On Creation Day 2, God made a “firmament among waters,” to “divide waters from waters.” Where was this? Perhaps not in space, but on earth. But what about the “firmament of the heavens” on Creation Day Four? That was a different firmament.
What is a firmament?
The Hebrew word raqia (רקיע) means a thin sheet, usually of hammered metal. This is the actual word that appears in the account of Creation Day Two (and Day Four). As a metaphor, it stands for a thin sheet that someone shapes and molds. The word firmament, in the Authorized (King James) Version, comes from the Latin word firmamentum. St. Jerome used that word to translate the Greek word stereoma that Ptolemy’s Seventy Translators substituted for the Hebrew raqia. Stereoma connotes firmness or strength. Raqia connotes flexibility and workability. And while the “firmament” of Creation Day Two might be relatively firm, people forget that God worked it to His liking.
The Genesis account mentions raqia prominently in the account of Creation Day Two (Genesis 1:6-8). It mentions that word again at Creation Day Four (Genesis 1:14-19). This time it adds the phrase “of the heavens” or “of the skies,” hence “hammered sheet of the skies” (raqia shemayim). Why add the qualifier on Day Four but not on Day Two? God has one of two reasons for the different use of the word shemayim:
The hammered sheet is always in the sky, and He first uses that word to define something new.
God means to describe two different hammered sheets, one on earth and one in space.
The first choice leads to an obvious problem: why does God speak of separating water from water in the sky? That implies liquid water in outer space. Astronomers have found large amounts of water surrounding far-off objects. But this would imply an unbroken wall or shell of water at the edge of the universe. Astronomers have guessed at such a thing, but no one has found it yet.
Some creation advocates, beginning with Isaac Newton Vail in 1874 and continuing with men like Carl Baugh today, believe that the expanse was a canopy that surrounded the earth’s atmosphere but was several hundreds of miles above and beyond it. Vail and others thought this canopy was filled with water; Baugh thinks it was filled with metallic hydrogen. The physical problems with such a theory are formidable alone. But more to the point, this cannot fit the description of an expanse dividing water from water.
Diagrams of the earth's crust as the expanse or "firmament" of the earth, as it existed on Days Two and Three of creation. Figures not drawn to scale. Credit: Walter T. Brown/Center for Scientific Creation
The second choice leads to a slight confusion. Why does God say, “God called the hammered-sheet sky” (Genesis 1:8)? That depends on what He meant by the word sky (shemayim). That could mean either:
Anything that we normally call “sky,” including where the birds fly, and the outer space beyond that, or:
Where God lives.
Walt Brown reminds us that God did live on earth before the Fall of Man. So perhaps God meant to say, “This is where I shall live.”
So the Bible here describes two different firmaments, or expanses, or “hammered sheets.” One is the “expanse of the sky” that holds the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the planets. The other is on the earth, and a part of it. But what could it be? Brown gives a surprising answer: the earth’s crust.
Creation Day Two and the firmament of the earth
The Bible first mentions “the waters” in Creation Day One. Water was not the one thing that made up the earth. But water covered the earth on Day One. Then, on Day Two, the Bible describes a hammered-sheet-like expanse “in the middle of the waters” and “dividing waters from waters.”
Brown begins his description here, and continues it here. Briefly, the hammered sheet, or expanse, is the original earth’s crust. On this Day it was completely submerged, and also covered about half the water that God gave the earth. This water beneath the crust became the subcrustal ocean that would later, tragically, break out and cause a Flood. The water above the crust continued as the first surface oceans and other bodies of water.
But God was not finished with the crust, when He made it on Day Two. The Creation Day Two account does not say that “God saw that it was good.” This word good (Hebrew tov) here means “finished” and “meeting Divine approval.” So the crust was in place, but the shaping and molding would come later, during Creation Day Three.
Still, “God called the expanse heaven.” Meaning that God said that He would live there, once He finished His work.