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Bible Lexicons

Girdlestone's Synonyms of the Old Testament


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The Hebrew word generally in use to represent the heaven and also the air is Shamaim (שׁמים , Ass. samami). Sometimes it signifies the atmosphere immediately surrounding the earth, in which the fowls of 'the air' fly; sometimes it is used of the space in which the clouds are floating; in other places it refers to the vast expanse through which the stars are moving in their courses. Shamaim is also opposed to Sheol, the one being regarded as a place of exaltation, the other of degradation; the one being represented as the dwelling-place of the Most High and of the angels of God, the other as the abode of the dead.

In Psalms 77:18, where we read, 'The voice of thy thunder was in the heaven,' the word Galgal (גלגל ), which is used, probably signifies a whirlwind. The LXX has ἐν τῳ̂ τροχῳ̂ in Psalms 68:4, 'Extol him that rideth up on the heavens,' we find the word Arabah (ערבה , Ass. erbu), which generally means a desert; hence clouds of sand, and clouds generally in Psalms 89:6; Psalms 89:37, the word Shachak (שׁחק ), rendered heavens, originally signifies a cloud of fine particles; compare our expression 'a cloud of dust.' in Isaiah 5:30, 'The light is darkened in the heavens thereof,' our margin has ' in the destruction thereof;' the Hebrew word (עריפים ) used here probably signifies darkness.

In all but these few passages the word Shamaim is used where heaven is found in the A. V. It is to be noticed that the form of the word is neither singular nor plural, but dual. this may be only an ancient form of the plural, but it is supposed by some commentators to imply the existence of a lower and an upper heaven, or of a physical and spiritual heaven - 'the heaven and the heaven of heavens.' The original idea represented by the root is generally considered to be height, and if this is a right conjecture, the word fairly answers to its Greek equivalent οὐρανός, and to its English translation 'heaven,' that which is heaved or lifted up. It includes all space that is not occupied by the terrestrial globe, and extends from the air we breathe and the winds which we feel around us to the firmament or expanse which contains the innumerable stars. this it includes, and exceeds; for where our intellect ceases to operate, and fails to find a limit to the extension of space, here faith comes in; and whilst before the eye of the body there is spread out an infinity of space, the possession of a super-material nature brings us into communion with a Being whose nature and condition cannot adequately be described by terms of locality or extension. The heavens and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him; the countless stars are not only known and numbered by Him, but are called into existence and fixed in their courses by his will and wisdom. Wherever He is, there the true heaven is, and the glories of the firmament faintly shadow forth the ineffable bliss which those must realise who are brought into relationship with Him.

Whilst God is regarded as the God or King of Heaven, we read in the prophecy of Jeremiah of the 'Queen of Heaven' (7:18, 44:17, 18, 19, 25) in the margin this title is rendered 'frame of heaven' (מלאכת for מלכת ). If the former is the right interpretation, the heathen goddess Astarte or Venus is probably referred to; if otherwise, the prophet is reprobating the worship of the frame, structure, or workmanship of heaven, or, in other words, of the stars, as a substitute for the worship of Him Who created all these things.

The usage of the word 'heaven' in the N.T. generally answers to that which is to be traced through the Hebrew Bible, but more stress is laid up on the spiritual heaven, up on the Father who is there, and up on the son who came from heaven, and who has returned thither to remain hidden from the eye of man until the time of the restitution.

There are, indeed, the same distinct spheres designated by the word οὐρανός in the N.T. as by Shamaim in the O.T. There is the air, or dwelling-place of the fowls of the air (Matthew 6:26); there is also the vast space in which the stars are moving (Acts 2:19); but in by far the greater number of passages heaven signifies the dwelling-place of the Most High, and the abode of the angelic hosts. The titles 'kingdom of God' and 'kingdom of heaven' are really identical in their signification, though presenting the truth in slightly varied aspects. God is the King of heaven, and his will is done by all its angelic inhabitants. When the kingdom of God is spoken of as coming up on earth, we are to understand a state of things in which the subjection of man's will to God is to be completed, and the destruction of all that is contrary to God's will, whether in things physical or in things spiritual, is to be accomplished. When, on the other hand, it is the kingdom of heaven that is announced, we are to understand that the organisation of the human race in whole or part, and also perhaps their dwelling-place, will be rendered harmonious with the other portions of the family of that Heavenly Father in whose house are many mansions.

The popular phraseology about 'going to heaven' represents the truth, but certainly not in the form in which it is generally presented in Scripture. We rarely read that the godly will go to heaven, either at death or after the resurrection. We are rather told of a kingdom being set up on earth, of a heavenly city descending from above, and taking up its abode in the new or renewed earth.

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Girdlestone, Robert Baker. Entry for 'Heaven'. Synonyms of the Old Testament.
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