1.3.5 Air/Breath/Wind: Inspiration
Volume 1: Foundations—Chapter 3.5
The English phrase “catching the wind” is a euphemism for harnessing something that is intrinsically elusive, impossible to pin down—in a word, “uncatchable.” Our poets employ sentiments like the wind beneath my wings to describe what can’t really be described—something that’s invisible, incorporeal, and intangible, but at the same time ubiquitous, real, and vital, something that’s essential to our very existence. The air we breathe is as necessary to our life as it is taken for granted. It should therefore come as no particular surprise that one of the central themes comprising God’s self-portrait is the metaphor of air, breath, or wind—the symbols used to communicate the elusive, esoteric concept of spirit.
The two Hebrew words that most directly communicate this concept are ruach (wind or spirit) and neshamah (breath). Both concepts are rendered with the same word group in Greek: pnoe (wind or breath) is used only twice in scripture, but its cousin, pneuma, appears 385 times. The root of both these words is the verb pneo, meaning to breathe or blow. We’ll get more deeply into the definitions of these words as we proceed; as you might imagine, they assume (just as they do in English) a broad range of metaphorical nuances and underlying meanings—all of which can help to shed light on what Yahweh wants us to know about Himself, His nature, and His plan.
A third Hebrew word often seen “hanging out on the same street corners” as ruach and neshamah is nephesh (or nepes), usually translated “soul” or “life.” This too is also connected etymologically to the concept of breath. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes, “The original, concrete meaning of the word was probably ‘to breathe.’ The verb occurs three times in the medio-passive Niphal stem with the meaning “to refresh oneself” (Exodus 23:12; 31:17; II Samuel 16:14)…. The noun appears to denote ‘breath’ in Genesis 1:30: ‘in which [i.e. the land creatures] is the breath of life.’ The connection between nepeš and breath is also suggested by such statements as: ‘and [the Lord] breathed [nph] into his [man’s] nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul’ (Genesis 2:7); and ‘the nepeš [life/breath/soul] of the child returned and he revived’ (I Kings 21:22).” The Greek equivalent is psuche, the breath or soul. But the primary definition of nephesh is soul, self, mind, or living being, the seat of emotion, passion, and mental activity, and for this study, I’ll be using that basic definition. Believe me, this is complicated enough already.
At issue here is something that should be of vital interest to anyone seeking to have a relationship with Yahweh. What is His physical nature? What kind of being is He? Faced with picturing Yahweh on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo basically “punted,” portraying Him as an elderly Caucasian male in marvelous physical condition, wearing a white nightshirt and sporting rather longish gray hair and a windswept beard. (One wonders if the artist consulted with his patron, Pope Julius II, about what God looked like.) Yahweh Himself, in the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4), had warned us about the futility of trying to picture God. And Yahshua described God in terms that defy physical description: “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24)
The word translated “spirit” here (all three times) is the Greek noun pneuma. Strong’s defines pneuma: “(1) A movement of air (a gentle blast of the wind, hence the wind itself, or the breath of nostrils or mouth). (2) the spirit, i.e. the vital principal by which the body is animated; the rational spirit, the power by which the human being feels, thinks, decides; the soul. (3) a spirit, i.e. a simple essence, devoid of all or at least all grosser matter, and possessed of the power of knowing, desiring, deciding, and acting; a life giving spirit; a human soul that has left the body; a spirit higher than man but lower than God, i.e. an angel—used of demons, or evil spirits, who were conceived as inhabiting the bodies of men; the spiritual nature of Christ, higher than the highest angels and equal to God, the divine nature of Christ. (4) of God: God’s power and agency distinguishable in thought from his essence in itself considered; manifest in the course of affairs; by its influence upon the souls productive in the theocratic body (the church) of all the higher spiritual gifts and blessings; the third person of the trinity, the God the Holy Spirit. (5) the disposition or influence which fills and governs the soul of anyone; the efficient source of any power, affection, emotion, desire, etc.”
I think it can be safely concluded that two millennia of Christian tradition (known in theological circles as “guessing”) has thoroughly muddied the waters here. If the spirit and the soul were exactly the same thing, scripture wouldn’t have used two different words to describe “it.”
As if to tell us the word defies succinct definition, Zodhiates rambles on for five pages trying to pin down pneuma. Being merciful, I won’t quote the whole thing, but here are some highlights: “(1) Breath: of the mouth or nostrils, breath of air, air in motion, a breeze, blast, or wind. (2) Spirit: vital spirit or life, the principle of life residing in man and again returning to God; that part that can live independently of the body; the rational spirit, mind, element of life, distinct from the body and soul. (3) A Spirit: a simple, incorporeal immaterial being (thought of as possessing higher capacities than man does in his present state). Created spirits: of the human soul or spirit, after its departure from the body and existing in separate state; of an evil spirit, a demon, mostly used with the adjective akatharton, as an unclean spirit. Of God in reference to His incorporeality; of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ as being communicated by Him after His resurrection and ascension.” And he drones on and on, seemingly finding a slightly different definition of pneuma for each and every instance in the New Covenant scriptures.
If you’ll recall, in Chapter 2 I discussed the concept of “spirit” at length, and noted that the Random House Dictionary listed thirty-one distinct definitions for “spirit.” And I’ve gone through the painful exercise of reviewing several lexicons’ take on pneuma, the Greek word translated spirit, in order to demonstrate the same truth: nobody really seems to know what “spirit” (in the Biblical sense) means. That is, the context determines what shade of meaning pneuma (or ruach, for that matter) is meant to convey—and for this reason, the preconceptions of the translators and lexicographers have a tremendous impact on how we view the concept of “spirit.” In particular, I believe they’re wrong when they use “spirit” and “soul” interchangeably: these are two distinct concepts, both of which will to some extent remain as elusive and ephemeral as the wind as long as we view them from the vantage point of our mortal existence. I’ll try to explain what I mean more fully as we proceed, but for now, allow me to propose a simpler, more focused definition of pneuma and ruach—the Biblical concept of spirit:
(1) The literal meaning of ruach/pneuma is breath or wind, air in motion—unseen but perceived, invisible but essential, able to bring either life-giving rains or terrifying destruction. A body will die within minutes of its air supply being cut off, and yet we seldom give the process of breathing a second thought. All of these qualities make ruach/pneuma a natural metaphor for God’s perplexing nature, and an important component of His self-portrait.
(2) By implication then, a ruach/pneuma is an incorporeal living being—one who has no material substance but does have consciousness and personality, one who exercises volition. These beings can be either uncreated or created. Yahweh (undiminished deity) with His Holy Spirit (a diminished manifestation of Yahweh, set apart from Him in order to dwell within believers) is uncreated: He is eternally self-existent. Created spirits are commonly called angels—literally “messengers”—or demons (fallen angels). This type of ruach/pneuma may assume visible form, but their nature, the basis of their life and existence, is fundamentally different from that of mortal beings. Created spirits are not subject to the laws of physics or the constraints of molecular structure or biology. And they are apparently immortal—once created, they don’t die.
(3) The third and last definition of ruach/pneuma is one’s inspiration, his personality, enthusiasm, or insight—a direct result of the life that is within him. It is his driving force, his motivating influence, his raison d’être. This could be a measure of the spiritual anointing with which one is blessed, or it could describe the attitude that someone derives from association with a spirit (in the sense of Definition #2) dwelling within him. But it is not technically the same thing as one’s soul—that which makes any animal biologically alive. Based on this somewhat simplified definition of ruach/pneuma, I think we could safely paraphrase the defining John 4 passage we reviewed above this way: “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in a state of enthusiastic inspiration based on His truth, for Father Yahweh is seeking such people to worship Him. God is an uncreated, self-existent, immaterial Being, and those who worship Him must worship through the truth provided by His personal spiritual presence dwelling within them.” Or something like that.
In order to serve as the basis of a metaphor, a word or concept must have its own independent reality. So when ruach or pneuma are mentioned in scripture to denote literal “wind,” God’s Spirit is not necessarily in view. As if to make my point for me, we read, “And behold, Yahweh passed by, and a great and strong wind [ruach] tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before Yahweh, but Yahweh was not in the wind [ruach].” (I Kings 19:11) So we should be cautious about reading too much into verses like this: “So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and Yahweh brought an east wind [ruach] upon the land all that day and all that night. When it was morning, the east wind [ruach] had brought the locusts.” (Exodus 10:13) Although it’s possible, I suppose, for Yahweh’s Spirit to have brought the locusts from the east, it seems far more likely that mere “air in motion,” the primary meaning of ruach, is meant. My personal favorite example of ruach literally meaning wind is Job’s complaint: “I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all. Shall windy [ruach] words have an end?” (Job 16:2-3) Sometimes our words are spiritually edifying; sometimes they’re just hot air.
The same thing is true of the literal meaning of neshamah: breath. In fact, several times in scripture the concept of “breath” is poetically applied to God Himself, even though Yahweh, a spiritual being, doesn’t literally have lungs or nostrils. For example, “Then the channels of the sea were seen; the foundations of the world were laid bare, at the rebuke of Yahweh, at the blast of the breath [neshamah] of his nostrils.” (II Samuel 22:16; cf. Psalm 18:15) Or, “For a burning place has long been prepared; indeed, for the king it is made ready, its pyre made deep and wide, with fire and wood in abundance; the breath [neshamah] of Yahweh, like a stream of sulfur, kindles it.” (Isaiah 30:33) Or, “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same. By the breath [neshamah] of God they perish, and by the blast [or spirit: ruach] of his anger they are consumed.” (Job 4:8-9)
As if to highlight the interwoven complexity of these word-pictures, Ezekiel’s famous “dry bones” vision uses ruach (normally rendered spirit or wind) as a euphemism for breath—the cue being the verb naphach—to breathe or blow—the same word used in Genesis 2:7 when God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath (neshamah) of life, making him a living soul. “And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath [ruach] in them. Then He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath [ruach]; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath [ruach], Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Come from the four winds [ruach], O breath [ruach], and breathe [naphach] on these slain, that they may live.’ So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath [ruach] came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” (Ezekiel 37:7-10) Keeping in mind that this was a vision the prophet was seeing, and not a waking reality, we are still forced to conclude that the substance of God’s “breath” is His Spirit—His own personality.
Bottom line: we must come to terms with the fact that even though words like neshamah, ruach, or nephesh can assume technical meanings that might help us understand the nature of God and our relationship to Him, they are at their core just ordinary words that have been pressed into service as symbols of a larger, richer reality. We need to use the brains God gave us to sort it all out. Yahweh, after all, really loves His parables.
The metaphorical connection between “wind” and “spirit” was pointed out by Yahshua as he explained things to Nicodemus: “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit [pneuma], he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit [both pneuma]. Do not marvel that I said to you, “You must be born again.” The wind [pneuma] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit [pneuma].’” (John 3:5-8) I stated a few paragraphs back that I believed the lexicographers were wrong in assuming that the spirit and the soul were more or less interchangeable concepts. The idea that all men have a body, soul, and spirit is flatly denied by Yahshua here. Rather, the nature of our existence as presented in John 3 is that men are first “born of the flesh” (a.k.a. “born of water”) with bodies made biologically alive by their souls (nephesh/psuche). If the soul and body are parted from each other, physical death is the result—just as with any animal. So if a man has been born only of the flesh, he is not (yet) a spiritual being—a second birth is required if he (his soul) is to outlive his frail, mortal body.
That’s why Yahshua informed Nicodemus, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already.” (John 3:17-18) Condemned to what? To the same sort of non-existence any animal has when it dies: the permanent cessation of life and consciousness. We can be “saved” from this fate, He says, by “believing in” (that is, trusting and relying upon) the Son of God—Himself. How does this “salvation” work? Technically, it’s being born of the Spirit of God, just as we were previously born in the flesh. It’s being clothed in a new kind of life.
So it’s being born “again,” but that’s not really an accurate translation: it actually says, “You must be born from above [Greek: anothen—from ano: up, upwards, above].” Why is the distinction important? Because it’s also possible to be “born from below,” so to speak. The condition is described fairly often, although the phrase is never used in scripture. Remember, Yahweh is no longer the only spiritual being in existence. Spirits He Himself created (fallen angels, demons) are capable of indwelling people in the same way Yahweh’s Holy Spirit does His children. Yahweh told Noah, “For behold, I will bring flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath [ruach] of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark.” (Genesis 6:17-18) The point of the flood, then, was to wipe out all of humanity that had received satanic or demonic spirits—people who had been “born from below.” Apparently, they comprised the vast majority of mankind. “Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath [neshamah] of the spirit [ruach] of life died.” (Genesis 7:22) The land animals that died along with the demonically indwelled humans were collateral damage: they were not the target of God’s wrath. Our sins affect more than we might imagine.
This last statement forces us to examine the connection between the ruach (wind or spirit) and the neshamah—usually translated “breath.” Most lexicons are woefully ambivalent when it comes to distinguishing these concepts. Baker and Carpenter’s definition says neshamah is “A feminine noun meaning breath, wind, spirit. Its meaning is parallel to nepes [or nephesh] and ruah [ruach].” The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament remarks, “It is frequently found in combination with ruah, “spirit,” and seems synonymous with nepes.” I see a couple of problems here. First, Yahweh is very precise in His use of terminology—especially in Hebrew. He would have not have transmitted His thoughts with three different words if they all meant exactly the same thing, nor would He have used them side by side in the same sentences. Second, the primary meanings of both these words form the basis of a metaphor that runs throughout scripture, and worse (actually, better), this metaphor is turning out to be an important component in God’s self-portrait. In other words, it behooves us to get to the bottom of this.
I have likened the neshamah to Pascal’s “God-shaped vacuum” that resides within every man, but that’s something of a metaphor in itself. It may describe what it does, but not what it is. We are given our first clues to the nature of the neshamah in the creation account. “Then Yahweh, God, formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath [neshamah] of life, and the man became a living creature [nephesh].” (Genesis 2:7) Notice two things. First, the neshamah was purposely and exclusively bestowed upon man (both Adam and Eve) by Yahweh Himself. Animals weren’t given one, nor is the neshamah an accident of nature: thus we are by God’s design fundamentally distinct from other living things. Second, the man’s soul was apparently given life by virtue of the neshamah—he became a “living soul” only after Yahweh breathed the neshamah into his nostrils. Since the animals that came before Adam were also described as “living souls” (e.g. Genesis 1:24), we can only conclude that the kind of life that came with the introduction of the neshamah was somehow different from that which lions and tigers and sea slugs enjoyed.
Perhaps the key to this is what we saw in the TWOT definition above (inadvertently, at least): “[Neshamah] seems synonymous with nephesh.” That is, as the nephesh or soul gives biological life to the body, the neshamah allows the soul to experience a different kind of life: spiritual life. So the two things, neshamah and nephesh, aren’t so much synonymous as they are parallel. Like a river and the road built following its banks, the destination (life) is the same, but the vehicle is different. This analysis is in perfect sync with what Yahshua told Nicodemus: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Being “born of the flesh” is the quickening (that is, the making alive) of the body by the soul. Being “born of the spirit” is the quickening of the soul through the neshamah—that which allows us to receive an immortal indwelling spirit.
Job’s young friend Elihu unintentionally explained how the neshamah functions as he summoned the boldness to speak his mind among his elders. Basically, his argument was that he had a right to speak out simply by virtue of Yahweh’s spirit-life within him. He was no dumb animal: like Job and his other “comforters,” he too had been made in the very image of God. So he says, “The Spirit [ruach] of God has made me, and the breath [neshamah] of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4) The heart of his case was the intimate relationship between God’s spirit and the breath of life that is uniquely mankind’s: “It is the spirit [ruach] in man, the breath [neshamah] of the Almighty, that makes him understand.” (Job 32:8) They are so closely associated that one can’t exist in our experience without the other. God’s Spirit would be inaccessible to someone without a neshamah, but a neshamah devoid of the Spirit is equally pointless—an empty canteen in an endless desert.
The result of having this spiritual life, Elihu says, is that it allows him to understand: it is the conduit of Godly wisdom. Solomon—the wisest man of his age—wrote pretty much the same thing: “The spirit [neshamah] of man is the lamp of Yahweh, searching all his innermost parts.” (Proverbs 20:27) As usual, Solomon has hit on something quite profound. The “lamp of Yahweh,” that which lets us see our fallen nature, perceive our hidden depravity, and appreciate our unworthiness before God, is the neshamah—the same part of our constitution that makes Yahweh’s Spiritual indwelling possible. And if the neshamah is the “lamp,” the oil that fuels it is Yahweh’s Spirit. This the same thing Paul talked about: “What can be known about God is plain to them [i.e., those who suppress the truth], because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20) It is the neshamah that reveals Yahweh’s presence and power to unredeemed man. In a way, it’s like your conscience. It’s within you—you can run from it, but you can’t hide. It’s like trying to flee from your own heart.
Isaiah expands the thought. “Thus says God, Yahweh, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath [neshamah] to the people on it and spirit [ruach] to those who walk in it: ‘I am Yahweh; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.” (Isaiah 42:5-7) Yes, God has breathed into us His breath of life, His neshamah, and has made that breath the vehicle through which His Spirit can give us everlasting life. And yes, this Spirit-filled neshamah is the means through which we receive God’s light—the wisdom and understanding that only He can provide. But that’s not the end of it. Though this was written as a Messianic promise, we too are to reflect or transmit this light to those around us. Our neshamah, Spirit-filled and shining forth God’s love, is a covenant—a promise from Yahweh—to others that He is willing and able to perform the same miracle of everlasting spiritual life in them.
Having a neshamah, then, is not technically the same thing as having God’s Ruach. As I’ve said before, Yahweh will not force His love upon us; He will not compel us to receive His Holy Spirit into the neshamah He’s given us to make that very thing possible. So scripture also speaks of cases in which neshamah-equipped men are not associated with Yahweh’s Spirit—or worse, are indwelled with the spirits of demonic beings: “But in the cities of these peoples that Yahweh your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes [neshamah], but you shall devote them to complete destruction: the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as Yahweh your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against Yahweh your God.” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18) The destruction of the Canaanite tribes and the flood of Noah’s day were both apparently precipitated by the same thing—the whole population had polluted their neshamah with satanic spirits.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we’re headed that way again. Yahshua described the last days—the days in which we now live—like being “in the days of Noah.” So in a pointed rebuke to today’s secular humanists—those who worship man in the place of God—we are told, “Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath [neshamah], for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:22) It’s a rhetorical question, but one for which Job’s friend Elihu once again has the answer: “If He [Yahweh] should set his heart to it and gather to himself His spirit [ruach] and his breath [neshamah], all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.” (Job 34:14-15) In fact, Yahshua bluntly warns us that the earth is going to come within a whisker of that very thing happening: “Then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.” (Matthew 24:21-22)
Who are these “elect” ones? And why will the days be cut short? Isaiah provides the answer using the terminology germane to our present discussion: “Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit [ruach], to revive the spirit [ruach] of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit [ruach] would grow faint before Me, and the breath [neshamah] of life that I made.” (Isaiah 57:15-16) As long as unredeemed men walk the earth, Yahweh will “contend” with our race, for He is a holy God. Our fallen race will know no peace until the Prince of Peace reigns among us. Until then, even the redeemed are promised tribulation in this world, tempered with the encouragement that Christ has overcome the world. Let us then stand with Job, who was no stranger to such tribulation, as he declares his undying devotion to Yahweh (and in the process shows us once again how the nephesh, neshamah, and ruach interrelate): “As God lives, who has taken away my right [i.e., legal recourse], and the Almighty, who has made my soul [nephesh] bitter, as long as my breath [neshamah] is in me, and the spirit [ruach] of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit.” (Job 27:2-4)
The words translated “spirit” in scripture can denote (as in common English parlance) more than the type of incorporeal, immaterial being that we’re told is Yahweh’s intrinsic nature, or alternately, literal wind or breath. The word, as I noted above, is also used symbolically: “Ruach/pneuma is one’s inspiration, personality, enthusiasm, or insight—a direct result of the life that is within him. It is his driving force, his motivating influence, his raison d’être.” We use phrases like “team spirit,” or “being there in spirit” to describe our feelings, our inward motivation. So in the “spirit” of thorough investigation, perhaps we should examine some scriptural examples of this kind of word usage. We may be able to discern more clearly why God chose to employ this particular symbolic concept. At the very least, we might be able to spot the source of some of our confusion on the matter.
In one sense, a person’s “spirit” is synonymous with his inner feelings. So we read, “So in the morning [Pharaoh’s] spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men.” (Genesis 41:8) This is clearly a reference to Pharaoh’s demeanor, his state of mind—not a breeze or an immaterial being. The same basic meaning is in view here: “Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.” (Exodus 6:9) Depression resulting from their cruel bondage was such a debilitating force, the enslaved Israelites couldn’t even bring themselves to think about gaining their freedom. The “spirit” in this sense need not be a negative thing, however, nor must it be psychological. Physical restoration is spoken of in the same terms: “They gave him water to drink, and they gave him a piece of a cake of figs and two clusters of raisins. And when he had eaten, his spirit revived.” (I Samuel 30:11-12)
There is another sense in which one’s “spirit” takes on more personal characteristics, though we’re still not talking about the indwelling Holy Spirit of Yahweh, nor are we mistaking the spirit for the soul—that which defines one’s mortal life. For instance, Yahshua told His disciples, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) He’s saying that our heartfelt intentions may succumb to the weakness of the flesh—and that prayer is the proper recourse under such testing. The “spirit” in this case is the embodiment of what we believe, that about which we are passionate, the thing that moves us. It is, in short, our inspiration.
Several places we are left to ponder whether the “spirit” being spoken of is this kind of motivating mindset or the actual Holy Spirit. “And immediately Jesus, perceiving in His spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, ‘Why do you question these things in your hearts?’” (Mark 2:8) Was this perception due to the Holy Spirit, or was it, as the dictionary definition puts it, “the principle of conscious life; the vital principle in humans, animating the body or mediating between body and soul.” I honestly don’t know.
Nor can I be dogmatic about this usage: “And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’” (Acts 7:59) This occurred after the Day of Pentecost, so Stephen had God’s Spirit dwelling within him at this time (according to the promise of Luke 24:49 and Acts 1:8). Was what he called “my spirit” really God’s Spirit within him? Or could it be that Stephen was referring to what we might call his ghost? Although they’re not technically a concept supported by scripture, it is clear that ghosts or apparitions—ostensibly the visible disembodied souls of dead people walking among us—were as much a part of the common mythology of first-century Judea as they are in twenty-first-century America. In fact, the recently risen Christ was mistaken for a ghost (called a pneuma) by His own disciples: “As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:36-39) I find it fascinating that Yahshua didn’t inform them that there was no such thing as ghosts, nor did He confirm their existence. He merely asked them to compare what they thought such an apparition would be like to the Person standing there among them. He may not have been mortal any more, but He was most certainly real. His physical resurrection gave Him a body that was unlike anything they had ever seen—a body that nobody had even imagined could have existed. And seeing it instantly transformed them from defeated and demoralized victims to confident and optimistic believers. Seeing a ghost would have confirmed Yahshua’s death in their minds. But His resurrection body proved He was alive.
Also, the word “spirit” can be used to describe one’s aptitude, gifts, or skills: “You shall speak to all the skillful, whom I have filled with a spirit of skill, that they make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him for my priesthood.” (Exodus 28:3) These skills or gifts need not be restricted to artistic aptitude. Such a “spirit” is also spoken of in terms of a calling—especially one into God’s service. Moses’ leadership ability was an example of just such a spiritual gift, and Yahweh saw no problem with spreading the wealth: “And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.” (Numbers 11:17) The translators have capitalized “Spirit” here, saying in effect, the Holy Spirit is what’s meant. But I doubt that’s the case. I think it’s the same kind of “spirit”—that is, the aptitude and ability—that Bezalel and company exercised as they fashioned the tabernacle and its furnishings.
I believe the same kind of thing is true of Elisha’s bold request: “When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.’ And Elisha said, ‘Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.’” (II Kings 2:9) He was not suggesting that the Holy Spirit had only made a half-hearted effort with Elijah, and that Elisha wanted the whole Spirit to work through him. After all, Yahshua explained, “He whom God has sent utters the words of God, for He gives the Spirit without measure.” (John 3:34). Rather, Elisha was asking that even more of Elijah’s prophetic anointing—his gift or capacity for doing the will of Yahweh before the people—would be granted to him. (Apparently, God liked the spirit of Elisha’s request: he ended up doing precisely twice the number of recorded miracles as his mentor had.)
Several times in scripture the concepts of “spirit” (as generalized motivating influence) and “Spirit” (as the personality of God) are juxtaposed—apparently to point out the contrast. For example: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” (I Corinthians 2:12-13) The “spirit of the world” is not Satan’s spirit per se, but rather “human wisdom,” the best we can achieve without God’s influence and guidance. Paul is pointing out the basic dichotomy between the two things: human wisdom is not merely inferior to, but is fundamentally different from Yahweh’s wisdom—spiritual truth. Further, those not indwelled with the Holy Spirit are not capable of understanding spiritual truth—it’s like asking a blind man to contemplate the color blue. That explains a lot about why believers can’t really convince people through argument or logic that Yahweh’s path is the only one that leads toward life. Until someone chooses to seek the truth, he won’t be able to recognize it, even it it’s right in front of him.
The same sort of contrast is seen in the ordination of Joshua, Moses’ successor, though here it’s more subtle. “Moses spoke to Yahweh, saying, ‘Let Yahweh, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of Yahweh may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.’ So Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him.’” (Numbers 27:15-18) The “spirits of all flesh” refers to the fact that Yahweh is the source of all biological life—life that’s mortal, vulnerable, and apt to go astray (or extinct). In other words, he’s saying we need help. Moses, whose spiritual aptitude had been Israel’s conduit to God for the past forty years, was about to die, and he was concerned about who would lead the “congregation of Yahweh.” God’s answer was to appoint Joshua, a man who, like Moses, was led, motivated, and indwelled by His own Spirit. So again we see the generalized “spirit” of the world contrasted to the specific “Spirit” of Yahweh.
In the final analysis, perhaps it wouldn’t matter all that much if the concept of ruach/pneuma were slightly misunderstood, except for one inconvenient fact: we live in a world of constant spiritual warfare, whether we perceive it or not. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12) Not only is Yahweh a spiritual being—living, immaterial, incorporeal, eternal, and powerful beyond anything we can even imagine, He has in turn created myriads of spirit “messengers” who share similar characteristics. Though not eternal (since they had a beginning) these angelic beings are immortal from the time they’re created: they apparently cannot be unmade, even by God Himself. Even that shouldn’t have been a problem, since angels, unlike men, have not been given the privilege of choice. They’re more like soldiers: following God’s orders is not optional for them.
But as with human soldiers, rebellion, though forbidden, is physically possible. There’s a word for it: mutiny. A rebellious angel is known as a demon (transliterated from the Greek daimon)—a devil, evil spirit, or false god. But though they have followed Lucifer into rebellion, these fallen messengers still find themselves unable to disobey a direct, specific order from God: “That evening they brought to [Yahshua] many who were oppressed by demons, and He cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” (Matthew 8:16-17) Or, “When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.’ And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out.” (Mark 9:25-26) Or my favorite example: “Jesus then asked [the demon-possessed man], ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Legion,’ for many demons had entered him. And they begged Him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged Him to let them enter these. So He gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.” (Luke 8:30-33)
Full-blown demon possession is rare these days, for Lucifer (a.k.a. satan, a Hebrew noun meaning “adversary,” also transliterated into Greek as satanas) prefers to work in the shadows, disguising his true agenda. Demon influence, however, is quite another matter. Case in point: the devil’s name, Lucifer (heylel in Hebrew) is mentioned only once in all of scripture (Isaiah 14:12), and even then, it’s more of a description than an actual name. Yet everybody seems to know who Lucifer is. Compare that to God’s name. It’s used seven thousand times in the Tanach, and yet if you ask people on the street what God’s self-revealed name is, very few will be able to tell you it’s Yahweh, because God’s name has been systematically edited out, replaced with a relatively anemic title: “the Lord.” Demonic influence has succeeded in making most people—even scholars translating the scriptures—uncomfortable using the name by which God obviously wanted us to know Him: not Ba’al, not Zeus, not Allah, but Yahweh.
Spiritual influence is not exclusive to demons, of course. Throughout scripture the phrase is repeated, “And the word of Yahweh came to [fill in the blank].” The sole requirement for such a thing was apparently the willingness of the subject to be used of God. Some of them expressed reservations about their own qualifications or abilities (e.g., Moses, Gideon, Solomon, Isaiah, and Jeremiah) but they were all receptive to God’s word and willing to do what He asked of them. It’s that one factor—receptiveness—that determines the source of one’s spiritual influence: if you seek Yahweh’s will, His Spirit will influence your life and your impact on the world. But if you’re willing to give credence to Satan’s side of the story, you can become vulnerable to his suggestions instead.
It may come as something of a shock, but as our attitudes change, so may the source of spiritual influence. Israel’s first king, Saul, was the poster child for shifting spiritual receptivity. He began well enough, allowing himself to be a channel of Yahweh’s purpose: “The Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled.” (I Samuel 11:6) But before long, he had begun to act like kings usually act—taking what he wanted, doing as he pleased, and believing his own press. As Yahweh Himself put it, “He has turned back from following Me and has not performed My commandments.” (I Samuel 15:11) As Saul’s focus shifted from Yahweh to himself, the inevitable happened, and it wasn’t pretty: “Now the Spirit of Yahweh departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from Yahweh tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, ‘Behold now, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you.’” (I Samuel 16:14) We aren’t told if this “evil spirit” was an actual demon or merely (as I suspect) the troubled demeanor of one who had once experienced Yahweh’s influence and knew that it had left him. (As the poet said, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.) I don’t suppose it mattered to Saul. The point, however, is quite clear: if you reject the guidance and counsel of Yahweh, that with which you replace it will be an “evil spirit” to you, whether in literal fact or merely by comparison.
Faced with the reality of his own sin, David (who had been an eyewitness to the dementia of Saul) pleaded with Yahweh not to withdraw His Spirit: “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11) Believers today have a degree of assurance David couldn’t have dreamed of, for we live in the post-Pentecost age, when the indwelling presence (not merely the transient influence) of the Holy Spirit is something every follower of Yahshua receives. He promised it to His disciples just before His crucifixion: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:15-17) “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him.” Note that Yahshua is equating Himself, the Father (Yahweh), and the Holy Spirit here. They all share the same identity and the same agenda. “Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard Me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.” (John 14:23-29)
These promises were spoken at the “last supper.” The next day, Passover, Yahshua was slain on our behalf. The following day, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, He lay in the tomb, forever separating our sins from us. And the next day, Yahshua rose from the dead, fulfilling the promise of the Feast of Firstfruits. But then, seven weeks later, right on the Levitical schedule, The Feast of Weeks—a.k.a. Pentecost—brought with it the fulfillment of Yahshua’s last-supper promise of spiritual indwelling. In explaining the remarkable transformation that had come over the disciples of Christ, Peter proclaimed on that day, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” (Acts 2:32-33) Peter’s description of the Holy Spirit being “poured out” was a reference to a prophecy Joel had made centuries before: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out My Spirit.” (Joel 2:28-29) What was witnessed on the Day of Pentecost was just the beginning. God’s Spirit won’t be poured out on all flesh until Yahshua reigns in glory during the Millennial Kingdom—today a recurring dream of old men like me, tomorrow a reality.
Now that the promise has been fulfilled and the Spirit has been received, we should go back to the John 14 passage to review precisely what the point of the promise was. Why did Yahweh send His Holy Spirit to dwell within us? (1) To encourage us to keep Yahshua’s commandments—the foremost of which is to love one another; (2) To separate and distinguish those who are Yahweh’s from those who are not: we are called out of the world, set apart from it; (3) To establish such a close relationship between Yahweh and His people, it can truly be characterized as living together, being at home with one another; (4) To make it possible to remember and comprehend what Yahweh has done for us through the sacrifice of His Son and Messiah; (5) To give us an inner peace that the world cannot shake; (6) To give us cause for rejoicing, even in the face of trial; and (7) To provide confirmation of God’s ability and willingness to keep His promises.
It might be objected, Yes, the Holy Spirit fell upon those gathered in the upper room on the Day of Pentecost, but why should we expect that the same anointing will come upon the rest of us? Good question, one that Peter answered that same day: “And Peter said to [the assembled crowd], ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ because of the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” (Acts 2:38) Okay, but everybody who was there on the Day of Pentecost was Jewish. What about us gentiles? Luke reports, “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles.” (Acts 10:44-45)
Paul points out that this Holy Spirit who now indwells the lives of believers is the conduit of Yahweh’s love—the way He manifests Himself to us in the present age: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:4-5) This represents a change, not in the means or the reality of our salvation, but in the way it’s delivered, the way we experience it. Yahweh’s approach to this problem before the advent of His Messiah was external: He basically said, Demonstrate that you take Me as your God and trust in My love by keeping My commandments, and I will bless you in temporal matters. This is the loud, clear message of passages like Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. But His commandments, whether we understood it or not, were a complex and comprehensive picture of the means He would employ to achieve our redemption. After that picture had been unveiled—as Yahshua the Messiah fulfilled the letter and the spirit of the Torah—a whole new paradigm came into view: an internal truth. The nature, basis, and reality of our salvation was still the same as it had always been, but our means of perceiving it changed. We no longer saw it through our front windshields, guided by cryptic highway signs and road maps; we now perceived it in our rearview mirrors and in our memories.
So today God says, Take me as your God and trust in My love by allowing yourself to be born anew in My Spirit, and I will bless you by dwelling within your very soul, enabling you to stand before Me in righteousness, and to withstand the attacks of the world with the inner strength, character, and peace only I can provide. It’s not that keeping the Torah no longer counts; it’s that we are now counted as having kept it—through our relationship with the One who actually did. Think of it this way: we were once illegal aliens in the Kingdom of God, but now that we have become betrothed to the King Himself, we have been made full citizens. No temporary visas or green cards for us; our status is that of having been born in the Kingdom, for in the eyes of God’s Law, we have.
Paul continues, explaining our new legal status: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit….” No one (excuse the Messiah) had ever kept the Torah flawlessly. Fifteen hundred years of trial and error had made that all too obvious. That’s why Yahshua (if you’ll recall the conversation recorded in John 3) told Nicodemus that being “born of water,” that is, being born in flesh, wasn’t enough. One needed to be born of God’s Spirit as well if he wished his soul to outlive his body.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” That’s precisely what Yahshua told Nick. So Paul draws the only logical conclusion: “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” It may seem obvious, but it’s not: there is no halfway house here. It’s a binary choice, black or white, on or off, positive or negative, Spirit-in or Spirit-out. So how can you tell if you’re Spirit-positive? Yahshua (in John 15:9-12), Paul (in Galatians 5:22-23), John (in I John 4:7), and Peter (I Peter 1:22-23) all state the same answer: it’s your love for your fellow man. “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness….”
Okay, got it. The indwelling Spirit of God gives us who are in Christ the gift of eternal life. But how? With the exception of Enoch and Elijah, every human who ever walked the earth has either suffered physical death or is subject to it. Are we to spend eternity as phantom Spirit-indwelled souls—ghosts haunting the world we once knew? In a word, no. “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 8:1-11) That’s right: we will experience physical, bodily resurrection, the kind of thing numerous eyewitnesses reported concerning the risen Yahshua as He walked among His followers for forty days after rising from the dead. It was a body of flesh and bone, not a ghostly apparition—Spiritual and Spirit-filled, but neither immaterial nor incorporeal. This, to my mind, is the kind of thing that makes the Christian scriptures seem so genuine: nobody would make up stuff like this.
The Hebrew word for “spirit” or “wind,” ruach, occurs 378 times in the Old Covenant scriptures, although only seventy-three of those instances refer unmistakably to Yahweh’s Spirit. In contrast, God’s Spirit is spoken of no fewer than 320 times in the New Covenant. That means that the role of Yahweh’s Spirit per se is, page for page, only about six percent as prominent in the Old Covenant as it is in the New. Even more startling, we find the phrase “Holy Spirit” (Ruach Qodesh) used only three times in the Tanach, while it’s found ninety times in the New Testament, making the concept of the “Holy Spirit” (as distinct from the concept of the Spirit of God—i.e., the spiritual nature of Yahweh’s being) only about one percent as pervasive in the Old Covenant as it is in the New Covenant. And actually, the vast majority of New Testament references to God’s Spirit clearly indicate the Holy Spirit (i.e., God’s indwelling spiritual manifestation, as distinct from Yahweh Himself), as in: “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matthew 10:19-20) This fact makes my “one percent” statistic look more like a third of one percent.
These statistics reveal a fundamental change in the way God reveals Himself to individual believers in the post-Pentecost era. The shift from Law to Grace as our primary means of perceiving the Plan of God is personified by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The key to understanding this, I believe, is coming to terms with what the word “holy” means. It does not denote “pious” or “well-behaved,” as we often think of it. Rather, it means “set apart,” and specifically, set apart for a purpose. When we are told to be holy, it means we are to be separated from the world and its influence and placed instead in Yahweh’s camp—in Yahweh’s mind. But what does it mean for God’s Spirit to be holy? As we explained in the previous chapter, the Holy Spirit is a diminished manifestation of Yahweh that is set apart from Him—for our benefit. Undiminished deity could not indwell individual believers without destroying them, any more than Yahweh could have walked among men without cloaking His glory, which explains why Yahshua informed us, “The Father is greater than I.” (John 14:28)
We should distinguish, then, between Yahweh (who is spirit) and the Holy Spirit (who is a diminished manifestation of Yahweh, set apart from Him for the purpose of communing intimately with the object of His love—us). To help us comprehend what’s going on, we should examine the few specific mentions of the Ruach Qodesh in the Tanach. First, we hear David’s plea, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:11) It is intimated here that the Holy Spirit—that which, according to Yahshua’s promise, would indwell all believers from the Day of Pentecost onward—was formerly made available sporadically, temporarily, or otherwise at Yahweh’s discretion, to people who honored Him with a whole heart. Moses and Joshua, for example, seem to have fallen into this category. Where influence ceased and indwelling began, we aren’t told.
The only other references to the Holy Spirit in the Old Covenant scriptures are found in this passage from Isaiah: “But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore He turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. Then He remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock? Where is He who put in the midst of them His Holy Spirit?” (Isaiah 63:10-11) It’s a messianic passage, describing in prophetic terms how Yahshua (“the Messenger of [Yahweh’s] presence,” as He’s called in verse 9) would become Israel’s Savior, be afflicted for their salvation, and how He would redeem them and carry them. But then Isaiah goes on to describe how the Holy Spirit had been “at the right hand of Moses” during their exodus deliverance, “dividing the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting name.” In other words, the presence and purpose of the Holy Spirit cannot be restricted to its New Testament function—indwelling the believers of Yahshua. He (or is it She?) has been there all along. The Spirit was instrumental in creation itself: “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.” (Genesis 1:1-2) And the mortal life of Yahshua was begun through the agency of the same Spirit: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 1:18)
That being said, the vast preponderance of Biblical references to the Holy Spirit concern the personal spiritual indwelling phenomenon that was promised by Yahshua: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37-39) After His resurrection, He explained what would happen: “You will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.…” The “when” of it had been predicted in the Torah. It would occur on Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks—also known as Pentecost. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:5, 8)
It all came about precisely as Yahshua had said it would: “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4) Suddenly? Does God really do anything suddenly? In Ezekiel 10 and 11, we’re told how the Shekinah—the visible glory of God—departed the temple: in stages, as if reluctant to go though grieved at the apostasy of Israel. Actually, the whole history of Yahweh’s plan of redemption has been the account of how Yahweh, step by deliberate step, has been moving closer to the object of His love. The Day of Pentecost was the biggest, most “sudden,” step of all—Yahweh’s Set-Apart Spirit moving into the very souls of his redeemed children. I’m pretty sure that as long as we’re mortal, this is as close as we can get to God.
Although it seemed to be a sudden and sweeping event to the participants on that day, and a paradigm shift of unprecedented proportions, this spiritual indwelling was not the result of a snap decision on the part of Yahweh. He had planned on this from the beginning. The date on which it happened is our first clue: “When the day of Pentecost arrived…” This was the fourth of seven annual holidays that Israel had been told to observe “throughout their generations,” in other words, forever. We’ll explore all seven in a future chapter. For now, I’d merely like to note that these seven “holy convocations” seem designed to be prophetic of what God considers the seven most significant events in His plan of redemption. The first three were relatively easy to figure out, in retrospect: Christ was crucified on Passover—He was our Passover Lamb; our sins (symbolized by leaven or yeast) were removed from our lives as he lay in the tomb on the following day, the Feast of Unleavened Bread; and when He rose from the dead, Yahshua became the personification of the Feast of Firstfruits—the first among many to be “harvested” by Yahweh.
God didn’t really tell us what to expect as a fulfillment of the Feast of Weeks. The “Feasts” are delineated in Leviticus 23, and are discussed again in both Numbers 28 and Deuteronomy 16. The closest we come to what you could call a hint is found in the Deuteronomy passage: “You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain.” That is, forty-nine days after the Feast of Firstfruits. The name “Pentecost” comes from the Leviticus description of counting fifty (Greek: pente) days from the previous day, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. “Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to Yahweh your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as Yahweh your God blesses you. And you shall rejoice before Yahweh your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you, at the place that Yahweh your God will choose, to make his name dwell there. You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt; and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.” (Deuteronomy 16:9-12)
The components of the Feast, then, are a convocation of thanksgiving, the acknowledgment of God’s blessing, rejoicing in Yahweh’s presence, celebration among all of mankind, a focus on the time and place of Yahweh’s choosing, and reflection upon our former bondage in the world. If you can figure out from these things that Yahweh was planning to send His own Spirit to dwell within the souls of those who had chosen to trust His Passover Lamb with their lives, then you’re more perceptive than I am. Like many of God’s prophecies, the fulfillment of this one is easy enough to see once it’s happened, but impossible to pin down until it has. That being said, the promised “baptism of the Holy Spirit” fits the prophecy of the Feast of Weeks like a glove, if you know what to look for.
The Spirit of God dwelling within us is the ultimate expression of Yahweh’s intimacy with us—so far. But we’re mortal, still subject to physical death and still apt to sin against our God. We have not yet reached our final destination as believers: immortal, spiritual beings capable of living in the very presence of God. In other words, for followers of Yahshua, it will only get better. But until we reach that blessed state, I can only echo the Psalmist’s prayer: “Let everything that has breath praise Yahweh!” (Psalm 150:6)
(First published 2013)