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Heaven (Hebrew: שָׁמָיִם shamayim), or "the heavens", is the realm surrounding the earth that reaches to the end of the universe [1] . It is the name given given to the expanse (Hebrew: רָקִיעַ raqia), literally meaning "a very high place". In general usage this realm was considered "the sky"[2], both the air and the area beyond the highest clouds.

God Himself communicated with His prophets from Heaven, the place where He is said to "dwell"[3]. However, this can also be considered anywhere within or outside of created universe, for Yahweh is said to be "above the heavens"[4].

The heaven closest to the earth is called the "open (Hebrew: פָּנִים panayim; "face of") expanse" [5] 1:20. From that point on, the heavens (always plural, or dual), stretch out in all directions. Further out (ie, "up"), Yahweh placed the sun, moon and stars in such a way that they provide light and indicate time as it passes on the earth[6] . This display of God's creation can be seen for as far as the eye can see in the night sky[7].

Heaven is the abode not only of Yahweh, but also his armies of Angels[8] and the souls of his people who have died[9]. The spiritual presense of angels and people in the expanse is represented by countless stars[10].

Meaning and Description

The Hebrew word for Heaven is שָׁמָיִם (shamayim) and is found most often with the definite article Ha . The word is from an unused root שָׁמֶה (shamah) which means "to be lofty". Always in the plural (or perhaps dual) form, the meaning can be construed to be "the very high place". The word in the Greek is οὐρανός (ouranos), akin to the Greek god, and planet, "Uranus", also meaning a lofty place (from the verb αἴρω, 'airo': to lift up).

In its essential form the place called "the heavens" is invisible. It can be described only by the celestial bodies that fill a very small part of it. The sky, during the day, varies from blue to violet, with a display of colors ranging from orange to violet, on the horizon. Between these displays and the black night sky the blue fades to black, allowing the stars and the moon to be seen.

Beyond the sky, though, there is an invisible realm that can only be known by revelation. Jesus told his disciples that he was preparing personal dwelling places for them in which they can visit Him [11]. There will be a throne room where God will be worshipped[12].

The ultimate description of the dwelling place of God, His angels and His people, is a vision of the New Jerusalem. Seen as both the people (a "bride adorned") and the city, the magnificence is framed in a perfect cube with jeweled foundations, walls about 200 feet thick and unimaginably tall, and a plaza of gold about the size of Europe. It will be always daytime, for God, who is light[13], will be there. The Tree of Life is shown as an orchard spanning the plaza providing food and health for all the inhabitants[14].

Creation

The creation of the collective heavens is recorded in the first chapter of Genesis. At first it is simply presented as part of the overall creation of the universe[15], but is developed in days one, two and four. It is there that the different stages, or levels, of the shamayim is expanded.

According to the account of the first day, the substance of the heavens appears to have been contained in the primal earth[16]. Alternately, the whole account is only of the local earth (Hebrew: אֶרֶץ erets) and its atmosphere, or air (Hebrew שָׁמָיִם shamayim). The coherence of the account, though, most clearly supports the former, universal, application of the term "heavens".

On the second day, the waters of verse 2 are divided by spreading out of a gaseous substance drawn from the substance of the "waters below" called the raquia. This word is related to the verb raq`a, meaning to spread out. The usage of the verb is usually concerning metals beat out to build structures or utensils. Though this substance was neither liquid like the water nor solid like the dry ground, it was sufficient to "hold up" the "waters above"[17].

On the fourth day, the outer heaven was filled with an untold number of luminaries. Mostly just points of light, there would be two of the "lamps" of considerable size--thousands of times larger to the viewer than even the brightest star. God arranged these bodies in relation to the earth in such a way as to provide light and measurement of time[18]. Nearer to the ground, perhaps in suspension due to the gravity of the nearby "waters above", there were no clouds, for there was no rain. Instead, the humidity was high (providing ample dew) and there were rivers flooding their banks[19].

As an ongoing "project", God is preparing the "heaven of Heavens" (aka "the third heaven"[20]) as a special place for His people. This place is outside of space as we know it and is reserved for just the right number of individual souls awaiting the Resurrection[21]. This number is unknown, though the vision of the 144,000 believers entering heaven[22] may be a clue. If that is the last "wave" of believers, then periodic waves through history could match one fourth of all people ever born (parable of the sower[23] for a truly large number will end up at the throne[24].

Three Heavens

The sky

The first lofty arena is the home of flying things above the surface of the earth. The most numerous of these would be the insects. Most forms of insect fly at least part of their life. This order of life was created on the fifth day, concurrent with the animals of the sea. Like the "swarmers", the fliers are adapted to their environment. Many of the insects would become food for the warm-blooded fliers, the birds and bats. All fliers, though, have to have their young in the safety of structures on the ground.

The power of flight allows most insects and birds to navigate through the atmosphere. This layer of creation is composed of "pillars" of air that weigh about a ton per square foot of the earth (14.7 pounds per square inch). Variations of the weight of air changes the weather--especially when it happens over water. The process of evaporation moves liquid water (briefly turned to vapor) into the air where it is condensed into either dew or clouds. In this way, God provides for the needs of plants, animals and people.

In combination with nitrogen, the air holds oxygen, the continuing breath of life. In people and mammals, the mother provides this life via her own blood to the developing young. Mixed with blood in the lungs, oxygen brings life to each cell of the body.

Space

In an obvious way, "outer space" is very much just that: space. The distance between stars is so large that it dwarfs the concept of speed of travel. The earth is so small compared to all the rest that it is hard to even come up with an analogy. However, most of what we "see" in the night sky is just "stretched" space. The matter and energy found in space is dispersed very thin.

What researchers found while looking for the "smallest" thing is that the invisible stuff that makes up matter is also mostly space. Called atomos ("indivisible") by the Greeks, these particles can be split to release their potential energy. The more they search, the more it is obvious that God knew what to do with each little bit of "stuff".

All this space presents a problem to solve. Whether "self-propelled" or driven by the hand of God, models of the universe find that the smallest of "particles"--the photon--travels almost to the moon from the earth in a second (making a round trip in about 2.5 seconds). According to most research, our local galaxy is about 100,000 "light years" across. At that size, it takes light from its center over 20,000 years to reach earth. This is "impossible" in the 6,000 years since Adam. Many trains of thought have been followed to explain this inconsistency. Whatever the case may be God found a way that He could show Abraham the sky[25] much like it is today.

Heavenly Places

Known as the "heaven of the heavens"[26], the presence of God is not a point in space as we know it. It is beyond the physical realm and into the spiritual. It is simultaneously far away and close at hand. The closest to seeing it on the earth was the manifestation of God in the wilderness of the Exodus [27]. The fire by night was not Yahweh, but its presence seemed to have a strange energy that defied physics[28]. The first time in the universe that such an energy was present it was "invisible" (a hovering "cloud") but then God said "let there be light."[29] Until later in that day that light may have been all over the surface. Then, perhaps like the column of fire, it rose "above" (away from) the surface to allow night to form on the far side of the globe[30].

Yahweh is called the "God of Heaven"[31] and as such is the King of the "Kingdom of Heaven[32]. Though ruler of all things, he has allowed Satan to be the "god of this world (that is, age)"[33]. The spiritual world in the "air" (the "first" heaven) around us is teaming with demons that seek to control mankind[34]. But this is at a level far below that of the Heaven above, or beyond, our daily lives.

Verses

  1. Ecc. 5:3 (Link)
  2. Gen. 1:26 (Link)
  3. Deut. 4:36; Gen. 21:17 (Link)
  4. Ps. 57:5 (Link)
  5. Gen. (Link)
  6. Gen. 1:14-18 (Link)
  7. Gen. 15:15 (Link)
  8. Genesis 28:12; Deuteronomy 4:19 (Link)
  9. Revelation 6:9-11 (Link)
  10. Dan. 12:3 (Link)
  11. John 14:23 (Link)
  12. Heb. 12:22-23; Jer. 3:17; Rev. 7:9-10 (Link)
  13. 1 John 1:5; John 8:12 (Link)
  14. Rev. 21:1--22:4 (Link)
  15. Gen. 1:1 (Link)
  16. Gen. 1:2-5 (Link)
  17. Gen. 1:6-7 (Link)
  18. Gen. 1:14-18 (Link)
  19. Gen. 2:5-6, 10 (Link)
  20. 2 Cor. 12:2 (Link)
  21. Rom. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:18 (Link)
  22. Rev. 7:4-12 (Link)
  23. Mat. 13:23 (Link)
  24. Rev. 7:9 (Link)
  25. Gen. 15:15 (Link)
  26. Deut. 10:14 (Link)
  27. Exod. 13:21-22 (Link)
  28. Deu. 29:5 (Link)
  29. Gen. 1:2-3 (Link)
  30. Isa. 45:7 (Link)
  31. Gen. 24:3,7; 2 Chr. 7:3 (Link)
  32. Dan. 4:37; Matt. 8:23 (Link)
  33. 2 Cor. 4:4 (Link)
  34. Gal. 2:3-4; Eph. 3:10; 6:12 (Link)

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