In our age we have a practical cosmology (the same one employed by the ancient Hebrews) and a scientific one as well (that they didn’t have). According to our practical cosmology we look “up” at the sky, time the sun”rise” and sun”set,” and “dive” into the ocean. Simultaneously, we know, scientifically speaking, that we are located on the side of a ball so that the sky and ocean are each beside us but in different directions – we have to move laterally to get to either, though hardly anyone ever talks this way. And the sun – whoa, that’s moving and we’re moving around it, and everything’s moving – still everyone knows that you always put a hat on your head and never on your feet to protect yourself from the sun.
This distinction between the practical and scientific is also seen when I pound my fist on the table. Science tells me there is actually more space in the table than there is matter. Yet, I still don’t pound my fist too hard on the table lest I hurt myself.
When the ancient Hebrews employed practical cosmology, they didn’t consider it “scientific” because “science” as we know it (experimental method, etc.) wasn’t commonplace for them. Therefore, it’s a form of chronological snobbery, as C.S. Lewis might put it, to suggest that Hebrews considered the three-tier view of the universe that we ourselves (Non-Christian and Christian alike) employ today a “scientific” view of the universe.
Scientific cosmology hasn’t displaced practical cosmology. It just sits alongside it (or maybe above it or below it or whatever).
Here is more on the ancient Hebrews’ three-tiered, two-dimensional view of creation. The “two-dimensional” part, by the way, is very important.
Creation Is Two-Dimensional and Three-Tiered
[The Bible] presents a view of creation as existing in two dimensions: visible and invisible. We could also say “seen and unseen” or “flesh and spirit.” This two-dimensional creation exists in three tiers: heaven, earth, and sea (Sheol).
Each tier has its own inhabitants, both in the physical realm as well as the spiritual one. Even children are familiar with the creatures which belong to each realm: Birds for the air, fish for the sea, and so on. In the spiritual dimension, heaven was designed for God and angels, earth for living humanity, and Sheol below for deceased humanity. It’s a simple concept, but God must know that’s the way we prefer things.
In any given Bible verse, it’s not always clear which dimension is being referenced. Obviously, when it tells us to pray “Our Father who art in heaven” it is not encouraging us to picture Him hanging on to a star. On the other hand, when the Scriptures told the Israelites not to make idols of any likeness of anything in the heavens, it was speaking of the physical heavens. For how could the Israelites make a likeness of something they couldn’t see? There are other times, however, where both dimensions of creation may be in view.
To read this excerpt in context see Chapter Four of Everyone Is Going to Heaven.