Read Part 1 Here:
Part 1: What is a “Spirit”?
The first part of this study identified the Hebrew word “ruakh” and the Greek word “pnuma” as the words we translate as “spirit.” As the study progresses, it will be important to remember the original broad range of meaning which includes wind, breath, thoughts, and spirit. These various meanings of “ruakh” and “pnuma” are not entirely disconnected from one another, as they all refer to that which is invisible and makes things move or come alive. Not only does man have a spirit, but God Himself has a Spirit.
The next three parts of this study will observe what God’s Spirit did in the Old Testament.
The first thing God’s Spirit is described as doing in the Old Testament is creating the world.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.Genesis 1:1-3
In creation, God’s Spirit/Wind/Breath is described as hovering or moving over the face of the waters. God then spoke words, and those created the world through those spoken words. As we continue the study, we will continually see a close connection between God’s Spirit and God’s words. This makes sense given the Hebrew word “ruakh” was used to describe “breath” or “thoughts.” “Spirit” and “word” are not synonyms, but they are closely connected, just as thoughts and breath are also closely connected to words.
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,Psalm 33:6
and by the breath of his mouth all their hosts.
The Creator and Sustainer of Life
Not only did God’s Spirit create the world, but more specifically, God’s Spirit is described as creating and sustaining life.
Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.Genesis 2:7
But it is the spirit in man,Job 32:8
the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.
The Spirit of God has made me,Job 33:4
and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;Psalm 104:29-30
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to the dust.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.
There is a sense in which everything that has breath in it’s lungs is alive because of God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit/Breath gave them their spirit/breath, and when God’s Spirit takes away their spirit/breath, they die.
The dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.Ecclesiastes 12:7
If he should set his heart to itJob 34:14-15
and gather to himself his spirit and his breath,
all flesh would perish together,
and man would return to the dust.
Just as God’s Spirit is responsible for creation, and just as God’s Spirit is responsible for creating and sustaining life, the Old Testament prophets looked forward to a day when God’s Spirit would again be involved in a brand new act of creation.
For the palace is forsakenIsaiah 32:14-16
the populous city is deserted;
the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever,
a joy of wild donkeys,
a pasture of flocks;
until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
Then Justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
Isaiah looks forward to the end of Israel’s exile and the beginning of a new age. This new age will come when the Spirit is “poured out” upon God’s people. The picture given is that of a forsaken, deserted, wild pasture being re-created into a fruitful field and a thriving forest.
Ezekiel also looks forward to this coming age, when God’s people are given a “new heart” and a “new spirit.” This too can be attributed to God’s Spirit.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.Ezekiel 36:26-27
This image is developed further in Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. Notice all the ways this chapter uses the various meanings of the word “ruakh” and how the translators move back and forth between various English words throughout the passage. Don’t forget that it’s all the same word in Hebrew.
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live… Then he said to me, “Prophecy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.Ezekiel 37:1-10
There are several things to pay attention to in this passage. First, notice how God’s Spirit is closely connected with words of prophesy. This, of course, makes sense given the Hebrew meaning of the word ruakh. Also notice that just as in Genesis 2, God’s Spirit creates new life. As the vision is explained to Ezekiel, we again see a description of God’s Spirit giving new life to Israel in the coming age.
And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.Ezekiel 37:13-14
Understanding the Spirit’s role in creating the universe, creating life, and re-creating new life from the dead is all important background for understanding much of what the New Testament teaches about the Holy Spirit. For example, notice how the following verses continue to attribute resurrection and new life to the Holy Spirit.
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.Romans 8:11
For Christ also suffered once for sins… being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit.1 Peter 3:18
Before moving our attention to the New Testament, there is another aspect of the Holy Spirit’s work in the Old Testament that must be studied first, that is, the way that certain persons are described as being “filled with” God’s Spirit in a very special, personal, and empowering way. This will be the subject of the next part of this study.
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