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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary


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The part of God's creation above the earth and the waters including “air” and “space” and serving as home for God and His heavenly creatures. The Hebrew word shamayim is plural in form and was easily related by the common people to the word mayim , “waters.” Biblical writers joined their contemporaries in describing the universe as it appeared to the human eye: heavens above, earth beneath, and waters around and beneath the earth. Heaven could be described as a partition God made to separate the rain-producing heavenly waters from the rivers, seas, and oceans below (Genesis 1:6-8 ). The heavenly lights—sun, moon, and stars—were installed into this partition (Genesis 1:14-18 ). This partition has windows or sluice gates with which God sends rain to irrigate or water the earth (Genesis 7:11 ). This heavenly partition God “stretched out” (Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 44:24; Psalm 136:6; compare Ezekiel 1:22-26; Ezekiel 10:1 ). The clouds serve a similar rain-producing function, so that KJV often translates the Hebrew word for “clouds” as “sky” (Deuteronomy 33:26; Psalm 57:10; Isaiah 45:8; Jeremiah 51:9; compare Psalm 36:6; Psalm 108:4 ).

Only God has the wisdom to “stretch out” the heaven” (Jeremiah 51:15 ). “Heaven” thus becomes the curtain of God's tent, separating His dwelling place from that of humanity on earth (Psalm 104:2; Isaiah 40:22 ). Like a human dwelling, heaven can be described as resting on supporting pillars (Job 26:11 ) or on building foundations (2 Samuel 22:8; though the parallel in Psalm 18:7 applies the foundations to mountains). Just as He built the partition, so God can “rend” it or tear it apart ( Isaiah 64:1 ). Thus it does not seal God off from His creation and His people. English translations use “firmament” (KJV), “expanse” (NAS, NIV), “dome” (TEV, NRSV), or “vault” (REB) to translate the special Hebrew word describing what God created and named “Heaven” (Genesis 1:8 ).

Hebrew does not employ a term for “air” or “space” between heaven and earth. This is all part of heaven. Thus the Bible speaks of “birds of the heavens,” though English translations often use “air” or “sky” (Deuteronomy 4:17; Jeremiah 8:7; Lamentations 4:19 ). Even Absalom hanging by his hair from a tree limb was “between heaven and earth” (2 Samuel 18:9; compare 1 Chronicles 21:16; Ezekiel 8:3 ). The heaven is the source for rain (Deuteronomy 11:11; Psalm 148:4 ), dew (Genesis 27:28 ), frost (Job 38:29 ), snow (Isaiah 55:10 ), fiery lightning (Genesis 19:24 ), dust (Deuteronomy 28:24 ), and hail (Joshua 10:11 ). This is the language of human observation and description, but it is more. It is the language of faith describing God in action in and for His world (Jeremiah 14:22 ). Heaven is God's treasure chest, storing treasures such as the rain (Deuteronomy 28:12 ), wind and lightning (Jeremiah 10:13 ), and snow and hail (Job 38:22 ). The miraculous manna came from God's heavenly storehouses for Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 16:11-15 ).

Heaven and earth thus comprehend the entire universe and all its constituents (Jeremiah 23:24 ), but God fills all these and more so that no one can hide from Him (compare 1 Kings 8:27-30; Isaiah 66:1 ). Yet this One also lives in the humble, contrite heart (Isaiah 57:15 ).

As God's dwelling place, heaven is not a divine haven where God can isolate Himself from earth. It is the divine workplace, where He sends blessings to His people (Deuteronomy 26:15; Isaiah 63:15 ) and punishment on His enemies (Psalm 2:4; Psalm 11:4-7 ). Heaven is a channel of communication between God and humans (Genesis 28:12; 2 Samuel 22:10; Nehemiah 9:13; Psalm 144:5 ).

As God's creation, the heavens praise Him and display His glory and His creativity (Psalm 19:1; Psalm 69:34 ) and righteousness (Psalm 50:6 ). Still, heaven remains a part of the created order. Unlike neighboring nations, Israel knew that heaven and the heavenly bodies were not gods and did not deserve worship (Exodus 20:4 ). It belonged to God (Deuteronomy 10:14 ). Heaven stands as a symbol of power and unchanging, enduring existence (Psalm 89:29 ), but heaven is not eternal. The days come when heaven is no more (Job 14:12;; Isaiah 51:6 ). As God once spread out the heavenly tent, so He will wrap up the heavens like a scroll (Isaiah 34:4 ). A new heaven and new earth will appear (Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22 ).

The Old Testament speaks of heaven to show the sovereignty of the Creator God and yet of the divine desire to communicate with and provide for the human creature. It holds out the tantalizing examples of men who left earth and were taken up to heaven (Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11 ).

New Testament In the New Testament, the primary Greek word translated “heaven” describes heaven as being above the earth, although no New Testament passage gives complete instructions regarding the location or geography of heaven. Other than Paul's reference to the three heavens (2 Corinthians 12:2-4 ), the New Testament writers spoke of only one heaven.

The New Testament affirms that God created heaven (Acts 4:24 ), that heaven and earth stand under God's lordship (Matthew 11:25 ), and that heaven is the dwelling place of God (Matthew 6:9 ).

Jesus preached that the kingdom of heaven/God had dawned through His presence and ministry (Mark 1:15 ). By using the image of a messianic banquet, Jesus spoke of heavenly life as a time of joy, celebration, and fellowship with God (Matthew 26:29 ). Jesus taught that there would be no marrying or giving in marriage in heaven (Luke 20:34-36 ).

Christians should rejoice because their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20 ). Jesus promised a heavenly home for His followers (John 14:2-3 ).

According to Paul, Christ is seated in heaven at the right hand of God (Ephesians 1:20 ). Paul believed heaven is the future home of believers (2 Corinthians 5:1-2 ). Paul referred to the hope of heaven as the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27 ). The Holy Spirit is the pledge of the believer's participation in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:5 ). Peter affirmed that heaven is the place where the believer's inheritance is kept with care until the revelation of the Messiah (1 Peter 1:4 ).

The word “heaven” occurs more frequently in Revelation than in any other New Testament book. The Revelation addresses heaven from the standpoints of the struggle between good and evil and of God's rule from heaven. The most popular passage dealing with heaven is Revelation 21:1 to Revelation 22:5 . In this passage, heaven is portrayed in three different images: (1) the tabernacle (Revelation 21:1-8 ), (2) the city (Revelation 21:9-27 ), and (3) the garden (Revelation 22:1-5 ). The image of the tabernacle portrays heavenly life as perfect fellowship with God. The symbolism of the city portrays heavenly life as perfect protection. The image of the garden shows heavenly life as perfect provision.

Trent C. Butler and Gary Hardin

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Heaven'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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