity, a rāqîaʿ, is created, and only after the rāqîaʿ is made is it given its common name of Sky (šāmayim – pronounced: ‘shah-MAI-eem’).

The fact that the rāqîaʿ is given the name šāmayim (‘sky’ or ‘heaven’) would have provided a good enough reason to assume that these are basically equivalent entities. But this pattern allows us to assert with more precision what type of equivalency is being made. Let’s first see how this works with the land and seas in more detail:

The Land and Sea Defined

The Land (hā ʾāreṣ) Defined

In the case of the land (or ‘the earth’ – ʾāreṣ in Hebrew), it is first described by its ‘simple-technical’ word yabbašâ, which is a noun-form of the root ybš (yah-BASH, see also yah-BESH). Ybš quite simply means dry, nothing much more or less than that. This is why I call this ‘a simple technical term.’ We will discuss the significance of this point later.

Another point to make is that yabbašâ could simply be translated as dry-thing, since the word ‘land’ (in the translation dry land) is not even part of the root word (which simply connotes dryness). But the reason all lexicons and translations you come across render this word as ‘dry ground‘ or as ‘dry land‘ is because yabbašâ (that particular noun-form of ybš) always happens to refer to the ground in its Scriptural occurrences.

Another point to consider: Sometimes it happens that as a word evolves over time it can lose much of the original sense meaning that was attached to that root word. So we would be interested in knowing if this was the case with yabbašâ. It so happens that this was most certainly not the case, since throughout its occurrences in the bible (see the table above), we almost always find a direct emphasis on the dryness aspect of this word. Namely, yabbašâ is almost always juxtaposed in some way with water or with wetness, or with seas or rivers:

  • Exod 14:16: “that the children of Israel may go through the midst of the sea on dry ground” – וְיָבֹאוּ בְנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּתוֹךְ הַיָּם בַּיַּבָּשָׁה
  • Is 44:3: “For I will pour out water on the thirsty-land (ṣāmēʾ) and rivers on the dry-ground (yabbašâ)” – כִּי אֶצָּק־מַיִם עַל־צָמֵא וְנֹזְלִים עַל־יַבָּשָׁה אֶצֹּק רוּחִי עַל־זַרְעֶךָ
  • Jonah 1:9: “And he (Jonah) said to them (to the sailors in the boat being rocked by a storm at sea): I am a Hebrew, and it is Yahweh, God of Heaven, that I fear, who made the Sea and the Dry Land (yabbašâ).” – וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם עִבְרִי אָנֹכִי וְאֶת־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם אֲנִי יָרֵא אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂה אֶת־הַיָּם וְאֶת־הַיַּבָּשָׁה

As such, we should not be surprised to find the same explicit contrast between wet and dry in Genesis 1 as well, which is of course what we find, where the ‘dry-land’ (yabbašâ) appears only after the waters are separated from it. Now one might ask: ‘With such a singular focus on this one aspect of the earth, namely on its dryness, does this mean that Genesis 1 was advocating that dust, dirt, rocks, and so forth, are merely the result of an absence of water? I would argue against that conclusion. We should rather understand the account as focusing on the singular most important characteristic of the earth, which of course was its characteristic of being dry. For so long as ‘the earth’ was simply covered by water, the lives of man and beast could not be supported. Thus Genesis 1 highlights this single characteristic of ‘the earth’ at its creation, which is that it is dry, in contrast to all of the waters that it was separated from.

The Seas (yammim) Defined

We see the same pattern in the case of the ‘seas.’ “Let the waters under heaven gather into one place” (Gen 1:8). The result of this action was then spoken of as ‘the gatherings of waters’ (mikwê hammayim). There could not be a more simple but descriptive name for an entity which resulted from the command “let the waters gather” (יִקָּווּ הַמַּיִם‎) than “gatherings of water.” This is a simple but technical and physically descriptive name. What are yammim in their most basic essence, other than a gathering of waters? And yet obviously, ‘seas’ carry a much fuller meaning than simply ‘a gathering of water.’ That fuller meaning rests squarely in the fact that these bodies of water were made so as to be inhabited, of which see Genesis 1:20: “let the waters swarm…” (יִשְׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם‎).

Objection to this Pattern and the Land

Now a fair objection that can be raised is that ʾereṣ can at times act as a hypernym (as color is a hypernym of red)2 for not only the earth, but also for the seas. This is a problem because, in that case, yabbašâ comes up quite short from defining the basic essence of what ʾereṣ constitutes. Indeed, even this creation account has “the heavens and the earth” as being created, as opposed to “the heavens, the earth, and the seas.” As such, it is likely to assume that the terrestrial seas can often be subsumed under the term ʾereṣ. In answer to this objection, this very passage (Gen 1:9-10), as well as most of this entire creation account, makes a fundamental distinction between earth and seas. They are in fact created at one and the same time by God’s having had the waters gather into one place while the yabbašâ appeared. The fact that these are treated as two distinct entities at the very instant in which they are created is significant. Indeed, if the distinction were to be lost between these two entities, namely by the waters flowing back over the ‘land,’ then according to this very passage, this would essentially constitute the destruction of the yabbašâ, and thus of the ʾereṣ.

Also of great significance is the fact that whenever ʾereṣ is mentioned throughout the rest of this creation account, it specifically refers to the dry land. Thus it is not ‘the earth’ that is filled with fish, but ‘the seas.’ Furthermore, except in those cases when the entire cosmos is referred to in a summary fashion (see Gen 1:1, 2:1, 2:4), the fundamental cosmic entity which exists ‘under heaven’ is not primarily earth, but earth and seas – two entities which have clear boundaries set between each other, and yet which closely interact and are interdependent in nature. As interdependent entities, it seems fitting that one of the terms can refer to the both of them for overarching summary statements. Since man chiefly inhabits the land and not the sea, it is not surprising that the land (ʾereṣ) gained that distinction.

The bottom line rests with this central fact: When ʾereṣ was called into being in this very passage (1:8-9), ʾereṣ is treated as a fundamentally distinct entity from yammim, and the yammim are treated as a distinct entity from ʾereṣ. Since it is this very identification which concerns us, we cannot treat ʾereṣ in this case as including a hypernymous reference to yammim.

First Created, Then Filled, ‘With All Precious and Beautiful Treasures’

In the case of all three cosmic ‘regions’ (sky, earth, and seas), their ultimate purpose is only revealed when they are inhabited or filled, be that with life and with living things, or with created objects that complement that cosmic region. It is true that God names the technical entities before they have been filled, but that is clearly in anticipation of the filling that is soon to come. Until then, those demarcated regions are only a blank canvas, waiting to be painted with meaning. A fitting analogy may be found in Proverbs 24 with regard to the relationship between the technical term and the named term:

“By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge are its rooms filled with all precious and beautiful treasures.”
בְּחָכְמָה יִבָּנֶה בָּיִת וּבִתְבוּנָה יִתְכּוֹנָן׃ וּבְדַעַת חֲדָרִים יִמָּלְאוּ כָּל־הוֹן יָקָר וְנָעִים
– Proverbs 24:3-4

According to this analogy, we may see the technical term (be that rāqîaʿ, mikwê hammayim, or yabbašâ) as an uninhabited region which has the capacity to be inhabited, like the basic structure of a house that has not yet been ‘moved into’ or filled. The common names however are given in anticipation of these entities being filled, just as the rooms to this house are “filled with all precious and beautiful treasures.” The three regions, heaven, earth and seas, had to first have their basic substance or essence established or delimited before they could be inhabited.

As for earth and seas, the word ‘filled’ (מלא‎) is in fact used for both:

  • Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas…” – פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת־הַמַּיִם בַּיַּמִּים (Gen 1:22, said to the sea creatures)
  • Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth… – פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ (Gen 1:28, said to mankind)

While the dry land is also filled with vegetation on day 3, the next day sees the equivalent ‘filling’ of the heavens with the two ‘great lights’ and with the stars. However, we would not expect the same ‘filling’ and ‘be fruitful’ terminology to be used for the inanimate cosmic bodies, which of course do not ‘multiply’. So even though the word ‘fill’ is not used, these objects were still ‘placed in‘ the heavenly ‘expanse’:

  • And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens (birĕqîaʿ haššāmayim) to give light upon the earth -ויִּתֵּן אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם לְהָאִיר עַל־הָאָרֶץ (Gen 1:17)

This verse presents an obvious problem to the firmament view. For if the sun, moon and stars were thought of as bodily objects that could be placed within the rāqîaʿ, then it would seem that the rāqîaʿ is a spacious entity — a region or an area within which something could be placed. So how does the alternative view deal with this problem? What they do is treat this passage as if it represents engraving language. As if the sun, moon and stars are but etchings that were etched into the solid dome, or like lights that were pinned upon the ‘firmament.’ We will dedicate a separate article to this passage, but suffice it to say, this suggestion is quite lacking. The Hebrew language is not lacking with regard to engraving language, but none of the direct engraving words or terminology is used here. Meanwhile, most passages in scripture treat the cosmic bodies (at least the sun and moon) as bodily objects, and that is certainly true in the case of this passage. The text clearly describes God as making these luminaries, and then placing them in the ‘expanse.’ Other scriptures quite clearly treat the cosmic bodies as bodily objects that travel their courses in the heavens. I do not think we can absolutely rule out these alternative readings, even though they are weak in comparison to this straightforward reading. However, there is at least one other passage that unambiguously treats the rāqîaʿ as something that can be filled … even by God himself! It is the evidence as a whole that ultimately must settle this matter.

The Reason for the Expression ‘The Expanse of the Heavens’ (rāqîaʿ haššāmayim)

Let there be luminaries in the rāqîaʿ of the heavens so as to separate between the day and between the night… And let them be luminaries in the rāqîaʿ of the heavens to give light upon the earth… So God made the two great luminaries … and the stars, and God set them in the rāqîaʿ of the heavens to give light on the earth.

יְהִי מְאֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם לְהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הַיּוֹם וּבֵין הַלָּיְלָה … וְהָיוּ לִמְאוֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם לְהָאִיר עַל־הָאָרֶץ … וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת־שְׁנֵי הַמְּאֹרֹת הַגְּדֹלִים … וְאֵת הַכּוֹכָבִים וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם לְהָאִיר עַל־הָאָרֶץ

– Genesis 1:14-17

One objection that can be raised to the assertion that the word rāqîaʿ forms a basic or essential definition of the šāmayim (the sky) in Genesis 1 is the seemingly redundant phrase rāqîaʿ haššāmayim (‘expanse of the heavens’), which is repeated three times in Genesis 1:14-17. What is the reason for this seemingly redundant phrase? And if these two words, the šāmayim and the rāqîaʿ, are not much more than synonyms for the same thing, why repeat the two together? The problem this raises is the possibility that these two words in fact represent two different entities, which of course would destroy the central point of everything we have been asserting in this article. If they were actually being spoken of, via this phrase, as two separate entities, then it would clearly lend support to the firmament notion, which typically has the solid-dome arched over the spacious skies above.

In answer, let us first consider two significant problems this phrase raises for the alternative view:

  1. First off, at the creation of the rāqîaʿ in Genesis 1:6-8, which notably took an entire day of creation, we have already seen how šāmayim is simply the name given to the rāqîaʿ. There is simply no denying this. ‘Heaven’ is the name for the technical entity known as ‘rāqîaʿ,’ according to this very account, just as ‘seas’ is the name given to the technical entity ‘gatherings of water.’
  2. But even if we were to ignore this point, we would still have to ask: Why go to all the trouble of speaking of ‘the firmament of the heavens anyways?’ In other words, the phrase would still be redundant! For let’s pretend for the moment that the rāqîaʿ of Genesis 1 actually refers to a dome-firmament … would there be even the slightest possibility that the reader thought the rāqîaʿ is somehow associated with the seas? or with the dry-land? As if anyone might have mistaken a plain reference to ‘rāqîaʿ‘ as actually referring to ‘the firmament of the seas,’ or to ‘the firmament of the earth.’ Of course this is absurd. So we are left with the conclusion that in any case, this phrase still seems redundant. Making rāqîaʿ a separate entity from šāmayim does not really get rid of the seeming redundancy.

So what is the answer then? I believe what we have learned previously about the definitional nature of much of Genesis 1 well explains this seemingly redundant phrase. In fact, we might have predicted it, if we were astute enough readers. We have seen how this account saw fit to first describe all three cosmic regions in terms of their basic, ‘technical’ substance. The seas are essentially gatherings of water; the earth is essentially dry land, and the sky-heavens are essentially (according to our view at least) an expanse of cosmic space which was enlarged by God’s command on day 2 amidst the waters. The word ‘heavens’ however connotes more than just ‘cosmic-space,’ for it connotes the whole finished product, which has been filled with the ‘hosts of heaven.’

With that summary given, I think the simplest answer is that this expression continues the concern expressed within this account for defining things according to their core realities (this is true throughout Genesis 1). And thus, in Gen 1:22, we also see that the sea life is not simply commanded ‘to fill the seas,’ but rather, ‘to fill the waters of the seas.’ That may seem to be redundant, but it fits the concerns of this scriptural account of continually defining the creation in terms of their basic essences. So just as the sea creatures fill ‘the waters of the seas,’ so the cosmic bodies were to abide not only ‘in heaven,’ but ‘in the expanse of heaven.’ This seems to be the reason that the seemingly redundant phrase rāqîaʿ haššāmayim was used.

Implications and Summary

The primary conclusion to be drawn from the above analysis can be introduced with this question:

What is the relationship between the rāqîaʿ and the heavens (šāmayim) in Genesis 1?

That is an important question, because while we know very little about the rāqîaʿ from its scriptural occurrences (with only 8 occurrences outside of this chapter), we know a lot about the šāmayim, the most used word in the Hebrew Bible for ‘sky’ or ‘heavens,’ as it occurs some 421 times. The pattern we have traced in Genesis 1 should make the answer to this question abundantly clear: The rāqîaʿ constitutes the basic or fundamental essence of what the sky-heavens (šāmayim) are, just as the dry-land (yabbašâ) constitutes the basic essence of what the earth (ʾereṣ) is, and just as the gatherings of water (mikwê hammayim) constitute the basic essence of what the seas (yammim) are. Furthermore, the word šāmayim is simply the name God gave to the rāqîaʿ, a point which further emphasizes the direct equality between the two. With regard to this naming process, it is instructive to see that while God brought the animals to Adam for him to name, God himself reserved the responsibility to name these major parts or regions of the cosmos, after they had been created (just as Adam only named the creatures after they were fully created). The dry-land God named: ‘earth,’ the gatherings of water he named: ‘seas,’ and the rāqîaʿ he named: ‘sky.’

The first implication of this conclusion is that Genesis 1 gives no support whatsoever for the notion that there is a spacious sky that is overarched by a separate solid dome-like entity, namely a firmament. To stay true to the Genesis text, the most the proponents of the firmament view can say is that the sky of Genesis 1 is, plain and simple, a firmament. Many do say this, of course, but not infrequently you will hear these proponents speaking as if a solid-dome overarches an otherwise ‘spacious sky.’ Ruling out such a view, at least in the case of Genesis 1, is a big step to make. Indeed, if Genesis 1 had been shown to be referencing, or even seem to be referencing, two separate entities, that could only support the firmament view or something like it.

Another important implication can be introduced, again, with a question:

Why was the word rāqîaʿ used in the first place? There is already a main word for ‘sky’ in Hebrew (šāmayim), so why introduce this quite frankly enigmatic word into the text?

This is an important question. The mere fact that some entity, with a totally unrelated etymology to the typical words for ‘sky’ in Hebrew, is spoken of in the text, and indeed spoken of in a primary sense, can quite understandably seem to support the notion that it really does refer to something other than the (spacious) sky. For why else would such an enigmatic word even be spoken of in the first place? To fully address this question, we must of course get into the etymology of the word, which is a major task that must be addressed elsewhere. But with the etymology aside for now, the exciting thing about the research we have just offered is that it not only offers a satisfactory answer to this question, quite beyond that, this research in fact would have lead us to expect and even predict that some word like this be used at this point!

So in light of the pattern we analyzed above with respect to the creation of the cosmic regions, we would have expected the account to provide a simple but technical term that describes the basic essence of what the sky is. Based on the characteristics of the ‘technical’ term for the other two cosmic regions, we would expect this word to be a noun that provides a simple physical description of but one characteristic of that region. Rāqîaʿ fits this description perfectly. This does not in itself rule out the alternative ‘firmament’ explanation (that the sky is a firmament). As I will explain in a bit, we need the rest of Scripture to settle that question.

But there is no doubt that our explanation fits this pattern at least equally as well. For if the word ‘rāqîaʿ‘ can responsibly be taken to mean ‘expansion’ or ‘expanse,’ then we find this perfectly fits the pattern we found with the other two cosmic regions. For the sky of course has as one of its central characteristics that it is a wide-open and expansive space. Some words that come to mind are: large, expansive, huge, broad, wide-open and otherwise spacious. These are not advanced scientific notions. They call Montana the “Big Sky Country,” and which one of us has never looked up at the sky and felt its expansive and overwhelming largeness? Nor is such a perspective limited to Montana or to modernity. For instance, amongst the ancient Greeks, Homer would quite frequently speak of ‘the broad heaven’ (οὐρανὸς εὐρύς, e.g. Il. 3:364) and of ‘the great (mega) heaven’ (μέγας οὐρανός, e.g. Il. 5:750).

So then, we can quite easily read this account as saying that before God made the heavens / the skies, no such expanse existed, only the primal waters. But if the universe God was making was indeed created so as “to be inhabited,”3 then of course the first thing God would have to do is to to enlarge an expansive space amidst those waters (we will talk about the waters elsewhere), thereby creating cosmic space. Cosmic living room if you will, not only for us humans, but for all things God was to create in the cosmos thereafter (including even the land and seas).

So it should be no surprise that the fundamental characteristic of the ‘sky’ that this account emphasized, or rather that God himself emphasized, was the wide-open and expansive aspect of the sky and heavens. It was the creation of this very ‘wide-openness’ that created a cosmos that could be filled in the first place. The only thing left to prove is that the root word rqʿ can actually connote the verbal sense of expansion alone, which question we will address elsewhere.

In close, while we have learned a lot here, the definitive answers we are looking for can ultimately be found only by looking throughout the whole of the scriptural witness. Because it would be hard to fully exclude the firmament interpretation (that the sky represents a solid-dome) as a possible interpretation of this text, taken all on its own. What we need is further witness outside of this single chapter, while we ask the question: Does the rest of scripture ever, much less frequently, speak of the sky as a solid object? Or does it to the contrary typically if not always speak of the sky as a spacious region that can be inhabited? This is where the many texts that have been taken to speak of a solid or firm sky must be analyzed in depth.


  1. This pattern also occurs with the creation of the day-night cycle on day 1, when God created ‘day’ and ‘night.’ 

  2. Hypernym is defined as “a word with a broad meaning constituting a category into which words with more specific meanings fall; a superordinate. For example, colour is a hypernym of red. Contrasted with hyponym.” “Hypernym,” The Oxford Dictionary of English (Ifinger Software Edition). 

  3. See Isaiah 40:22 – הַנּוֹטֶה כַדֹּק שָׁמַיִם וַיִּמְתָּחֵם כָּאֹהֶל לָשָׁבֶת 

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