This is a discussion of a verse, the wording of which has always bothered me. So I decided to look into it, and discovered a good deal of very useful, enlightening, and intriguing information that seems to be consistent with my Limited Raqia/Firmament Theory. Here’s the verse:
Genesis 1:9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. (ESV)
The Hebrew here is this: one ( ‘echad אֶחָד ) place (maqowm מָקוֹם ). The word for “one” is not remarkable, so far as I understand it. But the word for “place” deserves attention.
Let’s start with the most intriguing fact: The Septuagint has it as “synagogue one“. (συναγωγὴν μίαν). Obviously, “synagogue” is a term with which we are very familiar in the New Testament. It was a meeting or gathering–or perhaps, by extension, the place in which such happened.
Are we being told, then, by the Septuagint translator(s) that their understanding of the original Hebrew (whatever it said, for we don’t still have it) was that these waters were commanded to gather into one meeting? If so, that certainly strengthens my hypothesis that the “waters” (mayim מַיִם) were beings and not H2O. Indeed, using that kind of language for describe inanimate water is certainly awkward in English.
To be fair, however, I note that the word for “place” (maqowm מָקוֹם ) occurs over 400 times in the Old Testament, and is translated as “place” in almost every instance—where it seems to be quite naturally understood. The question I would ask, then, is whether–if it is the original Hebrew word used in Genesis 1:9, it has a connotation by which it carries more meaning than what is required simply to convey a location. I suspect that the Septuagint translator(s) thought so, for they certainly had other words than “synagogue” to express the idea of “place”. (Topos, for example.)
And now let’s look at this word, “gathered”. Here it is again in the context of the verse:
Genesis 1:9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. (ESV)
The Hebrew word used for “gathered” is qavah (קָוָה). If you check Blue Letter Bible and similar sources for meanings of qavah, you’ll get something like this:
to wait, look for, hope, expect
to collect, bind together
And if you’re not careful, your eye will be drawn to option #2, which will seem perfectly coherent to you, given that the ESV says “gathered”, and the definition says “to collect”. “Close enough!” you’re likely to think. But not so fast.
BlueLetterBible.com says that qavah occurs 49 times in 45 passages. I read through every occurrence (in the KJV) and found only one in which the rendering “gathered” seems even remotely appropriate. It’s this one:
Jeremiah 3:17 At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD; and all the nations shall be gathered H6960 unto it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil heart.
Even here, look what’s being “gathered”! It’s the assembling of peoples from all over the earth into one city, for a specific purpose. So, if we’re looking for a generic usage that is apart from this idea of waiting, looking, hoping, and expecting, this is certainly not the best example. What would serve much better would be something like, “And the craftsmen gathered their tools”, or “the farmers gathered their crops”. But again, the usage here is of people being gathered.
In every other instance (If I’ve missed something, please let me know!), it appears to mean something along the lines of the first definition above (to wait, look for, hope, expect). Why, then, should we consider that its translation as “gathered” in Genesis 1 should be beyond doubt and settled? Even if a generic sense of “gathered” were correct, should it not be considered a gathering done in this waiting, looking for, hoping, and expecting? That is to ask, should the overwhelming use of qavah to denote some manner of expectation be jettisoned altogether when we understand the word’s role in Jeremiah 3:17—or in Genesis 1:9? If we wanted to argue that, how would we do it?
Well, someone might try this: They might try to argue that it’s obvious here, since puddles or pools or oceans of H2O simply have no expectation, as they are inanimate. But to take that tack is to presume the very opposite of what I am suggesting here–that these “waters” were indeed beings, and that they are deliberately being described as such by the author(s) of Genesis 1, even if they are walled “waters” and not “beings”.
Let us suppose, then, that I am right. What, then, would beings gathered together at God’s command have to expect? It could be several things. I suspect, for reasons I will give below that they were awaiting a judgment that would come later, after Yahweh had played out for them a long-lived drama under this new raqia/firmament that he had formed over that particular section of Planet Earth.
These particular “waters” that he had put into this state of expectation were not the only waters in view in Genesis 1, for they had been separated from other “waters” that had been place above the raqia/firmament. And what was above that raqia/firmament, but the abode of God and his angels? Nothing that I know of.
I wonder, therefore, whether the mysterious twenty-four elders of the Revelation were not those “waters” raised to heaven at this time, having been separated from those who were left below on Planet Earth. Note that these twenty-four elders—unlike the angelic figures in heaven, have crowns. Note also that the faithful humans were told to expect to receive crowns upon being glorified in the afterlife. (See the first several of these passages for instances of this.) Were these, then, glorified beings who had existed before the curtain was raised on Genesis 1:1? This is exactly what I expect. And if I’m right, this chapter was simply not written to tell that previous story, but to tell us what happened after it.
“…GATHERED INTO ONE PLACE”
This “into one place” language always bothered me until I looked into it to discover the things already mentioned above (plus what I will tell you below). At this point, under the influence of the Old Testament’s overwhelming use of “gathered” (qavah) for “place”, I’m going to amend “gathered” thus:
And under the influence of the Septuagint’s use of “synagogue” instead of the Masoretic Text’s rendering as “place”, I would opt for “…into one place”, being amended as:
…into one synagogue…
…into one assembly…
And we are told right in this very verse why this was done. Here’s what it says:
Genesis 1:9 God said, “Let the water below the sky (raqia/firmament) be gathered into one area, that the dry land may appear.” (JPS)
If you’re suspicious of this translation, note that several others do agree in expressing the appearance of the “dry land” as the reason for having gathered those “waters” into one expectant assembly—as opposed to simply being the next event to occur in the sequence of Genesis 1. Here are the translations I have found that bring out the purpose:
New Living Translation
Then God said, “Let the waters beneath the sky flow together into one place, so dry ground may appear.” And that is what happened.
Contemporary English Version
God said, “I command the water under the sky to come together in one place, so there will be dry ground.” And that’s what happened.
Good News Translation
Then God commanded, “Let the water below the sky come together in one place, so that the land will appear”–and it was done.
Whether it should read, “…and let dry ground appear”, as many translations have it, or “so that the dry ground may appear” (or similar), as these four translations suggest, it’s still pretty obvious that God had a purpose for moving these waters into this assembly—that reason being that the “dry ground” or “dry land” was to result from it.
If that “water” below, then, was made to assemble in expectation of something, then it had to have vacated at least some of the space it had previously occupied. At this present time, it is not entirely clear to me whether those “waters” were gathered into the literal oceans and seas of Planet Earth, where they remained as disembodies spirits confined to a watery habitat, or more simply, whether they were free to wander throughout all the geographic area of Planet Earth that is outside that specific region (surrounding the Mediterranean Sea) that God had set apart in which to do his great works. Arguments could be made for both of these cases, but either way, we should note that the one is but a subset of the other.
THE “DRY LAND” AND THE “SEAS”
It was this “dry ground”, we should note, that God named “Earth”. It was not the entire planet that was in view, mind you, but only this portion of it, away from which the “water” had been assembled expectantly. And that water, he called “Seas”. Note that these had not been named previous to this third day. The JPS Torah Commentary says this about that naming (emphasis added):
According to the conceptions of the ancient Near East, possessing no name was equivalent to nonexistence. An Egyptian text describes precreation as the time “when no name of anything had yet been named,” and Enuma Elish similarly designates the primeval chaos as the period “when on high the heaven had not [yet] been named, and below the firm ground had not [yet] been given a name. Name-giving was thus associated with creation and , by extension, with domination, for the one who gives a name has power over the object. In the present narrative, day and night, the sky, and the earth and sea are all named by God. …
If this is true–and I’m not saying it isn’t–then we do well to note that the “dry land” and those expectantly-gathered “waters” aren’t named until Day Three. Should this suggest to us, therefore, that they did not exist before Day Three? I think so. It’s my opinion that we should take this Day-Three naming as proof that God was simply not talking about something that had existed before this very time at which he created and named them. Now, what I’m saying here could be confusing, so let me spell it out.
I think that Planet Earth and the sun and moon and stars and all the rest of the cosmos are already in existence when the curtain rises on Genesis 1:1. Therefore, when God names these specific things on Day Three (“earth” and “seas”), I think that these are new things that he established at that very time, and not merely references to what had been created before. Surely, someone will argue that I’m wrong, and that there’s nothing to see here, as 1:1 simply gives a one-liner description (or title) of what all is about to be explained below. But, then, I didn’t write the JPS translation; I merely discovered it after it was written. And I didn’t create the other evidences that I will discuss below and elsewhere, as to why Planet Earth was already in existence when God used the word, “Earth” (erets) to name that particular section of the planet in 1:10.
They might even argue that the “waters” are previously mentioned in verse 2, so that the naming of them as “Seas” in 1:10 doesn’t have to signify their creation. It should not be missed, however, that he gives those waters a new name (Seas) only after having separated between those waters he wanted with him above the raqia/firmament, and those he wanted below and out of the way of what he was about to do. This was what was new, and this is what he named “Seas”.
It’s after the division that he names the ones below (and only the ones below) “Seas”. And if you fast-forward to the end of the story, you’ll see that enigmatic prediction that when the New Heaven and New Earth are established, “there was no more sea”. If that’s a reference to the Planet Earth with its oceans and seas and gulfs and bays having been removed, then we are at a lost to explain what would be the use for a waterless Planet Earth. Indeed, what problem has the presence of H2O on Planet Earth caused? Just what would God be fixing by removing all the water? I have never heard a rational, honest, and responsible answer to that question from those who want to take “sea” literally in Revelation 21:1.
But if these “waters below” were beings who, after God had played out the grand drama from Genesis 1 to the return of Christ, were done away with, then suddenly some things start to take on a different sense than in the way they are traditionally interpreted. Take this passage, for example:
Revelation 20:11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Notice that the dead who were in the sea are distinguished, for whatever reason, from those who had been in Death and Hades. They are set apart by John as being separate. They were not among the general population of the dead and disembodied human spirits in Sheol/Hades. Nor is there any hint in 1 Enoch 22 that there were Pre-Genesis spirits among the disembodied human spirits in Sheol/Hades.
We should not be surprised, therefore, to find the sea set apart from Death and Hades in the discussion in Revelation 20:13 (above), for there were different people in question. And it is in the very next verse after the paragraph above that we are told that that “sea” was to go away:
Revelation 21:1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
Again, to the literalist, I would ask: What sense would it possibly make to destroy the oceans of Planet Earth at the end of the process of dispatching the souls of the dead to their final reward? None, I submit, for this “sea” that was to be no more is not a reference to a body of H2O.
Some will argue the contrary, and will interpret this verse as being about nothing more than those souls whose lives had been lost at sea. But the bodies of the dead are simply not in view in Revelation 20; it is their spirits. And I note that it appears in the singular (“sea”) here, and not in the plural. If John had meant to convey that he was speaking of human souls that had been lost in the various large bodies of salt water on Planet Earth, it was surely common knowledge at that point in history that there was more than one such body. Yet, he refers to but a single sea. Why go get only those souls out of, say, the Atlantic Ocean, but not out of the Pacific? Or why get those out of the Mediterranean Sea, but not out of the Sea of Galilee or the Black Sea?
No, we should not miss the significance of it being but a single “sea” in question here, for this simply does not fit with an interpretation that what’s in view here is the collection of the dead from all of Planet Earth’s salt water bodies. No, to me, it’s increasingly obvious that by “sea”, he’s referring to those beings who had not been taken up, but who had been assembled below in expectation of this very judgment about which we are reading here in Revelation 21. For whatever reason, God had wanted them to wait, rather than to be judged immediately. And I strongly suspect that it’s because he was going to play out a drama before them, perhaps even to assist in bearing witness against them.
Now, to back up just a bit, if someone wants to argue that what was in view here was the bodies of the dead, and not their spirits, and that “the sea gave up the dead that were in it” is merely a reference to the collection of dead bodies that happened to have accumulated in the oceans and seas of Planet Earth, then let him explain why there is no matching account here that “the tombs also gave up the dead that were in them”. The text is very clear that it’s not the tombs that give them up, but “Death and Hades”. It is fairly obvious to me, therefore, that the spirits of deceased humans are what is in view in both places, and not their bodies.
All of what I’m suggesting here would be consistent with some post-cataclysmic state in which those on Planet Earth before Genesis 1:1 begins were killed somehow. I’m sorry that I can’t tell you more about that, because I have not yet learned any more about it–and it’s not likely that any big chunks of obvious information on this subject are going to be coming out of the Bible. Perhaps there are subtle hints to be gleaned yet.
THE ORIGIN OF SHEOL?
I have long pondered that although the Bible tells us a considerable amount of information about Hades/Sheol, we do not see its origin mentioned explicitly at anytime in these early chapters of Genesis (nor anywhere else in the Bible, unless I’ve missed it). I do find it interesting, however, that while Hades/Sheol are not mentioned here, it’s likely that an assembly of the spirits of the dead may well be what’s in view here in 1:9, as these “waters” are put into “one place” or one expectant assembly. As mentioned above, I’m fairly convinced that this “sea” is not Sheol, however, but was separate from it. Was Sheol created at the same time? And where can this be learned? Sadly, those are questions for another article.
WERE THE “WATERS” HUMAN SPIRITS?
So, were these spirits (if indeed they were disembodied as I suspect) the spirits of humans, or of some other species that had been here previously? I do not know. It seems coherent to me to tell myself “Planet Earth is the God-assigned abode of humankind,” but really, I have found very little evidence that would support those “waters” being of any particular species—except that God did indeed take some of them to heaven, where he crowned them, seated them on thrones, and counted them as “elders”. Indeed, if the word “elder” is going to be applied to any person, who would be better qualified for that title than the very first beings in the Bible story to be brought from below the raqia/firmament to God’s abode above it?
Perhaps I’ll figure out in time whether they were human or not. But either way, it certainly raises lots of questions, such as who they were, what had killed them, why it had happened, and why we aren’t specifically told about it.