Heaven and Earth

Genesis 1  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  1:02:48
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Meaning of the word “Heaven” in the Bible

Given the reality of the waters above the heavens, the Hebrew word “heavens” (shamayim / םימש) can be used in three distinct waters within biblical cosmic geography.
“Heavens” can refer to the sky-dome itself that divides the cosmic waters above and below
Genesis 1:6-8
Genesis 1:6–8 CSB
6 Then God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters, separating water from water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above the expanse. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse “sky.” Evening came and then morning: the second day.
6And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7God made the dome, and separated the waters which were below the dome from the waters which were above the dome; and it was so. 8God called the dome “heavens.” And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
2. “Heavens” can refer to the ‘land-ward’ side of the skydome that is visible to us and accessible to the birds
Genesis 1:20 CSB
20 Then God said, “Let the water swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.”
Genesis 1:20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarming living creatures, and birds that fly over the land against the surface of the dome of the heavens.
Psalm 8:8 CSB
8 the birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea that pass through the currents of the seas.
Psalm 8:8 “the birds of the heavens” (see also Ps 79:2).
3. “Heavens” can refer to the divine space above the skydome, that is, the divine realm of God’s throne
Psalm 2:4 CSB
4 The one enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord ridicules them.
Psalm 2:4 “The One who is enthroned in the heavens…”
Psalm 11:4 CSB
4 The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord—his throne is in heaven. His eyes watch; his gaze examines everyone.
Psalm 11:4 The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord, his throne is in the heavens He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them.

Heaven and Earth overlap

The heavenly temple is God’s transcendent dwelling, and people get glimpses of it when they encounter God in places where heaven and earth overlap.


If you go look at it, what you discover is that it's the oldest pyramid. It's what's called a Step Pyramid. So it's not right angles; it's got this terraced step thing going on. It dates to the same basic pyramid as when the Babylonians were doing their thing. The most ancient forms of Babylonian temples are called ziggurats.
They've reconstructed quite a few from remains.
What the archaeologists tell us is that these are ritual icons of the dry land. Because what you go do especially with the Mesopotamian ziggurats is at the top is the altar. It's where you go meet with the gods and give them your gifts. So just like in Eden, the middle is our tree of life where you go meet with God and receive the gift of life from Him, here in these ones, these are...
They're literally designed to be these iconic Eden mountains. Now, they didn't call it Eden, but the biblical idea. But the whole point is the concept of Eden is it participating in this larger cosmology motif of the place where we meet with Gods is on the sacred hill.
So in the Tower of Babel God scatters them and confuses their speech. The word for "confuse" is the word "balal." Then there's a wordplay that says, "Therefore the name of the place was Babel because He balaled their language." This is the only time in our English translations that they spell the word "Babel" in Hebrew with these letters right here. Babel. Every other time Babel occurs in the Hebrew Bible, it's translated to "Babylon," which is the ancient Greek rendering of the word "Babel."
I think they do "Babel" here because it's preserving the wordplay. But what you miss is that this is the foundation story of Babylon.
The ancient biblical authors they really knew what they were doing. The word "Babel" or "Bavel" in Hebrew is a Hebrew spelling of a Babylonian word.
Do you want to know what the Babylonian word means?
The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament states The meaning of "Bavel" is "gate of the God." Gate of the God.
So at the top of that place it's the gate. It's the portal of heaven and earth. Bavel.
So God scatters them. From that scattering, He chooses one family. He calls one guy out of this very region, a guy named Abraham. It says, "Once you come to this land, I'm going to give you a name and give you the blessing that Babylon is after on its own terms. And I'm going to give it to you as a gift." "Be fruitful and multiply" is the Eden blessing. So He's going to give a gift of Eden to this family so that through them, the blessing of Eden can spread to all of the nations.
This is the whole drama in the family of Abraham. So Abraham has a son, Isaac. Actually, Abraham has many sons, but the first two sons, Ishmael, then Isaac. Isaac has two sons, Esau and Jacob.
Jacob is a snake. He comes out grabbing the heel of his brother and then deceives him twice. He deceives his father too. So because of his deception, he's exiled from this land for 20 years. He starts making his trek. Exactly back the path that Abraham took into the land, Jacob has to take out of the land.
Except right as he lived leaves the borders of the promised land, he has this really strange experience.
Genesis 28:10–17 CSB
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He reached a certain place and spent the night there because the sun had set. He took one of the stones from the place, put it there at his head, and lay down in that place. 12 And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground with its top reaching the sky, and God’s angels were going up and down on it. 13 The Lord was standing there beside him, saying, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your offspring the land on which you are lying. 14 Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out toward the west, the east, the north, and the south. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.”
This is in Genesis chapter 28. "Jacob departed from Beersheba and he went towards Haran." That's where Abraham came from when he came to the promised land. "And he came to a certain place." It's not important right now. He spent the night there because the sun had set. So he took one of the stones from that place and he put it under his head.He lay down in that place, and he had a dream.
And behold, a stairway or ramp..." That's a Hebrew word "sulam" that's used only here in the whole Hebrew Bible. It's some kind of ramp. It got translated by the King James as "ladder"— the stairway to heaven. Or Jacob's ladder. This is where that phrase comes from.
We're talking about a stairway ramp. "So a stairway ramp was set on the land with its head in the heavens. Its head in the skies."
It's exactly verbatim the phrase used of the tower Babylon in Genesis 11.
"Look, the angels, messengers of God were ascending and descending on it. And look, the LORD is standing on top." There is Yahweh. He sees Yahweh on top.
He's down on the land, looking up this ramp up into the skies, and there's like divine personnel coming up and down doing their daily duties, And there's Yahweh up there. Yahweh says, "Hey, I'm Yahweh the God of your father Abraham and Isaac."
He goes on to say, "Listen, you're going to leave the land and I'm going to bring it back here and I'm going to fulfill the promise that I made to Abraham through you." You can get the land, lots of children and so on.
Verse 16: "So Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely Yahweh is right here. I had no clue before I fell asleep."
You're going to see a motif here. It's when people enter places or modes of consciousness that are heightened in some way that they gain an awareness that heaven is actually here. What this imagery of falling asleep, of after the sunsets, the daytime is like, "That's our time, and we're doing our thing. We're busy." But nighttime, that's a different mode. And dreaming, sleeping...
These are all images of a different mode of our consciousness, where you're aware of different things. So it's an altered state of consciousness that makes him aware of ultimate reality. It's also a time of great weakness. He's passive.
So notice it's only when he wakes up after having an altered state of consciousness, then he's like, "Oh, oh, my God. Yahweh is in this place." In my normal mode of existence, I had no clue.
Then he was afraid.
e said, "How awesome, fearful is this place! This is none other than the temple, the house of God. And this is the gate of heaven."
This is the gate of heaven.
He's on his way to Mesopotamia, where Abraham left after the scattering at the Tower of Babel. And what's the meaning of the word "Babel"? The gate between heaven and earth. This little phrase "with its head up in the skies,"
this is a good example of a narrative hyperlink where the Babylonians want to build their own false meeting place of heaven and earth because it's for their name. It's this no-name guy Abram, and now his grandson who's a chump. I mean, why is he even sleeping on the ground at night? Because he just cheated his father. And yet to this family, he reveals himself. He reveals the true gate where Babylon is just a fake, Or like a mockery version of Jacob dreams of in the middle of the night.
And you're like, "Man, there's surely no more unworthy person to get to have this dream." I would love to have this dream."
God keeps recreating these moments.
Exodus 24:9–13 CSB
9 Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. Beneath his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. 11 God did not harm the Israelite nobles; they saw him, and they ate and drank. 12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay there so that I may give you the stone tablets with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.” 13 So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua and went up the mountain of God.
The next one I am going to talk about happens to is Moses.
Before we get there, You know how the story goes.
Jacob, he's in exile. He has his 12 kids in exile, and then he comes back into the land. Then he got the brothers. Younger brother has dreams. He has dreams that God has elevated him above the sun, moon, and stars—as ruler. Then his family and the cosmos is giving allegiance to him. Well, that's ridiculous. He's a 17-year-old kid. So his brothers, instead of acknowledging that maybe God's going to elevate him to a high place of leadership, they throw him down into the pit and then sell him as a slave and he goes down to Egypt.
So then the exodus story. The family is there for a lot of generations. They're enslaved.
Pharaoh gets them to start building historic cities with the same technology of brick and mortar that Babylon used to make its false Eden. The people to whom are entrusted the promise of the real Eden, Pharaoh is using to make his own false Eden.
So God raises up a deliver, Moses, and he saves them out of the waters. Through the waters, he delivers them into Pharaoh's house. So ten plagues, "Let my people go," ten words, ten acts of decreation. He decreates Egypt back to darkness. The animals rebel, and begin collapsing Egypt in on itself.
Then he leads them through the waters out into the promised land.
Brings them to the mountain, the same mountain that Moses had that crazy encounter at the bush. God shows up. In the phenomenon of God showing up is clouds, thunder, lightning, and fire.
So God wants to get married to these people. "Let's make some promises to each other. You'll be my people. You can represent me to the nations."
Here at the marriage ceremony, the covenant-making ceremony,
Exodus chapter 24:9, "Moses went up to Mount Sinai with Aaron, Nadab his son, Abihu his other son, and the 70 elders of Israel. They saw the God of Israel up on that mountain. Now under his feet..." Under whose feet? God's feet.
"Under God's feet, there was this, well, pavement, solid surface of Sapphire." But clear, see-through. The sky itself like the sky.
The color of Sapphire? It's most consistently blue. A blue opaque but transparent gem.
What are they seeing?
They're on top of a mountain. Or near the top of the mountain. They are actually not on the top. They're near the top. And they see the God of Israel, but they realize they're looking through something solid that's clear blue.
They're looking through the raqia.
They see His feet, but they can't see any higher because it's just too far up. Here they're near the top of Mount Sinai.
Is that a safe place for humans to be?
Yahweh did not Stretch out His hand against the nobles of the sons of Israel. So he protected them. They saw God and then had a banquet there. So they eat and drink on the cosmic mountain in the presence of God.
Yahweh said to Moses, "Moses, come on up here. Come up to me on the mountain and stay there, and I'm going to give you these tablets, and the Torah and the covenant that I've written."
So Moses got up with Joshua hiss servant, but then Moses goes up to the top.
What happens at the top?
Exodus 24:15–25:9 CSB
15 When Moses went up the mountain, the cloud covered it. 16 The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day he called to Moses from the cloud. 17 The appearance of the Lord’s glory to the Israelites was like a consuming fire on the mountaintop. 18 Moses entered the cloud as he went up the mountain, and he remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. 1 The Lord spoke to Moses: 2 “Tell the Israelites to take an offering for me. You are to take my offering from everyone who is willing to give. 3 This is the offering you are to receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze; 4 blue, purple, and scarlet yarn; fine linen and goat hair; 5 ram skins dyed red and fine leather; acacia wood; 6 oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; 7 and onyx along with other gemstones for mounting on the ephod and breastpiece. 8 “They are to make a sanctuary for me so that I may dwell among them. 9 You must make it according to all that I show you—the pattern of the tabernacle as well as the pattern of all its furnishings.
So Moses went up the mountain, the cloud covering the mountain. The glory of Yahweh rested on Mount Sinai and a cloud covered it.
For how many days?
Six days.
Then on the seventh day, He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. Camera zoom down to the 70 elders.
To the eyes of the sons of Israel looking up it was the appearance of the glory of Yahweh like a fire on that mountain top. But there is Moses walking in the middle of the fire. Entering into the cloud, he went up the mountain 40 days, 40 nights.
Yahweh begins a series of what will be seven speeches. Each of the speech is marked by "And Yahweh said to Moses." And what's revealed in these seven speeches is the blueprints of the tabernacle.
But the introductory statement is this: "Let the Israelites construct a sanctuary for me so that I may dwell among them. According to everything I'm about to show you as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all the furniture, so you shall build it."
It's as if this whole thing is in shrouded in the cloud of divine glory and fire.
He's on top of the mountain. Then the sons of Israel are all down here looking up, and they're freaking out. They actually had a chance to go up there themselves, but they said they didn't want to go.
So all they see is the cloud and the lightning and the fire and all this. But Moses is up there, and on the seventh day is revealed to him something that is shown to him.
He says what he's going to be shown is a pattern, a blueprint.
What he's supposed to do is write down all these instructions so that he can go down the mountain, and then they're going to build an icon of the pattern of the thing that he Saw up here.
So what is going to be built is the tabernacle, the sacred tent?
What you watch is the divine glory moves from the top of the mountain to come and dwell over the tent.
This raises the whole question of what is he seeing on top of the mountain. But it totally works perfectly in this cosmology, doesn't it?
He's seeing the heaven and earth temple up on top of the mountain. Then all of a sudden, what God wants to do is reunite heaven and earth.
So He accommodates, let's build a physical earthly version of what's in the heavens. That becomes the tabernacle.
Then God's mission is actually to colonize the earth, so to speak, with the presence of the heavenly temple. And then welcome to the tabernacle. So the tabernacle then travels around with them.
Then once they get into the promised land, it gets an upgrade to a building, which is Solomon's temple. Then we're to Psalm 36, or Isaiah 6. So there's a seamless progression of this theme from Eden to Babylon, to Jacob's dream, to this scene right here, then to the tabernacle and temple.
And it's all a part of the biblical narrative, which is God's purpose to fill. God's purpose is to fill the earth with the life and presence of heaven. The tabernacle and the temple become the symbols of that reality and of that future hope.
So the temple is heaven.
Which doesn't make any sense for us.
But God is going to fill earth with the life and presence of heaven. Now we're talking about this theme of the tabernacle and the temple. That's what the drama is about.
In these kinds of stories, we see a worldview in which the heavenly realm and the earthly realm are not completely separate, but they overlap at key places and times. These are moments of “heaven on earth” you might say. Notice that in both of these stories, they are about the foundation of sacred spaces (Jacob’s temple in Bethel, Moses models the tabernacle after the heavenly temple).
This worldview shows us that Israel’s tabernacle and temple were in fact a micro-cosmos of all creation, the place where heaven and earth are one. This explains why these sacred spaces and the stories of their creation are loaded with cosmic imagery and symbolism.

Creation and Temple

The three-tiered universe depicted in Genesis 1 (skies-land-sea) directly corresponds to the three tiered geography of Eden in Genesis 2-3, and these together are symbolically recalled in the design of ancient temples, and specifically aligns with symbolic features of Israel’s temple.
John 1:50–51 CSB
50 Jesus responded to him, “Do you believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” 51 Then he said, “Truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Look at he imagery here.
Jesus sees a guy named Nathaniel sitting under a tree. He sees a human under a tree and says, "Listen, I saw you earlier." And he's like, "What? Truly you're the king of Israel. You saw me under the tree before we're even here." Oh, this is nothing," Jesus says. "You will see the skies open. You will see the angels of God ascending and descending on..." The link, the gate between heaven and earth, who he calls the son of Adam, the truly human one."
This is all part of that motif where Jesus is claiming that He is, in the form of human, the reality to which the cosmic mountain, Eden, the temple, the tabernacle… They were all icons pointing to the ultimate reality.
And that ultimate reality is in a human image of God.
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