Strength or firmness in the sky is mentioned three times in the Old Testament. Let’s investigate each one of these in more detail. The three verses are Job 37:18, Proverbs 8:28 and Psalm 68:34.
Job 37: 18
Can you, with Him, spread out (raqa) the skies (shachaq),
Strong (chazaq) as a molten (yatsaq) mirror (reiy)? (NAS)
Let’s take a closer look at the words in the verse above.
- Raqa (Verb) – To pound, beat, expand (by hammering), to overlay (with thin sheets of metal), to spread out. This word is related to the word for the firmament (raqiya).
- Shachaq (Noun) – Skies, as seen in the previous section.
- Chazaq (Adjective) – From the verb meaning to strengthen, prevail, harden, become strong, be firm. Chazaq means to be strong (usually in a bad sense like hard, bold, and violent), firm, hard.
- Yatsaq (Verb used as a verbal adjective) – to be poured, cast (as in a hot material which needs to harden), by extension, to stiffen or grow hard. In 1 Kings 7, this word is used with the same grammatical structure as here in Job 37:18. In those situations it was translated as cast or molten. Perhaps “cast” may be a better translation here.
- Reiy (Noun) – From raah (to see). A mirror, which based on the previous Hebrew word yatsaq, indicates that it was cast.
Hints about the sky’s formation?
Both verbs in Job 37:18 have their imagery in material being hot.
- Raqa relates to metal being heated in the furnace and then taken out and pounded into shape.
- Yatsaq relates to hot material (e.g. metal) being poured into a cast, and hence stiffening and growing hard.
Was the sky hot in the beginning? Did the strength or hardness of this material change with time, especially around the time of creation?
When He established (amats) the clouds (shachaq) above
When He strengthened (azaz) the fountains of the deep (tehom) (KJV)
The context of this verse in Proverbs 8 is a passage talking about how God used wisdom to do many creative acts. Wisdom is personified. Verses 27 – 31 are a single sentence in the King James Version. The sentence is about how Wisdom was there when God did all these different things in verses 27 – 29.
I would like to focus my attention on understanding the verb amats.
The word occurs 41 times in the Old Testament. Here is an approximate summary of its translation:
- strong or strengthen in about 50% of the cases
- courage or courageous in another 25% of cases
- stubborn or hardened in another 10% of cases
- swift-footed or speed in another 5% of cases
- other words in the remaining 10% of cases.
From a Hebrew grammatical perspective, it is in the Piel stem. This refers to an accomplished state without regard to the process or the events that brought it about.
Based on how this word is used elsewhere in Scripture, I get the impression that here in Proverbs 8 it is communicating the idea of strengthened or even the NASB’s idea of “made firm”. I think that the word “established” used by the KJV doesn’t communicate this in today’s language. (It may have done at the time that the KJV was written.)
So Proverbs 8:28 is similar to Job 37:18 in communicating the idea of strength to the shachaq. In both situations, the context seems to suggest that this is something happened at the time of creation.
As an aside, another thing that caught my attention in Proverbs 8:28 is that both parts of this verse refer to strength, but not any of the other verses in this long sentence. So when He made firm the sky, did He also strengthen or fix the fountains of the deep? Bear in mind that there was no dry land on Day 2 – just the waters below, the firmament and the waters above. Are these related processes, making firm the skies above and strengthening the fountains/springs of the deep?
Ascribe strength to God:
His majesty is over Israel,
and His strength is in the skies.
This verse can be taken two different ways:
- God’s strength is in the actual material making up the sky.
- God’s strength is displayed through something that happens in the sky.
In light of Job 37:18, my initial reaction was to jump to the conclusion that the first interpretation was in mind here also.
However, revisiting this in 2017, I consider it more likely that the second interpretation is more appropriate. A recent post reinterpreting the sky splitting apart like a scroll as a future end-times event happening in our sky provides an example of such an event which would vividly display God’s strength in the skies and His majesty over Israel. It is quite possible that there is a strong prophetic element to this part of Psalm 68.
There are three verses in the Bible that talk about the strength of the Hebrew word shachaq translated as skies or clouds.
Two of these verses (Job 37:18, Prov 8:28) explicitly refer to its strength and allude to a hardening or strengthening process at the time of creation.
The third usage in Psalm 68:34 seems more likely to refer to an event in the sky which displays God’s strength and is used to show His love and mighty power to save Israel. Such an event is discussed in more detail in another post in relation to the sky splitting apart like a scroll.