- Published: 17 July 2011
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Heaven. There are five words employed in the Hebrew O.T. translated "heaven" and one Greek word so translated in the N.T. of the Hebrew words, galgal (Psa. 77:18) refers to the "rolling clouds", the word galgal being elsewhere rendered "wheel" and "rolling thing". Shachaq, used in Psalm 89:6 and Psalm 89:37 means a "thin cloud", and is elsewhere translated "cloud", "sky" and "small dust". It may be accidental, but it is nevertheless interesting, that the blue color, and hence the visibility of the "sky", is owing to refraction of blue rays of light, and that it is to the vapory and the earthy particles in the atmosphere that the refraction is due; but for these there would be total darkness till the instant of sunrise. As the imagery of the O.T. has been seized upon to "prove" the unscientific character of these ancient writings, the inclusion of the above note may not be without justification. Arabah "mixed" (Psa. 68:4) and ariphim "dropping" (Isa. 5:30) complete the references that refer to the clouds under the covering figure of heaven.
Shamayim. This Hebrew word is the one that is translated "heaven" or "heavens" in the O.T. except in those portions where the Chaldee equivalent shemayin is used (Ezra, Daniel and Jer. 10:11). The Hebrew shamayim occurs in the O.T. 419 times, of these, twenty-one occurrences are translated "air", as in Genesis 1:26. In the N.T. only one word, ouranos, is translated "heaven". This Greek word occurs over 280 times, of which "air" accounts for ten occurrences and "sky" for five. The name 'heaven' in our own language has been explained, according to its etymology, that which is heaved or lifted up, and a similar origin has been assigned to the Greek ouranos, and the Hebrew shamayim. The temporary "heaven" stretched out like a tent over the earth during the ages of Redemption is not the subject of this article where we will deal with heaven itself. Whether the translation reads "heaven" or "heavens", the word is always plural in the original. This no more indicates a plurality of "heavens" than the plural Elohim "God" indicates a plurality of Gods. There is a use of the plural in the Hebrew language known as "The Plural of Majesty" as, for example, "the sacrifices of God" in Psalm 51:17, which means "the great sacrifice".
Creation is divided into two parts, "heaven and earth" (Gen. 1:1), which in Colossians 1:16 is expanded to mean "all things visible and invisible", and the term "heaven" may include thrones, dominions, principalities and powers, as well as physical sun, moon and stars. Heaven is often used as a symbol of authority, for example, when Nebuchadnezzar learned "that the heavens do rule" (Dan. 4:26). The superiority of the heavens to the earth is expressed in the words "on high" (Luke 1:78, Heb. 1:3), "height" (Isa. 7:11, Psa. 148:1, Proverbs 25:3). It is possible that, after Genesis 1:1, there are but nine or ten references to "heaven itself", i.e. the heaven of Genesis 1:1, in the whole of the O.T. This can be put to the test by reading the book of Genesis, and noting every allusion to "heaven". We read of the waters that are under heaven, lights in the firmament of heaven, fowl that fly in the "air", the windows of heaven opened at the deluge, Abraham directed to look toward heaven, to the countless number of the stars, but no passage demands that the term "heaven" should be interpreted of the heaven of Genesis 1:1. We cannot print here the 419 references to heaven, but we can print the nine or ten references that look beyond the present limited firmament.
"Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord's thy God" (Deut. 10:14).
Here Moses draws attention to the firmament which is "called" heaven, and the heaven of heavens, the heavens in the highest degree that were created long before the six days of Genesis 1:3-31 and Genesis 2:1. No further reference is made to the heavens themselves, until the days of David and Solomon, where in Psalm 57:5, Psalm 57:11, Psalm 108:5, Psalm 113:4, Psalm 115:16 and Psalm 148:4 we have six references to a glory that is above the present limited heavens; making, with Deuteronomy 10:14, seven in all, the perfect number; in all other places the heavens referred to are put into correspondence with the firmament (Psa. 19:1) either by actual statement, or by implication. Five hundred years after Moses, Solomon recognized that neither the present heavens, nor the heaven of heavens could "contain" God (1 Kings 8:27) and the last reference to the heaven of heavens, in contrast with the firmament, is found in the Levites' prayer (Neh. 9:6).
Even when we bring these passages forward, they only emphasize the fact that "the heaven" of the O.T. was the "firmament" of Genesis 1:8, stretched out like a curtain or a tent for God to dwell in (Isa. 40:22), and any reference in Psalm or Prophecy that speaks of heaven as God's "dwelling place" refers to this tabernacle formed by the firmament. When we open the N.T. it is pardonable if we there expect to find a great advance upon this limitation of the term "heaven". Twelve times do we read in Matthew of the "Father which is in heaven", but we also read that the heavens were opened at the baptism of the Lord, that the heavens are to pass away, and unless it is a matter beyond dispute that "angels" inhabit the heaven of heavens, we shall find no instance in the gospel of Matthew of a reference to any other "heaven" than the firmament of Genesis 1:8.
We have to wait until we reach the gospel of John for any explicit reference to the highest heavens, and there the Saviour speaks of ascending up to heaven to where He was before (John 3:13, John 6:62), to the glory that He had "before the world was" (John 17:5). In these few references is contained practically all that is said of the "heavens" of Genesis 1:1 in the four gospels. The only calling and company, hope and sphere of blessing, that pierces the present firmament above us and ascends to where Christ sits at the right hand of God, is the Church of the Mystery. Christ is set forth, in Ephesians 4:10, as having ascended "far above all heavens" yet revealed as seated at the right hand of God "in the heavenly places". These heavenly places therefore must be above the limitations of the outstretched heavens. This is not invalidated by the fact that the selfsame sphere is called in Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians "heaven", for we must not allow ourselves to rob "heaven itself" of its true title, simply because we have used it so often of the limited firmament. In connection with this same calling Christ can be said to be both "far above all the heavens" yet "in heaven" at the right hand of God.
There are eleven references to "heaven" in the epistle to the Hebrews, one only speaks of "heaven itself", the others refer to the lesser and lower heavens. For the heavens created as recorded in Hebrews 1:10 are to "perish", but this can never be said of "heaven itself", Christ is said to have "passed through the heavens", dierchomai (Heb. 4:14), and as being made "higher than the heavens" (Heb. 7:26), without involving any contradiction in the saying that He Who passed through the heavens and was made higher than the heavens, was at the selfsame time depicted as entering "heaven itself" (Heb. 9:24). The contradiction only exists in our minds if we fail to distinguish the heaven of the beginning, Genesis 1:1 from the heaven of the ages, Genesis 1:8. The only references to the heavens of Genesis 1:1 that are found in the remainder of the N.T. are those of Peter and of the Revelation, which speak of a new heaven and a new earth (2 Pet. 3:13, Rev. 21:1).
The new heavens and the new earth spoken of by Isaiah are related to Jerusalem (Isa. 65:17-18). Where we read in Revelation twenty-one of a "first heaven" and a "first earth" the word translated "first", protos, is rendered in verse 4 "the former things", and we should possibly translate Revelation 21:1 "the former heaven and the former earth", the reference to "no more sea" being an evident allusion to Genesis 1:2. In connection with the subject before us, let us turn to the words of Paul as found in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4. In direct connection with the visions and revelations which he had received he refers to an extraordinary experience. Whether he was "in the body or whether out of the body" he could not tell, but he did know that he had been caught up to the third heaven . . . caught up into paradise.
First, we must be clear as to the meaning of the term "caught up". The word "up" in this passage has no equivalent in the Greek, and to attempt to make it have any bearing upon the subject betrays as much ignorance of the original as would be betrayed by anyone seeking to extract the idea of direction upward, from such idiomatic phrases of the English language as "shut up", "wash up", "lock up" and the like. We can omit the word "up", for the Greek word arpazo is translated "take by force", "catch away", "pluck", "caught away" and "pull". The phrase "in the body" translates en somati, which is very like the phrase en pneumati "in spirit" used of the occasion when John was translated to the Day of the Lord (Rev. 1:10). The closest parallel is that of the experience of Philip, who was "caught away" by the spirit of the Lord, and was "found at Azotus", some miles away.
It is evident that the third heaven to which Paul was caught away was Paradise, otherwise his reiteration would need a deal of explanation. Paradise has been located in different regions by different teachers, mainly in accord with their peculiar beliefs concerning the intermediate state. If we keep close to the Scriptural meaning of Paradise we shall know that it is derived from the Hebrew pardes (Neh. 2:8, Song 4:13) and means "a garden or orchard", and when we meet the word in the book of Revelation, it has no connection whatever with an intermediate state but is still a garden and orchard, it is indeed the garden of Eden restored and extended.
In what way, we may ask, can this Paradise at the end of the age be in any way related to the "third" heaven? If we count the third heaven as being like the third story of a building, it will certainly appear incongruous. But Revelation twenty-one has already spoken of "a new earth" and a "former earth", consequently it would be true to say, even as Peter in 2 Peter three has indicated, that there was a first heaven, in the beginning (Gen. 1:1); a second heaven, at the making of the earth ready for man (Gen. 1:8); a third heaven, at the end when redemption shall be finished (Rev. 21:1). It was to this "heaven" and this "paradise" that Paul was caught away, and as he stresses more than any other writer in the N.T. the blessings of the New Creation, it is quite understandable that this great goal of the ages, should be associated by him with the visions and revelation he had received in connection with his apostleship.
The great lesson that forces itself upon our attention, however, is the fact that, apart from Paul's ministry, and especially his prison ministry , there is scarcely any reference in the Scriptures, either Old or New, to the heaven of Genesis 1:1. The hope of the Mystery alone pierces the intervening firmament and places the believer "far above all" even where Christ sits at the right hand of God. We must now go on to the consideration of the special term "heavenly places", but to this we will devote a separate study.