The Many Faces of Raqia

(This is a reaction to the January 8 bible study lesson at http://ssnet.org/lessons/13a/less02.html.)

It’s odd, this idea that the firmament of Genesis 1 could also refer to space. You can see how that could be true, because the Bible says that the sun and moon are seen in the firmament. (And of course, the Bible didn’t say “firmament,” it said raqia.) And so there are many different parts of the firmament, including space.

And God wasn’t trying to explain space to them at that time. They didn’t know much about that kind of thing back then. They didn’t have the right instruments to observe space and celestial objects very well. So it really wasn’t important for them to know. So God gave them this very basic, general understanding of what He did on the second day.

Now, the idea that the second day of Creation includes outer space gives me this picture of the first two days of creation: He set up time on the first day and space on the second. And then moved in to make the sea and land and plants on the third day. The description of the first day seems to be strongly focused on the fact of God making division between night and day and setting up the first period of day, of time. And then the next day is about splitting up the Heavens into different parts, including setting up space.

Okay, here’s another thought about water and firmament. Stick with me, because this is going to glorify God in the end. The Bible says that the Earth was formless and void and God was hovering over the deep. But that doesn’t have to mean that there was a dark ocean around an undeveloped world. How would there be any liquid water when there was no sun?

It sounds more to me like it’s saying that there was chaos before and then God imposed this order of time and space on it. Of course, it doesn’t make sense to say that God was flying along and saw this region of chaos and decided to impose some order on it. God created everything in existence, including any places of unformed matter or the like.

But what I’m saying is that this sounds like the writer is not talking about the evolutionary idea of a primordial Earth waiting for life to arise in bubbling pools of liquid. It sounds like something much less familiar, something chaotic. The Earth was “formless”? Wasn’t it spherical at least? No, it was formless. It was void? That doesn’t sound like a nice sphere with some water on it.

Anyway, I’m saying that this passage could be making the point that there wouldn’t be anything without God, not even time or space. So God created them on the first and second days of Creation to have a place and time for everything else. It’s actually very uncommon among the Creation myths in the world to say that the deity created time and space; often, time is superior to whatever deity is in the story.

Oh, boy, this is becoming a long post. Okay, let’s finish. My point here is that the ancient peoples didn’t know about space and other planets and other stars. They thought that the land that they could see around them was all that existed and that the things they saw in the sky were not very far overhead and were all stuck in crystal spheres relatively close overhead (really).

Ancient peoples didn’t (couldn’t?) imagine some vast space out there with all these different stars and our star system being created as just one of many star systems. They saw our land, and some crystal spheres in the sky, as the whole cosmos. At most, they thought there might be some distant, holy, secret place where other beings, such as angels, lived.

Anyway, the average person in Moses’ time would not think that our sun was just one star among billions floating in a vast space. “Use your eyes,” they would tell you if you suggested that. “Look around.” And so God was speaking partially to them but also hiding truths that they couldn’t conceive of.

So the Bible really contains mysteries within mysteries that the original readers wouldn’t be able to get and that have been laid up like treasure for people thousands of years later. What other surprises does God have in store?

Bible light

~Lemuel Bach
(Praise Team Leader at New Horizons SDA Church in Republic, MO)

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