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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Heaven

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Shâmayim (שָׁמֶה, Strong's #8064), “heavens; heaven; sky.” This general Semitic word appears in languages such as Ugaritic, Akkadian, Aramaic, and Arabic. It occurs 420 times and in all periods of biblical Hebrew.

First, shâmayim is the usual Hebrew word for the “sky” and the “realm of the sky.” This realm is where birds fly. God forbids Israel to make any “likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air” (Deut. 4:17). When Absalom’s hair caught in the branches of a tree, he hung suspended between the “heaven” and the earth (2 Sam. 18:9). This area, high above the ground but below the stars and heavenly bodies, is often the locus of visions: “And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the Lord stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem” (1 Chron. 21:16).

Second, this word represents an area farther removed from the earth’s surface. From this area come such things as frost (Job 38:29), snow (Isa. 55:10), fire (Gen. 19:24), dust (Deut. 28:24), hail (Josh. 10:11), and rain: “The fountains also of the deep and the windows of heaven were stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained” (Gen. 8:2). This realm is God’s storehouse; God is the dispenser of the stores and Lord of the realm (Deut. 28:12). This meaning of shâmayim occurs in Gen. 1:7-8: “And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven.”

Third, shâmayim also represents the realm in which the sun, moon, and stars are located: “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night …” (Gen. 1:14). This imagery is often repeated in the Creation account and in poetical passages. Thus the “heavens” can be stretched out like a curtain (Ps. 104:2) or rolled up as a scroll (Isa. 34:4).

Fourth, the phrase “heaven and earth” may denote the entire creation. This use of the word appears in Gen. 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

Fifth, “heaven” is the dwelling place of God: “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision” (Ps. 2:4; cf. Deut. 4:39). Again, note Deut. 26:15: “Look down from thy holy habitation, from heaven, and bless thy people Israel.…” Another expression representing the dwelling place of God is “the highest heaven [literally, the heaven of heavens].” This does not indicate height, but an absolute—i.e., God’s abode is a unique realm not to be identified with the physical creation: “Behold the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is” (Deut. 10:14).

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Heaven'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/h/heaven.html. 1940.

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