John Walton has changed his mind about the firmament being solid, and now argues the opposite. See these quotations, but also see the rebuttal that follows:
Given this fresh analysis of šĕḥāqîm, I propose that rāqī ʿa refers to the space created when the šĕḥāqîm were put in place. This would explain why the birds and sun and moon are seen to be in the rāqī ʿa.
– Genesis 1 as Ancient Codmology, 157
If šĕḥāqîm refers to the solid sky, then rāqīʿa must refer to something else. Looking carefully at the contexts in which it is used, I agree with what has been a common understanding—that it refers to the space between heaven and earth (niv “expanse”). In this connection, we should note that Genesis 1 identifies the rāqīʿa as a separator between the waters above and the waters below, not between the waters above and the air (which would have been a more accurate description of the solid barrier). If this is so, the rāqīʿa is most comparable to the role of Shu (god of the air, who is positioned between earth and heaven, holding up the latter) in the Egyptian cosmology…
WALTON’S VIEW IS OPPOSITE THAT OF THE MAJORITY OF WELL INFORMED OT AND ANE SCHOLARS
Per other commentators Walton is incorrect to claim birds fly “in” the raqia, since the Hebrew in Gen 1 says that birds fly “across its face,” and it is the same word for “face” elsewhere in Genesis 1-2, such as “the spirit moved upon the face of the waters,” and, “herbs existed on the face of the earth,” and, “streams rose from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground,” in other words, the birds are not flying “in” the raqia:
Gen 1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the FACE [Strong’s H6440] of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the FACE H6440 of the waters.
Gen 1:9 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the FACE H6440 of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
Gen 2:6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole FACE H6440 of the ground.
SOURCE: H6440 https://www.blueletterbible.org/search/search.cfm?Criteria=face*+H6440&t=KJV#s=s_primary_0_1
Nor do any other uses of raqia or raqa depict them as having a meaning akin to something as insubstantial as “air” since the words depict the face of the earth, and hammered out solid and metal objects. In fact Ezekiel 1:22,26 describes a raqia with the Lord’s throne above it, and the wings of angels “stretched out straight” beneath it, a firmament of “crystal,” literally, the “eye of awesome ice.” Pretty solid usage of raqia throughout the 17 times it appears in the Bible.
Agree that the primordial waters are “separated,” but Walton now appears to be overlooking the point that the raqia is what separates, since air alone does not separate the waters even in the Egyptian cosmos. In Egyptian parlance, Shu uplifts Nut, and Nut’s body (like Tiamat’s skin in Enuma Elish) is what holds the celestial waters back. Shu is merely helping keep Nut as a whole lifted up.
To reiterate further aspects of the overwhelming case that Walton seems to have forgotten:
The Hebrew Past • Raqia’ is solid throughout the 17 times it is mentioned in the OT http://www.blueletterbible.org/search/translationResults.cfm?Criteria=firmament&t=KJV
Fourth or Third Century BCE • The Book of Enoch (in one of its oldest sections, “The Book of Watchers”) affirms a solid firmament.
Second Century BCE: • Hebrew scholars translate their Scriptures into Greek (the Septuagint or LXX version of the Hebrew Bible) and employ the Greek word stereoma, based on stereos, which means “firm/hard,” as the closest equivalent to the Hebrew word, raqia’. And the Song of the Three Holy Children [found in some copies of the Book of Daniel after 3:23], says that “waters be above the heavens” and are called upon to bless the Lord, but after the reader is brought closer to the things of the earth, clouds are called upon to bless the Lord, thus distinguishing between the two.
Note the flat cosmos perspective of Genesis 1. Primeval waters are divided by a firmament, creating heaven, after which God commands “waters” to be “gathered together” under the newly created heaven. God names the waters “seas” (thus setting boundaries for the sea, a common ancient Near Eastern concern) and the dry land is then named “earth.” Both halves of creation (sky and dry land) are now made, but are bare and have to be accessorized in the days that follow, adding plants to the earth, adding sun, moon, and stars above the earth, and finally adding animals and humans, a process of filling creation that resembles other creation myths.
One should also note the difference between the words heaven and firmament in the Bible. The Hebrew word for heaven (shamayin) appears more than 400 times in the Bible and applies to a wide variety of things, from “birds of heaven, angels of heaven, foundations of heaven, pillars of heaven, to the firmament of heaven” (Genesis 1:14). In contrast, firmament (raqia’) only appears 17 times in the Bible.
According to Luis I. J. Stadelmann in The Hebrew Conception of the World, “Shamayin (heaven) designates the space above the earth, including the atmosphere, the region of the clouds, the firmament and God’s abode above the firmament,” places both seen and unseen overhead. Other Hebrew words translated as “heaven” or “sky” function in a similar, broad manner. But not the Hebrew word for “firmament.” The author of Genesis 1 makes clear that it was the creation of a “firmament” in the midst of primeval waters that made heaven/sky possible, as well as earth/dry land.
As Denis Lamoureux, himself an Evangelical Christian, admits in a book review, “Scripture clearly states that the firmament was under ‘the waters above,’ not in them or part of them. Second, if the writer of Genesis 1 had intended ‘the waters above’ to mean clouds, vapor, or mist ‘from which rain comes,’ then there were three well-known Hebrew words he could have used (‘anan, ’ed, and nasiy’; Genesis 9:13, Jeremiah 10:13, and Genesis 2:6, respectively). Instead, he employed the common term for water (mayim) five times in Genesis 1:6–8. . . . Third, the sun, moon, and stars are placed in (Hebrew b) the firmament on the fourth day of creation, above which lay ‘the waters.’”
Additional references to heavenly waters include Psalm 148:3–4, “Praise him, sun, moon, and stars, Praise him, highest heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens” and Psalm 104:1–3, “O Lord . . . who stretches out the heavens like a curtain: who lays the beams of his chambers in the waters. . . .” The Hebrew word translated as “beams” is qarah, which refers to structural beams or timbers for a building. The Hebrew word translated as “chambers” is `aliyah and specifically means “roof room” or “roof chamber.” The passage therefore indicates that the God of the Bible built his heavenly chambers in the cosmic waters above the “roof” of the world (i.e., the firmament of heaven).
Just as there are vast waters above, there are also vast waters beneath the earth. A passage mentioning them is Genesis 7:11–12 concerning the biblical flood: “. . . on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened” (NRSV). Thus, the waters of the abyss, or the great deep “burst forth” from beneath the earth to inundate the land. And according to the same story, such waters remained in abundance, enough to flood the earth again should God desire, because the Flood ended only after God “closed” the floodgates of the sky and the fountains of the deep, and “promised” not to do such a thing again. So the author presumably thought that such waters—located beneath and above the earth—were without limit and that God was relied upon to set their boundaries, as stated elsewhere in the Bible. In that respect, the story of the Flood agrees with Genesis 1 and with the Psalmists who stated that such waters continued to exist “above the highest heavens,” near God’s own “chambers.”
But what is a “firmament”? What does the word mean in the original Hebrew? The Hebrew word raqia’ (translated as “firmament”) means “that which is firmly hammered, beaten out, or stamped (as of metal).”46 According to Gerhard von Rad in Genesis: A Commentary, another word of the same root in Phoenician means “tin dish,”47 and the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet, used to write early Hebrew, was a regional offshoot of Phoenician.
Even the Theological Word Book of the Old Testament, authored by conservative Evangelical Christian scholars, R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, and Bruce K. Waltke, and published by Moody Press, agreed that the Bible verses in which the root of raqia’ (i.e., raqa’) appeared were all related to something solid being spread out, stamped, or pounded down; the following list provides examples of this translation:
Isaiah 42:5 “‘spread out’ the earth,” Isaiah 44:24, “‘spreading out’ the earth” Psalm 136:6 “‘spread out’ the earth” Ezekiel 6:11 “‘stamp’ your foot” Ezekiel 25:6 “‘stamped’ your feet” II Samuel 22:43 “I ‘stamped’ them” Jeremiah 10:9 “‘beaten’ silver” Isaiah 40:19 “‘plates it’ with gold” Exodus 39:3 “‘hammer out’ gold leaf” Numbers 16:39 “‘hammered (bronze censers) out’ as a plating for the altar”
Note the description in Job 37:18 where we read the following in the KJV: “Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?” The Hebrew word translated as “spread out” is raqa’, as in the cases already mentioned. In addition, the Hebrew word translated as “strong” is chazaq, which means “strong,” “hard,” or “firm.” In ancient times, mirrors were made of polished metal, not glass, as they were during the time of King James. The NEB translation of the verse follows the meanings of the key Hebrews words more closely and is clearer than is the version in the KJV: “Can you beat out the vault of the skies, as he does, hard as a mirror of cast metal?” T. H. Gaster in his article on “Heaven” for The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible comments: “Job’s expression finds a parallel in the ‘brazen heaven’ of the ancient Greeks, while, somewhat similarly, heaven is described in ancient Egyptian sources and occasionally by Homer as made of iron.”48
Another example of the idea that something firm lay overhead is found in Proverbs 8:27–28 (NRSV): “When [God] established the heavens, [wisdom] was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep.” The Hebrew word translated as “firm” is ‘amats, which, according to the authoritative Brown Driver Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, has a specific meaning of “be stout, strong. . . .” and also “to make firm, strengthen.”49 According to The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Koehler/Baumgartner), the meaning of ‘amats is “be hard” and “to make firm.”50
Therefore, three different passages in the Bible, Genesis 1:6–8, Job 37:18, and Proverbs 8:27–28, use three different words to indicate (with remarkable unanimity) that the biblical sky, or heaven, is strong, hard, or firm. (Speaking of firmness, Genesis 1 is not the only place in the Bible that mentions a firmament. Ezekiel 1:22, 26 describes one with the Lord’s throne above it, and the wings of angels “stretched out straight” beneath it, a firmament of “crystal,” literally, the “eye of awesome ice.”)