Water above firmament

In this Genesis passage is there any evidence, scientific theory or speculation as to how much water was above?

Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.
Genesis 1:6‭-‬8 NKJV

Hope this is not a silly question. I have read about greenhouse effect, and wondering how thick would waters above need to be to create that green house effect?

Curious
Mike

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Hi @mgaplus4,

This is a very interesting question. I have been thinking about how to interpret the word ‘firmament’ for the past few months due to a carefully researched book, The Liturgy of Creation, by Michael LeFebvre.

Dr. LeFebvre points out that similar passages include Psalm 104:2, Job 37:18, Exodus 24:10, and Ezekiel 1:22-28; cf. Ezek 10:1; Ps 104:1-3,13.

He quotes Paul Seely, who writes,

Standard Hebrew lexica . . . have defined the raqia ʿ (רקיע, “firmament”) of Gen 1:6–8 as a solid dome over the earth…

You can find a PDF from Seely on this topic online. In that article, Seely says this:

The basic historical fact that defines the meaning of raqia in Gene- sis 1 is simply this: all peoples in the ancient world thought of the sky as solid.

Interestingly, in that article, Seely quotes B.B. Warfield, a great promoter of Biblical inerrancy, who stated:

[that an inspired writer could] share the ordinary opinions of his day in certain matters lying outside the scope of his teachings, as, for example, with reference to the form of the earth, or its relation to the sun; and, it is not inconceivable that the form of his language when incidentally adverting to such matters, might occasionally play into the hands of such a presumption.

LeFebvre explains,

Day two envisions a world with a store of water overhead, comparable to the sea of water below. In the ancient worldview, it was thought that rain came from those heavenly “storehouses” when God opened “the windows of heaven” (see Gen 7:11; 2 Kgs 7:2, 19; Ps 78:23; 135:7; Is 24:18; Mal 3:10).

Further,

God states, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens” (Gen 1:14, a.t.), and on day five the birds were said to fly “across the face of the firmament of the heavens” (Gen 1:20, a.t.).

In light of this, it seems to me that if we are to take this word in a scientific sense, then we must conclude that there is a storehouse of water encircling the earth, which contains the stars, moon, and sun, and across which birds fly, and from which God releases rainfall.

For me, that is a difficult conclusion. It is so difficult, in fact, that I would instead reconsider if I am bringing the right interpretative stance to the Bible.

In particular, am I approaching the text as a 21st century Westerner with a default approach to looking at the world that is shaped by rationalism, scientism, and the printed word? And in doing so, is my cultural perspective obscuring my ability to read God’s word as it is was originally intended?

If I am conforming God’s word to my cultural expectations, then I am concerned that I am not reading it accurately.

By contrast, LeFebvre suggests this approach:

In the premodern world, the visual appearance of the sky, which looks like a blue dome, was taken to be one. It seems strange today, steeped as we are in modern discoveries about the distance of stars and the vastness of outer space. But step outside on a bright afternoon and try to take a fresh look at the sky. The air immediately around you is not blue, but “up there” the distant arch over the earth is crystalline blue. And at night, the stars appear to be dotting the sky at that same distance. Prior to telescopes, the presence of a firmament ( rāqîa ʿ ) seemed as obvious as the blue sky. The Holy Spirit guided the author of Genesis to describe God’s workmanship within that prescientific worldview rather than baffling his people with anachronistic insights into atmospheric and astronomical sciences.

The general principle he suggests we consider is this:

Throughout the Scriptures, God’s prophets and apostles spoke heaven’s truths within the cultural conventions of their original audiences.

As I reflect upon the evidence we have, this seems accurate to me. Therefore, I wonder if we should no longer attempt to re-interpret Genesis in light of modern science but instead seek to understand the text within its original context.

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I would concur with @CarsonWeitnauer comments.
I have attached a artist representation on what the people of the ANE, including the Hebrews envisioned the cosmos to be.

image

This image was copied from a resource that I own Faithlife Interactive Study Bible.

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Well, that is one way of looking at it.

But whenever the Bible makes statements consistent with more modern discoveries, like God hanging the earth upon nothing, or the life of the flesh being in the blood, or the one supercontinent (Pangaea) rising from the waters in Genesis 1:9, we often hear such statements hailed as touting the prescience of the Biblical writers whose understanding was supernaturally ahead of their time.

So it seems odd to turn right around and interpret other such statements as being admittedly unscientific, but dismissing it as either a product or a concession to their ancient culture. I’m not necessarily disputing that view - just not sure how to take it in light of our usual celebration of the Bible’s collateral accuracy.

I do believe there is a very simple way to take the statement that is not inaccurate - regardless of how its ancient readers may have taken it. The waters above the firmament on Day Two could just be the atmosphere with all of its clouds. Obviously, that would have to be added at some point before plant life on Day Three or the fowls on Day Four.

The lights in the firmament of heaven could simply mean they were visible through the atmosphere - unlike Venus shrouded in gaseous clouds. Up through the heaven was where you saw them. That doesn’t mean the atmosphere actually reached out to encompass the stars - it’s simply describing the scene from the human point of view.

Just a possibility - trying to keep it simple…and accurate.

Hope it helps!

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Thank you Carson for the different perspective? The PDF would not open but I understand what is being said, meaning the people reading did not have a modern perspective on earth, atmosphere, science and could only understand what they knew. I will say man can only comprehend what he sees and knows. (Example Exekiels vision revelation). There is no way to explain in human terms “God”.

Still traditional interpretation of firmament as strongs shares
Hebrew: רקיע
Transliteration: râqîya‛
Pronunciation: raw-kee’-ah
Definition: From H7554 ; properly an {expanse} that {is} the firmament or (apparently) visible arch of the sky: - firmament.
KJV Usage: firmament (17x).
Occurs: 17
In verses: 15
The space between land/sea and in our terms the trophosphere.

The water above, below are the same word in Hebrew
Hebrew: מים
Transliteration: mayim
Pronunciation: mah’-yim
Definition: Dual of a primitive noun (but used in a singular sense);
water ; figuratively juice ; by euphemism {urine} semen: - + {piss} {wasting} water ({-ing} {[-course} {-flood} -spring]).
KJV Usage: water (571x), piss (2x), waters (with H6440) (2x), watersprings (2x), washing (1x), watercourse (with H4161) (1x), waterflood (1x), watering (1x), variant (1x).
Occurs: 582
In verses: 525

As we know it did not rain but God
Genesis 2:6
[6]But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

What we know as water!
Water Molecule – Chemical and Physical Properties. Water is a chemical compound and polar molecule, which is liquid at standard temperature and pressure. It has the chemical formula H2O, meaning that one molecule of water is composed of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom.
Wikipedia

was above the firmament.

The greenhouse effect creationists speak of are similar to a hyperbaric chamber based on my understanding.

We have the knowledge to artificially create a hyper oxygenated chamber. What would it take to create it naturally.

Thinking about this deeper which your responce helped me to do makes me consider other ramifications of Noah’s flood.

Science says
The troposphere, the lowest layer, is right below the stratosphere. The next higher layer above the stratosphere is the mesosphere. The bottom of the stratosphere is around 10 km ( 6.2 miles or about 33,000 feet ) above the ground at middle latitudes. The top of the stratosphere occurs at an altitude of 50 km ( 31 miles).
Ucar center for education.

The average depth of the ocean is about 12,100 feet . The deepest part of the ocean is called the Challenger Deep and is located beneath the western Pacific Ocean in the southern end of the Mariana Trench, which runs several hundred kilometers southwest of the U.S. territorial island of Guam.
NOAA

Would it take as much above as there is below as

Genesis 1:6
[6]And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

Hebrew: תּוך
Transliteration: tâvek
Pronunciation: taw’-vek
Definition: From an unused root meaning to sever ; a {bisection} that {is} (by implication) the centre: - among ({-st}) X {between} {half} X ({there-} where-) in ({-to}) {middle} mid {[-night]} midst ({among}) X out ({of}) X {through} X with (-in).
KJV Usage: midst (209x), among (140x), within (20x), middle (7x), in (6x), between (3x), therein (3x), through (2x), into (2x), misc (23x).
Occurs: 415
In verses: 390

If you take half the water and put it above average 12,000 feet every inhabitable place on earth would be under water.

Thanks again to all who have responded with further insight, opinion.

God bless
Mike

Hi Mike,

I’d like to better understand your perspective!

You wrote:

In terms of understanding Genesis 1:7 (NKJV), we read:

Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so.

If half the water on earth was placed above the firmament, it seems you would need a solid firmament to hold the weight of this water up above the sky.

Do you affirm that God created a solid firmament to hold half the earth’s water above the sky?

In terms of understanding Genesis 7:11 (NKJV), we read:

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.

If during this forty day period time, the water that had been held above the solid firmament was released onto earth, this would be quite the cataclysmic event.

To quote again from The Liturgy of Creation:

Bodie Hodge explains, Currently, the pitfalls of the canopy model have grown to such an extent that most researchers have abandoned the model. For example, if a canopy existed and collapsed at the time of the Flood to supply the rainfall, the latent heat of condensation would have boiled the atmosphere! . . . Aside from the scientific analysis, there may be a much bigger issue at play: if the canopy really was part of earth’s atmosphere, then all the stars, sun, and moon would have been created within the earth’s atmosphere. Why is this? A closer look at Genesis 1:14 reveals that the “waters above” may very well be much farther out—if they still exist today. The entirety of the stars, including our own sun (the greater light) and moon (lesser light) could not possibly be in our atmosphere, since they were made “in the expanse” [Gen 1:15].

I look forward to hearing from you and better understanding your interpretation of these important verses.

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@CarsonWeitnauer Hey!

I was looking this verse up in a Rabbinic Jewish source, “The Pentateuch and Haftorahs Edited by J.H. Hertz Second Edition.” This is what the note says:

  1. firmament. Sky, arch of heaven.
    waters from the waters. i.e. the waters above the firmament (the mists and clouds that come down to earth in the shape of rain), from the waters on earth (rivers and seas).

So, in the diagram @Jimmy_Sellers posted, I think they are referring to just the space between the earth and clouds in this use of “firmament”, at least according to this book I’m referencing. Is it possible that the word “firmament” could be used to describe a number of different separations?

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Carson I appreciate your patience and responce.
I will try to break down the verses in question to better clarify my point.

Genesis 1:6‭-‬10

Text
Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.”

Me
All the water was divided right down the middle went up half stayed down and became the seas.
The firmament was what separated the waters.
So the firmament could not be above the upper waters could it.

I arrived at the 12,000 feet number because the average depth of ocean is 12,000 feet. While we have no clue how deep it was at creation I used the knowledge we now have to determine that number.

Firmament to me could only mean expance, space. The area between the waters

Text
Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so.

Me
I believe what we now know as our upper atmosphere ie; strophosphere, stratosphere, mesosphere was above the upper waters.

Text
And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.

Me
Again what we today call the sky.

What God called firmament was now called heaven.

Me
For clarification only do you agree with Paul in this passage.

Text
II Corinthians 12:2 NKJV
I knew a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven.

Me
I see this in that passage

First heaven space between land and upper atmosphere.
Second heaven outer space.
Third heaven where God lives

Text
Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear and it was so.
And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

Hope I made this part understandable

In regards to the flood passage

Text
Genesis 7:11‭-‬12 NKJV
In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up,

Me
In my dealings with underground wells to supply water to people’s homes, there are many aquifers, basins, underground rivers, falls Etc. With that we still cannot ascertain the amount of water in the fountains of the great deep.

The mist that watered the earth did the job so it must have been alot.

Text
and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights.

Me
Heaven to me again means what God called the firmament that he then changed to heaven.

Using the whole of Gods character I see this taking place.

Gods mercy which is always present when His wrath is displayed allowed a rain to fall not a catostrophic deluge from heaven. Again 12,000 feet of water falling from heaven at once would not be very merciful it would be evil.

I tried to communicate truth from the word as I understand it. Again thanks for your input and help.
Mike

Thank you please continue to contribute as I have endeavored to show the point and substance to my question? I am hoping others will also contribute. God bless
Mike

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Would like to address the latent heat point and water further out.

God can do anything but if water canopy was above the atmosphere then the water would have evaporated upon entry into outer atmosphere. Everything burns upon re-entry.

Secondly in the pitch blackness that night was bat the time of creation all the lights out there would be visible to the naked eye. On top of that wouldn’t the water be crystal clear and magnify what was beyond above the water. From 6.2 miles below on the earth’s surface it may have looked like a window? Gen. 7 did say the windows of heaven, (firmament) were opened up.

I in no way am being argumentative this is how I look at what the word is saying. I am open to any thought to the contrary.

I say this as a way of sharing me and who I am in Him. My Wife says I have a simple child like faith.

Thank you so much Carson.
Mike

Hi @joncarp,

Thanks for sharing this additional definition. In particular, it seems that in this resource, “firmament” is defined in part as, the “arch of heaven.”

To bring this together with the other resources mentioned above, the conclusion I still draw is that when ancient people looked at the sky, they believed they were looking at a solid arch.

Today, when you or I read the phrase, “arch of heaven” perhaps we immediately, almost instantaneously, interpret this as figurative imagery. Similarly, Rabbi Hertz gives a ‘modern’ gloss on the idea of the waters above the firmament - all that is intended are “the mists and clouds that come down to earth in the shape of rain.”

Yes - I think these are common understandings of our atmosphere today. I believe there are thousands of other Biblical authorities who can give us similar, scientific readings of the text.

But, no matter how many scholars interpret the text from within the parameters of a scientific mindset, I am not sure that provides evidence to think that this is what the original author or audience of Genesis understood by ‘firmament.’

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the kind follow-up! Some more thoughts and questions from me. I appreciate the opportunity to dialogue.

My position is that an interpretation of Genesis that fits the original audience and author includes these two beliefs:

  1. The firmament was solid and held the waters above it. The “windows” of heaven/the firmament were opened for rainfall.
  2. The firmament contained within it the lights of heaven.

Following this, one question is this: Is it an appropriate methodology of Biblical interpretation to first study the scientific literature and then look for ways to interpret the Biblical text to line up with what the scientists have discovered?

Or can we simply read the Bible on its own terms? If Genesis reflects a pre-scientific understanding of the atmosphere, does that reduce its credibility?

Or does it demonstrate that God revealed himself and his purposes within the understanding of the people who lived at that time?

Given that we worship Jesus, fully God and fully human, who was so willing to condescend to people’s understandings that he himself became a baby, spoke the languages of his day, and wore clothes appropriate to first century Judea, I am more inclined to see God meeting people where they are in order to bring each of us to a knowledge of him.

With this in mind, let me try to fairly present your position and some considerations that lead me to another conclusion. I welcome your correction on any point, particularly if I have misunderstood you.

If the firmament is what separates the waters, and half of the earth’s water is above the firmament, and there are 12,000 feet of water, then it seems we must conclude that at Creation, 6,000 feet of water was suspended above the firmament, all around the earth? Am I understanding you correctly?

That is, at Creation, we have half of the current ocean on earth, and another half-ocean above the firmament?

6,000 feet is 1,828.8 meters. If we calculate the weight of 1,828 cubic meters of water, we arrive at a weight of 4,030,049 pounds. That’s 2,015 US tons.

I’ll need to rely on a more brilliant person than myself to calculate the total weight of that much water distributed across the entirety of the earth’s atmosphere, but I think it would be an incredible amount of weight for the firmament to bear?

As best I understand it, light does not penetrate water very well. After we go down just 800m into the ocean, “there is no visible sunlight.” If we are talking about 1,828 meters of water suspended above the firmament, this would completely black out all light from the sun and stars from reaching the earth’s surface.

However, according to Genesis 1:14, the lights themselves are in the firmament:

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens…

Given these conclusions - and I very well may be misunderstanding you - I don’t know how you arrive at the understanding that the firmament is just the upper atmosphere or the sky?

How can God divide all the water down the middle, with half the water above the firmament, but the firmament not be a solid dome?

As for the best interpretation of 2 Corinthians 12:2, I again think we want to honor the Apostle Paul and seek to understand him on his own terms. It seems to me that we are reading into his words if we insert a scientific understanding of the atmosphere into his meaning of the third heaven?

Dr. Murray Harris of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School comments on this verse:

The eschatology of late Judaism drew a conceptual distinction between the first paradise (Ge 2 and 3), the last or eschatological paradise (cf. Rev 2:7), and the hidden paradise of the intervening period (cf. Lk 23:43; 2Co 12:4).

I look forward to hearing from you.

Hi James, I think that’s my point of agreement with you!

The question is, what was the human point of view at the time when Genesis was written?

To answer that question, I think we need to research the mindset of the human point of view in the ancient near East at the time that Genesis was written. This is not to say that the Biblical authors had the same understanding as the surrounding cultures, because the Israelites, of course, had a distinctive religion, the truth of which was supernaturally revealed to them by God.

That said, I am still recommending we study the text of God’s revelation on its own terms and that we work hard to avoid importing our scientific mindset and theories into this ancient (and divine) revelation.

Thank you Carson. Would you be ok with taking this a few points at a time for my sake.
Based on all I have read that you have posted you are a more learned man than i am.

You hold to the firmament being a solid surface holding up the water.
Is that a correct understanding?

God called the firmament heaven in verse 8?

Is heaven that solid surface?

Is the entire space “expance” between the waters solid?

Separate thought,
Could God command the upper waters to stay there? He knew they would come into play later during the flood.

I believe following the biblical narrative this is when God made the habitibal atmosphere for His future creations to thrive.

I believe I am interpreting the text in context and using modern science to explain my conclusions which were an unknown.

We may have to agree to disagree on some things. The important thing is Jesus and our relationship with Him. I am really enjoying our convo.
Mike
Mike

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The waters seem already present and are not mentioned in the days of creation.
Thanks

Hi Mike,

Thank you for the good follow-up questions. My interpretation is that if we are reading Genesis 1 as providing a kind of scientific description of the physical nature of the firmament that we have the wrong genre in mind. That is, whether we interpret “firmament” to mean “the modern scientific consensus about the earth’s atmosphere” or we interpret “firmament” to mean “the ancient pre-scientific understanding of the heavens,” either way, we are giving priority to something that is not central to the text itself. Both of those interpretative approaches share in common a desire to get a scientific understanding out of the text.

It seems to me that is a question that we bring to the text. But if we look at the text itself, I don’t see the evidence that the author of Genesis 1 intended for us to gain scientific understanding from the passage.

Dr. LeFebvre suggests, by contrast, that, “Rain from above—which is essential for the land’s fruitfulness—is the real focus of day two.”

To quote from him again:

By ordering the world into five jurisdictions—day and night (day 1), heaven (day 2), land and sea (day 3)—God transforms the world into a fertile realm.

Instead of science, it is everyday farming that fills the imagery of the text. God presents himself as the first Farmer of the soil, whose goodness enables later farmers to continue in that heritage.

Thank you for helping me to see things I did not see before our discussion, it was very revealing to me. I agree with the many points you brought out and see the direction taken to gain that understanding. While many places in scripture can be viewed through our individual lenses. The important ones that Jesus taught to help us be who He needs us to be is all I need to know. Thank you again for your help. Blessings in the Lord
Mike

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@CarsonWeitnauer Just to throw this out there, I do have a resource that makes the case based on translation, but also he does mention something that might rebut the idea that ancient people thought they were looking at a solid arch. Gleason L. Archer Jr. in New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties makes the case for raqia meaning expanse. He says,

Genesis 1:6-8 presents the second stage: the formation of an “expanse” (raqia) that separated between moisture in suspension in the sky and moisture condensed enough to remain on the earth’s surface. The term raqia does not mean a beaten-out metal canopy, as some writers have alleged-no ancient culture ever taught such a notion in its concept of the sky-but simply means “a stretched-out expanse.”

Then he goes on to explain why in some technical language about translation, which if anyone is interested I’ll be happy to quote. He then concludes by saying.

“Therefore, the noun raqia can mean only “expanse,” without any connotation of a hard metal plate.”

So, he seems to think the word simply means expanse. The only thing I’m not sure of is when he says, the term raqia does not mean a beaten-out metal canopy, and that no ancient culture ever taught such a notion, if he means just that notion specifically, or simply solid in general.

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Hi @joncarp,

Thank you for adding this into the conversation. I am learning far more about the word ‘raqia’ than I have ever explored before - and it is thanks to this interesting discussion!

I would be interested in Archer’s technical explanation.

It is so interesting to me that the scholars are disagreeing about their facts. For instance, in this article, “THE FIRMAMENT AND THE WATER ABOVE”, by Paul Seely, a significant number of observations are enumerated to establish a conclusion that the ancient belief was that the sky was solid:

http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/OTeSources/01-Genesis/Text/Articles-Books/Seely-Firmament-WTJ.htm

To add another voice, my friend Hugh Ross argues this way in his book Navigating Genesis:

Some critics and skeptics of the Bible claim that the rāqîa‘ and shāmayim in verse 8 refer to the solid brass dome of ancient mythology. They cite Job 37:18 as support for their view: “Can you join him [God] in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?” However, it should be noted that the word “as” indicates the use of a figure of speech. The picture continues in Job 37:21: “Now no one can look at the sun, bright as it is in the skies after the wind has swept them clean.” In ancient times, no humanly crafted surface reflected light more effectively than a polished bronze mirror. The simile in Job 37 simply compares the Sun’s brightness on a clear day to the painfully bright reflection of light from such a mirror.

Interestingly, if we go to a standard Hebrew grammar, such as BDB, we find this for raqia:

n.m. extended surface, (solid) expanse (as if beaten out) — firmamentum

1. (flat) expanse (as if of ice), as base, support.

2. the vault of heaven, or ‘firmament,’ regarded by Hebrews as solid, and supporting ‘waters’ above it.

I found this article, from a Jewish perspective, to help illuminate the reasoning behind why a standard Hebrew grammar would identify the raqia as a solid thing:

Hi @CarsonWeitnauer,

I know what you mean, I am definitely learning a lot more about this topic. Although, I think what I am learning the most, is that I have a lot more to learn! I think I am going to start by reading the book by Hugh Ross that you mentioned, Navigating Genesis. If you can recommend any additional books I would be interested in any suggestions. In The Gospel Coalition’s answer to this question Stop Saying the Ancient Israelites Believed the Sky Was a Big Solid Dome with a Heavenly Sea Above It they discuss the book, Interpreting Eden by Vern Poythress. Have you ever read this book? If so, would you recommend it? I might read it after Navigating Genesis.

As far as the articles you mentioned, it is interesting how Paul Seely seems to come to the exact opposite conclusion as Gleason Archer does! Which definitely motivates me to want to learn more about this topic. As far as Archer’s technical explanation, he says:

This is quite evident from Isaiah 42:5, where the cognate verb raqa is used: “Thus says the God Yahweh, the Creator of the heavens, and the one who stretched them out [from the verb natah, ‘to extend’ curtains or tent cords], the one who extended [roqa] the earth and that which it produces [the noun se’esaim refers always to plants and animals].” Obviously raqa could not here mean “beat out,” “stamp out” (though it is often used that way in connection with metal working); the parallelism with natah (noted above) proves that here it has the force of extend or expand. Therefore, the noun raqia can mean only “expanse,” without any connotation of a hard metal plate.

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