In the Genesis creation story, "the heavens" included the creation of living heavenly beings.
An important, fundamental, but often-overlooked truth is that, when the Scriptures refer to "the heavens," typically, they are speaking of the collection of living creatures that dwell (or dwelt) in the heavenly realms.
This concept seems foreign to us today. When we think about "the heavens" today, we think of the sun (as a ball of fire), the moon (as a rock orbiting the earth) and the stars (as burning balls of gas lightyears away). But it wasn't always that way.
Ancient people perceived creation differently than modern people. Whereas modern people—with the advantage of thousands of years of science and technology—see the universe from both a space-to-earth and an earth-to-space perspective, ancients saw the universe from a human-outward point of view.
Therefore, in order to understand the Genesis creation account, we must think like an ancient person.
In the beginning, two realms existed:
- Earth — dry land and everything it contained
- Heaven — everything above the land, from the lower sky where birds fly to the highest expanse, beyond what the eye could see, and everything it contained
Just as we might say "earth" when referencing the totality of humanity, so also the Bible sometimes uses "heaven" and "the heavens" to refer to the totality of the creatures who dwelt in the heavens.
In fact, the biblical authors use multiple synonymous terms to refer to the totality of heavenly creatures, such as:
- the heavens
- the heavenly hosts
- the sons of God
Let's look at a few examples.
The Heavens = Living Beings
6 And Ezra said, “You are the only Lord. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and everything on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to all, and the host of heaven worships You.
(Nehemiah 9:6 OSB)
The Heavens = Heavenly Hosts
6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were established,
And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth,
(Psalm 32 :6 OSB)
Heavenly Hosts = Sun / Moon / Stars
19 “Also do not act lawlessly when you lift your eyes to heaven and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the adornment of heaven, and you thus go astray and worship and serve them, which the Lord your God assigned to all the nations under heaven.
(Deuteronomy 4:19 OSB)
The Hebrew version of this passage says:
19 `And lest thou lift up thine eyes towards the heavens, and hast seen the sun, and the moon, and the stars, all the host of the heavens, and thou hast been forced, and hast bowed thyself to them, and served them, which Jehovah thy God hath apportioned to all the peoples under the whole heavens.
(Deuteronomy 4:19 YLT)
The Heavens = Heavenly Hosts = Sun / Moon / Stars = Angels
1 Alleluia; of Aggeus and Zacharias.
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
Praise Him in the highest.
2 Praise Him, all you His angels;
Praise Him, all you His hosts.
3 Praise Him, sun and moon;
Praise Him, all you stars and light.
4 Praise Him, you heavens of heavens,
And you waters above the heavens.
5 Let them praise the Lord's name,
For He spoke, and they were made;
He commanded, and they were created.
6 He established them forever and unto ages of ages;
He set forth His ordinance, and it shall not pass away.
(Psalm 148:1-6 OSB)
This truth is abundantly clear at the birth of Jesus.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
(Luke 2:8-15 NIV)
Don't miss the subtlety here.
- First, one (singular) angel appeared.
- Suddenly, a large number of "the heavenly host" appeared along with that initial angel.
- Then, verse 15 says that "the angels" (plural) returned to the heavens.
The Heavens = Angels = Sons of God
In the introduction of Job, the Hebrew Bible refers to the angels as "the sons of God."
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them.
(Job 1:6 NASB)
By contrast, the Greek Bible (Septuagint) says:
6 Then as it so happened one day that behold, the angels of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and the devil also came with them.
(Job 1:6 7 OSB)
Psalm 89 includes multiple references to this truth. Here's an excerpt:
2 O Lord, I will sing of Your mercies forever;
I will proclaim Your truth with my mouth from generation to generation;
3 For You said, “Mercy shall be built up forever;
Your truth shall be prepared in the heavens.
4 I made a covenant with My chosen ones;
I swore to David My servant,
5 I shall prepare your seed forever,
And I shall build your throne from generation to generation.” (Pause)
6 The heavens shall confess Your wonders, O Lord,
And Your truth in the church of the saints.
7 For who in the clouds shall be compared to the Lord,
And who among the sons of God shall be compared to the Lord?
8 God is glorified in the counsel of saints;
He is great and fearful toward all round about Him.
9 O Lord God of hosts, who is like You?
You are powerful, O Lord, and Your truth is around You.
10 You are master of the sea's strength,
And You calm the surging of its waves.
11 You humbled the arrogant man as though he were wounded,
And with the arm of Your power You scattered Your enemies.
12 The heavens belong to You, and the earth is Yours;
You founded the world and all its fullness.
(Psalm 88 :2-12 OSB)
What does all of this mean?
When you read "the heavens" in the Bible, think: living heavenly creatures.
When Genesis 1:1 says that GOD created the heavens and the earth, it is communicating that GOD created everything that exists on the earth and above it. In six days, GOD made all of these things. This has significant downstream implications which we will explore later.