Raqia: SKY, Expanse

SKY/EXPANSE- Raqia, Masculine Noun (Strong’s 7549); Raqa, Verb (Strong’s 7554).

Root: רקע

Sounds like: ra’kee’ah

The word raqia has had some interesting hang time in the world of academic theology. Some try to place  boundaries between the words sky (raqia) and heaven (shamyim), hoping to find some unique truths by exploring their differences. For others, raqia is  used to explain the ancient understanding of cosmology- that early Hebrew people believed in a firm dome-like structure that surrounded the world and kept the sky waters out. This was why some versions of the Bible translate raqia as “firmament”. There is much scrutiny for this word, which actually has a rather small footprint in the Scriptures. In fact, more than half this word’s occurrences show up in the first book of the Bible alone: 

Genesis 1:1-10

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was a formless and desolate emptiness, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. 

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness He called “night.” And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

Then God said, “Let there be an expanse [raqia] in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” God made the expanse [ha-raqia], and separated the waters that were below the expanse [la-raqia] from the waters that were above the expanse [la-raqia]; and it was so. God called the expanse [la-raqia] “heaven.” And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

In other words, the name that God gave the raqia (the great expanse) was “heaven” (shamayim). Then God used the expanse to be a dividing line to define, separate and organize creation:

Genesis 1:9

Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. And God called the dry land “earth,” and the gathering of the waters He called “seas”; and God saw that it was good. 

After this initial division, the author begins to use the phrase the expanse of the heavens [bi-r’qia ha-shamayim] to describe the great created sky where YHWH placed  light:

Genesis 1:14-20

Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens [bi-r’qia ha-shamayim] to separate the day from the night, and they shall serve as signs and for seasons, and for days and years; and they shall serve as lights in the expanse  of the heavens [bi-r’qia ha-shamayim] to give light on the earth”; and it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. God placed them in the expanse of the heavens [bi-r’qia ha-shamayim] to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens [bi-r’qia ha-shamayim] .” 

Sky: A Canvas for the Creator

This creation narrative became a grab-bag of imagery for every writer of poetry and prose in the following books of the Bible. The poet who wrote Psalm 136 certainly was thinking of the creation story when they wrote this:

Psalm 136:3, 6-9

Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for His faithfulness is everlasting…

To Him who spread out [l-roqa] the earth above the waters, for His faithfulness is everlasting; to Him who made the great lights, for His faithfulness is everlasting:

The sun to rule by day, for His faithfulness is everlasting, the moon and stars to rule by night, for His faithfulness is everlasting.

David, the most prolific Psalmist, used the word raqia to describe YHWH’s creative hand and the vastness of His work:

Psalm 19:1

[David:] The heavens tell of the glory of God; and their expanse [ha-raqia] declares the work of His hands.

For David, the incredible, overwhelming vastness of the sky was a testament to the power and glory of YHWH!

Image by Martin Jernberg (Unsplash.com)

Hammering Out the Sky

The great expanse (raqia) of Genesis 1 comes from the root verb raqa which means to hammer out or spread out. Most often this verb was associated with hammering metal so that it spread out into a sheet:

Exodus 39:3 (see also Numbers 16:38-39, Isaiah 40:19, Jeremiah 10:9).

Then they hammered out [wai-raq’u] gold sheets and cut them into threads to be woven in with the violet, the purple, and the scarlet material, and the fine linen, the work of a skilled embroiderer. 

Job’s friend, Elihu, also associated this verb with metal. He sparked a question for Job to consider. Are you, Job, in any way as powerful as God?…

Job 37:18

[Elihu:] “Can you, with Him, spread out [ta-r’qia] the skies strong as a cast metal mirror?”

Even YHWH Himself used this word to describe His creation process:

Isaiah 44:24

This is what YHWH says, He who is your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb:

“I, YHWH, am the maker of all things, stretching out the heavens by Myself and spreading out [roqa] the earth alone…”

YHWH in the Expanse

We often think of God living in Heaven, but one Psalmist saw YHWH’s dwelling place within the expansive sky:

Psalm 150

Praise YHWH!

Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty expanse [bi-r’qia].

Praise Him for His mighty deeds; praise Him according to His excellent greatness.

Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with harp and lyre.

Praise Him with tambourine and dancing; praise Him with stringed instruments and flute.

Praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with resounding cymbals.

Everything that has breath shall praise YHWH. Praise YHWH!

The prophet Ezekiel revealed his visions with startling imagery. He was led by a messenger to see the throne room of YHWH. The throne room itself was like a mini-universe. There was a glowing crystaline expanse above and below the expanse were incredible heavenly creatures with loud fluttering wings:

Ezekiel 1:22-26 (see also Ezekiel 10:1-2)

Now over the heads of the living beings there was something like an expanse [raqia], like the awesome gleam of crystal, spread out over their heads. Under the expanse [ha-raqia] their wings were stretched out straight, one toward the other; each one also had two wings covering its body on the one side and on the other. And I also heard the sound of their wings, like the sound of abundant waters as they went, like the voice of the Almighty, a sound of a crowd like the sound of an army camp; whenever they stopped, they let down their wings. And a voice came from above the expanse [la-raqia] that was over their heads; whenever they stood still, they let down their wings.

Now above the expanse [la-raqia] 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.

When the wings of the  heavenly creatures stopped a voice resounded from above the expanse (raqia) and an enthroned figure could be seen. The throne room was in the raqia and it was shiny and glorious… outshining our own heavenly sky here on earth. It’s comforting to know that when we go home to the Father we will still be able to look up and see a wildly beautiful, resplendent, crystaline sky!

Yeshua, Sky Bound

In essence, YHWH hammered the world into existence and gave life to the living. And when He knew that we couldn’t get back into His Heavenly Kingdom on our own, He sent His Anointed One to redeem and save us.

Isaiah 42:5-8s

This is what God YHWH says, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out [roqa] the earth and its offspring, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it:

“I am YHWH, I have called You in righteousness; I will hold You by the hand and watch over You, and I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon and those who dwell in darkness from the prison. I am YHWH, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another.”

God said He would not give His glory to another… but He gave it to His Son because His Son wasn’t “an other”. Yeshua was so perfectly woven together in the fabric of His Father’s essence that YHWH’s glory naturally emanated from Him. Yeshua was the perfect reflection of the glory of the One-Almighty-Creator God. He would be true righteousness, the covenant upholder, the light that would shine on all nations. He would heal people and free people from their oppression to slavery and death. In Him, YHWH would provide the Redeemer who could save and sanctify all of God’s creation that had spread across the earth. 

But it would come at a terrible price. Yeshua would go to the cross and die, like a sacrificial lamb, and that meant that YHWH Himself would feel the terrible weight of it all:

Luke 23:35-46

And the people stood by, watching. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Messiah of God, His Chosen One.” 

The soldiers also ridiculed Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!”

Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!” 

But the other responded, and rebuking him, said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our crimes; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom!” And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the entire land until the ninth hour, because the sun stopped shining; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your Hands I entrust My Spirit.” And having said this, He died.

God’s beautiful expansive sky went black with darkness as His chosen, unique Son suffered horribly at the hand of humankind. Yeshua would die on that cross… but He would not stay in His grave. He conquered death and rose up and greeted His followers with a blessing. After a ministry of forty days Yeshua went home to be with His Father. The sky, which darkened at His death, received Him as the Light of the World. He ascended into the heavens and His disciples stood in awe:

Luke 24:50-51

And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. While He was blessing them, He parted from them and was carried up into heaven. 

Yeshua went home to the throne room of God, the one that Ezekiel envisioned… a place with an incredible sky of it’s own.

Until we go to meet them there, we stand on this earth. We are blessed here with the glorious privilege of being able to look up into the sky everyday and see the great expanse above us, whether in a sun-lit day or a star-filled night. 

Next time you look up, take in the enormousness of it all and remember that God carefully planned each star, within each galaxy, within the vastness of this beautiful, incredible, universe. And then remember that in such overwhelming magnitude, God loves and cares for you. You are a tiny little speck in the vastness of the universe, but to YHWH you (yes, little old you) are infinitely precious in His sight.

One of my favourite verses is in the scroll of Daniel. He saw insight and righteousness as an expanse worth shining in: 

Daniel 12:3

And those who have insight will shine like the glow of the expanse [ha-raqia] of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever

Let’s aim to seek insight and strive to be righteous… then we will be like the stars in the magnificent sky and we can light up the world with God’s love!

Next week: I Am

3 thoughts on “Raqia: SKY, Expanse”

  1. Who cannot look up at the stars at night and be in awe of the magnificence of the universe. I really appreciate your blog and the effort you put into it, as well as all I have learned on your journey.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.