Before I show you the next big step, I need to justify the creation of the heavens before day 4, and to introduce other views that have been used to understand Genesis 1.
The Jews understood three heavens. Verse 1 uses the shamayim word where God created the heavens. Strong’s 8064 defines it as air, but it has a fairly wide range of uses, mainly as sky, heaven or heavens. It is also used in Genesis 1:8 but it is often translated there as sky or heaven. This is the first heaven. The same word is used in Genesis 1:14 as the place where God made the sun, moon and stars. This is the second heaven and verse 14 now uses the plural heavens. The third heaven is the abode of God. Often this is given a further adjective, highest, to distinguish it, so it is also the highest heaven. Sometimes you see heaven, singular, and it also refers to the abode of God. “The heavens” in verse 1 is clearly picturing the first two layers, the visible universe.
A casual reading of Genesis 1 suggests that the heavens were made on day 4. But I have discussed only two views; one where the heavens were created in verse 1; and the other where they were created in the light of verse 3. Recently, someone quite expert in Genesis told me about the Hebrew understanding of the day 4 text. As far as I have researched it, it is accurate and seems to be acceptable in Creationist circles:
The Hebrew word ‘or’ is translated in English as “give light” in verses 15 and 17, but it is actually defined as, “to be or become light”. For example, a lamp exists and sits on the table but only becomes a light after it is lit. This is consistent with the stars already being in existence before day 4 and God simply “made them to shine” on day 4.
Hebrew does not support a pluperfect tense. So where verse 17 says that God ‘placed’ the stars in the heavens, it could well be read that He ‘had placed’ them in the heavens.
So the debate switches back to, where were the heavens first created – verse 1 or 3?
In regard to the earth, verse 9 says that the waters were gathered together to let dry land appear and the dry land was then named ‘earth’. So the land already existed and later appeared. Did it get created in verse 1 or 3?
God declares in many places that He stretched out the heavens. This is surprisingly important in seeing what happens in Genesis 1. It was while I was looking into this that my paradigm shift occurred.
I found these nine scriptures where the heavens are stretched or spread out: Job 9:8; Psalm 104:2; Isaiah 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, 48:13, 51:13; Jeremiah 10:12; and 51:15. In that last reference, Jeremiah 51:15, it states that, “And by His understanding He stretched out the heavens”. Take note of what I am going to do with that in the next chapter.
But in Genesis 1:17 God said that He placed the stars in the heavens. This ‘placed’ word, whatever tense is used, does not have the connotation of stretching out. Rather it speaks of fixed and established forever that is mentioned in other scriptures (Jeremiah 33:25, Psalm 148:6, Proverbs 8:27; Isaiah 51:16). So, if on day 4 the stars are firmly established, when were they stretched out?
One option says that they were created in verse 1 and existed within the water surrounding the planet. Then, on day 2, as this water was separated into the waters above and below, we picture the waters above being spread out or stretched out into the heavens to form the stars, not just the clouds in the sky. I didn’t make this solution up – this is well established. It sees even the heavens created through water. Personally I don’t see any requirement for the heavens to be created through water, only the earth as noted in chapter 24 discussing 2 Peter 3:5. I respect the logic used in this argument even though I see this as a bit of a stretch of the plain reading which seems to only picture the day 2 events as creating the first heavens. But one way or another, grasping the greater view of God is going to stretch our understanding.
But guess what? There is another separation or stretching out event that happens in Genesis 1 – when light is separated from darkness. That is the key to the next chapter!