November 20, 2006

Genesis 1:6-8 Sermon Notes

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Permalink

And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters.
And let it be a separator between waters and waters.
And God made the firmament and separated between the waters that were under the firmament
     and the waters that were above the firmament.
And it was so.
And God called the firmament “Heavens.”
And it was dusk and it was dawn: second day.

The second day is probably the strangest of all the seven days of creation. What happens on the other days makes more sense to us.

We compare the way God created the world with the way the world is now and it’s pretty obvious to us what had to change to get from the one to the other. It was dark and so God created light and had it come from stars. It was covered with water and so God made dry land appear. It was empty and so God created plants and fish and birds and animals and people.

That seems obvious to us because of the way the world is now. And it’s also obvious that we’d need air to breathe and we might think that’s what Day 2 is all about. It’s about God creating the atmosphere above the earth and giving us air to breathe.

But Genesis 1 doesn’t say anything about air here. Instead, it talks about something that separates waters above and waters below. And that isn’t immediately obvious to us. It isn’t immediately obvious as we look at our universe that there are waters up above us. Rain? Yes. Clouds and water vapor? Yes. But not a great sea of waters like there is on earth.

Day 2 is hard to figure out. But it’s worth thinking about. In Proverbs 25:2 we hear this: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter.”

God conceals things. That’s part of His glory. He doesn’t make everything obvious. But the glory of kings is to search out what God has hidden, to figure things out. And so we need to act like kings and search out what God is telling us here in Genesis 1 about these waters above and these waters below and the firmament that separates them.


When God created the world there was darkness on the face of the deep, verse 2 tells us. Everything was “the deep.” Everything was covered by water. There’s land, but it was underneath a deep sea, a sea which was much deeper than the sea is now.

And so, on the second day, God begins to structure the world. We hear it in verses 6 and 7:

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters. And let it be a separator between waters and waters. And God made the firmament and separated between the waters that were under the firmament and the waters that were above the firmament. And it was so.

The word “firmament” is related to the word for a hammer in Exodus 39 where it says that they “hammered out gold leaf.” It refers to something that’s beaten out, often something that’s thin and spread out.

And that’s how the sky looks, right? If you go outside and look up, the sky will look like a great big shell, like a great big blue tent overhead.

And the Bible works a lot with the way things appear to our eyes. It speaks in terms of visual appearances, the way things look. Why?  Not because the Bible is a primitive book and ancient people just looked up and thought the sky was a metal dome of some kind. This isn’t “ancient science.” The Bible speaks this way because it wants to create a visual grid, a worldview, a way of seeing things. This visual language provides the basis for the Bible’s symbolism.

That’s part of what’s going on with this word “firmament.” The sky looks like a dome with a flat surface over us from horizon to horizon. That’s part of what’s going on. But this isn’t just symbolic language. What’s happening here on Day 2 is that God is creating something, something real, something that carries out a function.

God creates this “firmament” in the midst of the waters. He doesn’t put it over the waters, up above the world. He puts it in the midst of the waters to be a “separator between waters and waters,” between the waters which are above the firmament and the waters which are below the firmament. God says it. He makes it. “And it was so.” It was established exactly as God said.

We don’t know exactly what that looked like. This firmament may have started out as something thin and flat all around the world in the midst of the waters of the deep. But it certainly isn’t thin and flat right now.

The firmament includes the upper atmosphere. Birds fly in the air, but verse 20 says they fly — not “in the firmament” but “on the face of the firmament.” And in verse 14 God puts the sun and moon and stars in the firmament so the firmament therefore includes, not only the upper atmosphere but also what we call “outer space.”

And if that’s the case, then what are these “waters above”? The “waters below” are obvious to us. They’re the waters that get parted on the Third Day and form the seas. But what are the “waters above”? And where are they?

That isn’t an easy question to answer. People have sometimes said the “waters above” are a water-vapor canopy around the world before the Flood and that water all came down at the Flood. Others have said the “waters above” are simply the clouds.

But from what we’ve already said, we can see that neither of these views fits with what Genesis 1 says. The “waters above” aren’t just above the other waters, the waters on earth. They’re above the firmament. They’re above the firmament in which God placed the sun and moon and stars. They’re beyond the sun. They’re beyond the stars.

These “waters above” aren’t a canopy between the sun and the earth. They aren’t simply clouds, though the clouds represent them. They’re beyond outer space. So where are they?

The Bible doesn’t tell us explicitly. But it gives us hints. In a number of passages we hear about a sea up in heaven. In Revelation 4:6, John sees “a sea of glass like crystal” before the Lord’s throne.

In Ezekiel 1, Ezekiel sees the Glory-Cloud of God, which a revelation of heaven appearing in our atmosphere. He sees God’s throne being carried by cherubim and above the cherubim is a firmament like a crystal, like the crystal sea that John saw.

Earlier, in Exodus 24, Moses and the elders of Israel go up Mount Sinai and see Yahweh with something looking like pavement under His feet, like “a paved work of sapphire, as clear as the heavens [the sky] itself.” And sapphires are, of course, blue — like water.

But think also about the structure of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle is a picture of the world, of the heavens and the earth, but it’s horizontal instead of vertical. It’s laid flat instead of sticking up into the air.

There’s an altar which is a miniature mountain with God’s fire burning on the top of it. And beyond that is the tabernacle itself which represents heaven. But between the mountain and the tabernacle is a laver of water.

In the Temple, that laver of water has grown much bigger. It’s a sea of water, the bronze sea. It’s high up. Priests would have to climb up to pour water in, water that they got from outside, from “below.” And that water would taken up and poured into this huge sea.

And those things, that laver in the Tabernacle and the bronze sea in the Temple, represent these “waters above” here in Genesis 1. They’re part of the picture of the universe. That bronze sea of water is related to the crystal sea that John sees. It’s related to this blue pavement, the firmament under the throne of God.

Where are these “waters above”? They’re in heaven, before the throne of God.

God creates the world with this great Deep, this deep sea, covering all the ground. And then He makes a firmament in the midst of that water and He lifts up the waters above it, all the way up into heaven, so that this firmament separates the waters above it, the waters in heaven, from the waters below, the waters on earth.

Now what’s that all about? Why did God do that? He didn’t do it because He had to. It’s not as if He needed water in heaven so the angels could have something to drink. He did it because He wanted to and He wanted to because He intends to use this water for us.

And in particular, He wanted to use it as a symbol for us. I can’t fully explain all of that symbolism. A lot of this is still mysterious to me. But there are some patterns we can see .

Earthly water is taken up and becomes heavenly water. That’s one pattern.

And that pattern points forward to what’s going to happen with the earth and in particular with people who are made out of the earth. As the waters are taken up, so we also will be taken up into heaven. That happens to Enoch and to Elijah as a foretaste of what happens to Jesus Christ at His ascension.

But Paul tells us in Ephesians 1 that because Jesus is seated in the heavenly places, we are also seated there with Him. Because He is in heaven, we also have access to heaven. God takes us up into His presence. That’s one pattern: the ascension of these waters points forward to Christ’s ascension and to ours.

But there’s also another pattern: First comes the earthly water and then comes the heavenly water. The earthly is first and then the heavenly. We see that pattern again when it comes to watering the Garden. There’s a stream that emerges from the ground in Genesis 2, but there’s no rain yet, not until man is created. First comes ground water; then comes sky water.

We see that same pattern in connection with the Exodus. God tells Israel that in Egypt they had ground water. But the Promised Land wouldn’t be like Egypt. It wouldn’t depend on ground water. Instead, it drinks water from heaven.

Ground water is first, then heavenly water. And because of sin, ground water by itself is associated with Egypt, with slavery, and heavenly water is associated with the new land of God’s blessing, the land of freedom. And that heavenly water then transforms the ground water of Israel, too, so that it becomes a source of blessing again.

First the earthly, then the heavenly. That’s the pattern of man, also. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that the earthly man came first, the man of dust, and then comes the heavenly man. First we inherit the image of Adam, and then we inherit the image of the heavenly man, the man of the Spirit, the Lord from heaven. That’s a pattern God develops later in Scripture but it starts already with this water: earthly water first and then heavenly water.

All of us start off in earthly water, the water of our mother’s womb. But God intended that after the water below would come the waters above. After the image of Adam would come the image of the Son, glorified by the Spirit. After the earthly waters of our birth would come the Spirit’s waters, the waters above, to glorify us.

That was the pattern from the beginning. And sin has made those heavenly waters all the more important. Those heavenly waters can be judgment: they destroy the world at the flood. But they are most often associated with salvation and glory in the Bible.

Priests in the Old Covenant need to be washed before they can draw near to God. Animals need to be washed before they can ascend the mountain of the altar and come into God’s presence. Why? Because we all need to be washed and without it we can’t draw near.

And that washing isn’t with the old waters, the waters below, the waters from outside the tabernacle or Temple. It’s with the new waters, the waters above, the waters of the laver or the Sea that represent the waters before God’s throne. Those waters wash the animal and it ascends, representing the worshipper, into God’s presence and God accepts it.

That’s the biblical pattern. That’s why ceremonial washings and baptisms in the Old Covenant are connected with sprinkling, with water falling down like rain. That’s why the Spirit is poured out — like water — from above on Pentecost. We don’t need to return to the old, earthly waters. We need the new creation, the heavenly waters, poured out to make us new.

That’s what’s happening in our baptism, as well. We’re not being inserted back into the old waters of our mother’s womb to be born again in that way. We need to be born from above. We aren’t receiving a symbol of washing with the waters below. We’re washed with waters from above, the waters of the new creation, the glorifying waters of the Spirit.

And the Spirit’s waters then flow out into the world and transform it.

A river rises in Eden in Genesis 2 and then flows down the mountain to the Garden and then out to water and glorify the world. A river flows from the Temple in Ezekiel’s vision in Ezekiel 47 and then brings new life to a world that’s dead. And in the New Jerusalem, which John sees in Revelation 22, coming down out of heaven, a river of water of life — clear as crystal, clear as that crystal sea before God’s throne — flows from the throne out into the world to give life to the world.

And so, too, the Spirit’s river flows out of us who are in Christ to give life to the world around us. That’s the image Jesus uses in John 7: “He who believes in me … out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

That’s what these heavenly waters, these waters above, mean for you. They are there before God’s throne and they flow out to wash you by the Spirit and to make you into a temple from which the Spirit’s water flows out so that the people around you can be washed and can drink and can live.

It’s mysterious symbolism, but it’s also the good news of what Jesus has accomplished, the good news of God‘s world-transforming purposes in spite of sin. Jesus has ascended to heaven as the new Spiritual man. He pours out the waters above, the waters of the Spirit on us, so that we ascend with Him and so that His waters can flow out to the world around us to make the world glorious as God always intended.


There’s something else we still need to see here in Genesis 1. God makes the firmament as a separator between the waters above and the waters below. And then He names the firmament. He calls it “Heaven.”

We said last week that when God names something, He isn’t simply giving it a label. He’s appointing it to a mission, to a task, to a role. He doesn’t call the light “Light.” He calls it “Day.” And here He doesn’t call the firmament “Firmament.” He calls it “Heavens” — not “sky” as some translations put it but “Heavens.”

Why? He isn’t simply describing what it is. He’s indicating what it does. This firmament is going to represent heaven. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there are two heavens in Genesis 1. There’s the heavens that God created in verse 1 before He created the world. Those are the highest heavens, the throne room of God. But now He creates the firmament and names it “Heavens.” Why? Because it’s going to represent the highest heavens to us here on earth.

Things in the firmament-heavens are going to represent things in the highest heavens.

There’s light in the firmament-heavens. The light of the sun is so bright you can’t stare at it. The skies shine with glory as a reflection of the God who is light and who dwells in unapproachable light.

There are rainbows in the firmament-heavens because there’s a rainbow around God’s throne. There are stars and constellations in the firmament-heavens because they represent God’s throne and angelic rulers and human rulers exalted to sit in the heavenly places with Him.

There are birds flying across the face of the firmament because God’s Spirit and the angelic spirits fly across the face of the waters above in heaven.

The firmament-heavens look blue because there’s a sea of waters above in heaven. Yes, I know the scientific reasons why the sky looks blue. But God created it that way for a reason, to remind us of the waters above.

And there are clouds in the firmament-heavens because the cloud of God’s glory, the Spirit’s Glory-Cloud, surrounds God’s heavenly throne and because from the Spirit come the heavenly waters to wash us and renew life on the earth.

God wanted us to look up and catch a glimpse of the glory of heaven reflected in the firmament-heavens. We can’t read that pattern in the heavens fully. Maybe if we were better kings, better at searching things out, we could read it more.

But God wanted the heavens to declare His glory, the firmament to display the work of His hands, so that we could learn from the heavens and then go to work here on earth, developing this world to look more like the highest heaven. That’s Psalm 19.

And as that psalm tells us, the key to doing that, the key to seeing and understanding the revelation of the heavens so that we can imitate it here on earth is the Law, the Teaching of Yahweh. The Bible says the heavens are like a scroll and so they point us to the scroll. If we want to hear their voice declaring God’s glory we need the heavenly Book, the Word of God.

The firmament-heavens represent the highest heavens. They’re a created image of those heavens for us to use and to imitate in some way as we work here on earth. And we need that image because we can’t see into the highest heavens. By separating the waters above from the waters below, the firmament also separates heaven and earth

Heaven isn’t just far away, out beyond the farthest star. You can’t hop into a spaceship and travel for several trillion light years and eventually reach it.

In fact, when heaven does open up, as it does when Jesus is baptized, it always appears to be near. The sky opens up and we can see into heaven. The dove comes from heaven upon Jesus; it comes down from the sky. Stephen looks up into the sky where heaven is opened and sees Jesus at the Father’s right hand.

Heaven is in another dimension, not trillions of light years away but near to us and yet separated from us. That’s part of the role of the firmament, it seems. By separating the waters above and below, it also separates us from heaven. It acts as a veil and that may be part of what the veil in the tabernacle and the veil in the Temple represent.

Maybe that’s why we don’t hear that the firmament is good. God creates light and sees that it is good. But He doesn’t “see that the firmament is good.”

Part of the reason for that is because His work of separating the waters isn’t finished. He’s building the world for us and He won’t say that it’s good until the dry land appears. He won’t call it good until it’s good for us. From the beginning, God has been for us and who can be against us.

That’s part of it. But the parallel between the veil in the Temple and the firmament here suggests that one day, just as the veil has been torn and we can enter God’s presence in Christ, one day the division between heaven and earth, the separation of the two, will be ended.

That’s what Jesus is accomplishing. He ascended into heaven, taking our flesh — this earth — into heaven. And now He’s bringing heaven to earth as the New Jerusalem descends. Jesus is uniting heaven and earth in the way God intended from the beginning.

God doesn’t call the darkness good, not because the darkness is evil, but because one day He intends everything will be light and glorious. And God doesn’t call the firmament good, not because the firmament is evil, not because this separation between the waters and between heaven and earth is evil, but because one day He intends to unite heaven and earth in a more glorious way.

That’s how God works. That’s the pattern of the covenant. God tears something in two as He parts the waters here. And then He unites them again in a new and more glorious way.

And that’s God’s plan for history. He takes water from earth up into heaven so that the heavenly waters will refresh and renew the earth, starting with us, His people. He veils His heavenly glory for a time so that one day, when His project on earth is complete, He can remove that veil. He calls the firmament “heaven” as a foretaste of the day when heaven and earth will be fully united and the dwelling of God will not be just up in heaven but also with man on earth. AMEN.

[Thanks to Jim Jordan and Tim Gallant for their insights into this passage.]

Posted by John Barach @ 2:27 pm | Discuss (6)

6 Responses to “Genesis 1:6-8 Sermon Notes”

  1. Lane Keister Says:

    Interesting take on this passage. Have you read Seely’s articles on the firmament in the WTJ 53.2 and 54.1? He has some very excellent thoughts as well. My only real difficulty with your reading is the water in heaven bit. Verse 2 of chapter 1 plainly indicates that we are dealing with the earth, not the heaven of heavens. We are dealing with the physical universe. That includes the water above the firmament. I would go the route of a solid dome as how they saw things. My sermon is here:

    By the way, I have an almost complete set of sermons on Genesis now. They have been posted in order, so (if you wanted), you could look at the category Genesis and follow them all the way up to my last sermon (chapter 48).

  2. John Says:

    Thanks for your comment, Lane.

    I’ve read Seely and found lots of what he says interesting. But I don’t find his approach ultimately satisfying because of his assumption that Genesis 1 is written in terms of the science of its time, i.e., that it reflects the ancient Hebrew culture’s ideas about the world and the ideas of other “primitive” peoples.

    I agree with you that the focus of Genesis 1:1bff. is on earth, not on heaven. But I don’t think that necessarily conflicts with believing the waters above are in the highest heaven of Genesis 1:1a.

    They’re out beyond outer space. Well, where is that? What’s beyond outer space? What’s beyond this universe? The only thing beyond this universe (all of which is called “earth”) is heaven.

    So I’d say that the firmament includes everything we call “outer space” and that the waters above are resting on the upper, outermost edge of that firmament, where they constitute the boundary of heaven.

    I think that fits with what we’re told elsewhere in Scripture, namely, that there’s a sea just below God’s throne in heaven.

    If you want to say that the sea is still “earth,” then it’s the uppermost, outermost edge of earth. But this is now a heavenly sea and its waters represent heaven.

  3. Lane Keister Says:

    You make a good case, John. I don’t know if I’m quite convinced. I found Seely extremely convincing. But your position certainly seems to be tenable.

  4. Keith Griffioen Says:

    While I can’t recall the guy’s name anymore, a few years ago I heard a Christian scientist claim he believed the waters above were actually a body of water that surrounded the entire atmosphere. His reasoning was that this would help explain how people, animals, and plants could grow so well and live for so long (people) as this water would block out many harmful UV rays from hitting earth. It would have drastically changed how things age. He also went on to claim that as Genesis says that God had not sent rain upon the earth yet that it is very possible because of more humid conditions and streams bubbling up to water the earth that this too affected growth. One final point on that: his belief was that this body of water may have been released onto the earth at the time of the flood and the Bible does indicate that at this time people began to age quicker as well. Who knows for sure but interesting hypothesis anyways.

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