"And God said, let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And 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" (Genesis 1:6-7).
As God prepared the world for the presence of man, we see the creation of one of the fundamental components for his existence, the firmament. This part of the earth is defined by Strong's Greek and Hebrew Dictionary as "the visible arch of the sky." Today we would call this the atmosphere. What makes up the atmosphere and how important is it? Let's look at a few of the things that we do know about it.
The atmosphere is defined as the gaseous envelope surrounding a celestial body and has several functions. It protects everything underneath it from the ultraviolet radiation of the sun. It also holds the respiratory gases necessary for the life process of plants and animals. It serves as the source of water and part of the machinery that causes the water cycle. It functions to hold heat close to the earth, both as an insulator against too much heat and as an insulator to keep us warm. It also is the source of the mechanism that produces wind. So, it has some very important functions that we cannot do without.
It is made up of mostly nitrogen (78%), but also contains oxygen (21%) and many other gases in small quantities: carbon dioxide, helium, hydrogen and ozone. There are generally considered to be about 5 layers making up the atmosphere from the troposphere at ground level to the thermosphere about 60 miles straight up. These layers of gases are held in place by gravity. One of the most important components is water vapor. This forms our clouds and gives us much needed precipitation. This water vapor also helps to absorb the ultraviolet radiation of the sun. If all of the water in the atmosphere were to be released as rain, it would cause a layer of water that would cover the earth to only 2 inches thick. When precipitation does fall from the atmosphere, it certainly must be replaced, and God has designed the hydrologic or water cycle to take care of this.
If the atmosphere were not present around the earth, it would not be possible for life to exist on earth, for the ultraviolet radiation from the sun would fry every exposed living thing. The water vapor and ozone in the atmosphere serve as the greatest absorbers of this radiation.
In the Genesis account of the creation of the firmament, we see that God placed it "in the midst of the waters." Exactly what this means is not clear from what we can see today. But the original creation could be vastly different from what is present today. This dividing of the waters has led to the Vapor Canopy Theory. This layer of water vapor above the firmament may have been put there to protect life from the harmful effects of the sun. This canopy may account for several pre-flood oddities: long lifespans, no rain, a uniformly warm climate and the mist that watered the earth (Genesis 2:6). It may be the source of much of the water of the flood, when the account says the "windows of heaven were opened" (Genesis 7:11).
God has richly blessed us with the creation of the firmament. There are many questions about how our atmosphere works, where it came from and how it is maintained. Indeed, as the psalmist said, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork" (Psalms 19:1).