The Good Firmament

The creation account in Genesis 1 follows a basic pattern for each of the six days. God speaks, and his Word goes forth creating what was spoken. God observes what he has spoken into being and passes judgment on it, i.e. “God saw that it was good.” And then the passing of a day is summarized by saying: “And there was evening, and there was morning” (showing that days in the “old creation” begin at sundown).

But one of the six days falls short of this pattern. On one of the six days, God does not look and judge what he has spoken into being. On the second day, God commands an expanse or firmament (Heb. raqiya`) to come into being and separate the waters below from the waters above. As we read further, we see that the waters below were gathered together into oceans, and the dry land appeared. The flying creatures do their flying in the face (surface) of the firmament of the heavens, and all the stars in the sky are in the firmament. This firmament is separating heaven and the waters above from earth and the waters below. And God does not pronounce it to be good. This is an indication that this creation structure was not intended to be a permanent arrangement; God’s silence hints to the future reality that this expanse separating heaven and earth will be bridged to bring heaven and earth together somehow.

The Scriptures speak of a variety of symbols pointing to structures that bridge heaven and earth. These culminate in the true fulfillment uniting heaven and earth in Christ.

From the creation, trees take on a few typological functions, one of which is a symbol for ascending into the firmament. They’re pillars reaching into the sky with their tops disappearing into a ‘cloud’ of leaves. Abraham built altars near groves in the Promised Land (Genesis 12:6-7; 13:18). These were miniature gardens imitating Eden. Even God’s garden in Eden is noted for its gigantic trees (Ezekiel 31). These are sites at which burnt offerings (literally, ascension offerings) are made. The worshiper ascends his sacrifice up to God in the presence of these leafy structures that also signify rising into heaven.

King Nebuchadnezzar was given a dream from God to warn him about his impending humiliation for his pride. He tells the Prophet Daniel about the dream:

The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heavens lived in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it.

Daniel 4:10-12

Nebuchadnezzar has this dream and seeks the interpretation. Daniel tells the king this tree represents the king. Daniel previously described Nebuchadnezzar this way:

You, O king, are king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory.

Daniel 2:37

A very Christ-like thing to say indeed. And here we have this king of kings compared to a tree of cosmic scale in which all living things find shelter and nourishment. This takes us one step closer to linking Christ with a structure that spans the firmament.

When Jacob was fleeing his brother Esau, he slept one night with a stone for a pillow. During that night, he had a dream from God:

And [Jacob] dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, Yahweh stood above it and said, “I am Yahweh, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.

Genesis 28:12-13

God promises the blessing of the Offspring and the Land to Jacob just as he promised to Abraham and Isaac before him. But what is this structure, this ladder (or staircase), that Jacob sees spanning heaven and earth with God standing at its top and the angels of God ascending and descending upon it? Christ himself tells his disciple Nathanael:

And [Jesus] said to [Nathanael], “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

John 1:51

Aha! There we have it: Christ himself, the Son of Man, is the ladder in Jacob’s dream.

Mountains are also seen as natural ramps or towers of the creation. God meets Moses and then all Israel on a mountain top. Eden was said to have a holy mountain of God in it (Ezekiel 28:14), and the temple of God in Jerusalem was built on a mountain.

Towers in the ancient world were often symbolic mountains. Think of the pyramids of Egypt and the ziggurats of Mesopotamia. They’re stepped and sloped structures going up to heaven. Now, consider the Tower of Babel.

The people of the Land of Shinar were building the tower to ascend into heaven and to make a great name for themselves (Genesis 11:4). God comes down and puts an end to their haughty endeavor. And he confuses their languages and religious confessions.

It’s no accident that Babel is in the immediate background of God’s call to Abram:

Now Yahweh said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3

Yahweh promises to do for Abraham exactly what the people of Shinar sought to do for themselves—to make a great name and a great nation. The unfolding of Yahweh’s promise to Abraham across Scripture is the “Anti-Babel” that God is doing. This is the Gospel in Jesus Christ. The Son of God is set up as this Tower which is a “Gate of God” (Heb. babel, which is a pun, because babel was ‘confused’ as a literary device with balal, meaning ‘confusion’).

Christ is the Tower to heaven ascending through the firmament. He’s the Offspring of Abraham who has received the promises to Abraham. He has been given a great name (the “name about all names”). He has been enthroned as King of Kings over the whole world and is the Great Tree in which all living things find shelter and nourishment.

And because Christ and his Gospel are the Anti-Babel, the confusion and division of the religious confessions of the nations at Babel are reversed in him. When he poured out the Spirit of Promise on his people at the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, they began to all speak the same one message in all the languages of the nations. They all spoke the message of the wonderful things that God has done in Christ. And so we still do in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout all the nations of the world.

To invoke a blessed judgment now that the firmament is spanned and made good and the promises of God are fulfilled in Christ:

And God saw all that he had made in Christ, and behold, it was very good. And there is now no longer neither evening nor morning, because the Day of the Lord has come.

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