The Firmament Land And Water Genesis 1:6-8

Genesis 1:6-8

We are told that on the second day of creation, “God made the firmament.” (Genesis 1:7.) The primary meaning of the Hebrew word rendered “firmament,” is expansion, outstretching, attenuation, elasticity, which are the very properties of our atmosphere. But the word used by the Greek translators, together with the long prevalent notion, that the material heavens formed a solid hemispheric arch, shining and pellucid, in which the stars were set, led subsequent translators to render the word by firmament. This word, as well as the Greek (στερέωμα) is, however, admissible, if by solidity  is meant no more than that the fluid atmosphere has density or consistence sufficient to sustain the waters above it.

It is thus easy to apprehend what is meant by the sacred historian, when he tells us that this firmament “divided the waters that were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament.” One portion of the dense watery shroud which had invested the surface of the earth - the lighter particles thereof - was exhaled, rarified and carried up into clouds, remaining suspended in the upper regions of ether; the remaining and heavier portion was at the same time forced down, and merged into the waters that covered the earth; and the expanse left void by their separation, is the expanse or firmament which formed the work of the second day. It is perhaps not correct to say, as some do, that our atmosphere now first existed. The pall of dense vapor, which is supposed to have previously invested the earth, implies the existence of an atmosphere. But it now first, at this time, existed as a separating expanse; and now divested of the gross, murky particles with which it was charged, it became transparent and respirable, the medium of light and of life to the surface of the earth. Let us not fail to note the historical mindfulness with which the expanse is described as separating the waters from the waters. We, describing it now, should speak differently; we should say that it lay between, or separated, the clouds and the earth. But the historian speaks as things would have appeared to a spectator at the time of the creation. A portion of the heavy, watery vapor had flown into the upper regions, and rested there in dense clouds, which still obscured the sun; while below, the whole earth was still covered with water, for the dry land had not yet appeared. Thus we see the exquisite propriety with which the firmament is said to have divided “the waters from the waters.”

We have now a purer and a clearer sky; but still our earth is drenched with water, and inept for production. The water must be partly removed, and confined within proper bounds; and this is the work of the third day of  creation. “And God said, ‘Let the waters be gathered together into one place; and let the dry land appear.’” The historian adds, “And it was so;” but he gives us no details of the operation. We are apt to pass over this great incident of the hexaemeron more lightly, or with less observation, than its relative importance demands. It is, however, easy, with our advanced knowledge, to conceive that this act of creative power must, to be thus immediate, have been attended by a tremendous convulsion of the exterior portions of the globe, upheaving certain portions of the land, and perhaps depressing others (though the elevation of some portion is sufficient to give depression to the rest), thereby leaving vast hollows into which the waters diffused over the earth’s surface receded, and within which they are confined. It is not impossible that many of the irregular and broken appearances, and traces of violent action which the surface of the earth exhibits, may be in part ascribed to this great event, to the agency of which the present condition of the earth’s crust in the distribution of land and water must in a great degree be referred. Most sublimely does Milton describe the immediate effect of the Divine command which the third day heard -

“Immediately the mountains huge appear
Emergent, and their broad bare backs upheave
Into the clouds; their tops ascend the sky:
So high as heaved the tumid hills, so low
Down sunk a hollow bottom broad and deep,
Capacious bed of waters: Thither they
Hasted with glad precipitance, uproll’d,
As drops on dust conglobing from the dry;
Part rise in crystal wall, or ridge direct,
For haste; such flight the great command imprest
On the swift floods. As armies at the call
Of trumpet (for of armies thou hast heard)
Troop to their standard, so the wat’ry throng,
Wave rolling after wave, where way they found
If steep, with torrent rapture; if through plain,
Soft ebbing: nor withstood them rock or hill,
But they, or under ground, or circuit wide 
With serpent error wand’ring, found the way,
And on the washy ooze deep channels wore.”

Nor in reference to this may be forgotten the noble words of the Psalmist, although it is not certain whether they allude to this event, or to the subsidence of the waters after the deluge - perhaps to both: “Thou coveredst it (the earth) with the deep as with a garment. The waters stood above the mountains. At thy rebuke they fled; at the noise of thy thunder they hasted away. They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them. Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth” (Psa 104:6-9).

The waters having thus retired to their receptacles, and left a portion of the chaotic mass so dry, as to be fit for vegetation, now behold this earth is suddenly, at the Divine word, clothed with verdure, and replenished with all sorts of herbs and trees, with inherent powers to reproduce themselves, and to continue their propagation to the end of time. Most beautifully and simply is this great work of creative power expressed in the sacred record. Poetry comes not nigh it. Yet the noblest poetical account of these operations which we possess, that of Milton, is here peculiarly fine, and may be quoted.

“He scarce had said, when the bare earth, till then
Desert and bare, unsightly, unadorn’d,
Brought forth the tender grass, whose verdure clad
Her universal face with pleasant green;
Then herbs of every leaf, that sudden flower’d,
Opening their various colors, and made gay
Her bosom, smelling sweet; and, these scarce blown,
Forth flourish’d thick the clustering vine, forth crept
The swelling gourd, upstood the corny reed
Embattl’d in her field, and th’ humble shrub,
And bush with frizzled hair implicit. Last
Rose, as in a dance, the stately trees, and spread
Their branches, hung with copious fruit, or gemm’d
Their blossoms: with high woods the hills were crown’d; 
With tufts the valleys, and each fountain side,
With borders long the rivers: that earth now

Seem’d like to heaven.” Note: In this as in other parts of his description of the work of creation, Milton owes much to Du Bartas, whose curious work in the excellent translation of John Sylvester (time of James I.), scarcely deserves the neglect into which it has fallen. But Milton’s hand turns to gold whatever it touches; and here we have set before us, with wonderful skill, the essence of many pages of Du Bartas.]

It is a very strong argument against the theory which assigns long ages to the “days” of Scripture, that the rays of the sun did not shine upon the earth until the fourth day; for if each day were a thousand or six thousand years, as some suppose, the vegetation of the world would have been left without that direct light and heat of the sun, which is essential to most of the forms of vegetable existence. It is clear that the plants to which the voice of God had given life, could not have matured their products, or maintained their being, had not the solar action been very shortly after produced. We have in this indeed a reason for the admission of the solar influence next after the creation of the green herb. An interval of time, equal only to the existence of the plant whose duration is the briefest, would have extinguished that plant from the new creation. It would have served no purpose. It would have been created in vain.