Taken from: Bibliotheca Sacra and Theological Review
By Rev. Samuel Hopkins, Milton, N. Y.
THE Genesis of the material universe has long been a sealed book. Modern science has broken its seals, and revealed to us some of its primary lessons, such as these:
The entire matter which constitutes the present cosmos was originally in a gaseous state. By process of natural causes, involving immense time, this primal mass was separated into individual masses; and these masses were gradually consolidated into those worlds and families of worlds which now, without speech or language or voice, declare the glory of God.
These and kindred matters are announced to us, not as the results of profound thinking merely, but as facts; as facts grasped by dint of laborious research and exhaustive calculations; as facts attested by the most eminent masters in the different schools of astronomy, physics, chemistry, and geology. Consequently, the several results, supported by such testimony, are rightly accepted as above controversy and beyond doubt.
There is another book of Genesis, written by the Hebrew prince who delivered his people from bondage; written in his vernacular, now an unspoken language for more than two thousand years. This book also sets forth a history of a creation. The wise and the good of many generations have cherished it with devout reverence; and Christian sages of the present age study it the more eagerly and the more profoundly, because of the new Genesis which science has brought to light.
As these two revelations are continually brought into comparison, it is proper that we distinctly define our own position with reference to each, before entering upon our attempt to expound the venerable document before us. We therefore give the following statements as covering the whole ground from which we make our survey. We do not give them as axioms, or as the results of demonstrations; but as simple points which may fairly be assumed and conceded by all.
Postulate 1. — The cosmogonic doctrine of modern science, as stated above, is true.
Postulate 2. — The Mosaic account of creating is consistent with itself, and with all other statements bearing upon the same theme which occur in the Hebrew scriptures.
Postulate 3. — The language of the Mosaic narrative, whether shaped under divine supervision or not, is to be interpreted according to the known and universal laws of human language. In other words, as a writer, the Hebrew narrator stands on the same level with other writers, and is to be judged by the same rules.
With these simple points constantly in mind, and with a tremulous conviction that the health and thrift and moral power of the Church, the religious interests of the world, and inspiring views of God, are critically involved with right and wrong in the reading of the Bible's first leaf, we proceed at once to our investigation of its original text, and shall endeavor honestly and strictly to evolve the true force of its several parts. We shall aim also to give our reasons (such as they may be) for every expository step; never allowing ourselves to rest upon any mere conjecture, however plausible.
"In the beginning." There is no such thing as a "beginning" absolute. In all languages, the word is a relative term. Like the words "end," "middle," "whole," "part," "surface," "centre," and many others, it must, Hebraically speaking, be in the " construct state. " It can never be written without a genitive after it, expressed or implied. In Deut. xxxiii. 21, its genitive is implied, and is to be found by reference to the historical fact (Num. xxxii. 1 - 5, 33 – 36), that Gad " provided " for himself " the beginning of " the allotments of the several tribes. In Isa. xlvi. 10, the genitive is also implied: " declaring from the beginning of " — everything — "the end of " everything. In the case before us, the genitive is expressed by "the heaven and the earth." "In the beginning of " them i. e. "in their beginning) God did create the heaven and the earth."
The word "create" (בָּרָא) requires our careful examination, with an eye particularly to the dictum of schoolmen, that. " its true idea is that of creation, out of nothing, of matter in an unformed state. " Our only proper authority for appeal is Hebrew usage.
After carefully examining every single case in which this word occurs, and observing its several contextual relations, it seems to us very clear that it denotes uniformly the forming of matter after and beyond its mere being. In our view, it seems to stand always avowing, by its relative positions, its own definition without ambiguity, and without equivoque: "To produce something by operating upon some object, or objects, already existing." More laconically: "To produce something new out of something older." We refrain from citing each text in which it occurs, only because it would be a tedious and thankless task. And yet, even if this our conclusion be conceded, it does not prove that בָּרָא "to create," means in Gen. i. 1 the same which it means elsewhere.
We therefore take another step. Our writer uses the two words, בָּרָא "to create" and עָשָׂח "to make," to express the same divine acts. We give examples: God purposed "to make" man. (Gen. i. 26). What he did, was "creating" him (i. 27). If, now, the two words have different meanings, then did God purpose one thing and do another! But if they mean the same, then, with God, "creating" was the same as "making." "God created man in his [own] image" (i. 27). But also: "In the likeness of God, he made him" (v. 1); "in the image of God he made him " (ix. 6). "God created the heaven and the earth" (i. 1). "God made the earth and the heaven " (ii. 4. "I will do [עָשָׂח make] marvels such as have not been created [בָּרָא, English version 'done'] in all the earth " (Ex. xxxiv. 10). Thus these two words are used interchangeably and indifferently, by the same writer, to express the self-same divine acts. Therefore, in his mind, each word when applied to the Divine Being, had the same meaning.
To the mere English reader, the expression (Gen. ii. 3) "which God created and made," and more especially the marginal reading, "which God created to make," seems to indicate a difference of meaning. Each phrase seems to represent making as a product of creating. But neither phrase is a translation of the Hebrew. The proper translation, we think, is this: "which God created even unto completeness," or "perfection"; and this does not affect the point now in hand, – that the two words had the same meaning in the mind of the writer when applied to God.1 Therefore, in our view, when Moses wrote in God's name (Ex. xx. 11), "in six days the Lord did make the heaven, the earth," he meant just what he meant when he wrote "God created the heaven and the earth."
The point which we make is this: If the creating of the heaven and the earth extended over six days, then "to create out of nothing" is not the meaning of the word עָשָׂח in this place: Because — and it is self-evident — there could be no lapse of time between "is not" and "is"; between "no matter" and "matter." Because there never was a supposable point of the great past when there was something in a state of transition from nothing — something which partly was, and partly was not; because whenever, if ever, the potential will evoked universal matter, at that instant nothing ceased; something was. Moreover, at that instant " creating " ceased, in the philosophic sense; and if the creating of the heaven and the earth was, in this sense, a creating, it did not extend over six days. No matter whether it was a creation of molecular matter, or of a garnished world, or of a quick congregation of worlds. The creating described by Moses was, therefore, not a creating from nothing; for it was not one divine act, but a succession of divine acts. Far from beginning when it ended and ending when it began, it was a work of six days. Therefore, we iterate, — having followed another clew, — when Moses wrote "God created," he did not mean "God created out of nothing."
But we turn to yet other testimony. " Thus saith Jehovah who created the heaven, God himself who formed the earth and made it; 'He hath established it. Not a desolation (לֹא־הֹחוּ) did he create it. He formed it to be inhabited'" (Isa. xlv. 18). It was "not a desolation" which was wrought out when God " created the earth." On the contrary, his creating it was his "forming it to be inhabited"; literally and grammatically, " even unto an inhabiting." (The same Hebrew idiom as in Gen. ii. 3, ante). Moses states that "the earth was a desolation" (החוּ) the very word given by Isaiah. He says that such was its condition before God said " Let light be "; that is, before the six days began, or before its creating began. At that point, God's word "created" (as by Isaiah) was not applicable to it. It was an uncreated (החוּ) desolation. This pre-existing " desolation," this not nothing, he took in hand as his material. He " created it." How? By so forming it — the then "not created desolation " — that it was a habitable thing, adapted to living beings. By forming out of it a habitation; by forming out of it inhabitants; in short, by forming it "even unto an inhabiting." We are, therefore, constrained reverently to believe that the creating specified in the first line of the Bible was the very creating which the Creator, by Isaiah, has defined — the creating of the six days, which began with light and ended with man.
Instead, therefore, of the earth having been first created and then made (we now use these words in the cosmico-theologic sense), it was first made (constructed) and then created. Instead of having been created out of nothing, it was created out of " a desolation." Our testimony may be sifted in all honesty and honorableness, and our logic too, if there be any. But it can hardly be charged, we think, either in honor or in honesty, that our opinion is hypothetical.
§ 2. The creative "Heaven" terrestrial.
The Hebrew word rendered "heaven" in the first sentence of this narrative is found only in a plural form. Sometimes in the scriptures it has a plural signification, sometimes a singular. Whether, in any given case, it has the one or the other, must be determined by the connection in which it is used; just as we must determine, in any given case, the grammatical number of our word " sheep."2
In conventional phrase, " the heaven and the earth," or " the heavens and the earth," means the universe. Is that its meaning here?
We will first turn our attention to the word "heaven." When he wrote it here, in this first sentence, did the writer mean to designate the cosmos, — excepting this world, of course, — or did he not? Unless he fails to explain himself on this point, we have nothing to do with outside usage. If he does explain himself, he is sufficient and decisive authority; and all other is intrusive, and not properly admissible.
We look along a little way, and we find it written "and God called the firmament, heaven." One would naturally suppose that we have here a decisive definition of the word; and that we only need to inquire what is meant precisely by "the firmament." But it is said by some that "the heaven" of the first verse is other than the "heaven" of the eighth verse. Therefore, before inquiring what " the firmament " was, we wish to test this saying.
1. If, indeed, the saying be true, the fact asserted is unaccountable. For instance, it is unaccountable that a writer of only common parts even, in the same account, and that account so brief, should use a word of -bo great relative importance in different senses, and yet give us no advisement of his change of meaning! Here is a description of different creations. One of them is called "heaven," or "heavens." In a few lines we have the same word again, but meaning another creation, or class of creations. Well, then, the writer, writing to enlighten, is writing to bewilder; in other words, is using his own pen to defeat his own purpose! And we say that such a use of the pen by a man of common parts is something for which we cannot account.
Again, the writer furnishes a definition of the word. With the definition, it is the firmament. But just before the definition, it is no firmament at all! To what purpose and of what use the definition? If it does not belong to the word throughout the story, it is, in plain terms, a mockery; in such a document, a mysterious one!
Once more, assuming that the pen of the writer was under divine guidance, and supposing that "heaven" is slyly used in two senses, we run squarely upon what seems too much like divine duplicity! We shrink from this? Very well. But how otherwise can we account for the fact that a divine dictation should be so framed, definition and all, that under the counter-whirling of two important words the reader must grow dizzy? A matter-of-fact revelation which confuses is a revelation which falsifies its own name! We cannot account for the brand upon its forehead.
For these reasons we are shy of the dictum which evokes them. And until we can find reasons for it, evolved honestly and fairly from the text itself, these unaccountables must still have the aspect of imperative rigidity; and, under their pressure, we must take the divine definition to be of rightful force throughout.
2. So long as such a change of meaning is not made obvious and undeniable, so long we must suppose one of two things, — either that a word so important has the same meaning throughout, or that the writer is incoherent, and there fore unreliable. As yet the change has not been made obvious and undeniable; and the latter supposition is preposterous, inasmuch as the writer is coherent in all else, and proves his own competence by his very careful and precise definitions. Only the former supposition, therefore, remains, — that the word "heaven" has but one meaning throughout the narrative; the meaning expressed by its definition.
3. If we allow ourselves, in one instance, to interpret this writing in so loose a way, where shall we stop? and upon what can we rely? "Heaven" defined meaning other than its definition; the difference not indicated! In this account it occurs fourteen times. If used to denote two different things, how do we know that it does not denote fourteen different things, notwithstanding its definition? If "heaven" expresses one thing here and another there, how are we to determine that some other word is not as protean as this? For example, "God," or "earth," or "day," or "waters," or "man."
If, in a pure statement of facts, we admit such unadvised change of meaning, why may we not admit a like change — to suit our fancy or our philosophy, or even our depravity — in other parts of the scriptures which are less simple, and laden with higher and more subtile discourse? If here, where an important word is particularly defined, we affix to it another meaning, why may we not indulge in like license elsewhere in the Bible where terms are not contextually denned? If we may thus set aside a textual definition, what exegetical principle can guide us in any part of the sacred text? If we start by reading the oracles so, we can, consistently with ourselves, evolve from them any doctrine, whether of him who is the true or of him who is the liar. All this is plain. Therefore we ought to have an eye to the end, when taking our start "in the beginning."
4. We notice another textual peculiarity bearing upon this point. From the close of the first sentence through the entire consecutive narrative of the six days, whenever any one thing (creation) is first mentioned, the word expressing it appears without the Hebrew article. On the other hand, in almost every instance, the article appears when the same word next occurs, and afterwards. We have searched the text with some care, and if our eye has not been in fault, the article is wanting as stated, except before the one word rendered " whales." This word does not appear the second time, and has the article. For this exception we do not presume to give or to conjecture a reason. In the second verse, to be sure, the word "waters" appears for the first time, and has the article. But, holding it, as we do (for reasons to be given hereafter), to be but another word for " deep," which has not the article, we regard this as no exception.
Now it is very evident that when any such word recurs, the force of its article is definitive; designating that very thing which had been so nominated before. That is to say, it points backward to its own particular word, to the "darkness," "light," "firmament," "luminary," or "man," as the case may be.
We turn now to the first sentence. Two creations are here mentioned; the one expressed by the word "heaven," the other by the word "earth." These words have no antecedents;3 that is, they appear in the narrative for the first time. But, contrary to the writer's usage in first cases, they appear with the article. Is it here redundant? Is it nugatory? Rarely, if ever, can a narrative composition be found so remarkable for its intense conciseness. Rarely, if ever, one of which we may say with so much certainty, that no iota can be taken from it without damage. But if these particular articles before these particular words are neither redundant nor nugatory, then they mean something. But if they mean something, then they have their own proper force as definitives. They point to some definite "heaven," and to some definite "earth." In this case, the heaven and the earth are not to be found by looking back. From the very pressure of the case, therefore, they must be sought for onward. And they must mean, 'the heaven and the earth about to be written of.' The very fact that these cases are so peculiarly exceptional is intensive. It thrusts us the more imperiously upon the succeeding context, to find precisely what "heaven" and what "earth" the writer thus designates. There were three heavens in the Hebrew vocabulary. There fore, the article before this word means nothing at all, unless (taking the word in the plural sense) it means all three, which no one supposes. But if not all three, which? The article cannot help us to an answer, unless we follow its index-force to the next written "heaven." Therefore we do so, obediently and cheerfully. We identify the "heaven" of the first sentence with that thing (creation) which, as afterwards stated, God had called heaven.4
If, now, there be no flaw in our exegetical premises, we must wrench the writing boldly and terribly, to deny that the first "heaven" is the same as the second. And if we are right in this our reasoning, then does it follow, that through out the narrative, consecutive and supplementary, the word "heaven" is used in one sense only; and that it is an unjustifiable liberty so to translate it as to suggest to the reader any other sense.
Corollary. — If the first "heaven" is the same as the second, then the first and the succeeding verses, by this very word, are clamped; and there cannot be a chronological chasm between them.
The question is now fairly before us; in what sense is this word "heaven" here used? But let us first look out from our present stand-point, and ascertain, if we can, what it does not mean.
If "heaven" is used in one sense only, and if that one sense be the sidereal host, then does the writer, so very concise, most strangely repeat himself, and very soon; for at first he says, "in the beginning God created the sidereal host;" and then tells us again that "God did make them." This reads strangely. But if, on the other hand, by "heaven" first mentioned he did not mean the sidereal host, it seems no longer strange, but natural and fit, that he mentions them just as he does.
If "heaven" is used in one sense only, and if that one sense be the sidereal host, then the cosmic galaxy was called into being on the second of the six days, and was then astronomically arranged; and, moreover, the sidereal host did " divide between waters and waters." A most unintelligible statement.5
Again, if "heaven" is used in only one sense, and if that sense be the sidereal host, then (verse 14), God said, "let luminaries be in the sidereal host," and (verse 16) did set them in themselves.
We therefore conclude that whatever may be the true meaning of "heaven," it does not mean the visible universe minus the earth; and to this conclusion we are forced by exegetical consistency and decency.
We return to our question: In what sense is the word used? This opens to us another: What does the word " firmament " mean, which God called heaven?
In the Hebrew word rakia (רַקׅיעַ) we find no resemblance to the word firm-a-ment, by which it is rendered. So far from denoting something firm, compact, solid, it denotes some thing expanded, spread abroad, far-reaching. It means an expanse, or expansion; not, however, of space, but of some thing. The verb, of which this is a derivative, sometimes expresses the act of smiting or beating out. But the noun expresses only a state or condition, without indicating any process of expansion.
Carefully excluding the idea of mere space or vacuity, and retaining that of matter, we have, then, the true idea set forth by the definition; "And God called the expanse Heaven." But definitely, what expanse? what expanded thing? The writer does not leave us in doubt; but, as if anticipating all questions which might be raised, even by the most captious, he considerately gives us illustrative definitions of his verbal definition.
"And God said, Let there be an expanse between6 the waters; and let it be separating7 waters from waters. Thus did God make the expanse, and did separate between the waters which are under the expanse and between the waters which are above the expanse." Thus we are informed that "the heaven" is that expanse, that expanded, subtile, attenuated material which continually has waters under it and waters above (Heb. "upon") it. The waters under it are those which God called seas. Immediately above the seas is what he called heaven. Above this heaven, or rather "upon" it (i.e. supported by it), are all the waters, pertaining to this world, which are not of the seas. Now what expanded, wide-reaching, subtile material has its place above the seas, and has upon itself — any portion of itself — all our other waters? Resting and floating upon it, watery clouds; beneath and supporting it, watery seas? Of nothing else can these facts be predicated but the atmospheric expanse.
But we have in the text yet another phenomenal and illustrative definition of what God called heaven. " And God said: Let the waters produce abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open expanse — the heaven." "What is the wide-reaching, attenuated form of matter in which the fowl (the Hebrew word means all winged creatures)8 find their range when on the wing? The atmospheric expanse, to be sure!
The two illustrative definitions correspond. That in which the fowl fly, is that which is between the waters and the waters — the aerial expanse. A created form of matter so "expanded" that, although we live in it and by it, yet we can neither taste nor smell nor see it, nor when it is in repose can we feel or hear it. We can only breathe it. Above the seas; beneath the clouds; just where we are; in which the fowl fly. Consequently we have in our version, repeatedly, the honest but enforced rendering " fowl of the air"; the same word elsewhere rendered "heaven" and "heavens."
The use which the writer makes of the word "heaven" stands independently. No other and different use beclouds its meaning here; and no other and like illumines its meaning here. The writer was competent to give his own definition; and this definition, so varied and clear, is sufficient and final.
The atmospheric heave-en is the original definition of the Hebrew word שָׁמַיִם Perhaps we should say, the atmospheric expanse is that to which the word was first applied, and by God himself. In this verse it is the root; all other applications of it are but its offshoots. The same is true, of course, of its synonyme רַקׅיעַ, translated " firmament "; the same, also, of their representative English word "heave-en." From this primary meaning naturally arose a secondary — the seeming vault;9 a second heaved-up, in which are " set " the sun and moon and stars. From the secondary meaning arose, as naturally, the idea of a third upheave-al — the sup posed residence of God and of his high angels. But the true and primitive meaning of the word, although yet paramount, has become practically almost obsolete. This has happened partly because of the misnomer firm-ament, popularly understood to be the seemingly solid vault above us, and partly because of the word "heavens," popularly understood to be the brilliant cosmos which studs the vault. Consequently, to common readers and to uncommon, the narrative is seriously deficient. They read of the successive divine acts by which the world was fitted for life, but do not perceive how it was furnished with its atmosphere, without which no form of life could be sustained; than which, no part of the world's furniture is more beautiful (though invisible), more wonderful, more important, or more magnificent.
Then let the Hebrew text be legitimately and honestly rendered into our vernacular; that so this great and wondrous furnishing of the Creator shall appear in full relief, as God intended it should.
For the sake of perspicuity, and to forestall, if possible, any misapprehension, we will try to express our understanding of the Hebrew rakia (רַקׅיעַ) "expanse" with more exactness, even if it be at the expense of some repetition.
So far from denoting firmness, compactness, density, or solidity, it denotes simply and solely an expanded something which may, or may not, be attenuated; excluding any measurement of a body from one surface to its opposite surface. That is, excluding all idea of its thickness or its thinness. It is, indeed, applied to solid bodies, to thick and to thin, — alike to a gold-foil and to the thick and solid earth; or, rather, the verb, of which this word is a derivative, is thus diversely applied.
As a superficies has neither thickness nor thinness, but only reach; and as a line has neither thickness nor thinness, but only reach, so a rakia has neither thickness nor thinness, but only reach. In other words, it is only wide extent, either of space or of body. In the case before us, it is only wide extent of body; for only the creating of matter is the subject of discourse, not the privative creating of space.
As, therefore, pure expansion is the only proper signification of the word, it may be alike and with equal propriety applied to all bodies; that is, to all forms of matter — to solid, to fluid, to vaporous, to ethereal. And although it does not express the idea of rarefaction, nor strictly speaking, the idea of rarity or subtileness, still we cannot see why rakia, an expanse, may not as properly designate that which is rarefied or subtile, as that which is more dense, or even solid.
But waiving all nicety about words, and even supposing that the Hebrew word does primarily express the expansion of a solid to thinness, and not to rarity or to fluidity, yet, as in this case, it is not matter firm or solid which intervenes between the cloud-waters and the land-waters; and as it is not matter firm or solid in which winged creatures fly, the writer's own application of the word compels us to say that he uses it (exceptionally, if one choose) to express expansion of matter only; that is, its out-reaching, wide-reaching rarity. In short, it seems to us that the writer could not have had the conception of a thin firmness, or of a solid thinness; and more, that his divine dictator could not have signified such a conception. We feel compelled, therefore, to reject the (στερώμα of the Septuagint and the firmamentum of the Vulgate.
Let us now trace in review and group together the several points of the route by which we have come to our present position.
1. We have found four cogent exegetical reasons for concluding that the word "heaven" is used, throughout the narrative, in only one sense.
2. We have found three cogent exegetical reasons for concluding that the word "heaven" cannot mean the sidereal host; the reasons being three textual absurdities which would otherwise be involved.
3. Having thus found what the word does not mean, and also that it always has the same meaning, a third conclusion has been forced upon us by our respect for the text itself; viz. that the only use which it makes of the word is to designate that expanse which God called "heaven," which the writer shows to have been the world's atmosphere, and which our version recognizes by the word " air " no less than five times in the course of the narrative (i. 26, 28, 30; ii. 19, 20).
The only possible ground on which this ultimate conclusion can be challenged, is the gratuitous position that in the first instance this important word designates the starry cosmos, but afterwards, the aerial expanse. And yet, so far as we know, not a single textual reason has ever been given for the position. We venture to add, such a reason never can be given.
For our own contrary conclusion we have given textual reasons; reasons which, we think, are simple, clear, and in vulnerable. Whether an interpretation without such reasons, or an interpretation with such, is most worthy to be received* is a question open to all.
§ 3. The Creative Heaven and Earth.
A process of interpretation which is clear and satisfactory to one mind may be obscure and unsatisfactory to another, even when the two are truly and equally gifted and equally honest. Consequently, an exegetical result which may be final to one may be nugatory to the other. And yet to the latter the same result may possibly commend itself if wrought out by a different process, while its only effect upon the former will be an assurance of his assurance.
For the present, therefore, we will utterly ignore our previous examination of the creative heaven and the conclusion at which we have arrived. We will take up anew the question: What were the two creations which Moses calls " the heaven and the earth "? We will so far simplify the question as to withdraw the phrase from its textual relations as scrupulously and as completely as, in our last section, we withdrew it from all its philosophic, theologic, and traditional relations. We will take it up by itself, and purely as a Hebraic phrase; confining our inquiry wholly to the signification of each Hebrew word.
1. What is the meaning of the Hebrew word which we express by our word "heaven"? With this very precise question in hand, we are of course bound not to be influenced at all by any usage, either popular or technical, of our corresponding English word. If in our vernacular we ever use it to designate the galaxy which constitutes the cosmos, we have no right to assume that the Hebrew word for which it stands has the same sense. Not only would this be untrue, but it would be so far from true that we should use it in plain violation of Hebrew usage, which makes, in this very chapter, a clear and pointed distinction between the heaven and the luminaries of the heaven. Even in English we speak improperly, though it be popularly, when we speak of the stars of heaven, and yet speak of the heaven as the stars. The stars of heaven can with no more propriety be called heaven than the fowls of heaven can be, or the dew of heaven, or the rain of heaven. Our English use of the word, and especially our inaccurate use of it, must be left wholly out of view, while we now inquire into the meaning of the Hebrew word.
It is a derivative from an obsolete root (סָׄטְה) which signifies to be high. The derivative always retains the root- sense. As we have before stated, it appears only in a plural form, though almost always (notwithstanding its renderings in our version) it has, as in this instance, a singular signification. Its literal meaning is, an elevated region, or elevated regions, as the case may be. Hence, the literal aptness of our own word "heaven," "that which is heaved, thrown up, or elevated."
In the Hebrew scriptures it is applied to three different elevated regions or localities; that is, to three different regions elevated above our own plane — the surface of our own world. More exactly, it is applied to three different regions which are beyond the surface of our own world; to these three, and to nothing else.
The first is, that supremely elevated region represented a3 the peculiar abode of the Most High God: " the high and holy place"; "the heaven of heavens"; or the region above the others — the height of heights. The second is that elevated region in which the cosmos is, " the sun and the moon and the stars, even all the hosts of the heaven" (Deut. iv. 19). "The stars of the heaven and the constellations thereof" (Isa. xiii. 10). The third is, that elevated region which pertains immediately to our own world, and which is the home of all winged creatures, of "dews," of "winds," of "frosts," of "clouds," of "showers," of " a multitude of waters."
From the mere grammatical form of the word in the case before us, it is impossible to tell whether one particular heaven is meant in any given case, or all the heavens. Still, our problem must be wrought out: Whether in this case the word is intended to designate the three heavens, which would be all regions of the universe above the earth, or whether it is used to designate some one of them, and if so, which. We may not appeal to the context, for we have precluded it from our present inquiry. We must take the Hebrew word in its plural form, and just and only as it stands in this sentence. Now observe, whether the word here means a heaven, or the heavens, it or they had a beginning and a creating. This is clear. Very well, we have now a stand-point which is a starting-point, and which may prove a clew.
God's heaven, or dwelling-place, must have been coeval with himself. If so, it has had no " beginning," and, consequently, no "creating." Therefore, the word here cannot designate "the heaven of heavens."
But again, the elevated region or heaven which is the dwelling-place of sun and moon and stars and constellations (Isa. xiii. 10) is that high space, or "nothing," upon which they are "hung," and which they occupy in common with our world (Job xxvi. 7). But space, or nothing, has had no "beginning," and consequently no "creating." Therefore, the word here cannot designate the heaven of the cosmos.
Hence, it follows that this word in this text cannot have been used to designate the three heavens; that is, the three regions elevated above the earth; that it could only have been used to designate one of them; and that the one designated must be the only other heaven which the Hebrew language recognizes — the world-heaven, the heaven of clouds, and dews, and winged creatures; the heaven which had a "beginning," and was "created"; the only one of the three which conforms to the text-setting of the word.10
If we insist upon its plural signification, we make it incongruous with its immediate predicates. But this will not do, for we are compelled by these predicates to make our election of one from the three, and to elect the aerial heaven.
Thus, by another route than our former one we are brought to the same result; by a route simple and rigid as the first brief sentence of the narrative; by a route irrespective of any relations, real or hypothetical, of the word itself.
We think that we may now urge with respectable emphasis, and yet with all modesty, that our previous conclusions are confirmed; our conclusion that the heaven which the writer says was created was that elevated region which we call our atmosphere; and also our conclusion that this is the only heaven of which he writes throughout his creative discourse.
Having thus developed by an independent examination of the writing itself, the domestic sense in which our historian uniformly uses the word heaven, we turn to our next inquiry.
2. What was the original and divine sense of this word הָאְדָץ "the earth," which the Hebrew writer reverently adopted?11 The writer himself tells us, by quoting its divine use as an original nominative: "God called [named] the dry, earth." We, therefore, need only to ascertain accurately what "the dry" was.
The word יַבָּשָׁה "the dry," occurs but fourteen times in the Bible. In every instance it stands in immediate contradistinction to "water" or to "sea" as a fluid.12 The form in which it here appears is intensive or emphatic.13 Thus it specially calls our attention to itself. Its precise force, there fore, is to present prominently the matter-difference between itself and that other matter to which it uniformly stands in contrast. This matter-difference is simple and obvious. The waters were matter-fluid. The יַבָּשָׁה "dry," or the אָדָץ "earth," was matter-not-fluid, or matter-solid.14 So that the writer, taking the word " earth " from the lip of God, and using it in the God-sense, presents to us a solid in this first verse, and the same individual solid to which God in the beginning had applied the word " earth " when the dry " showed itself " above the waters. Such is the pure Hebraic sense of the word. Completely antagonistic to the cosmogonic interpretation — "primordial cosmic material," and by no means agreeing with the astronomic earth — our terraqueous globe. As used in the Hebrew scriptures it does not mean the world, which is part fluid and part solid, but only our terrene world, — the solid part, the land of our astronomic earth.
Throughout this account, therefore, " the earth " does not mean our entire globe, but only a particular part of it. The Genesis " earth " was not part water, or part air (fluids), or part semi-fluid fire, or part any other fluid or semi-fluid. It was only such part of this present world as was then " solid "; whether before or since a gaseous fluid, or an igneous fluid, or a watery fluid, or never a fluid; whether then a solid sphere, or a hollow sphere, or a plane. To this definition we are tied. We have no right to expand it, no right to contract it. However, and how often soever, the word may be otherwise used, in common parlance or uncommon, it would be impertinent to cite such usage as applicable or as explanatory here.15
So far as we know, theological writers and theologico-Hebrew lexicons, without exception, give " the universe " as the proper meaning of the creative phrase " the heaven and the earth "; slyly altered to " the heavens and the earth." If admitted, this definition imposes upon us the necessity of a cosmogonic interpretation of the creative story as starting from the initial point of matter unformed and motionless. In view of this exegetical tradition, let us make a brief excursion beyond the limit to which we restricted ourselves at the opening of this section.
If we call upon the sacred writers for some recognition of the cosmos, in no one case do they answer by the word "heaven," but always by "the stars of heaven," or by "the hosts of heaven," or, more explicitly, by "the sun and moon and the stars, even all the host of heaven" (Deut. iv. 19; xvii. 3). And when we call upon them for some recognition of the universe, they do not answer by the debatable phrase "the heaven and the earth," but in terms very explicit and unmistakable. For example: " I have made the earth. . . . . . . have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded" (Isa. xlv. 12). Again: "The day cometh . . . . . . to lay the land desolate; . . . . . . for the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof, and the sun and the moon shall not give their light" (Isa. xiii. 9,10). And again: "Give thanks to him who made the heavens . . . . . who stretched out the earth above the waters . . . . . . who made great lights . . . . . the sun . . . . . the moon and stars" (Ps. cxxxvi. 5-9). Once more, "Thou hast made the heaven [the earth-heaven]; the heaven of heavens [thine own], with all their host [the cosmos and the angels]; the earth, and all things which are upon it; the seas, and all which is in them " (Neh. ix. 6). Other like texts might be cited.
And thus, in all this large variety of language, the Hebrew scriptures do tell us, very distinctly, that the cosmos is not one of their "heavens," and that their "heaven-and-earth" does not mean the universe.
If, now, what we have written be not read uncarefully or scornfully, it may,
perhaps, be conceded by courtesy at least, that we have respectable reason for
saying that we do — grammatically, exegetically, legitimately, Mosaically, and
finally — identify "the heaven" of this first sentence with the very
atmospheric expanse which God did create on the second genesistic day, and which
he did then name "heaven." The same sort of evidence we have produced to show
that " the earth " in the same clause was the very solid which God named "earth," and no other thing, nor gas, nor terraqueous sphere. In short, the
heaven created in the beginning was
Therefore, when we ask in the name of honest exegesis, what means the phrase " the heaven and the earth," we should be recreant to our interpretative trust, and recreant to our convictions and to our manhood, did we not answer at once, and decisively, our aerial heaven and our solid land. By this our answer, we do frankly, biblically, and religiously decline the rash assumption and hoary tradition that " the heaven and the earth " is a Bible way of saying " the material universe."
"In their beginning God did create the aerial heaven and the solid land." Such, we conceive, is the clear and simple announcement of what is about to be unfolded.
In view of all which we have stated, we think ourselves under an exegetical necessity — a necessity inflexible and very potent — of considering this narrative as embracing only the narrow limits of our own land-world, with its sea and its atmosphere. Before the narrative opens its outline or dramatic bourne is carefully and sharply defined.
It may be hard for us to give up the popular, traditional, venerable opinion upon this point. It may seem irreverent to the names of the great and the good and the learned. But what says and what means our record? This is the only proper question. As we answer it, so, rightly or wrongly, shall we read the words which follow. They will be simple or mystic, clear or cloudy, cheering or perplexing, as we expect the tale of a cosmos or the episode of a planet.
1) We are bound to justify our translation. The phrase "created and made" is inaccurate, because in the Hebrew there is no copulative; because there is a preposition; and because the latter verb is in the infinitive mood. The phrase "created to make" preserves the infinitive, but omits the preposition. We have here a Hebrew phrase which is purely idiomatic; which cannot be translated literally except thus: "which God created unto to make." This is dark. The Hebrew gives us the infinitive of עָשָׂח "to make" with the preposition לְ "to" or " unto " prefixed. In this peculiar position the infinitive has the force of a gerund, for which it is indebted to the preposition (Gesenius, לְ c.); while the latter has here, indicated by the connection, the signification of "even unto" (Ibid. A. 2). Again: the verb עָשָׂח "to make" seems here to require its occasionally emphatic signification "to effect," "to accomplish," "to complete." (Ibid. עָשָׂח, I. 2. 1.). The verb, with this definition, when used of Jehovah, included, of course, the idea of accomplishing unto perfection. We therefore, render thus: "His work which God created even unto completing"; by implication, "even unto perfecting." This rendering is grammatical, clear, pertinent, in perfect harmony with the other instances in which the writer so evidently uses these two words as having a common signification. - See Noldius, Concordance of Hebrew Particles, pp. 413, 414.
2) It would be a severe task to examine all the texts in which שָׁמַיִם occurs, hoping to find a rule by which, in all cases, its singular or plural signification might be determined. We have, however, made such examination pretty largely; and it has made us quite confident of two things; (1) That the English version very often gives a plural where it ought to give a singular form; and (2) That we should always receive the word in its singular sense when not coupled, by itself, with a plural verb, or when some other and equally cogent reason is not present. Throughout this narrative it has never, by itself, any verb; for in ii. 14 it only shares a verb. But (as we expect to show) it always stands here as a synonyme of "the firmament" or expanse, which was one; and this fact is "a cogent and present reason" for taking it, all along, in its singular
3) Chronologically, they had appeared before, as incorporated in the narrative, verses 8, 10; but here without the articles and as proper names.
4) The considerations which we have now urged showing why, in all exegetical honesty, we should affix a uniform meaning to the writer's use of the word "heaven," apply with equal force to his use of the word "earth." To avoid repetition, we withhold these four several suggestions when remarking on the word "earth" p. 529, trusting to the reader to supply them there.
5) But if the heaven did not exist until the second day, then from a new stand point do we even find that it is absurd to suppose a historical hiatus between the creating stated in the first verse and the first creating of the six days. The first verse is only the indicator of the theme about to be unfolded.
6) The same as בֵּין. See Gesenius; word פָּיָןְ 1. b.
7) That is, "let it continue to separate." "When," as here "the verb of existence is added to the participle, an imperfect sense descriptive of continued action, or condition, is designated." — Gesenius.
8) It is of no small importance that we keep in mind the large scope of the Hebrew word rendered "fowl." In its collective sense, it embraces every winged tribe, from the largest to the most minute.
9) "Who stretchest oat the heaven like a curtain," Ps. civ. 2. English version, "heavens;" a single case among many in which the plural form of translation is evidently wrong.
10) It is self-evident that space (the middle "heaven") was not created or made. Therefore when we find it written (Ps. xxxiii. 6), "By the word of the Lord were (plural verb) the heavens made," we are obliged to recognize the figure of speech by which the container is put for the thing or things contained. (Compare Isa. i. 2). Thus: "All things contained in all the heavens were made," etc. Indeed, the next member of the sentence, being epexegetical, verifies this construction: "The heavens were made; that is, all the host of them" For this explanatory sense of the particle, see Gesen. Lex. וְ 1. c. Noldius, Concordance of Hebrew Particles וְ No. 27, p. 290. Nordheimer, § 1093. 1. a.
11) For evidence that the writer uses it in only one sense, in that which was its original and divine sense, we refer to grave considerations which we have before briefly stated, pp. 516, 517, 518.
12) How, then, could it have been possible for Moses so to have perverted the synonyme "earth" as to use it to signify a gaseous fluid?
13) Gesenius, word יַבָּשׁ.
14) So potent and imperative is this in some cases, that our version translates "the dry" by "the land"; that is, translates the Hebrew יַבָּשָׁה just as if it were הָאָדָץ. Ex. iv. 9 bis; xiv. 16, 29; xv. 19; Neh. ix. 11; Ps. lxvi. 6; xcv. 5; 1st. xliv. 3; Dan. ii. 10; Jonah i. 9, 13; ii. 11. Compare Webster, words "Earth," No. 2, and "Land," No. 1.
15) In a vast number of cases in our version, this Hebrew word is rendered "land." We think it should have been so rendered uniformly, excepting some few cases, in the poetical books, of evident synecdoche. In a great many cases, the rendering "earth " conveys wrong ideas, and has given occasion to a vast amount of wrong interpretation.