Friday, 4 March 2011

The meaning of "expanse" in Genesis 1. Part 3

Part 1. Part 2.

We gain further information of the nature of the expanse thru what it was named. In Genesis we learn that God separated the waters below from the waters above by the expanse. He called this expanse heaven.
And God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." 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. And God called the expanse Heaven. (Genesis 1)
Heaven (shamayim) appears far more frequently in the Bible than expanse, over 400 times. Granted, several of these uses are metaphorical. Heaven after all is the dwelling place of God, yet we know that God does not live within the sky; God existed prior to the cosmos; God is transcendent to the universe.
But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you (1 Kings 8:27)
Despite several metaphorical passages, many uses of "heaven" correspond to the sky or to outer space. Let's consider some of these uses.
He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens,/
and by his power he led out the south wind; (Psalm 78:26)
So wind blows in the heaven.
They asked, and he brought quail,/
and gave them bread from heaven in abundance. (Psalm 105:40)
Manna came down from the heaven to the ground.

Multiple times in the Old Testament we read about the "birds of the heavens." They belong to the heavens, their abode is within them. This concept is reinforced by this passage which tells us that birds fly within the heavens
...beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the heavens, (Deuteronomy 4:16–17)
Consider some anthropomorphic uses.
There is none like God, O Jeshurun,/
who rides through the heavens to your help,/
through the clouds in his majesty. (Deut 33:26)
God does not literally ride a chariot thru the heavens (though he could), but it seems the author thinks objects can pass thru the heavens, or thru clouds.

What about metaphors that imply solidity. One needs to be careful to understand what component of the metaphor carries across. A drunken lamppost doesn't mean the lamppost is liquid like alcohol, it means it is leaning over like a drunken man. Consider these examples:
I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. (Leviticus 26:19)
The simile has to do with the impenetrableness and barrenness of the ground and the sky;
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;/
let the sea roar, and all that fills it; (Psalm 96:11)
Heavens (and earth) may be a metonymy for those who dwell in them, else an anthropomorphism;
I made the earth/
and created man on it;/
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,/
and I commanded all their host. (Isaiah 45:12)
Stretching out the heavens is used several times. See also Job 9:8; Psalm 104:2 ; Isaiah 40:22; 42:5; 44:24; 51:13; Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15; Zechariah 12:1. God is likened to stretching heavens the same way that one stretches material for a curtain (Isaiah 40) or a tent (Psalm 104). This alludes to God making the expanse in Genesis 1 where he separates the water above from the water below. The word "expanse" (raqiya`) comes from the concept "to spread out".

Perhaps one could argue that some other passages are better interpreted as solid. Yet the verses mentioned above are consistent with a gaseous heaven. I would argue that the verses above implying a non-solid heaven combined with the expanse examples in my previous post, a non-solid expanse seems preferable to a solid one. And as I have previously stated, the only direct experience the ancients had with the expanse was the immediate atmosphere which they knew was not solid. Given this evidence, the argument for a solid expanse needs to be very convincing, not just suggestive.

3 comments:

  1. But the water was on Earth. Something created within that water has to also be on Earth.

    ReplyDelete
  2. In the beginning God created the Earth which was covered in water. Then He created a firmament within that water. He called the firmament 'Heaven'. Thus Heaven (the abode of God) was initially on Earth.

    And God was living on Earth at the time. :)

    ReplyDelete

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