Marks (1971) defines the firmament-rakia of Genesis 1 as follows:
"A translucent dome, like an inverted basin, placed 'in the midst of the waters'
[defining] the spatial boundaries of God's work...The solid 'hammered-out'
firmament restrains 'the waters' of chaos from above and receives its blue color
from them. 'Heaven' is therefore the upper protected limit of created
As indicated in the above statement, the firmament-rakia is a solid dome. It restrains the outside chaos and is positioned “in the midst of the waters.” Unique to Marks is the suggestion that the firmament-rakia receives its blue color from the heavenly ocean. This point is not essential to the Genesis 1 model of the firmament-rakia, but does appear to be consistent with what will be observed in passages drawn later from Ezekiel and Revelation.
In an Evangelical commentary produced by the publishing arm of the Navigators, the following insights are given:
“…the expanse (sometimes called “the firmament”) set up in day two is the
regulator of climate. The ancient Near Eastern cultures viewed the cosmos
as featuring a three-tiered structure consisting of the heavens, the earth and
the underworld. Climate originated from the heavens, and the
[firmament-rakia] was seen as the mechanism that regulated moisture and
sunlight. Though in the ancient world the [firmament-rakia] was generally
viewed as more solid than we would understand it today, it is not the physical
composition that is important but the function. In the Babylonian creation
epic, Enuma Elish, the goddess representing this cosmic ocean, Tiamat, is
divided in half by Marduk to make the waters above and the waters below”
(Walton, Matthews, & Chavalas, 2000).
The Navigators generally support a concordist view of Genesis 1. Condordist models attempt to make Genesis 1 agree with science through such mechanism as day-age creationism. Out of step with the conventional Navigator condordism, the approach exhibited in this commentary is refreshingly scholarly and honest as it seeks to set the pericope against the ancient Near Eastern context.
Though slightly obfuscating the significance of the Genesis 1 model of the cosmos, the commentators do note that the firmament-rakia was viewed as “more solid than we would understand it today.” The commentators also note the cultural dependency of the narrative on Enuma Elish and other such mythological cosmologies.
The final reference to firmament-rakia in Genesis 1 is found in verse twenty. This verse has been used in its English translation as evidence that the firmament-rakia is an “expanse” or a non-solid construct such as the atmosphere or space itself. This verse reads:
וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים--יִשְׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם, שֶׁרֶץ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה; וְעוֹף
יְעוֹפֵף עַל-הָאָרֶץ, עַל-פְּנֵי רְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם.
Elohim, Let swarm the waters, swarming [with] living souls, and flier let lfy
above the land, upon the face of the firmament-rakia of the heavens
My translation above differs slightly from that found in several common versions. Most modern English versions read, “…in the open expanse of the heavens.” This translation has been used to justify the reading that the firmament-rakia is not a solid but rather the atmosphere. Hugh Ross and Norman Geisler both argue for such a reading.
The Hebrew literally reads, “…upon the face of the firmament of the heavens.” The picture created is that of a firmament that stands outside of the venue that fowl fly in. This venue is obviously the atmosphere. By implication then one concludes that beyond the atmosphere stands the firmament. The word translated “open” by many modern versions is Hebrew “panay” which literally means “face.” Hence, the passages reads, “upon the face of the firmament-rakia of the heavens.”
This post concludes the Genesis 1 creation narrative. Following posts will address allusions to the firmament-rakia in the Deluge narratives and in other Pentateuchal pericopes.
Marks, J. "The Book of Genesis." Part of Charles Laymon, Ed., "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press: 1971.
Walton, J., Matthews, V., Chavalas, M. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove: 2000.