HEAVEN (Hebr. "shamayim" [the heavens], from "shama" [the high place]):

Chiefly, the upper part of the universe in contradistinction to the earth (Gen. i. 1); the region in which sun, moon, and stars are placed (Gen. i. 17). It is stretched out as a curtain (Isa. xl. 22), and is founded upon the mountains as on pillars sunk into the waters of the earth (II Sam. xxii. 8; Prov. viii. 27-29). It is the dwelling-place of God, from which He looks down upon all the inhabitants of the earth (Ps. xi. 4; xxxiii. 13, 14), though the heavens and heaven's heaven do not contain Him (Isa. lxvi. 1; I Kings viii. 27). It is the dwelling-place also of the angels (Gen. xxi. 17, xxii. 11, xxviii. 12). From heaven comes the rain, the hail, and the lightning (Gen. viii. 2, xix. 24; Ex. ix. 23; Deut. xi. 11; Job xxxviii. 37). Yhwh, the God of Israel, is eminently the God of heaven (Gen. xxiv. 3); the "possessor of heaven and earth"—of the world above and the world below (Gen. xiv. 19); "Lord of [the] hosts [of heaven]" (I Kings xviii. 15; Isa. xxvi. 21; comp. Gen. ii. 1, and elsewhere). Toward heaven as the seat of God the hands are stretched forth in prayer (I Kings viii. 22, 30 et seq.; II Chron. xxx. 27; comp. Ex. ix. 29, 33), because there the prayer is heard. Hence the expression "prayed before the God of heaven" (Neh. i. 4 et seq., ii. 4). During the Persian rule, and possibly under Persian influence, the name "God of heaven" becomes quite frequent (Ezra i. 2, vi. 9, vii. 21; Neh. ii. 20; Dan. ii. 19, 37; iv. 34 ["the Lord of heaven," Hebr.]; Tobit x. 11, and elsewhere).

The conception of a plurality of heavens was evidently familiar to the ancient Hebrews (see Deut. x. 14;I Kings xviii. 15; Ps. cxlviii. 4; comp. Ḥag. 12a); while rabbinical and Apocryphal literature speaks of seven or of ten heavens (seeJew. Encyc. i. 591, s.v. Angelology; Kautzsch, "Die Apokryphen und Pseudepigraphen des Alten Testaments," ii. 121; Charles, "Book of the Secrets of Enoch," 1896, pp. xxx. et seq.). In the third of the seven, or the seventh of the ten, heavens paradise was placed, and within it the treasures of life and of righteousness for the soul (Ḥag. 12b-13a; Slavonic Enoch, viii. 1; II Cor. xii. 2 et seq.; Matt. vii. 19-20; Ex. R. xxxi. 4).

Inasmuch as "heaven" stands for the seat of God, whither prayer is directed, and where the destinies of men are decided, it came to be used as an equivalent for "God" (comp. "Maḳom" = "the Place," or "Marom" = "the Height," as equivalent to "God"; see Dan. iv. 23; Book of Jubilees, xxvi. 18; the rabbinical "min ha-shamayim" = "from heaven it is decreed," 'Ab. Zarah 18a; Ḥul. 7b; Gen. R. lxxix. 6; "bi-yede shamayim" = "by the hands of heaven," Ber. 33b; and "ha-shamayim beni le-benak" = "destiny stands between me and thee," Ned. xi. 12; I Macc. iii. 18 et seq.; iv. 10, 24, 40; xii. 15; II Macc. iii. 15, ix. 20; III Macc. vi. 17, 33; Assumptio Mosis, iii. 8; Matt. xxi. 25). In rabbinical terminology, especially, "shamayim," without the article, became the regular expression for the name of God, which was, from motives of reverence, avoided as far as possible; hence the words "mora" or "yir'at shamayim" = "fear of heaven" (Abot i. 3; Ber. 6b); "shem shamayim" = "the name of heaven" (Abot i. 12, ii. 2, iv. 11, and elsewhere); and "malkut shamayim" = "kingdom of heaven." This last expression is used in the sense of "sovereignty of God," as in the phrase "meḳabbel 'ol malkut shamayim" = "to accept the yoke of God's kingdom"—that is, by a solemn profession to acknowledge Israel's God as the only King and Ruler (Ber. ii. 1). With reference to the Messianic age, it applies to the time when God will be the sole King on earth, in opposition to the kings of worldly powers (Pesiḳ. 51a; Cant. R. ii. 12); whence Matthew's "kingdom of heaven" (Matt. iii. 2, and elsewhere), where the other gospels have "kingdom of God."

  • Dalman, Die Worte Jesu, 1898, pp. 75 et seq.