When the Firmament in Heaven Declared the Creation
The creation story narrates that Elohim created a firmament above the heaven. This term has been perplexing the readers of Genesis for a long time with no clear definition of what “firmament” is. Yet, the Scripture further assures us that this firmament declares the work of His creation, and the heaven is proclaiming it to the glory of Elohim. If the firmament, which the Creator placed above the heaven solely on account of His words on the second day of creation, was so important, should we not examine the matter?
It is the object of this work to explain the Hebrew text of the Creation story, to interpret its literal translation, and draw conclusions to the best of our knowledge. We will explain the reason for this in the following vein. For the purpose of this study, we will focus on the Creation account in Genesis.
So, what is the firmament in heaven which Elohim created on the second day of His work?
The firmament above heaven
If the Torah had only written “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters …”, we would not have known what the firmament really is and how the firmament has declared the glory of the Creator. The JPS translation of Gen 1:6-8 reads thus,
‘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 there was evening and there was morning, a second day. (Gen 1:6-8 JPS)
And the Creator be gathered together to one place the waters under the heaven and the dry land appeared. And He called the dry land אֶרֶץ Erets, Earth, and the waters under the heaven He called יַמִּים Yammiym, Seas. And Elohim was satisfied with His work and called it good.
Now, if there are heavenly waters separated from earth and waters on the earth, there must be a boundary which the Creator called רָקִיעַ rakiya, the firmament, to separate and hold them up. Thus, the rakiya is a large barrier in the shape of a dome holding up the heavenly waters above the earth.
The English word “firmament” comes from the Latin firmamentum, which literally means “support” or “strengthening”, which in turn comes from firmus “firm”, used in Latin Vulgate to translate the Greek stereoma: “firm or solid structure”. Both firmamentum and stereoma translate Hebrew רָקִיעַ rakiya, “firmament”, a word used for the vault above the heaven, as seen also in Gen 1:14-15, Gen 1:17, Gen 1:20, Psa 150:1, Eze 1:22-23, Eze 1:25-26, Eze 10:1, and Dan 12:3.
The idea of a firm “vault”, “dome”, or “expanse” above the sky comes from the Hebrew primitive verb רָקַע raka, which means “beat out, spread out, stretch”, i.e., to beat metal into a sheet, or to spread out the clay when making pottery. We find this literal meaning of raka in Exo 39:3, but also in Isa 40:19, Num 16:39, and Jer 10:9. We read,
And they did beat (raka) the gold into thin plates, and cut it into threads, to work it in the blue, and in the purple, and in the scarlet, and in the fine linen, the work of the skillful workman. (Exo 39:3 JPS)
This is stated simply to be understood simply. There is little in the verse that would suggest anything beyond its literal interpretation. The process of beating metal into a sheet is called rakiya. Thus, the parallelism here between rakiya and the gold beaten into thin plate helps determine the meaning of firmament. According to the simple interpretation of the verse above, rakiya means something that appears like a sheet. With the above in mind, we may now understand the statement in Genesis.
The verb raka is also used in its poetical application of spreading the clouds by the Creator in Job 37:18 and Isa 42:5. The symbolic meaning of this act is clear, and from it, also, the meaning of firmament is not difficult to perceive.
Along with the literal application, these poetical images bring the idea that rakiya is regarded as a solid mass above the sky, i.e., רָקִיעַ rakiya is called heaven in Gen 1:8, i.e., the vault of heaven, which stretches out above the earth. Hence, we understand the meaning of rakiya as a firm and solid dome of “flattened sheet” above the sky.
Genesis 1 thus clearly describes that while the sun, moon, and stars are placed in the rakiya, the birds which fly in the air, are placed below the rakiya, literally “on the face of the firmament”. What does this mean?
The firmament declares the Creation
From earth’s point of view, the firmament is the sheet on which the luminaries are projected, pretty much like the moving images are projected on the screen in a cinema. Most evidently, the heavenly luminaries the Creator placed above this “screen”, or outside of the firmament, but appearing as if they are in it, hence the poetic language “in the firmament”. And using the poetic language, the firmament is described in a parallel term for heaven in Psa 19:1,
The heavens are proclaiming the glory of El, and the firmament declares the work of His hand. (Psa 19:1)
However, instead of clarifying the creation account, we have come to a complication, because it seems that what Creator made was a shell-like dome or sphere that enclosed the sky and the earth strong enough to hold up the waters above and separate the waters under the sky. Something like a “walnut” shell that encloses the nut.
The waters under the firmament are the waters on the earth itself (see Gen 1:7), but what are the waters above the firmament? Because, if the mass of water from the deep of the earth was shut up at the end of the Flood (see Gen 8:2), it is evident that the firmament must be regarded as waters above the vault which spans the earth.
So, what is the firmament in Genesis 1? The answer can be found in the following verses, as the Scripture explains itself:
Then I looked and behold, upon the firmament (rakiya) that was over the head of the cherubim, there appeared above them as it were a sapphire stone, as the appearance of the likeness of a throne. (Eze 10:1 JPS)
And over the heads of the living creatures there was the likeness of a firmament (rakiya), like the color of the terrible ice, stretched forth over their heads above. (Eze 1:22 JPS)
Did you, with Him, spread out (raka) the clouds, strong as a hard mirror? (Job 37:18)
The answer to our question comes naturally from the idea above that the firmament (rakiya) is a solid vault appearing like ice or crystal. In Eze 1:22, the word for “ice” is קֶרַח kerach, by resemblance, glass, crystal, frost. And this is how this word has always been used in its literal sense of ice, as found in Gen 31:40, Job 37:10, Jer 36:30, Job 6:16, Job 38:29, Psa 47:17.
Furthermore, Josephus in his account of Genesis 1, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1:1:1, says thus,
After this, on the second day, he placed the heaven over the whole world, and separated it from the other parts, and he determined it should stand by itself. He also placed a crystalline [firmament] round it and put it together in a manner agreeable to the earth, and fitted it for giving moisture and rain, and for affording the advantage of dews.
Note: Flavius Josephus (Yoseph ben Matityahu Ha-Kohen) was born in 37 CE and died around 100 CE. He started as a priest in the Temple and ended as a Roman citizen, surviving the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. He has been recognized as a historian and as a military commander during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans. We now return to the text.
What we are learning from the Creation account was that rakiya was a huge mass of water frozen in the solid state of ice placed above Earth. Per Josephus, rakiya was the crystalline firmament. Hence, it is logical to conclude that the firmament in Genesis 1 was a dome or sphere of ice crystals or ice blocks that envelops the earth.
The ideal greenhouse called Earth
That icelike vault was an ideal filter against the harmful UV light from the sun, thus creating the perfect environment in the ideal green house, which the Creator called אֶרֶץ Erets, Earth. In this green house, he created the life on the earth from the third day until the sixth day.
The firmament therefore was functioning like a transparent screen of ice on which the sun, the moon, and the stars were projected in a spectacular view from the earth’s perspective,
And God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; and the stars. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, (Gen 1:16-17 JPS)
On the face of the icelike firmament, the creation account has recorded that the birds were flying above the earth,
Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth on the face of the firmament of the heavens.” (Gen 1:20)
Before the flood there was a thick sheet of water or ice surrounding the earth high in the atmosphere. This sheet of ice was filtering out the harmful sun rays and thus it contributed to the longevity of life on the earth prior to the flood.
So, what is the firmament? The firmament, rakiya, is the heavenly horizon that was separating the earth atmosphere from the outer cosmos.
When the firmament melted in heaven
Knowing what we have learned so far, a solid foundation is established for the conclusion of our study. Flying forward in time to the universal Flood, the opening of the windows of heaven which brought down the floodwaters caused the collapse of this “hammered-out sheet” of ice, which the Creator called “firmament”. If we want to understand what took place at that time, we must pay attention to the word “ice”.
On account of His words, the Creator caused the ice firmament to melt in the six hundredth year of Noach’s life (see Gen 7:11) and in the 1656th year of the creation, along with waters in the hidden chambers in the earth, the waters from above came upon the earth in the form of torrential rain and wiped out the wicked generation in Noach’s time. For what reason did Elohim cause the protective shield in heaven to melt?
Many years passed when the sons of Elohim came down on the earth and cohabited with the daughters of men. Apart from Genesis, the accounts in Job 1:6 Job 2:1 Job 38:7 testify that “the sons of Elohim” refer to the heavenly beings: the messengers of Elohim aka “angels”.
As a result of this act of defiance, offspring were born to the sons of Elohim, who appear to have been hybrids of humans and heavenly beings. Those half-human beings are called nephilim in Genesis.
According to the tradition, the nephilim descended from the fallen sons of Elohim, Shamhazai (Nidah 61a) and Azazel (Yoma 67b), who fell from heaven in the generation of Enosh long before the Flood. This tradition must have come from the first Book of Enoch, Chapter 6:1-8, which gives detailed description of the apostasy.
The sons of Elohim taught humans not only to do forbidden things but also corrupted the human flesh by creating a new race. Thus, the human genome was changed, the human race was corrupted, and therefore the necessity of its destruction. We have already pointed out in the article Nephilim Before and After the Flood – Time of Reckoning Ministry that the corruption of the human race was the reason for the Flood. Refer to the source for a complete explanation.
Today there is no crystalline firmament that was once the protective shield above the earth in the time of Adam. After the Flood the lifespan of man was reduced to 120 years and the allotted of mankind was limited to 120 jubilees: all because of the sin of mankind. We are very close to the end of the 120th jubilee.
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May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!