The second day of creation is… …strange, even for those who believe that God created the world out of nothing. The relevant passage is as follows:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
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. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
The weird part is the fact that this “expanse” (Hebrew: raqia) separates “the waters from the waters.” The traditional word for raqia is “the firmament” (KJV, ASV),” while the “expanse” (ESV, CSB) or “vault” (NIV) have been more recent ways to translate. Regardless of what you call this thing initially, we see that God names it later as “Heavens” (ESV, ASV, KJV,) or “sky” (NIV, CSB).
That is confusing enough, because there are definitely minor differences between a “vault” or a “firmament” (which create the word picture of a dome on a building) and an “expanse” (which creates the word picture of empty space). That doesn’t affect a casual reader, but if you want a technical understanding, that difference becomes quite relevant.
Things get a little bit better with the word “Heavens” (shamayim) because that word is a bit more consistent in scripture, even though it does not break down to our modern differentiation between “atmosphere” and “space.” (For the record, I am not a fan of the translation “sky,” because — as I will explain below — I think that puts a modern atmosphere-looking square peg into the Hebrew shamayim-looking round hole.)
These small issues of word translation are interesting to nerds like me (and maybe you, too, if you’re reading this). But this post is not about that. Instead, this post is about something much bigger:
WHAT ABOUT THE WATERS ABOVE THE FIRMAMENT?
WHERE THE HECK DID THESE WATERS GO!?
WHY DOESN’T ANYBODY EVER TALK ABOUT THIS SUPPOSEDLY ENORMOUS BODY OF WATER EVER AGAIN ?
That’s what this post is about. We’re going to explore the “Waters above the Firmament.”
Are They Clouds?
It is typical for a modern reader (and even a modern pastor) to equate the “Waters above the Firmament” with clouds. This comes from our modern scientific understanding of the water cycle:
But even a casual reading will show that this is NOT what is happening. All you must do is see that this “expanse” (raqia) is re-named “the Heavens” (shamayim) by God. And then we see what is placed in “the Heavens” on the fourth day:
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 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 expanse (raqia) of the heavens (shamayim) to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
The water cycle doesn’t even extend beyond the troposphere. But here we see that “the expanse of the Heavens” CONTAINS the Sun, the Moon, and the Stars. It is impossible for these “Waters above the Firmament” to be the water of the clouds. This fact was noted by Martin Luther in his commentary on Genesis:
It is a circumstance naturally exciting our particular wonder that Moses evidently makes three distinct parts or divisions of this portion of the creation. He describes “a firmament in the midst of the waters,” which “divides the waters from the waters.” For myself I am inclined to think that the firmament here mentioned is the highest body of all; and that the waters, not those “above” the firmament, but those which hang and fly about “under” the firmament, are the clouds, which we behold with our natural eyes; so that by the waters which are “divided from the waters,” we may understand the clouds which are divided from our waters which are in the earth. Moses however speaks in the plainest possible terms, both of waters “above” and of waters “under” the firmament. Wherefore I here hold my own mind and judgment in captivity and bow to the Word, although I cannot comprehend it. (Martin Luther, commentary on Genesis, Part II)
So, I’m sorry if I have to contradict a Sunday-school teacher you had, but this is NOT the water cycle. These are NOT the clouds.
What Waters Are These Waters Over the Firmament?
The only waters that are in the picture are the waters mentioned in the introduction to Genesis 1. The Spirit of God is hovering over “the waters” (mayim) and these waters are the same as the waters of “the deep” (tehom). Because I can’t show you a picture of that, I can only give a small diagram that I made of Genesis 1:2:
Then, on the second day, we get a picture of what is happening in the midst of “the Deep.”
Then, on the third day, the waters below the Firmament are renamed “the Seas” (yam), and “dry land” (yabbashah) appears.
Then, it seems the waters above the firmament disappear from the narrative. Or do they….?
It appears the writers of the Bible certainly believed they were still there. For instance, notice what we read in the following Psalm:
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights.
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his heavenly armies.
Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens.
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded, and they were created.
He set them in position forever and ever;
he gave an order that will never pass away.
Well, yep. That definitely sounds like something above the heavens. And yes, it seems that even the writers of the Psalms were incorporating them into their understanding of the universe that God created.
So let me ask you, reader: Have you incorporated it into your understanding of the world?
I’m not asking if you have discarded your modern understanding of “atmosphere” and “space” (a word invented in the 1600s, I’ll remind you). But I am asking whether you are “bilingual” in your conceptual knowledge of the universe.
As an example, an American who learns Chinese doesn’t forget English, and a Chinese person who learns English does not forget Chinese. But learning Chinese isn’t just some replacement of some words for others words that sound different. It isn’t just a replacement of some letters for other letters that look different. To learn a language (especially a very different language) is to learn to navigate a different way to CATEGORIZE concepts that exist in the world and need to be described. For example, look at this list of 10 Chinese words that can’t be translated into English if you don’t believe me. On the flip side, look at this webpage that explains how there are no Chinese words for the English articles “a,” “an,” or “the.”
Modern people reading a sentence like the one here believe that the modern reader can take in the information of the Bible with the specific clarity necessary to tackle the task of an accurate understanding of the text.
But we can put this to the test, just by using ONE SINGLE conceptual restraint that is present between Chinese and English:
Modern people reading sentence like one here believe that modern reader can take in information of Bible with specific clarity necessary to tackle task of accurate understanding of text.
Was that as clear as it was before? Did you lose anything? What if we read an entire book like this? Has such a thing ever been tried before?
So, with that being said, let me give ONE SMALL EXAMPLE of a time when these “Waters above the Firmament” unexpectedly show up in scripture in a story I am SURE you are familiar with.
Where Did “The Flood” Come From?
In the same book of Genesis, we read about the flood of Noah. The following passage is what we read:
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened. And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark, they and every beast, according to its kind, and all the livestock according to their kinds, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, according to its kind, and every bird, according to its kind, every winged creature. They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath of life. And those that entered, male and female of all flesh, went in as God had commanded him. And the Lord shut him in.
The flood continued forty days on the earth. The waters increased and bore up the ark, and it rose high above the earth. The waters prevailed and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath of life died. He blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark. And the waters prevailed on the earth 150 days.
But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. At the end of 150 days the waters had abated, and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.
(Genesis 7:11 – 8:5)
The casual Christian reader who went to Sunday school will see this and understand it quite simply: It RAINED. And yes, it did.
The careful Christian reader will see that not only rained, but also “the fountains of the deep” were opened. Therefore, we seem to have water coming from multiple directions, both down and up. You can see it at work in this clip from the Russel Crowe movie Noah:
Regardless of your opinion of this movie, they got at least one thing right: There was a lot of water.
But I want to draw attention to something else that I think most people miss in the text. This is where the conceptual framework of the Bible is extremely significant, and you missed it. You see, there is a word that is completely missing from this account, a word that you would really expect to be there.
The missing Hebrew word is yam. In other words, in a story of a world-wide flood, there is no mention of the word “Sea.” This is extremely significant.
The “Waters” and “The Deep”
In Genesis 1, God divides the waters from the waters. And that word for “waters” is the Hebrew word mayim. They are BOTH called “waters” until God renames the waters that are under the firmament. He calls them “seas” (yam). He does not rename the waters above the firmament.
The thing that is ABOVE the firmament is “the deep” (tehom). This is the thing that is “formless” (tohu) and “void” (bohu). Click here for the interlinear if you’d like to follow along. Here is why this is important for the flood of Noah. The only words used to describe this flood are waters (mayim) and “the deep” (tehom).
The Flood is accomplished by the waters above the firmament.
In Genesis 7, we see that the “fountains of the deep” are mentioned. But where is “the deep”? If you equate “the deep” with “the ocean,” you might think that this “deep” is down. But “the oceans” are “yam.” That is not what is described.
And this doesn’t appear to be some accident. It is not like “the deep” is a flexible word for really deep oceans. Based on frequency, the word “sea” yam is the preferred word for deep waters:
So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
In fact, the word “sea” (yam) is used a total of thirteen (13) times in Genesis, but never in the account of the flood. Even when the waters come down on the earth, those waters do not switch their name to “sea.” They always remain as “waters” (mayim).
In contrast to the preferred word for “sea,” the word “deep” (tehom) is quite sparse. It is mentioned only four times. The first is in Genesis 1:2. The second are in Genesis 7:11 and 8:2 in the flood account. The only other time is in Genesis 49:25.
Therefore, we get the following picture of what is happening in the flood of Noah:
This is not an ordinary event. It is not an ordinary flood. It definitely seems that a lot of wet stuff is involved (so yes, it was LITERALLY a flood). But this “water” is not described as the ordinary cycle of rain and evaporation.
This is “the deep.” This is “the waters above the firmament.” This is divine intervention on the Earth. The flood comes from ABOVE THE HEAVENS. The fountains of the great deep come from the Hebrew word “fountain” (mayan). That means a “spring,” not some Vegas-style high-pressure jet of liquid from below the ground. And the “windows of heaven” are WINDOWS, which are located “up” as evidenced by the fact that they are “windows” and not “doors.”
Confirmation of the “Waters Above the Firmament” By How They Recede
This point should be even more clear when we read what caused the waters to recede. We read:
And God made a wind blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually. (Genesis 8:1-3).
The problem with a modern-scientific reader seeing this is that they think that this is a description of “evaporation.” But notice that the Sun is never mentioned. Even the modern-scientific reader will miss the modern-scientific fact that HEAT ENERGY is necessary for evaporation to occur, not “wind.” And if this was evaporation, it would just rain down again in an endless cycle of world-wide floods. Instead, we read only that it was a “wind” that made the water go away, and this retreat of the water happened “continually.” That is significant, too.
The modern-scientific reader will read “wind” (ruach) and think that it is a strong breeze. But this is not the English word “wind.” It is the Hebrew word ruach. This is the same word that describes what was hovering over the Deep in Genesis:
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit (ruach) of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:2)
It is the same word that describes how Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden:
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool (ruach) of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:7)
This is the same word that God uses to describe his contention with man before the flood:
And the Lord said, My spirit (ruach) shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. (Genesis 6:3, KJV)
It is a word that is used as a stand-in for all life on Earth:
For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath (ruach) of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. (Genesis 6:17)
And it is this incredibly rich Hebrew word that is the cause of the receding of the water from above the tallest mountains back down to their proper level:
But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the livestock that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind (ruach) blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. The fountains of the deep and the windows of the heavens were closed, the rain from the heavens was restrained, and the waters receded from the earth continually.
Here’s the danger of reading this story without understanding the background conceptual framework. Did you REALLY think this was about “evaporation.” Is that how Noah could see the Earth again?
No. There is something else going on here, and we do not understand it, because we do not understand the conceptual framework of the Bible and “the Waters Above the Firmament.”
But when you start to understand how the scriptures organize the world, get it, you don’t feel like you’re taking
I have a bunch of examples where I could go down this road of exploring how the “Waters Above the Firmament” show up in several places in the Bible. I plan to continue writing about them.
However, as I’ve said before, I’ll say again. This is just a side-project. My real research project is something far more complex and well-documented. I found the Magi’s Star. That is, the Star in the East and the Star of Bethlehem. I know exactly what it is, how it happened, and how the star led the Magi to a particular house in Bethlehem. I have also seen it predicted in the Old Testament, but that is going to involve a separate post.
But since I am a layman, not an academic, I will continue writing until I can attract the attention of someone who can help me get my idea published. I need someone to help me polish up the significant work I’ve already done so I can get it submitted to a peer-reviewed journal. The plan is to get it “rubber-stamped” by the ivory tower so that it has a better chance of trickling down to a little bit more of a mass-market than this blog. If you or anyone you know would be interested in helping me or seeing what I have, shoot me an email at mrcalebjones at gmail dot com. I’d also be happy to speak to a church or Bible study on the topic, too. Like, totally serious. If you’re curious and would like to hear me talk, I’d happily share.