The first day of creation introduced us to light.
- We saw that both Sailhamer and Walton believe that the light was sunlight and was already present in the universe.
Specifically, Sailhamer understood Moses to be describing the bringing of the sunlight through the fog/atmosphere that was over Eden/Promised Land.
- This was the first “creative” act of main concern for Moses.
- This is because the six days of creation are from his (a local) perspective.
- Therefore the sunlight and darkness in question were pertaining directly to the Promised Land.
Walton, under his ANE view, saw this as assigning function to light and day.
- Again, the material was already there, but it needed to be “purposed” for humanity.
- So for him the first day of creation was the creation of time.
Both believe the days were literal 24-hour days.
BTW – There is another view of the first day espoused by a number of Hebrew grammar specialists.
- It is best represented by Holmstedt’s translation of Genesis 1-3.
- “In the beginning period that God created the heavens and earth (the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the wind of God was hovering over the surface of the waters), God said, ‘Let light be!’” – Robert Holmstedt.
This view is similar to Walton’s view in that the creation of everything happened in the “preface”.
- Sailhamer is somewhat similar, but he says the creation of everything happened in Genesis 1:1.
- All their views share one important feature – the “stuff” God is working with on the days of creation is already there (though God is the source of it).
- So taking the days of creation as literal has no bearing on the age of the earth.
Genesis 1:6–8 (ESV) — 6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
What is an expanse – “raqia”?
What does it mean to separate “waters from the waters”?
Is “made” in verse 7 the same as “created” in verse 1?
The Expanse – raqia:
The texts most often cited to try and understand “raqia” are the following:
- Job 37:18 (ESV) — 18 Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a cast metal mirror?
- Ezekiel 1:22 (ESV) — 22 Over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of an expanse, shining like awe-inspiring crystal, spread out above their heads.
Wenham says “Such comments may suggest that the firmament was viewed as a glass dome over the earth”.
- In other words, the sky/expanse was seen as a solid vaulted roof over the earth.
- Michael Heiser uses the phrase, “solid, dome-like structure”.
It will be helpful to review Jewish Cosmology at this point.
Michael Heiser gives a succinct description:
“The Israelites believed in a universe structure that was common among the ancient civilizations of the biblical world. It encompassed three parts: a heavenly realm, an earthly realm for humans, and an underworld for the dead.”
Interestingly, he points out that this view of creation is reflected in Exodus 20:4.
- Exodus 20:4 (ESV) — 4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
As the below picture illustrates, the “heaven above” contained the expanse/firmament.
Notice in the picture the black dome labeled as the firmament.
- This is the expanse – the solid dome or vault.
- The question is, “is this what Moses is talking about in Genesis?”
In other words was Moses speaking about the Hebrews ANE perception of cosmology?
- In effect, giving us a cosmology lesson?
- Or, was Moses trying to tell us something else?
- Is it possible that Moses could have accepted ANE cosmology, and yet still be telling us something else in Genesis 1?
Basically there are two views on the above questions.
- (1) Genesis 1 is about the solid dome as represented in ANE cosmology.
- (2) Genesis 1 is about an atmospheric expanse – the sky.
Scholar View – 1st Meaning:
In Paul Seely’s paper, “The Firmament and the Water Above”, he spends a lot of ink showing that the Hebrews saw “raqia” as the solid dome.
- “The basic historical fact that defines the meaning of raqia in Genesis 1 is simply this: all peoples in the ancient world thought of the sky as solid” – Paul Seely.
- From this assumption, he then argues that every use of raqia in Genesis 1 must be about the solid dome.
It’s really not possible for him to come to any other conclusion – he is fairly adamant about his presupposition.
- Moreover, his approach, in addition to being an event-centered approach to Genesis 1, is also taking the traditional global view of Genesis 1 instead of the local view.
- He does briefly exegete some texts.
Yet, if the correct approach is the Sailhamer/Mathews/Postell local Promised Land approach, the meaning of “raqia” may be contextually different.
- Even if Moses believed in a solid firmament.
It is worth noting that the LXX uses the Greek word that “denotes the solid vault of heaven” – TDNT.
- In other words, the solid dome feature labeled firmament in the above pic.
- Many see this as influenced by Greek cosmology.
Scholar View – 2nd Meaning:
Kenneth Mathews takes a different approach.
- First he says, “The ‘expanse’ is the atmosphere that distinguishes the surface waters of the earth (i.e., ‘the waters below’) from the atmospheric waters or clouds (i.e., ‘the waters above’)” – Kenneth Mathews.
- In other words, for Moses in Genesis 1, the expanse is the sky between the cloud layer and land.
He then says, alluding to the verses we cited above, that what we know for sure is that “raqia” refers to something “spread out like a covering”.
- He suggests that this doesn’t necessitate that the thing spread out is solid.
The thing that best fits with Moses description in Genesis 1 is the sky/atmosphere.
- It is “spread out” over the earth.
- Moreover, there is no Jewish word for sky/atmosphere.
- Moses’ immediate textual context is the way to show us that he was using “raqia” to stand for sky/atmosphere.
This is why, from Moses’ perspective, birds fly through the expanse.
- Genesis 1:20 (ESV) — 20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.”
- This would only make sense if the atmosphere/sky was the expanse.
- Fish swim in the water; birds fly in the expanse.
BTW – AIG sees “raqia” as the earth’s atmosphere – as in the thing that surrounds earth, protecting it from the sun’s radiation – not the sky.
Clouds and Rain:
Vern Poythress points out one important aspect of Hebrew cosmology that Scripture makes clear.
- They knew that rain/water came from clouds.
- And they described the clouds as being in the heavens/samayim.
Some examples of this are as follows:
- Judges 5:4 (ESV) — 4 …the earth trembled and the heavens dropped, yes, the clouds dropped water.
- Psalm 77:17 (ESV) — 17 The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; your arrows flashed on every side.
- Ecclesiastes 11:3 (ESV) — 3 If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth…
It is also relevant that the “samayim” could refer to the sky or God’s abode.
- Importantly, they saw the latter as the storehouse for many things – snow, water, grain, blessings, and even resurrection.
- Psalm 135:7 (ESV) — 7 He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
- See also Job 38:22.
So to say Hebrews believed that God opened a window in the solid canopy and sent down rain might be an over simplification.
- Knowing that rain came from clouds, they may have been acknowledging that the ultimate source of the rain is God and His storehouse.
This makes sense to me because they ultimately saw all of these things as either blessings or curses/judgment.
- And they believed, rightly so, that God was the source of these things.
- One example is the hail storm in Joshua.
I point all this out because it seems to support the second view of “raqia”.
Wenham wants us to not lose sight of the underlying importance of Moses’ words.
- “Certainly Gen 1 is not concerned with defining the nature of the firmament, but with asserting God’s power over the waters” – Gordon Wenham.
- In other words, Moses is not giving us a cosmology lesson.
I need to point out that those like Seely, who take an ANE solid canopy view, take a hardline tone against a “conservative” agenda to concord “raqia” with modern science.
- The problem with this is that, as we have seen, Sailhamer and Walton’s approaches are not science concordist approaches.
- Sailhamer is “concording” with the text and Walton (like Seely) with ANE cosmology (though Walton, as we will see, is less hung up on the “solid dome” meaning in Genesis).
Yet, worse than Seely’s tone is AIG’s comment about Seely:
- “More recently, the enemies of Christ have acquired an ally in the professing evangelical Paul H. Seely, who has also claimed that the Bible makes scientific errors” – James Holding.
- The problem is that Seely doesn’t think the Bible makes scientific claims anymore than John Sailhamer does.
- God’s revelation to the Hebrews was in an ANE context not a scientific one.
- And inspiration and inerrancy are not jeopardized because the Hebrews had an ANE view of the universe.
- Moses’ message wasn’t science!
Separation of the Waters:
Our exploration of the meaning of “raqia” provides for us the meaning of separating the waters.
- (1) It is either the global/ANE view whereby the solid dome was made to hold back the waters in the heavens.
- (2) Or it is the lifting of the fog/atmosphere over the waters of the Promised Land into the sky in the form of clouds (which contain water).
BTW – AIG takes the view that the waters above, “were the originally-created, basic building blocks of matter that the earth was made from, and otherwise became all that was created outside of our atmosphere and/or our solar system” – James Holding.
- By this they mean “stellar matter” and “methane gas”, etc.
Walton’s View of the Second Day:
Walton seems to take the view that we are dealing with the solid dome in the sky – the firmament.
“The Hebrew term is to be taken in its normal contextual sense, it indicates that God made a solid dome to hold up waters above the earth” – John Walton.
In fact he goes on to say:
“We cannot think that we can interpret the word ‘expanse/ firmament’ as simply the sky or the atmosphere if that is not what the author meant by it when he used it and not what the audience would have understood by the word” – John Walton.
And then oddly, Walton in apparent disagreement with his earlier statement says:
“That we do not retain the cosmic geography of the ancient world that featured a solid barrier holding back waters does not change the fact that our understanding of the Creator includes his role in setting up and maintaining a weather system” – John Walton.
He then justifies this by saying it doesn’t really matter what the “raqia” is – what matters is…
- “…that on the second day, God established the functions that serve as the basis for weather” – John Walton.
Remember, Walton takes a functional view of creation so he sees the purpose of Moses’ talk about “raqia” as altogether different than telling us about the material properties of the “raqia”.
- God established cosmic order of the chaotic waters.
- He did this, as we just saw, by establishing “functions that serve as the basis for weather”.
- A necessary function to support the coming plants and image bearers.
Sailhamer’s View of the Second Day:
Sailhamer asks the very question we have been asking.
“Should we view this term [raqia] along cosmological lines as a description of a major component of the universe, or do we view it within the more limited context of the promised land (the sky overhead)?” – John Sailhamer.
Sailhamer’s answer is simple:
- Moses is describing “something in our world, not something in outer space” – Sailhamer.
He then takes his jab at the ANE event-centered approach.
- “We must be careful not to let our view of the structure of the universe nor the view of ancient cosmologists control our understanding of the ‘expanse.’ We must seek clues from the biblical text itself” – John Sailhamer.
- Our discussion on clouds and rain was just that!
Sailhamer then proceeds to search out the text to find clues for the meaning of “raqia”.
- The first clue is verse 6.
- The “raqia” separated the waters from the waters.
The second clue is from verse 8.
- “God called the expanse Heaven”
- “Heaven” here is “samayim” – we just saw this could be “sky” or “God’s abode”.
- Sailhamer has already made his case that in Genesis 1:2ff this is the “sky” over the “eretz”/Promised Land.
The third clue is from verse 14.
- Verse 20, as we have seen, tells us that the birds fly across the “raqia”.
From these descriptions, Sailhamer says…
“The Genesis narrative pictures something within our everyday experience of the natural world. This is not an account for the astronomer or the astronaut; it is an account by someone who wishes to picture the world of our everyday lives, one whose feet are firmly planted on the ground” – John Sailhamer.
He then asks from the textual/local perspective of Moses what word would best accommodate “raqia”?
- His answer – the sky.
What about the waters above the “raqia”?
- Sailhamer says, given all the above, the waters are rain-containing clouds (the same as John Calvin).
- “From the perspective of a person on land, that is where the water is held and from where it falls as rain. So on the second day of this week, God put clouds in the sky to provide rain for those dwelling in the land” – John Sailhamer.
Sailhamer’s summary of the second day of creation:
“On the second day God prepared the sky with clouds to provide rain for the land. The rain would prepare the land for producing vegetation on the next day. The sky was still empty of life on the second day but would be filled with all kinds of ‘flying creatures’ on the fifth day” – John Sailhamer.
“Made” the Expanse:
If Sailhamer believes everything was created in verse 1 a question is raised.
- What does Moses mean when he says, “God made the expanse”?
Sailhamer’s answer is to point out the difference between “bara” in verse 1 and “asa” in verse 6.
- The latter means to “fashion” or “bring about a state or event” – DBL.
- Sailhamer says specifically it means “to set aright” or “make suitable”.
- This is different than the “bara” from verse 1.
- In other words, in verse 6 God is fashioning, bringing about, making suitable the sky with clouds/rain to support the plants on the third day and eventually Adam and Eve.
- To turn a desert and uninhabitable wasteland into the Promised Land, you need rain.
- Just exposing the wasteland won’t be enough.