ladder02It is doubtful that there is any single belief Christians have that is so deep-seated and so taken for granted as those regarding heaven. For those of us who base our beliefs on the Bible, not on the Christian church, there are still very few who dare to re-examine the issue of heaven, or to compare what they believe with what is written in the Scriptures. Long before one comes to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the idea that “good people go to heaven when they die” is solidified in the mind. When one becomes a believer, that might transfer a bit to “those who believe in Jesus Christ go to heaven when they die,” but other than this change, this belief really is never reconsidered or examined in the light of God’s Word.

Perhaps there is no one view out there so in need of study and thoughtful examination in the light of God’s Word than this view regarding heaven. Yet there is also probably no view out there which so few would ever be willing to reconsider. The idea of heaven is taught to most of us from almost the time we can talk by our parents, whether they were true believers or not, and it is one that has so much emotion tied to it that few would even be open to any changes regarding it whatsoever. The fact that we claim loyalty to the Bible makes no difference regarding this. It has always been believed by most that the Bible teaches about people going to heaven, and this idea has been so brainwashed into the minds of men that they never would even consider going to the Bible to see if this is really so.

That said, the true student of Scripture should not shy away from subjecting any teaching or belief, no matter how foundational or obvious in the minds of the majority, to the revealing light of the Word of God. If we desire to be believers in the Scriptures rather than just more traditionalists, it is beliefs such as this one that we most need to subject to a Biblical examination. And perhaps there is no better way to do this than the method I have demonstrated before in examining the subjects of the spirit and the soul. That method is to take the Hebrew and Greek words involved, and to examine every occurrence of them to see how the Spirit of God uses them in the Word of God. Then and only then can we get God’s teaching on this subject, rather than man’s.

So if we turn to the Bible to examine the topic of heaven, we would find that the Hebrew word for heaven is “shamayim,” pronounced “sha-MAH’-yim.” The first occurrence of this word is in the very first verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:1.

Genesis 1:1. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

This takes us back to the very beginning, the start of all creation and the first moment of all time. We learn that at this great beginning, God created two things. One is the earth, and the other is the heavens. This is plural here, and is put in contrast with the earth. What it means is not entirely clear. If it was singular, we would suggest it means “the land and the sky.” But it is not singular, so this does not fit. The idea seems to be “the exalted places and the earth.” The idea behind shamayim seems to be that of loftiness or exaltation. The exalted places referred to may be the other planets of the solar system, or to the place called “heaven” where God is said to dwell. It does not appear to refer to the sun, moon, or stars, as these were not created until day 4 of creation. Yet overall, we cannot tell for certain what is referred to. As I said, another place besides the earth, the dwelling place of angels, cherubs, and spirits, would seem to be the most likely suggestion, but there is no way to tell for sure.

Genesis 1:8. And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.

Here on the second day of creation God created a firmament and divided the waters on the earth, some above the firmament, and some below. The question of what this firmament was is subject to much debate. It could refer to the land itself, with the waters above its surface versus the “fountains of the great deep” mentioned in the flood of Genesis 7. It could refer to the clouds in the sky, though the sky does not seem very “firm.” It could refer to some kind of canopy created in the sky that no longer exists since the flood of Noah’s day. This is a puzzle, and one we cannot solve for certain. Yet the firmament, whatever that was, is called “heaven,” because it is above at least some of the waters. Therefore, the idea of heaven as being something over and above is established in this verse.

Genesis 1:9. Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so.

Here on the third day of creation God causes the waters under the heavens to be gathered together into one place, so that dry land appears. The waters are under the heavens, which would seem to refer to the sky and all that is above it.

Genesis 1:14. Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years;

Here on the fourth day of creation God causes lights to appear in the firmament of the heavens. These lights we would identify as the sun, moon, and stars, which apparently were created on this day. They reveal signs and seasons, days and years. These are in the heavens, which would appear to identify the heavens as being the far-flung universe in this context.

Genesis 1:15. and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.

These are lights in the firmament of the heavens to give the earth light. Again the firmament seems to be attached to the sky, and all that appears above and beyond it.

Genesis 1:17. God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth,

Again, the lights are in the sky and all beyond it.

Genesis 1:20. Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.”

Here God refers to the sky by the interesting title of “the face of the firmament of the heavens.”

Genesis 1:26. Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Here, the New King James Version has translated shemayim as “air.” This refers to the “birds of the heaven.” These birds fly in the sky, which is over and above the earth.

Genesis 1:28. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Again, this refers to the birds of the heaven.

Genesis 1:30. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so.

Again we read of the birds of the heaven.

Genesis 2:1. Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.

This sums up what we have just read as explaining how the heavens and the earth and all the host of them were finished. The heavens here seem to refer to the sky, the planets, the sun, the moon, and all the stars and galaxies beyond. If there is also in this the idea of the heaven where angels dwell and where Christ now sits, we have had no indication of it in the creation story.

Genesis 2:4. This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,

This is the history (or the writings, the “book”) of the shemayim and the earth when they were created. This is written of the day when Jehovah God made the earth and the shemayim. The word occurs twice here, and seems to refer to the exalted things made as we have seen in the previous verses.

Genesis 2:19. Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.

This seems to refer to a special creation, wherein Yahweh God formed a representative example of every beast of the field and bird of the heaven out of the ground and brought each one before Adam to see what he would call each one. Again a bird of the heaven is a bird that flies in the sky, across the face of the firmament of the heavens.

Genesis 2:20. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.

Here, Adam gives names to the birds of the heaven.

Genesis 6:7. So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

Here in deciding to bring the flood on the earth, the LORD regrets making Adam’s race, so corrupted have they become, He determines to destroy all the creatures he has made, including the birds of the heaven.

Genesis 6:17. And behold, I Myself am bringing floodwaters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die.

Jehovah’s determination is to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life. Again heaven seems to refer to the sky and all that is beyond it.

Genesis 7:3. also seven each of birds of the air, male and female, to keep the species alive on the face of all the earth.

Seven each of the birds of the heaven are brought into the ark, some male and some female, to keep each species of bird alive through the flood.

Genesis 7:11. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.

This describes the flood. First, all the fountains of the great deep are broken up. Then, the windows of heaven are opened. What this means is unclear, except that it is torrential rain, more plentiful and more terrible than anything we have ever imagined or experienced. There are several suggestions for what this means. Those who believe in the canopy theory suggest that this is the canopy collapsing to earth. Those who believe in the hydroplate theory would suggest this is the waters shot up into the sky by their forcible ejection from deep under the earth, now coming back down. It is not our objective here to examine different hypotheses regarding the flood, but to examine the word “heaven.” What is meant here is a terror of waters falling from the sky.

Genesis 7:19. And the waters prevailed exceedingly on the earth, and all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered.

All the high hills under the whole of the heaven, here probably meaning the sky, were covered by the terrible waters of the flood. We would only make the note here that the high hills before the flood may not have been nearly so high as the mountains pushed up by the flood, and that now exist afterwards.

Genesis 7:23. So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive.

The birds of the heaven were among the other creatures destroyed by the terrible waters of the flood.

Genesis 8:2. The fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven were also stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained.

The fountains of the great deep were stopped, along with the windows of heaven. This resulted in the rain from heaven being restrained. Again, heaven seems to refer to the sky here.

Genesis 9:2. And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand.

The fear and dread of man came on the animals after the flood. It seems they were not afraid of man before this. Among the creatures who would now fear man were the birds of the heaven.

Genesis 11:4. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”

This is the determination of the rebels against God and his command to spread across the earth. They decide to build a city whose top is in the heavens. What they meant by this is unclear. Today we have built what we call “skyscrapers” that must be at least as big, if not far bigger, than this tower that they built then, and God has done nothing to stop it, nor has it been any big deal. The idea here is rebellion against God, however. We would doubt very much that they thought they could build a tower that would go all the way to heaven where God dwells. The idea is probably that they wanted to build a tower whose top was dedicated to worshiping the heavens. In other words, this tower was to be a center of apostate worship, or worship of the sun, moon, and stars. This was the object of their great rebellion against God. They were attempting to create a one-world religion in opposition to God. This was designed to keep them all together, and to prevent them from having to be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth, as God intended them to be. God objected to this, and stymied their wicked plan.

Genesis 14:19. And he blessed him and said:
“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;

Here Melchizedek is speaking, blessing the man Abram. In so doing, he reveals God as the Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth. It is God Who owns the exalted places, whether the place of angels and other heavenly beings, or the universe with its galaxies, or the sky with its birds. He owns them all.

Genesis 14:22. But Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth,

Abram has learned this title for God from Melchizedek, and he quickly picks up on it, repeating it to the wicked king of Sodom in refusing his offer to enrich Abram in reward for the service he had done him while rescuing his nephew Lot.

Genesis 15:5. Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

God brings Abram outside his tent and urges him to look toward heaven and count the stars. What he looked toward was the sky, and all that is seen beyond it.

Genesis 19:24. Then the LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the LORD out of the heavens.

The fire and brimstone that the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah came from Him out of shemayim. That is, it fell from the sky, and perhaps too from what is beyond the sky. If this was some kind of sulpherous meteor, or something ejected from the sun, or some other thing, we cannot say for sure. It was the LORD, however, who made it fall just where He wanted it to fall.

Genesis 21:17. And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, “What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.

God hears the desperate voice of Ishmael calling out to Him for help. Then, the Angel of God calls to Hagar his mother out of shemayim. In other words, the Angel is standing in the exalted place we call Heaven. However, He is more than capable, with His power, of projecting His voice from there to the earth to be heard by this woman Hagar. He does not have to leave Heaven and come to where she is in order to speak with her. He can talk to her from right where He is in Heaven, and she will hear His voice, and recognize Who it is Who is speaking to her.

Genesis 22:11. But the Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”
So he said, “Here I am.”

Again the Angel of the LORD calls from Heaven to be heard on earth. This time, He is calling to the man Abraham, stopping him from sacrificing his son Isaac, as He had told him to do. I do not believe that there is any difference between the Angel of the LORD here, and the Angel of God in the last occurrence. Both are references to the One we know of as Jesus Christ, THE Messenger of God, THE Messenger of the LORD, THE One Who sets forth and reveals Him.

Genesis 22:15. Then the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time out of heaven,

The Angel of the LORD calls to Abraham a second time out of the exalted place called Heaven where He was on this same occasion.

Genesis 22:17. blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.

The Angel of the LORD promises to multiply Abraham’s descendants as the stars of the heaven. Stars are lifted up or exalted in relationship to the earth. They are not in the “sky,” as we think of it, but out in the greater universe as a whole. So again shamayim can mean the sky, the universe out beyond the sky, or the exalted place called “Heaven” where God dwells.

Genesis 24:3. and I will make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell;

Abraham is sending his eldest servant, probably Eleazar of Damascus who would have been his heir had Isaac not been born, to try to find a wife for his son Isaac. First he makes him swear by Jehovah, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that he will not take a wife for his son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom he was dwelling at that time. These were wicked and Godless women, and the very thought of Isaac marrying one of them was a terrible thing to Abraham. He calls Jehovah the God of heaven. The Hebrew name Elohim means both the Creator and the Judge, and God is both these things as far as heaven is concerned. The contrast with earth would lead us to believe that this means the place called Heaven where the heavenly beings dwell, but really it could apply to any of the things called heaven that we have seen so far.

Genesis 24:7. The LORD God of heaven, who took me from my father’s house and from the land of my family, and who spoke to me and swore to me, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land,’ He will send His angel before you, and you shall take a wife for my son from there.

Abraham is speaking of God, and calls Him Yahweh God of heaven. Again He is Creator and Judge of all places exalted above the earth.

Genesis 26:4. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed;

The promise that the LORD originally made to Abraham is now passed on to his son Isaac here. The LORD promises to multiply Isaac’s descendants as the stars of heaven. Here, shamayim is the universe, which is lifted up or exalted up above the earth.

Genesis 27:28. Therefore may God give you
Of the dew of heaven,
Of the fatness of the earth,
And plenty of grain and wine.

In blessing Jacob, Isaac wishes that God may give him of the dew of heaven. The dew is pictured here as coming down from the sky to condense upon the earth. Shamayim here is the sky.

Genesis 27:39. Then Isaac his father answered and said to him:
“Behold, your dwelling shall be of the fatness of the earth,
And of the dew of heaven from above.

When Esau begged Isaac to give him a blessing as well, Isaac answered with this. He shall dwell with the fatness of the earth, that is, the good produce of the earth that would produce fatness if it was all eaten. He will also dwell with the dew of heaven from above. Again, the dew is something that comes from shamayim, and brings blessing when it waters the earth. Heaven here is the sky.

Genesis 28:12. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

Jacob dreams, and sees a very fascinating picture in his dream. He sees a ladder set up on the earth, and its top is going into the place called Heaven. The messengers of God are all using this ladder, ascending from earth to heaven and descending from heaven to earth by using it. We do not know, of course, exactly how the messengers of God make the journey from the place called Heaven to the earth. We would strongly suspect that they do not do it by climbing a giant ladder. Clearly, this is a picture that Jacob sees in his vision that stands for something entirely different, which would probably have been beyond his understanding, or at least something he would not have recognized without a lot of unnecessary explanations. The vision of the ladder got the point across just fine, without God having to school him on how exactly the angels really make the trip. At any rate, here shamayim is again the dwelling place of the angels called Heaven.

Genesis 28:17. And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”

Jacob is amazed when he wakes up and realizes what he has seen. He decides he is in an awesome place. This must be the dwelling place of God, the very gateway from heaven to earth! Of course, we do not know that he was actually right in this. The vision he saw did not have to mean that when angels come to earth, they always set foot first at the very place where Jacob had his dream. But this is what he decides, so he calls the place Bethel or “House of God,” and builds a pillar and pours oil upon it. By “heaven” here he clearly means the exalted place where our Lord dwells.

Genesis 49:25. By the God of your father who will help you,
And by the Almighty who will bless you
With blessings of heaven above,
Blessings of the deep that lies beneath,
Blessings of the breasts and of the womb.

Israel is blessing all his sons before his death, and is in the midst of blessing his son Joseph. First of all, he will have the help of the God of his father. The Almighty will bless or speak well of him. He will invoke upon him good things from heaven above. These would be things like the rain, the dew, and the sunshine, all of which are so essential to an agricultural existence. Heaven here seems to mean the sky.

So we have examined the first forty-one occurrences of the word “heaven,” as they appear in the book of Genesis. We have found what seem to be the following three definitions of the word “heaven””

1. The exalted place where the LORD is, and where angels dwell.

2. The sky, which is lifted up above the earth.

3. The greater universe, where the sun, moon, stars, planets, and galaxies exist.

Of course, this is just a beginning to this study, and a further study of all the occurrences of this word would be needed to ensure that we have a complete picture of what this word means. However, this is enough to give us an idea at least of what this word is all about, and what the Bible means when it talks about “heaven.”