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This verse seems to reflect the understanding that there are multiple heavens (aka "skies"), one above the other:

New American Standard Bible Psalm 148:4 Praise Him, highest heavens, And the waters that are above the heavens!

I've heard some opine that the first heaven is the atmosphere, the second outer space and the third, God's dwelling. However, the purpose for which the heavens (at least the first) were created, per Genesis 1 was to support the waters taken from the abyss and store as rain, and that the stars were embedded in that sky:

NIV Genesis 1: 6And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day. 9And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. 11Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. 14And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

In addition, the birds fly under the first sky:

NIV 20And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

So does the author of Psalm 148 imagine that the stars extend out to the extent of OUR known universe and that it is there, atop the "highest heaven" that the waters are stored as rain?

What is "the highest heaven" that he calls upon to praise God and where are the waters located?

UPDATE:

This passage as well as Genesis 1:7 is normally translated "waters above". However the preposition has a large semantic domain and I'm wondering if it shouldn't be translated "waters in the midst of" the sky instead (since that seems to be where the waters are actually located). Is that possible?

http://biblehub.com/hebrew/5921.htm

  • A better translation of the Hebrew word raqia is "expanse" as in "stretched out," rather than "vault," which conjures popular images of a medieval cathedral on a flat earth with the sun, moon, and stars hanging from the ceiling. – Dieter Oct 14 '17 at 22:34
  • Better translation according to who? Modern readers suffering from cognitive dissonance because the Biblical writers had no issue with firmament or a solid structure. Biblical Cosmology is flat earth terrarium with a dome firmament and waters above. – Nihil Sine Deo Mar 8 at 19:35
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All translations have "heavens" but it is still misleading because our teaching is the sky surrounding the earth is something different from the space holding the sun, moon, and stars. The Hebrew "heaven" is always plural. "Under heaven" or "under the heavens" on day three of creation? An understanding "heaven" may exist singularly is a reflection of the physical understanding of the natural world, not what the text describes. In other words, it is our human perspective heaven can be singular, which influences the meaning of "highest heavens" as including different physical spaces. It is man who states the "heaven" surrounding the earth is separate from the "heaven" which holds the sun and moon and stars. The word "heavens" does not differentiate between different heavens or space.

What is the meaning of "highest" מֵעַ֬ל heavens? The word is עַל having a wide range of meaning which Gesenius puts into four general categories:

  1. Something on the upper part of another
  2. The idea of impending, being high, being suspended over anything
  3. The sense of neighborhood and contiguity
  4. Denotes motion onto or towards

It is a translator’s conception of the natural world which leads to interpret וְהַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל הַשָּׁמָֽיִם as "waters which are above..."

Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! (ESV)
Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. (NIV)

It could reasonably be “…waters upon…” or “…waters in…” or “…waters throughout…” The choice a translation makes is not an indication of where the text places the waters; it is a reflection of how a translator (already) understands the created world.

Fundamentally the Psalm is not commenting on the physical structure of nature; it is instruction for the created world to give praise:

Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created.
(Psalm 148:5 ESV)

The Psalmist is inviting the reader to consider how “waters” and the entirety of the created world will give praise to the name of the LORD. This is an impossible action in the physical world as we know it. So this section of the Psalm is either written metaphorically or describes an aspect of the physical world man does not recognize.

5

Psalm 148:4 (NASB) doesn't actually say the waters are above the highest heavens. It only says the waters are above the heavens:

Praise Him, highest heavens,
And the waters that are above the heavens!

So the heavens is the sky with the waters being above the sky, which is basically true since you will often see birds flying in the sky below the clouds. Clouds are water in gaseous form, which float along above the heavens but below the highest heavens.

In Deuteronomy 10:14 (NASB), Moses also mentions this distinction between the two heavens:

Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it.

The heavens is the sky and atmosphere where the birds fly and clouds are, and the clouds are the "storehouses" of rain. Even if it is a clear sky where you are at, there are clouds somewhere else on the earth. So the "storehouses" of rain are constantly moving but are always above the heavens, yet below the highest heavens.

You are correct in thinking that the highest heavens is space, because the sun, moon and stars are there. The order is


highest heavens (sun☀, moon🌙, stars🌟🌟🌟)
     ^
     |
     |
     |
  heavens (sky with ☁coulds☁)
     ^
     |
     |
   earth

The only real mention of the third heaven is by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (NASB), where he equates it with Paradise:

2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— 4 was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.

The first few verses of Psalm 148 even group things together in a somewhat descending manner.

  1. [those with God:] His angels and His hosts are are encouraged to praise (verse 2)
  2. [in the highest heavens:] the sun, moon, stars, and highest heavens are encouraged to praise (verses 3-4a)
  3. [below the highest:] and then the waters above the heavens are encouraged to praise (verse 4b)

The Psalm is calling for all created things to praise their Creator. The waters are above the heavens but below the highest heavens, which contain the sun, moon and stars.

Going back one chapter to Psalm 147:7-8 (NASB), the Psalmist conveys the idea of clouds being a covering of the heavens:

7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
Sing praises to our God on the lyre,
8 Who covers the heavens with clouds,
Who provides rain for the earth,
Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.

Here again we see that the clouds are considered to be more or less at the topmost part of the heavens as a sort of covering for it, which would be considered above it. God called the expanse/firmament heaven (Genesis 1:8), and gave it a covering of clouds.

In response to the question:

I'm wondering if it shouldn't be translated "waters in the midst of" the sky instead (since that seems to be where the waters are actually located). Is that possible?

There's not really any way to get "in the midst of" here. In both Genesis 1:7 and Psalm 148:4, the word translated as "above" is מעל which consists of the word על with a prefixed מ as the preposition. מ signifies "from" and על means "above" here. So "the waters above" or "the waters from above" is correct. If you wanted to go the dynamic-equivalent route in translating, you could probably get away with something like "waters from upon the tops of the heavens" or something like that.

However, in order to get the meaning "in the midst of" there would have to be not only a different preposition but a different word as well, as can be seen in Genesis 1:6 where בתוך is used. בתוך consists of the word תוך and a prefixed ב as the preposition. ב signifies "in" and תוך "midst" here, which of course is translated "in the midst." This also occurs in Genesis 2:9 where the tree of life is said to have been בתוך "in the midst" of the garden.

You can consult any Hebrew grammar book to learn more about the prepositions, such as

both of which conveniently have their prepositions segments available as part of the preview on Google Books. Jo Ann Hackett starts her prepositions section on page 40, with Robert Ray Ellis starting his on page 49.

Consider the following scenario...

Jack: "Where's my hat?"
George: "Above your head." (Jack was wearing it the entire time.)

The hat was not hovering above Jack's head but was on the topmost part of it. The "above your head" expression is used in English, though it is not common and is mostly used as a friendly jibe (the more common way would be to say "on your head").

In the same way, מעל is not limited to 'completely-above-without-ever-touching-the-thing-below' but can include being at the topmost part of something, as can be seen from Genesis 24:64 (NASB) where it says that Rebekah dismounted 'from above' the camel she was on:

Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac she dismounted from [מעל] the camel;


I wanted to respond to a few things contained in another answer because they are very misleading.

What is the meaning of "highest" מֵעַ֬ל heavens? The word is עַל having a wide range of meaning which Gesenius puts into four general categories...

מעל does not mean "highest." מעל means "from above" or just simply "above." The phrase "highest heavens" is expressed by שמי השמים, which is literally "heavens of the heavens" or "heavens of heavens" as the KJV translates it:

Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens.

The other answer then links to the definition of על which indeed does have a wide range of meaning, but this doesn't take into account the prefixed מ which narrows the meaning substantially.

It could reasonably be “…waters upon…” or “…waters in…” or “…waters throughout…” The choice a translation makes is not an indication of where the text places the waters; it is a reflection of how a translator (already) understands the created world.

Again this is very misleading because, while you might possibly be able to get away with using מעל for "...waters upon...", it could not reasonably be "...waters in..." or "...waters throughout..." as these last two phrases would require different words, such as המים בשמים for "the waters in the heavens," and המים בכל השמים for "the waters throughout the heavens" (more literally: "the waters in the entirety of the heavens" or "the waters in the whole of the heavens").

The choice a translation makes is an indication of where the text places the waters, and translating מעל as "above" in Psalm 148:4 is not a reflection of how a translator already understands the created world.

  • So where would the "vault" or "expanse" or "firmament" be located, which has waters above it?: NIV Genesis 1:6And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day. It is this "vault" that he calls "heaven". – Ruminator Oct 7 '17 at 12:33
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    The 'waters above' was the primordial ocean of chaos. The firmament was a solid dome that covered the earth, holding the waters back. I outline the ancient Israelite cosmology here, with illustration. – user2910 Oct 11 '17 at 14:10
  • Hi @Mark, thanks for your comment. Although I must say I disagree with just about every point you try to make in that answer you linked to. But I suppose we should just leave it at that since this comment box is limiting me to 600 characters, and also since this comment thread shouldn't be used to debate points from other answers. – user21562 Oct 13 '17 at 0:16
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The whole verse may be supposed to have the grammatical structure of either one or the other (both not both) of (A) or (B):

(A) I was so dedicated to remodeling my bathroom that I purchased not only a new bathtub, I bought a complete shower system for the tub!

(B) 'Praise Him, you celestial context of planet Earth's own precious atmosphere, and (you) waters that are above-in the atmosphere!

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(B) can be rendered in a single generic terminology:

(B 2) 'Praise Him, you context of the Earth's own Context, and (you) waters that are above-in that Context.'

If we grant that Psalm 148:1-13 is about natural things that basic humans can visually directly observe to be important to their lives, then (B) makes a lot of sense. If we grant that Earth is the sole primary implied subject for life, then why would God, much less the psalmist, completely ignore that? Was this verse, only, of all verses in this psalm, written by some ancient Hebrew version of Carl Sagan in Sagan's Cosmos TV show?

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The (B) rendering matches exactly the structure of Genesis 1:1. Both verses would then begin with a term that has no relevance apart from the existence of the following terms, and the middle term playing the key role for both the first and final term. For the Hebrew of 1:1, God is the middle of seven terms: three terms each to either side of Him. And in 1:1, God is best reflected in the final term, 'Earth', since Earth is the proper home of those made in His image.

If we assume that the structure of (A) is that of v. 4, then we allow that no wider context is required of v. 4 is required to understand v. But Psalm 148:4 already has a wider context, namely the whole psalm. And, within that context, an unobservable extragalactic distribution of water and ice is out of place. Granted, such a bizarre and unobservable object as that theorized by Humphreys is not as out of place in this psalm as would be, say, clear mention of duck soup, sandals, or raccoon roadkill. And, even more out of place would be mention of feces, electronic simulated computing, or artificially sweetened blueberry pie.

But, unless a lone exception is made in Psalm 148 for an unobservably distant extragalactic water and ice, then every bit of Psalm 148:1-13 clearly is about terrestrially observable, and terrestrially normal, subjects.

A knowledge of the atmosphere's cosmic preciousness is an essential part of a basic understanding of God's own life-focused Cosmos. An unobservably distant extragalactic water and ice is not.

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Faulkner (2016) seems to consider that the 'expanse' (rāqîaʿ, and 'shamayim') of v. 8 to be either interstellar space or the spatial dimension itself that we call 'the sky'. At the same time, Faulkner finds that 'expanse' ('firmament' in some translations) in v. 20 is the 'sky' in that same most general sense of “up there in the spatial dimension above our heads”. Faulkner reasons this way partly by relegating---at the outset---the 'modern' 'concept' of the atmosphere to non-existent status in the minds of the Bible writers.

Presumably, Faulkner takes for granted that, without careful experiments using appropriate artificial instrumentation, humans can only get the impression that the air they breath, and the blueness of the daylight sky, extends to the Moon, Sun, and Stars. And Faulkner is sure that the Bible writers did not know this about the air, and therefore, that the Bible does not teach on the atmosphere as such. Faulkner proceeds on that basis.

But most importantly, Faulkner is so biased in favor of an astrophysical conception of the Bible's Divine Revelation that he is willing that the Bible explicitly describes one or more astronomical concepts and, or, objects that he admits of which pre-'modern' humans can have had no natural knowledge...

Th[e] understanding that rāqîaʿ [is outer space] nicely incorporates the Old Testament verses that speak of the heavens being stretched or spread out—as in Job 9:8; Psalm 104:2; Isaiah 40:22, 42:5, 44:24, 45:12, 48:13, 51:13; Jeremiah 10:12, 51:15; and Zechariah 12:1. ( . . .) Certainly, those who wrote about the stretching of the heavens or those who first read or heard it must have had some understanding of what this meant. ( . . .) Since Genesis 1:8 equates šāmayim with rāqîaʿ, and we know from the verb from which rāqîaʿ comes means to beat or spread out, the best fit for understanding the stretching of the heavens is with what God did on Day Two. ( . . .) [T]he Bible implies that the boundary of the universe is accompanied by water. ( . . .) This is borne out by Psalm 148:4, which speaks of waters above the heavens still being there. We do not know who wrote Psalm 148 or when they wrote it, but it almost certainly was long after the Flood. That is to say, in the post-Flood world, the universe is surrounded by water.

Additionally, Faulkner's count of the quantity of instances of (haš)šāmayim in Genesis 1 is exactly 'seven'. This count is short by three, for Faulkner claims that the final instance is that in v. 20. The three instances Faulkner misses are one each in vv. 26, 28, and 30. This is understandable given Faulkner's astrophysical bias. Such a bias very easily can prime the mind to scan the English text according mainly or only to contextual hints of astronomical-astrophysical matters. These three verses bear no such hints, nor do the verses immediately surrounding them.

This astronomical and astrophysical bias is, in a very deep way, short of the entire Genesis 1 account. If we gaze at the stars, we implicitly are caring for life and its support. This matches the textual heart of Genesis 1: it explicates on the luminaries only in terms of the Earth and her inhabitants. Most to the point, if we knew of no living planet (our own) from which to view the stars, we could not gaze at them in pure wonder, but often largely in an adverse sense of incompleteness, if not desperation. Like the beauty of an endless desert to a man who has no prospect of water, the stars then might seem very lacking in the “benevolence of beauty”.

So, to repeat: A knowledge of the atmosphere's cosmic preciousness is an essential part of a basic understanding of God's Cosmos. This is because the atmosphere is the greatest cosmically local providential object in support of life. It is so great partly because it is maintained by the life it helps support. This, in most general terms, may be compared to a human body's skin. The atmosphere's own function, in relation to the Sun's radiated energy, is to selectively moderate that energy, permitting to solid-and-liquid Earth only what of that energy is ideal to Earth's life. So the Earth, like a woman, is such that her man's touch must be moderated by her skin. There are profound reasons for skin, but I shall not expressly identify these in the present work. Suffice it that the entire present work identifies them implicitly.

By greatest providence, the ancient narrator begins his account of Earth, and her wider sky, with a maximum of water, and in this, of a minimum of initial Sunlight. Creaturely life, even like the Creator, is not heat and fury, but the special ability to moderate all things in its own interest.

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Reference

Faulkner, D. R. (2016): 'Thoughts on the rāqîa‘ and a Possible Explanation for the Cosmic Microwave Background', Answers Research Journal 9 (2016):57-65. https://answersingenesis.org/astronomy/cosmology/thoughts-raqia-and-possible-explanation-cosmic-microwave-background/.

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The first and second heavens are the atmosphere and space. Since Genesis says God placed the stars IN the firmament, that means the waters above the firmament are waters that are beyond the universe itself. There are waters outside of space, and that would explain the description of a sea of glass mingled with fire in Revelation.

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    Welcome to BH. Please take the tour here; hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/tour to become familiar with helpful tools to aid in your answers. Biblical Hermeneutics requires exegesis of the scriptures to support your answer. Can you edit your answer to provide scriptures that will support your conclusions? – Gina May 10 '18 at 12:59
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The scriptures does not teach that there is "outer space". It teaches that we live on a flat plain enclosed by the glass like firmament, like a dome. The sky is not blue "because it's reflecting off the ocean" as they teach us today. The sky is blue because of the waters above us. You are literally looking at an ocean in the sky above the highest heaven. The bible does not teach that we spin thousands of miles per hour orbiting the sun. The sun and moon orbit around the earth, this is how Joshua was able to stop the sun in its place. The sun, moon , and stars are inside the firmament. We been brainwashed with the image of a globe since we were little kids.

Genesis 1:7" 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."

Job 37:18 " Have you with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten mirror?"

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

We can't try to twist scripture to fit what modern science teaches us, you either believe the bible or you don't. I put my trust in the word.

  • So when you fly in a jet why do you not encounter a dome? Or when placing satellites in orbit? Have you ever flown in a jet? – Ruminator Oct 17 '17 at 17:44
  • The dome is very high up above the sun and moon. If you were to keep flying upward you would eventually explode. You can't fly a rocket ship up passed the done. There is alot of deception at Nasa. And there is no satellites up in space floating around a globe like planet, they show us that in movies and cgi photos. But no I never flown In a jet before. – diego b Oct 17 '17 at 18:42
  • What do you make of this video: youtube.com/watch?v=IbWESZbGWCg – Ruminator Oct 17 '17 at 18:51
  • Which part of the video are you referring to? The fact that the earth looks curved or the fact they are claiming he is " at the edge of space"? I'll respond to both. The camera lens can make the earth look curved from that angle. In Isaiah he says the earth is a circle. It's a circle flat plain. And about him being in space. He was definitly very high up but even they are not claiming he is in space. That darkness is definitely not "outer space". – diego b Oct 17 '17 at 18:56
  • Okay, so getting back to the original question. Where are the waters of which Psalm 148:4 is speaking? And where is the "vault" that supports them? Are they beyond outer space? – Ruminator Oct 17 '17 at 19:01

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