By Charles H. Welch
Firmament. Many who oppose the teaching of the first chapter of Genesis on scientific grounds, are often guilty of a very unscientific approach to this part of the Scriptures. The chapter is dismissed as myth and legend, because it is supposed to teach that God created the universe in six days! This, however, is not the teaching of Genesis one. At Genesis 1:2, a great gap occurs, and this has been discussed in the articles devoted to EPHESIANS and OVERTHROW. The work of the six days was not a creation, in the sense of Genesis 1: 1, but a reclamation and a reconstitution of the earth for man. For example, all that is said of the work of the third day is that upon the gathering together of the waters which are now called "seas" , "the dry land" appeared- but the land was there all the time even though submerged. It is this dry land that is "called" earth, and this stated fact every truly scientific reader must note and credit-otherwise misunderstandings and misinterpretations are bound to occur. It is the same with the "heaven" of the second day. There, in Genesis 1:6-8, we have a "firmament" which is "called" heaven, but this must not be confused with the heaven of Genesis 1:1. The present "firmament" is temporary. It spans the ages, but is to pass away as Isaiah 34:4 and 2 Peter 3:10 make clear.
Some have been stumbled by the word "firmament" as though the book of Genesis endorsed the mythology of the heathen and taught that over our heads was a solid vault. Our translators were influenced by the Latin Vulgate which reads firmamentum. By this word it sought to translate the Greek of the Septuagint, which used the word stereoma. Yet it may be as unfair to these men of old to import into the terms they employed such a conception of solidity, as it would to affirm that reasonable men today actually believe that over their heads is a "sky" which is "blue", for most know that the azure colour we see is produced by refracted rays of light; but who among us, knowing all this, would wish to alter such terms as "above the bright blue sky" etc.?
The Hebrew word which is used in Genesis 1:6 is raqia, which is derived from the root word raqa meaning "to spread out". This word is used of the thin plates of gold that were beaten and used in the work of the tabemacle (Exod. 39:3), and of spreading abroad the earth (Isa. 44:24). Riq, ruq and raq likewise give us the idea "to empty" (Gen. 42:35), "to draw out" (Lev. 26:33), "lean" (Gen. 41:19), and so by a recognized transition this root becomes a "particle of extenuation" being translated "only" (Gen. 6:5), "save" in the sense "except" (1 Kings 8:9), and referring to the "thinness" of the os temporis the Hebrew raqqah is used in Judges 4:21, for the bone of the temples. Finally the Hebrew word raqiq is translated "wafer" seven times in the book of the law (e.g. Exod. 29:2). Something extended is the basic meaning of all these derived uses, and that is what is meant by the firmament of Genesis 1:6.
The entire point of this revelation has been missed by the interposition of mere human cleverness. Had men but humbly enquired the purpose of this attenuated firmament over their heads, they might have learned something of the redemptive character of this world in which we live, for Isaiah declares "He. . . stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in" (Isa. 40:22) where the figure of the tabernacle is too plain to be missed. In like manner, pseudoscience has been so busy pouring ridicule upon the primitive idea of the "foundations" upon which the earth is "fastened", according to Job 38:6, that they have missed for themselves, and scared the timid from appreciating, that the word here used is the very word employed over and over again by Moses, to speak of the "sockets" upon which the tabernacle rested. This intention on the part of the Lord will become more evident when we examine the meaning and usage of pleroma, to which article PLEROMA and its chart the reader is most earnestly directed. Our present quest is limited to the implications contained in the reference to a "firmament", the temporary heaven which is to pass away. Solomon evidently knew that there were "heavens" above the present "heaven".
Moses too (Deut. 10:14) and the Psalmist a1so (Psa. 148:4) knew of this distinction.
This fact is basic to the teaching of the epistle to the Ephesians, for Christ is there said to have "ascended up far above all heavens that He might fill all things" (Eph. 4:10). The heavenly places where Christ now sits is far above the temporary "firmament" of Genesis 1 :6, and the church of the One Body is the only redeemed company whose sphere of blessing takes them up beyond this firmament to the heaven of heavens at the right hand of God. The recognition of these two "heavens" makes it scripturally true to speak of "three spheres of blessing", namely
In the beginning there were but two spheres, namely "The heaven and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). When God is all in all at "the end" there may be but two spheres once again, but during the ages and until the consummation, there are three. For a fuller examination of this theme the reader is referred to the articles entitled THREE SPHERES, HEAVEN, and allied themes.