"Firmament" is translated from the Hebrew raqiya, which is derived from raqa which means "to spread abroad, stamp or stretch." Raqiya means "an expanse." Young's Literal Translation of the Bible renders Genesis 1:6 as, "And God saith, 'Let an expanse be in the midst of the waters, and let it be separating between waters and waters.'"
Remember, clouds completely enshrouded the planet, and water inundated the whole earth. Because the sun's light and heat had not been able to reach the earth's surface before God cleared away the debris, the hydrological cycle—the process whereby water evaporates, rises to form clouds and later falls as rain—had ceased.
Now that sunlight could reach the surface, God set about to clear away the fog and mist and reestablish the hydrological cycle. In so doing, He caused the water that was in the fog either to rise and become part of the clouds or to precipitate as rain. He thereby "divided the waters from the waters" by creating an expanse of clear air between the watery surface of the earth and the water-laden clouds. This is plainly stated in verse 7: God "divided the waters which were under the firmament [the oceans] from the waters which were above the firmament [the clouds]."
"And God called the firmament Heaven." This is the first heaven, as verse 20 clarifies: "Let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens." Since birds fly between the earth's surface and the clouds, the firmament must be the expanse of clear air we call our atmosphere. An observer of this process could now clearly see the expanse of the sky from one horizon to the other. However, as clouds still covered the earth, the sun, moon, and stars could not yet be seen.
On this second day of creation, God probably adjusted the atmosphere's composition to contain the correct amount of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, water vapor, and inert gases necessary for photosynthesis and the sustenance of life. This would be vital in preparing for the events of the third day.
Earl L. Henn (1934-1997)
Genesis 1: Fact or Fiction?
The true God is the Author of the Bible, and He used His sovereign authority to determine the revelations it contains and the sequence in which they are given. Since Adam and Eve, believing in the existence of the true God and His Word has been the principal challenge affecting the quality of life mankind thinks it must have for happiness and prosperity. These beliefs have eluded human understanding—not because God has hidden Himself, but because men refuse to accept the clear evidence He provides in the creation.
Imagine that the Creator God sat us down in a room by ourselves and presented a short film summarizing the Bible's first ten chapters. What would we see? What would it teach us about His character, purpose, and plan?
Authors and filmmakers are creators in their own way. They prepare an outline, a story flow, they wish to follow either to entertain or to educate their readers or viewers. Have we ever wondered why God began the Bible as He did? Consider this simple overview as a factor of utmost importance to our well-being in relation to life's purposes.
Have we ever consciously noted that the Bible begins in Genesis 1 with God creating order from what appears to be the result of either a destruction of a previous system or an array of disparate parts, fashioning them into a form appropriate for His next step? Either way, as the story unfolds, the role He plays emerges. The primary point is virtually impossible to miss: Supreme order and direction in what He will reveal originates in and from Him. Though normally invisible to humanity, He is clearly in control, initiating what will happen and also continuing to completion what He began.
The orderly progression of time and activity continues as God arranges, piece by piece, the environment in which later events will take place. Created elements appear in a natural progression. First, there must be light. From this point on, everything coming into view is made new and in sparkling, showroom condition.
Last of all, the two humans are designed in the image of God Himself. They, Adam and Eve—who will set in motion the human side of the action—are created, given life, and presented gifts, which are examples of His grace: earth and all it contains for their use within the boundaries He set. They immediately begin to use what God freely gave them as gifts.
What has God chosen to show us thus far? First, He is the Author of all that is. Second, He brings order out of lifeless chaos. Third, perhaps our Lord's flesh-and-blood brother sums it up best in James 1:17-18:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
What has God revealed of Himself to this point without saying a word except for what He commanded to bring into existence? It is purposefully instructive.
Genesis 1 shows that He is a God of order and that He has a distinct purpose for each step He takes. He is a God of awesome powers, moving mountains, seas, rivers, valleys, and vast oceans of atmosphere into place. Greenery and animal life appear. Nothing happens randomly. Every step proceeds as He directs. He is in control as He purposefully establishes His sovereignty over everything He has brought into existence.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Leadership and Covenants (Part Ten)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Genesis 1:6: