The heavens: hashamayim (Strong’s 8064)
Root: שָׁמַ֫יִם (shin, mem, yod, mem sofit) [Sounds like sh’MYim]
Heaven & Earth
The heavens, which is a single word in Hebrew, is the fifth word of the Torah, found in Genesis 1:1…
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. [Beresheit bara Elohim et ha-shamayin we-et ha-aretz].
Shamayim is “heavens”, ha-shamayim is “the heavens”. In the Hebrew scriptures the heavens refer to the sky. The sun, moon and stars are in “the heavens”:
Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.
The Hebrew word hashamayim includes, within it, the Hebrew word for water, mayim, so it seems that water is consistently connected with the heavens. Scientifically, of course, we know this to be true. Water goes into the heavens as vapour, helps form clouds and returns to earth as rain. We also know that water is necessary to support life. Planet viability is contingent on finding water.
Biblically the firmament, or sky, is connected with water:
Praise YHWH from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights!
Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts!
Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light!
Praise Him, highest heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of YHWH, For He commanded and they were created.
What the waters that are above the heavens mean, we do not know. But the Psalms tell us that the heavens is God’s domain:
May you be blessed of YHWH,
Maker of heaven and earth.
The heavens are YHWH’s heavens,
But the earth He has given to the sons of men.
We are placed as caretakers of the earth, God, however, controls the heavens. Interesting that there is a distinction between the heavens and God’s place within the heavens.
The Highest Heaven or Heaven of Heavens
There are countless verses in the Tanakh (Old Testament) that talk about a place in the heavens called the highest heaven or the heaven of heavens. For example:
“You alone are YHWH. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them and the heavenly host bows down before You.
Sing to God, O kingdoms of the earth; Sing praises to the Lord, Selah.
To Him who rides upon the highest heaven, which are from ancient times. Behold, He speaks forth with His voice, a mighty voice. Ascribe strength to God; His majesty is over Israel and His strength is in the skies.
O God, You are awesome from Your sanctuary. The God of Israel Himself gives strength and power to the people. Blessed be God!
This is the place where God resides and where the heavenly host, an angelic multitude of worshippers, surround Him. It is His sanctuary and His throne room:
YHWH has established His throne in the heavens,
And His sovereignty rules over all.
The Psalmist also makes it clear that from Heaven, God is watching!
YHWH looks from heaven;
He sees all the sons of men;
From His dwelling place He looks out
On all the inhabitants of the earth.
So if the highest Heaven is God’s throne room where, ultimately, God resides and keeps watch over us, then what does it look like?
Prophetic visions of YHWH’s Throne Room in Heaven
The prophets give us a few glimpses into the glory that is God’s dwelling place:
1 Kings 22:19
Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of YHWH. I saw YHWH sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left.”
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
And one called out to another and said,
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is YHWH of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”
Ezekiel’s description focuses more on what YHWH looks like, rather than what Heaven looks like, but we do get little glimpses:
Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man. Then I noticed from the appearance of His loins and upward something like glowing metal that looked like fire all around within it, and from the appearance of His loins and downward I saw something like fire; and there was a radiance around Him. As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of YHWH. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking.
In the B’rit Chadashah (New Testament) John, author of the Revelation, paints a picture of a new heaven:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.”
We’ve established that God resides in Heaven. But is it the place for the afterlife? Is this where we go when we die? John’s vision tells us it is a place without mourning or pain or death; a place without tears. A place open to everyone, without cost.
Olam Ha-Ba: The World to Come
Today Jewish people describe the afterlife as Olam Ha-Ba (the World to Come). It is the same idea as the new heaven and the new earth that John speaks about in the Revelation. Yeshua uses this phrase (the World to Come) when he explains the resurrection to the Sadducees:
Then some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to question Him [Yeshua]. “Rabbi,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man should marry his brother’s widow and raise up offspring for him. Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a wife, but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and in the same way all seven died, leaving no children. And last of all, the woman died. So then, in the resurrection, whose wife will she be? For all seven were married to her.”
Jesus answered, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy to share in the World to Come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In fact, they can no longer die, because they are like the angels. And since they are sons of the resurrection, they are sons of God.
Even Moses demonstrates that the dead are raised, in the passage about the burning bush. For he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for to Him all are alive.”
Some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well!” And they did not dare to question Him any further.
Yeshua, the Messiah, would have a complete understanding of Heaven and when He spoke about it He often related the description of Heaven with words of comfort:
Yeshua: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Yeshua: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”
Yeshua points out that you should not feel troubled because He is preparing a place for you… specifically for YOU! And He will be coming back to take you there!
Gathered to your People
So according to Yeshua, we have a place to go! But what will we find when we get there? The early writings in the Torah are sparse in their mention of Heaven, but they do highlight an important aspect of the afterlife. Probably the strongest concept of heaven that humans like to hold onto is the thought of reconnecting with loved ones that have departed before us. But is this a Biblical teaching?
Yes! The afterlife, according to the Torah, is a place where we reconnect with our people. Here’s what we read in Genesis, when Abraham dies:
Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people.
The phrase “gathered to his/your people” was also recorded at the deaths of Ishmael (Genesis 25:17), Isaac (Genesis 35:29), Jacob (Genesis 49:33), Aaron (Numbers 20:26), and Moses (Numbers 27:13 & Deuteronomy 32:50).
In other words they went home to their people. Heaven is home. It is where we experience full peace and completeness. It is where we can finally come into the presence of God, face to face, and into the presence of our long departed loved ones.
But what do we really know about Heaven, the place?
Here’s the thing… apart from a few prophetic visions of heaven, and the little bit that Yeshua had to say about the subject, we really know very little. Certainly if Yeshua has gone to prepare a place for us we can expect it to be perfect. Where is this highest heaven, that holds the throne of God? We do not know. Only that it’s out there… somewhere.
It appears that this is not the central focus of Scripture. Heaven is a happy reward but not the reason for existence. We were not born merely to go to heaven. The focus is not the end goal, it’s the here and now. This is what I wrote a few months ago in the posting on Life:
Many people believe in God merely as insurance for death. If you have faith in God simply to secure a spot in the afterlife, you are missing the point. Relationship is what we were created for- a relationship with God and with each other! The Tanakh (Old Testament) and the B’rit Chadashah (New Testament/Covenant) is not teaching us about how to prepare to die, it’s teaching us about how to truly live!!
We are to live life for God NOW, not for the heavenly reward we receive later. This is a core concept in Hebraic theology. Yeshua makes that very clear when He speaks about heavenly inheritance:
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.”
“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’”
We are to live life well. We are to live life for others here on earth. When our time on earth is done God calls us to be complete in Him… Ultimately He is calling us home! And if Heaven is even just a tiny bit like it is described, we’re in for a wonderful treat! But before you even contemplate Heaven, contemplate this:
How is your relationship with your Creator? When you are called home, will it be like finally reconnecting with a cherished best friend, or will you be facing someone you barely know?
Next week: generations