3) Gen 1:6–8: Moses wrote, “And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse (raqia) in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ Then God made the expanse, and he separated the waters which [were] below the expanse and the waters which [were] above the expanse. And so it happened.”

After creating time on “a first day” (Gen 1:1–5), the Lord formed space,[1] asserting his power over the primordial waters by dividing them.[2]

He accomplished this by spreading out the vault of heaven (Isa 40:22; Isa 44:24).[3] Some translations call this “the firmament.”[4]

The Hebrew prepositions indicate that the Lord separated one type of water from another, with one kind above and one below this vault.[5]

Thus, the Lord isolated the vapor which formed rain from the waters upon the earth.[6] An intermediate expanse regulated humidity and sunlight.[7]

In keeping with Egyptian and Babylonian ideas, Israelites viewed the sky as a solid dome (Job 37:18),[8] possibly of glass (Ezek 1:22; Dan 12:3).[9]

For example, in the Sumerian tale Enki and the Ordering of the World, the author described the sky as a “well-established roof [which] reaches like the rainbow to heaven.”[10]

Overall, people in the Ancient Near East (ANE) believed that the cosmos consisted of three tiers: the heavens; the earth; and the underworld.[11]

One Egyptian creation text describes the moment “when the sky was separated from the earth, and when the gods ascended to heaven.”[12]

However, Enuma Elish provides the greatest parallels with the “separation” in the Genesis account, though there are striking differences in theology. In Enuma Elish, the god Marduk formed the vault from the corpse of a rebellious water goddess. Even then, restraints were necessary to prevent her from unleashing her waters.[13]

Using a word related to the Hebrew verb “separated” (barar) it says:

Then the lord [Marduk] paused to view [Tiamat’s] dead body, that he might divide the monster and do artful works. He split her like a shellfish into two parts. Half of her he set up and ceiled it as sky, pulled down the bar and posted guards. He bade them to allow not her waters to escape.[14]

People believed that rain consisted of water leaking from the upper half of Tiamat’s body,[15] which the vault normally kept in place (Cf. Job 26:6–14).[16]

A Sumerian tale about Ishkur tells of a different origin of rain. The god Enlil commissioned his son to make clouds and to harness the winds and lightning to go before him.[17]

In another Sumerian myth, the god Enki “summoned the two winds and the water of the heaven, he made them approach like two clouds, made their life-giving breath go to the horizon, changed the barren hills into fields.”[18]

Similarly, the waters above fall at the Lord’s command (Ps 77:16–20). Clouds come from his storehouses at the ends of the earth, originating at the gates of heaven (Job 38:22–23; Ps 135:7).[19]

Unlike those living in the ANE, we recognize that this “vault” is not a physical entity but the way our weather system operates.[20]

Moses continued, “And God called the vault ‘the heavens.’”

The Hebrew language connotes the close association between the two types of water, for “heavens” is shamayim,[21] while “waters” is mayim (Ps 148:4).[22]

He concluded, “And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.”

Once again, the lack of a definite article indicates that this account does not necessarily follow a sequence in time.[23]

Moses omitted the phrase “and God saw that it was good” only in the account of this day, perhaps because the creation of the vault comprised a preliminary stage prior to the creation of dry ground.[24]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

Read Gen 1:6–8. How did Moses’s view of “a second day” differ from other ANE creation texts concerning the separation of the waters? What encouragement does that give you?

 

 

 

 

Go to The Firstborn of All Creation

[Related posts include Let There Be Light (Gen 1:3–5); and Inhabitants of the Sea and Sky (Gen 1:20–23); A Reversal of Creation (Gen 7:5–16); God Reverses the Flood (Gen 8:2–5); and Author and Date of Genesis]

[Click here to go to Chapter 1: God Establishes His Cosmic Temple through Creation (Genesis 1:1–13)]

 

[1]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 120.

[2]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 19–20.

[3]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 122.

[4]Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “רָקִיעַ” (raqia), BDB, 956, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/956/mode/2up.

[5]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 122.

[6]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 62.

[7]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 1:8.

[8]Paul H. Seely, “The Firmament and the Water Above, Part 1: The Meaning of ‘Raqia’ in Gen1:6–8,” WTJ 53, no. 2: 227–40, 235, https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/01-genesis/text/articles-books/seely-firmament-wtj.pdf.

[9]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 20.

[10]W. Beyerlin, trans., “Enki and the Ordering of the World,” Pages 19–20 in RANE (ed. Bill T. Arnold and Bryan E. Beyer; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 20.

[11]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 1:8.

[12]Samuel A. B. Mercer, trans., The Pyramid Texts (London: Forgotten Books, 2008), 1208c, http://www.sacred-texts.com/egy/pyt/pyt27.htm.

[13]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 123.

[14]“Enuma Elish (The Creation Epic),” ANET, 4.135–40, 67, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n91/mode/2up. Italics mine.

[15]Min Suc Kee, “A Study on the Dual Form of Mayim, Water,” JBQ 40, no. 3 (1 July 2012): 183–89, 186, http://jbqnew.jewishbible.org/assets/Uploads/403/jbq_403_mayim.pdf.

[16]Walton, Genesis, 113.

[17]S. N. Kramer, trans., “Ishkur and the Destruction of the Rebellious Land,” in ANET, 577–8, lines 14–9, https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n607/mode/2up.

[18]“Enki and the Ordering of the World,” RANE, 20.

[19]Walton, Genesis, 111.

[20]Walton, Genesis, 112–3.

[21]Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “שָׁמַי” (shamay), BDB, 1029, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/1028/mode/2up.

[22]Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “מַי” (may), 565, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/564/mode/2up.

[23]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 62.

[24]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 124.