In this, the second of six creation events, a watery world is split into two parts: the water above (i.e., clouds) and the waters below (i.e., the seas). The intervening space is called sky.
And Elohim said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters separating water from water.
Let there be …: For verse 1:3 we translated the same Hebrew word (יְהִי – yəhi) as “come into being”. As mentioned in that discussion, I chose “come into being” because it explicitly calls attention to the ex nihilo creation of light. But, unlike 1:3, the expanse already exists, needing only for the waters to be separated in order to come into view, hence a more conventional usage.
expanse: Many English translations render the Hebrew noun רָקִ֖יעַ (raqia) as ‘firmament’ (notably the English translation of the Septuagint, the LXA) while others render raqia as ‘expanse’. The latter translation is arguably more reasonable given that its verbal root, רָקַע (raqa), has a connotation of flattening, say, as a ball of dough is flattened by a rolling pin. In Exodus 39:3 the RSV renders the verb as “beat thin”, and in Jer 10:9 as “spread into plates”. The idea, therefore, of flattening an object and denoting its sheetlike appearance as an ‘expanse’ seems more reasonable than ‘firmament’. Also supporting this view, is the occurence of raqia in verse 1:20, where flying creatures are commanded to “fly-about over the land above the surface of the raqia of the skies”. In this verse, I believe that ‘expanse of the skies’ may make more sense than ‘firmament of the skies’.
separating water from water: (וִיהִי מַבְדִּיל בֵּין מַיִם לָמָיִם – vihi mavdil ben mayim lamayim) The picture these words convey is often described as a land-mass separating two bodies of water (oceans, lakes, etc.,). This is probably not correct. In this case, the so-called expanse creates a void that separates water in the sky (rain) from the terrestrial waters (oceans, rivers, lakes).
And Elohim made the expanse such that it separated the waters below from the waters above. And it was so.
The more common translations of this verse is represented by the NIV, “So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so.” The NIV translation, along with other translations like it, are perfectly fine. I prefer mine for two reasons: First, it’s more concise (in keeping with the biblical economy of words) and second, I think it better captures the notion that the author meant for us to understand, namely that the function of the expanse is to separate the heavenly from the terrestrial waters.
And Elohim made: The Hebrew verb וַיַּ֣עַשׂ (vayyaas) is a variation of asah, the general verb for ‘make’. This verb unlike bara (the divine creation verb), is used throughout the Bible to describe the creative actions of both man and God. Also, unlike bara, It is specific to neither God nor man and so is a general term for making, creating, and forming.
it separated: A number of popular English translations do not completely capture the meaning intended by the author (see, for example, NRS, NIV, NAU, NAS, and NKJ Bibles). In these Bibles, the text suggests that “God created the expanse and separated the waters”. What’s missing in this translation is the explict understanding that the function of the expanse was to act as a separator. To better understand this, here is the literal, word-for-word translation of the text in question:
And-made Elohim the-expanse and-it-separated …
The relative pronoun ‘it’, in this phrase refers to ‘expanse’. The author sought to convey the impression that the function of the expanse was to separate. The NLT translates this verse correctly
…God made this space in order to separate the waters…
And it was so: Translated from the Hebrew phrase, וַיְהִי־כֵן (vayəhi khen), this formula occurs six times in the creation story. Its simplicity belies its implications. The root letters of the first word, vayəhi, are היה which, at a superficial level, mean to bring something into existence. However, verbal derivatives of this root, for example rarely mean simply to bring into being. Rather, they connote a sense of certainty that the action in question inarguably succeeded.
And Elohim faced the expanse and proclaimed, “skies”. And it was evening and it was morning, a second day.
And Elohim faced the expanse: See the translation discussion of naming by God in Genesis 1:5.