Genesis 1:6
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
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(6) A firmament.—This is the Latin translation of the Greek word used by the translators of the Septuagint Version. Undoubtedly it means something solid; and such was the idea of the Greeks, and probably also of the Hebrews. As such it appears in the poetry of the Bible, where it is described as a mighty vault of molten glass (Job 37:18), upheld by the mountains as pillars (Job 26:11; 2Samuel 22:8), and having doors and lattices through which the Deity pours forth abundance (Genesis 7:11; Psalm 78:23). Even in this “Hymn of Creation” we have poetry, but not expressed in vivid metaphors, but in sober and thoughtful language. Here, therefore, the word rendered “firmament” means an expanse. If, as geologists tell us, the earth at this stage was an incandescent mass, this expanse would be the ring of equilibrium, where the heat supplied from below was exactly equal to that given off by radiation into the cold ether above. And gradually this would sink lower and lower, until finally it reached the surface of the earth; and at this point the work of the second day would be complete.

Genesis 1:6. Let there be a firmament — This term, which is an exact translation of the word used by the Septuagint, or Greek translation of the Old Testament, by no means expresses the sense of the word used by Moses, רקיע, rakiang, which merely means extension or expansion. And as this extension or expansion was to be in the midst of the waters, and was to divide the waters from the waters, it chiefly, if not solely, means the air or atmosphere which separates the water in the clouds from that which is in and upon the earth. Thus the second great production of the Almighty was the element which is next in simplicity, purity, activity, and power, to the light, and no doubt was also used by him as an agent in producing some subsequent effects, especially in gathering the waters into one place. It is true, we afterward read of the sun, moon, and stars being set in the firmament of heaven: but the meaning seems only to be that they are so placed as only to be visible to us through the atmosphere.

1:6-13 The earth was emptiness, but by a word spoken, it became full of God's riches, and his they are still. Though the use of them is allowed to man, they are from God, and to his service and honour they must be used. The earth, at his command, brings forth grass, herbs, and fruits. God must have the glory of all the benefit we receive from the produce of the earth. If we have, through grace, an interest in Him who is the Fountain, we may rejoice in him when the streams of temporal mercies are dried up. - IV. The Second Day

6. רקיע rāqı̂ya‛, "expanse;" στερέωμα stereōma, רקע rāqa‛, "spread out by beating, as leaf gold." This expanse was not understood to be solid, as the fowl is said to fly on the face of it Genesis 1:21. It is also described as luminous Daniel 12:3, and as a monument of divine power Psalm 150:1.

7. עשׂה ‛āśâh "work on," "make out of already existing materials."

The second act of creative power bears upon the deep of waters, over which the darkness had prevailed, and by which the solid crust was still overlaid. This mass of turbid and noisy water must be reduced to order, and confined within certain limits, before the land can be reached. According to the laws of material nature, light or heat must be an essential factor in all physical changes, especially in the production of gases and vapors. Hence, its presence and activity are the first thing required in instituting a new process of nature. Air naturally takes the next place, as it is equally essential to the maintenance of vegetable and animal life. Hence, its adjustment is the second step in this latest effort of creation.

Genesis 1:6

Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water. - For this purpose God now calls into existence the expanse. This is that interval of space between the earth on the one side and the birds on the wing, the clouds and the heavenly bodies on the other, the lower part of which we know to be occupied by the air. This will appear more clearly from a comparison of other passages in this chapter (Genesis 1:14, Genesis 1:20).

And let it be dividing between water and water. - It appears that the water in a liquid state was in contact with another mass of water, in the shape of dense fogs and vapors; not merely overhanging, but actually resting on the waters beneath. The object of the expanse is to divide the waters which are under it from those which are above it. Hence, it appears that the thing really done is, not to create the space that extends indefinitely above our heads (which, being in itself no thing, but only room for things, requires no creating), but to establish in it the intended disposition of the waters in two separate masses, the one above, and the other below the intervening expanse. This we know is effected by means of the atmosphere, which receives a large body of water in the state of vapor, and bears up a visible portion of it in the form of clouds. These ever-returning and ever-varying piles of mist strike the eye of the unsophisticated spectator; and when the dew is observed on the grass, or the showers of rain, hail, and snow are seen falling on the ground, the conclusion is obvious - that above the expanse, be the distance small or great, is laid up an unseen and inexhaustible treasury of water, by which the earth may be perpetually bedewed and irrigated.

The aqueous vapor is itself, as well as the element with which it is mingled, invisible and impalpable; but when condensed by cold it becomes apparent to the eye in the form of mists and clouds, and, at a certain point of coolness, begins to deposit itself in the palpable form of dew, rain, hail, or snow. As soon as it becomes obvious to the sense it receives distinguishing names, according to its varying forms. But the air being invisible, is unnoticed by the primitive observer until it is put in motion, when it receives the name of wind. The space it occupies is merely denominated the expanse; that is, the interval between us and the various bodies that float above and hang upon nothing, or nothing perceptible to the eye.

The state of things before this creative movement may be called one of disturbance and disorder, in comparison with the present condition of the atmosphere. This disturbance in the relations of air and water was so great that it could not be reduced to the present order without a supernatural cause. Whether any other gases, noxious or innocuous, entered into the constitution of the previous atmosphere, or whether any other ingredients were once held in solution by the watery deep, we are not informed. Whether any volcanic or plutonic violence had disturbed the scene, and raised a dense mass of gaseous damp and fuliginous matter into the airy region, is not stated. How far the disorder extended we cannot tell. We are merely certain that it reached over all the land known to man during the interval between this creation and the deluge. Whether this disorder was temporary or of long standing, and whether the change was effected by altering the axis of the earth's rotation, and thereby the climate of the land of primeval man, or by a less extensive movement confined to the region under consideration, are questions on which we receive no instruction, because the solution does not concern our well-being. As soon as human welfare comes to be in any way connected with such knowledge, it will by some means be made attainable.

The introduction of the expanse produced a vast change for the better on the surface of the earth. The heavy mass of murky damp and aqueous steam commingling with the abyss of waters beneath is cleared away. The fogs are lifted up to the higher regions of the sky, or attenuated into an invisible vapor. A leaden mass of clouds still overshadows the heavens. But a breathing space of pure pellucid air now intervenes between the upper and lower waters, enveloping the surface of the earth, and suited for the respiration of the flora and fauna of a new world.

Let it be noted that the word "be" is here again employed to denote the commencement of a new adjustment of the atmosphere. This, accordingly, does not imply the absolute creation on the second day of our present atmosphere: it merely indicates the constitution of it out of the materials already at hand, - the selecting and due apportionment of the proper elements; the relegation of all now foreign elements to their own places; the dissipation of the lazy, deadening damps, and the establishment of a clear and pure air fit for the use of the future man. Any or all of these alterations will satisfy the form of expression here adopted.

Ge 1:6-8. Second Day.

6. firmament—an expanse—a beating out as a plate of metal: a name given to the atmosphere from its appearing to an observer to be the vault of heaven, supporting the weight of the watery clouds. By the creation of an atmosphere, the lighter parts of the waters which overspread the earth's surface were drawn up and suspended in the visible heavens, while the larger and heavier mass remained below. The air was thus "in the midst of the waters," that is, separated them; and this being the apparent use of it, is the only one mentioned, although the atmosphere serves other uses, as a medium of life and light.

A firmament; or, an extension, or a space or

place extended or stretched out, and spread abroad like a tent or curtain, between the waters, though not exactly in the middle place; as Tyrus is said to sit, or be situated in the midst of the seas, Ezekiel 28:2, though it was but a little space within the sea. But of these things see more in Genesis 1:7.

And God said, let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters,.... On which the Spirit of God was sitting and moving, Genesis 1:2 part of which were formed into clouds, and drawn up into heaven by the force of the body of fire and light already produced; and the other part left on the earth, not yet gathered into one place, as afterwards: between these God ordered a "firmament to be", or an "expanse" (v); something stretched out and spread like a curtain, tent, or canopy: and to this all those passages of Scripture refer, which speak of the stretching out of the heavens, as this firmament or expanse is afterwards called; seePsa 104:2 and by it is meant the air, as it is rendered by the Targum on Psalm 19:1 we call it the "firmament" from the (w) word which the Greek interpreter uses, because it is firm, lasting, and durable: and it has the name of an expanse from its wide extent, it reaching from the earth to the third heaven; the lower and thicker parts of it form the atmosphere in which we breathe; the higher and thinner parts of it, the air in which fowls fly, and the ether or sky in which the sun, moon, and stars are placed; for all these are said to be in the firmament or expanse, Genesis 1:17. These are the stories in the heavens the Scriptures speak of, Amos 9:6 and the air is divided by philosophers into higher, middle, and lower regions: and so the Targum of Jonathan places this firmament or expanse between the extremities of the heaven, and the waters of the ocean. The word in the Syriac language has the sense of binding and compressing (x); and so it is used in the Syriac version of Luke 6:38 and may denote the power of the air when formed in compressing the chaos, and dividing and separating the parts of it; and which it now has in compressing the earth, and the several parts that are in it, and by its compression preserves them and retains them in their proper places (y):

and let it divide the waters from the waters; the waters under it from those above it, as it is explained in the next verse; of which more there.

(v) "expansio", Montanus. Tigurine version; "extensio", Munster, Fagius, Vatablus, Aben Ezra; "expansum", Junius, Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius, Schmidt, Sept. "firmamentum", V. L. (w) Id. (x) Vid. Castell. Lex. col. 3647. Fuller. Miscell. Sacr. l. 1. c. 6. (y) Vid. Dickinson. Physica "vetus et vera", c. 7. sect. 13, 14. p. 88, 89.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
6–8. The Firmament of the Heaven

6. Let there be … waters] The work of the “second day” is the creation of the so-called “firmament” of heaven. The Hebrews had no conception of an infinite ethereal space. The vault of heaven was to them a solid arched, or vaulted, structure, resting upon the pillars of the earth (Job 26:11). On the top of this dome were the reservoirs of “the waters above the heaven,” which supplied the rain and the dew. Beneath the earth were other reservoirs of waters, which were the sources of the seas, lakes, rivers and springs. After the creation of light the next creative act was, according to the Hebrew cosmogony, the division of the primaeval watery abyss, by means of a solid partition which is here denoted by the word rendered “firmament.” The waters are above it and below it.

a firmament] This word reproduces the Lat. firmamentum; LXX στερέωμα. The Hebrew râqîa denotes (see Heb. Lex.) “extended surface, (solid) expanse” (as if beaten out; cf. Job 37:18). For the verb raq‘a=beat, or spread, out, cf. Exodus 39:3, Numbers 17:4, Jeremiah 10:4, Ezekiel 1:22, “and over the head of the living creatures there was the likeness of a firmament … stretched forth over their heads above.” Compare Job 37:18, “canst thou with him spread out (tarqi‘a) the sky which is strong as a molten mirror?” See Psalm 19:1; Psalm 150:1, Daniel 12:3, where “firmament” = sky.

A diagram representing the Semitic conception of the Universe.

From Dr Hastings’ Dictionary of the Bible, by kind permission of Messrs T. & T. Clark.

For the solidity of the heaven according to this conception, cf. Amos 9:6, “it is he that buildeth his chambers in the heaven, and hath founded his vault upon the earth.” The fall of rain was regarded as the act of God in opening the sluices of heaven, cf. Genesis 7:11, 2 Kings 7:2; 2 Kings 7:19, Psalm 78:23; Psalm 148:4, “ye waters that be above the heavens.”

The LXX adds at the end of this verse, “and it was so.” This formula, which appears in Genesis 1:11; Genesis 1:15; Genesis 1:24, in each case after the words of Divine fiat, seems more suitable here than at the close of Genesis 1:7, as in the Hebrew text.

Verse 6. - Day two. The work of this day consisted in the formation of that immense gaseous ocean, called the atmosphere, by which the earth is encircled. And God said, Let there be a firmament (rakiya, an expand, from rakah, to beat out; LXX., στερέωμα; Vulgate, firmamentum) in the midst of the waters. To affirm with Knobel, Gesenius, and others that the Hebrews supposed the atmospheric heavens to be a metallic substance (Exodus 24:10), a vault fixed on the water-flood which surrounds the earth (Proverbs 8:27), firm as a molten looking-glass (Job 37:18), borne by the highest mountains, which are therefore called the pillars and foundations of heaven (2 Samuel 22:8), and having doors and windows (Genesis 7:11; Genesis 28:17; Psalm 78:23), is to confound poetical metaphor with literal prose, optical and phenomenal language with strict scientific statement. The Vulgate and English translations of rakiya may convey the idea of solidity, though it is doubtful if στερέωμα (LXX.) does not signify that which makes firm as well as that which is made firm (McCaul, Wordsworth, W. Lewis), thus referring to the well-known scientific fact that the atmosphere by its weight upon the waters of the sea keeps them down, and by its pressure against our bodies keeps them up; but it is certain that not solidity, but expansiveness, is the idea represented by rakiya (cf. Scottish, tax, to stretch; Job 37:18; Psalm 104:2; Isaiah 40:22).

"The firmament, expanse of liquid, pure,
Transparent, elemental air, diffused
In circuit to the uttermost convex Of this great round."

(Milton, 'Par. Lost,' Bk. 7.) And let it divide the waters from the waters. What these waters were, which were designed to be parted by the atmospheric firmament, is explained in the verse which follows. Genesis 1:6The Second Day. - When the light had been separated from the darkness, and day and night had been created, there followed upon a second fiat of the Creator, the division of the chaotic mass of waters through the formation of the firmament, which was placed as a wall of separation (מבדּיל) in the midst of the waters, and divided them into upper and lower waters. רקיע .s, from רקע to stretch, spread out, then beat or tread out, means expansum, the spreading out of the air, which surrounds the earth as an atmosphere. According to optical appearance, it is described as a carpet spread out above the earth (Psalm 54:2), a curtain (Isaiah 40:22), a transparent work of sapphire (Exodus 24:10), or a molten looking-glass (Job 37:18); but there is nothing in these poetical similes to warrant the idea that the heavens were regarded as a solid mass, a σιδήρεον, or χάλκεον or πολύχαλκον, such as Greek poets describe. The רקיע (rendered Veste by Luther, after the στερέωα of the lxx and firmamentum of the Vulgate) is called heaven in Genesis 1:8, i.e., the vault of heaven, which stretches out above the earth. The waters under the firmament are the waters upon the globe itself; those above are not ethereal waters

(Note: There is no proof of the existence of such "ethereal waters" to be found in such passages as Revelation 4:6; Revelation 15:2; Revelation 22:1; for what the holy seer there beholds before the throne as "a sea of glass like unto crystal mingled with fire," and "a river of living water, clear as crystal," flowing from the throne of God into the streets of the heavenly Jerusalem, are wide as the poles from any fluid or material substance from which the stars were made upon the fourth day. Of such a fluid the Scriptures know quite as little, as of the nebular theory of La Place, which, notwithstanding the bright spots in Mars and the inferior density of Jupiter, Saturn, and other planets, is still enveloped in a mist which no astronomy will ever disperse. If the waters above the firmament were the elementary matter of which the stars were made, the waters beneath must be the elementary matter of which the earth was formed; for the waters were one and the same before the creation of the firmament.) But the earth was not formed from the waters beneath; on the contrary, these waters were merely spread upon the earth and then gathered together into one place, and this place is called Sea. The earth, which appeared as dry land after the accumulation of the waters in the sea, was created in the beginning along with the heavens; but until the separation of land and water on the third day, it was so completely enveloped in water, that nothing could be seen but "the deep," or "the waters" (Genesis 1:2). If, therefore, in the course of the work of creation, the heaven with its stars, and the earth with its vegetation and living creatures, came forth from this deep, or, to speak more correctly, if they appeared as well-ordered, and in a certain sense as finished worlds; it would be a complete misunderstanding of the account of the creation to suppose it to teach, that the water formed the elementary matter, out of which the heaven and the earth were made with all their hosts. Had this been the meaning of the writer, he would have mentioned water as the first creation, and not the heaven and the earth. How irreconcilable the idea of the waters above the firmament being ethereal waters is with the biblical representation of the opening of the windows of heaven when it rains, is evident from the way in which Keerl, the latest supporter of this theory, sets aside this difficulty, viz., by the bold assertion, that the mass of water which came through the windows of heaven at the flood was different from the rain which falls from the clouds; in direct opposition to the text of the Scriptures, which speaks of it not merely as rain (Genesis 7:12), but as the water of the clouds. Vid., Genesis 9:12., where it is said that when God brings a cloud over the earth, He will set the rainbow in the cloud, as a sign that the water (of the clouds collected above the earth) shall not become a flood to destroy the earth again.)

beyond the limits of the terrestrial atmosphere, but the waters which float in the atmosphere, and are separated by it from those upon the earth, the waters which accumulate in clouds, and then bursting these their bottles, pour down as rain upon the earth. For, according to the Old Testament representation, whenever it rains heavily, the doors or windows of heaven are opened (Genesis 7:11-12; Psalm 78:23, cf. 2 Kings 7:2, 2 Kings 7:19; Isaiah 24:18). It is in (or with) the upper waters that God layeth the beams of His chambers, from which He watereth the hills (Psalm 104:13), and the clouds are His tabernacle (Job 36:29). If, therefore, according to this conception, looking from an earthly point of view, the mass of water which flows upon the earth in showers of rain is shut up in heaven (cf. Genesis 8:2), it is evident that it must be regarded as above the vault which spans the earth, or, according to the words of Psalm 148:4, "above the heavens."

(Note: In Genesis 1:8 the lxx interpolates καὶ εἶδεν ὁ Θεὸς ὅτι καλόν (and God saw that it was good), and transfers the words "and it was so" from the end of Genesis 1:7 to the close of Genesis 1:6 : two apparent improvements, but in reality two arbitrary changes. The transposition is copied from Genesis 1:9, Genesis 1:15, Genesis 1:24; and in making the interpolation, the author of the gloss has not observed that the division of the waters was not complete till the separation of the dry land from the water had taken place, and therefore the proper place for the expression of approval is at the close of the work of the third day.)

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