Firmament a term introduced into our language from the. Vulgate, which- gives firmamentum as the equivalent of the στερἑωμα of the Sept. and the raki'a (רָקַיעִ) of the Hebrew text (Ge 1:6); more fully רקַיעִ הִשָּׁמִיַם, firmament of the heavens, Ge 1:14-15,17). SEE HEAVEN. '
1. The Hebrew term is generally regarded as expressive of simple expansion, and is so rendered in the margin of the A. V. (1. c.); -but the true idea of the word is a complex one, taking in the mode by which the expansion is effected', sand consequently implying the nature of the material expanded. The verb רָקִע, means to expand by beating, whether by the hand, the foot, or any instrument. It is especially used, however, of beating out metals into thin plates (Ex 39:3; Nu 16:39), and hence the substantive רַקֻּעַים "broad plates" of metal (Nu 16:38). It is thus applied to the flattened surface of the solid. earth (Isa 42; Isa 5; Isa 44:24; Ps 136:6), and it is. in this sense that the term is applied to the heaven in Job 37:18,-" Hast thou spread (rather hammered) out the sky- which is strong, and as a molten looking-glass"-the mirrors to which hue refers being made of metal. The sense of solidity, therefore, is combined with the ideas of expansion and tenuity is- the term rakia. Saalschtitz (Archaol. ii, 67) conceives that the ideas of solidity is inconsistent with Ge 2:6, which implies, according to him, the passage of the mist through the rakia; he therefore gives it the sense of pure expansion-it is the large and lofty room in which the winds, etc. have their abode. But it should be observed that Ge 2:6 implies the very reverse. If the mist had penetrated the rakia it would have descended in the form of rains the mist, however, was formed under the rakia, and resembled a heavy dew-a mode of fructifying the earth which, from its regularity and quietude, was more appropriate to a state of innocence than rain, the occasional violence of which associated it with the idea of divine vengeance. But the same idea of solidity runs through all the references to the rakia. In Ex 24:10, it is poetically represented as a solid floor, "a paved work of a sapphire stone nor is the image much weakened if we regard the word לַבנִת as applying to the transparency of the stone rather than to the paving as in the A. V., either sense being admissible. - So again, in Eze 1:22-26, the " firmament" is the floor on which the throne. of the Most High is placed. That the rakia should be transparent, as implied in the comparisons with the sapphire (Exodus 1. c.) and with crystal (Ezek. 1. c.; comp. Re 4:6), is by no means inconsistent with its solidity. Further, the office of the rakia in the economy of the world demanded strength and substance. It was to serve as a division between the waters above and the waters below (Ge 1:7). In order to enter into this description we must carry our ideas back-to the time when the earth was a chaotic mass overspread wit-h water, in which the material elements of the heavens were intermingled. The first step, therefore, in the work of orderly arrangement as to separate the elements of heaven and earth, and to fix a floor of partition between the waters of the heaven and the waters of the earth; and accordingly the rakia was created to support the upper reservoir (Ps 148:4; comp. Ps 104:3, where Jehovah is represented as ",,building his chambers of water," not simply "in water," as the A. Vers.; the prep. בּ signifying the material out of which the beams and joists were made), itself being supported at the edge or rim of the earth's disk by the mountains '(2Sa 22:8; Job 26:11). In keeping with- this view the rakia was provided with "windows-" (Ge 7:11; Isa 24:18; Mal 3:10) and " doors" (Ps 78:23), through which the rain and the, snow might descend. A secondary purpose which the rakia served was to support the heavenly bodies, sun, moon, and stars (Ge 1:14), in which they were fixed as nails, and from which consequently, they might be said figuratively to drop off (Isa 14:12; Isa 34:4; Mt 24:29). .In all these particulars we recognise the same view as: was entertained by the Greeks, and, to a certain extent, by the Latins. The former applied to the heaven such epithets as "'brazen" (χάλκεον, Homer, Illad, xvii, 425; Pind. Pyth. 10:42; Nem. vi, 6; πολύχαλκον, I. v, 504; Od. iii,'2) and iron" σιδήρεον, Od. 15:328; 17:565)-epithets also used in the Scriptures (Le 26:19)-and that this was not merely poetical embellishment appears from the views promulgated: by their philosophers, Empedocles, who described the heavens as στερἐμνιον and κρυσταλλοειδής, composed of air glacialized by fire (Plutarch, Plac. Phil. ii, 11; Stobaeus, Eclog. Phys. i, 24; Diog. Laertius, 8:77; Lactant. De Opif Dei, c. 17; comp. Karsten, Phil. Gr. Veter. Operum Reliquicejii, 422); and Artemidorus, who taught that "summa cceli ora solidissima est, in modum tecti durata" (Seneca, Qucest. 7:13). The same idea is expressed in the ccelo afixa siderao of the Latins (Pliny ii, 39; 18:57). Plato also, in his Timceus, makes mention of the visible heaven under the notion of τάσις (from τείνω, to extend), not unlike the ;Hebrew derivation. If it be objected to the Mosaic account that the view embodied in the word rakia does not harmonize with strict philosophical truth, the answer to such an objection is, that the writer describes things as they appear rather than as they are. But, in 'truth, the same absence of philosophic truth may be traced throughout all the terms applied to this subject, and the objection is levelled rather against the principles of language than anything else. Examine the Latin coelum (κοίλον), the "hollow place" or cave scooped out of solid space ("cavernme coeli," Lucret. - 4:172; compare Pott, Etymol. Forschungen, i, 23, 27); our own heaven," i.e. what is heaved up; the Greek οὐρανός, similarly significant of height' (Pott, Etym. Forsch.i, 123); or the German "himmel," from heimeln, to cover the "roof" which constitutes the "heim" or abode of man: in each there is a large amount of philosophical error. Correctly speaking, of course, the atmosphere is the true rakia by which the clouds are supported, and undefined space is the abode of the celestial bodies. There certainly appears an inconsistency in treating the rakia as the support both of the clouds and of the stars, for it could not have escaped observation that the clouds were below the stars; but perhaps this may be referred to the same feeling which -is expressed in the caelumn ruit of the Latins, the downfall of the rakia in stormy weather. Although the rakia and the shamayim (" heavens") are treated 'as identical in Ge 1:8, yet it was more correct to recognise a distinction between them, as implied in the expression "firmament of the heavens" (Ge 1:14), the former being the upheaving power and the latter the upheaved body-the former the line of demarcation between heaven and earth, the latter the strata or stories into which the heaven was divided. SEE COSMOGONY.
2. Hence it is easy to conceive how the Gr. translators came to render the Heb. term in question by στερέωμα, a word which is commonly used to designate some compact solid, such as the basis of a pillar, or a pillar itself, and which is used elsewhere by the Sept. as equivalent to the Heb. סֶלִע,'a rock (Ps 18:2), and by Symmachus and Theodotion as the rendering of the Heb. מִטֶּה, a staff. Basil (Hexaem. 'Hom. 3) explains the term as not intended to describe what is naturally hard, and solid, and weighty, which belongs. rather to the earth; but says that because the nature of the object above it is fine and thin, and not perceptible by sense, it is called στερέωμα, by a comparison between things of extreme rarity and such: as can be :perceived by sense (συγκρίσει τῶν λεπτοτάτων καί τῇαίσθήσει καταληπτῶν). It is not very clear what his meaning here is, but probably he intended that as a solid extension would be properly called a στερέωμα, so this mass of light and vapory substances might by analogy receive this name. Others have suggested that this term was employed to indicate that the רָקַיעִ is the "universitas τῶν λεπτομερῶν in regionein superam conglobata et firmata," along with the idea that this "nihil habet uspiam inanitatis, sed omnia sui generis naturse plena" (Fuller, Miscel. Sac. bk. i, c. vi). Fuller thinks also that the Sept. selected στερέωμα rather than πέτασμα or περιπέτασμα in order to convey the idea of depth as well as superficial expansion. The general opinion, however, is, that the Sept. adopted this term rather than one exactly equivalent to the original, because it conveys what was the Hebrew belief concerning the upper atmosphere or visible heavens, which they regarded as a solid expanse encircling the earth, although the true state of the case was probably not unknown to them (Job 36:27-28). Others, nevertheless, think that the waters above. the rakia are merely the clouds, which need no solid support (Delitzsch, Comment. on Ge 1:6; Kurz, Bible and Astronomy, in Hist. of the Old Covenant, i, 30).
3. With some old astronomers the firmament is the orb of the fixed stars, or the highest of all the heavens. But in Scripture and in common language it is used for the middle regions, the space or expanse appearing like an arch immediately above us in the heavens. Many of the ancients, and of the moderns also, account the firmament a fluid substance; but those who gave it the name of "firmament" must have regarded it as solid. In the Ptolemaic astronomy, the firmament is called the eighth heaven or sphere, with respect to the seven spheres of the planets, which it surrounds. It is supposed to have two motions--a diurnal motion imparted to it by the primum mobile, from east to west, about the poles of the ecliptic, and another opposite motion from west to east, which last is completed, according to Tycho, in 25,412 years; according to Ptolemy, in 36,000; and according to Copernicus, in 25,800; in which time the fixed stars return to the same points in which they were at the beginning. This period is called the Platonic, or Great Year. SEE ASTRONOMY.