The Holy Spirit: The Torah, Part 1

The meaning of “Spirit”

We start, quite naturally, in Genesis. Now, the Hebrew word for “spirit” is ru’ach, which is also the word for “breath” and for “wind” — the same is true on pneuma in Greek. Therefore, we often see wordplay based on the dual or triple meaning.

Further, “spirit” is used in different senses. It can refer to the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. It can refer to what makes someone alive. Thus, living beings might be called “spirits.” Or those having “spirit” or “breath.” When we die, we lose our “spirit,” not because the spirit flies away to heaven, but because we stop breathing. “Spirit” is not generally used of the eternal part of us.

I’m not planning on getting into the Trinitarian arguments, for a couple of reasons. First, I intend to work through the scriptures in more or less the canonical order. I figure we have a better chance of understanding the Spirit if we take the trouble to see the Old Testament background.

Second, on principle, I think the best Bible study is done when you seek the answers to the questions the Bible intends to answer, that is, we let the text give us both the answers and the questions. Therefore, we don’t begin by seeking to proving the Charismatics wrong or to defend Campbell’s interpretation or whatever. Rather, we dig in to see what the Spirit means for us to learn — passage by passage, text by text.

We thereby avoid the temptation to string together proof texts to answer contemporary curiosities and instead, hopefully, figure out what Paul meant for us to understand from Rom 5 or 8 or 12.

When we get done, maybe we can then ask our own questions. But then, mayben when we get done, we’ll find the answers the Spirit provides are entirely sufficient.



(Gen 1:2 ESV) 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.

This is a truly intriguing verse. “Spirit” can’t really mean wind or breath, because it’s said to “hover” — the same word used of a bird hovering over its young in the nest.

Rather, in a very evocative way, Moses describes God’s special presence as hovering above the chaos, preparing to turn chaos into the heavens and the earth.


We next run into to these “us” verses.

(Gen 1:26 ESV) 26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

(Gen 3:22-23 ESV) 22 Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever–”  23 therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.

(Gen 11:6-7 ESV)  6 And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.  7 Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

These three times that God refers to himself in the plural are major events — the creation of man, the Curse following sin, and the Tower of Babel. And each is a relational passage. God made man male and female, that is, to live in relationship in marriage. The Curse of Genesis 3 separated man from God because of sin and resulting in strife in marriage. The curse of Babel led to the creation of multiple tribes and nations, separating mankind from itself.

And each of these relationships is a relationship that God seeks to cure through his new covenant through Jesus. The “us” therefore seems to stress the relational nature of God in the Godhead — and for his people to be like him, we must also live in relationship. And this is a major theme of the Bible.

The Flood

(Gen 6:3 ESV) Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

“Abide” is translated “strive with” in the KJV and NIV, but most scholars now accept “abide,” which is consistent with the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament predating Jesus, abbreviated “LXX”). This results in a less-than-clear passage. Does God mean he’s going to take his life from the people?

(Gen 6:17 ESV)  For behold, I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth to destroy all flesh in which is the breath [=ru’ach] of life under heaven. Everything that is on the earth shall die.

But “my spirit” is an unusual way to say “their lives” in 6:3. Does it mean he’ll take away the gift of prophecy? It certainly means that God’s favor will be lost.

Abraham, the prophet

(Gen 20:7 ESV) Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”

Evidently, Abraham was in some sense a prophet. The scriptures don’t associate prophecy with the Spirit until later, but it’s hard to know what it is about Abraham that makes him a prophet.


We see nothing of the Spirit for many chapters until Pharaoh decides to promote Joseph because of his gift of prophecy —

(Gen 41:38 ESV) And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?”

For the first time, we see the possession of God’s Spirit associated with the gift of prophecy — Joseph could interpret dreams and had remarkable wisdom.


Miriam, the prophetess

(Exo 15:20 ESV) Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.

We see that the gift of prophecy was not limited to men and that this qualified her for a leadership role.

Sewing by the Spirit; carving by the Spirit

(Exo 28:3 KJV) Exodus 28:3 And thou shalt speak unto all that are wise hearted, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments to consecrate him, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office.

Here we see an expression, usually lost in translation, we later find in the New Testament: “spirit of wisdom.” I don’t know why the translators fail to see the work of the Spirit here. After all, these are men “filled” with the Spirit — another New Testament expression — but their gift is in making clothes. Maybe it’s a little too mundane for the translators’ taste, but I see no reason not to take the expression in its most natural sense: a talent coming from the hand of God.

(Exo 31:1-5 ESV) The LORD said to Moses, 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, 4 to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, 5 in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft.

In a similar passage, we see that God, through his Spirit, provides Bezalel with gifts of intelligence, knowledge, and craftsmanship to provide works of art for the tabernacle.

And so, as we come to the end of Exodus, we see that the Spirit is given by God to certain chosen people to perform works of service in God’s mission — and the gifts he gifts are sometimes spectacular, such as Joseph’s ability to predict the future, or more mundane, such as the ability to tailor garments for the high priest or to provide artistic works for the tabernacle.


The Spirit of judgment

(Num 11:16-17 ESV) 16 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. 17 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.

Up to this point, there’s been no explicit statement that God’s Spirit is in Moses, but now we see that it is, and that the Spirit will be given to the elders and officers who will take on the task of judging in Moses’ place. Thus, the Spirit can equip people for leadership of God’s people and for judging disputes.


7 Responses

  1. Jay,
    You begin this study of the Spirit in the same fashion as my teacher at the Sunset School of Preaching, Richard Rodgers, did when I studied under him in 1965-67. When you begin at the beginning without trying to straighten out all the misunderstandings that have developed over the centuries, things are much easier. I continue to read this series with great interest. I’ll be looking to see how you come down on the events of Pentecost and the New Testament gifts of the Spirit.


  2. Jay said, “This is a truly intriguing verse. “Spirit” can’t really mean wind or breath, because it’s said to “hover” — the same word used of a bird hovering over its young in the nest.”

    Jay, I don’t understand your reasoning, wind or breath is simply moving air, and hovering simply means stationary. In weather we see stationary systems all the time, that does not mean the substance changes because it is not moving.
    Gen 6:3 And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also [is] flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.
    Does this not indicate that the spirit of God causes life and will cease and cause death. does this not refer to breath?

  3. No I am not saying God is air, or any function of air, but as close as we can understand air resembles the spirit. And yes even air belongs to God and he has the right to control that which belongs to him, even the breath we take belongs to him, is a part of him, there fore God lives in us.

    Eze 37:9 Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.

    How does Jesus describe the spirit being.
    Jhn 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and [of] the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.
    (I understand this to say, unless we are baptized, and raised, (after death) in a spiritual body, we cannot see God)
    Jhn 3:7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.
    Jhn 3:8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

  4. “The Flood

    (Gen 6:3 ESV) Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

    “Abide” is translated “strive with” in the KJV and NIV, but most scholars now accept “abide,” which is consistent with the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament predating Jesus, abbreviated “LXX”). This results in a less-than-clear passage. Does God mean he’s going to take his life from the people?”

    When I read through the Bible, it occurred to me that the contemporary understanding of a life span limit of 120 years from this passage does not match the facts for hundreds of years following this statement. Many characters of the OT lived much more than 120 years, for example, Jacob lived 147 years (Gen. 47:28).

    Then I re-read the flood account and realized that the “120 years” referred to how much time it would be from that point until when the flood would occur. God stated abstractly that His patience would run out in 120 years and that was all the time Noah and his family had to build this ARK (really huge ship). Makes sense, I mean how many years would it take a family of 8 to build an ocean liner by hand with no help or power tools of any kind? 120 years sounds about right. Does the Hebrew support this interpretation?

  5. Paul,

    God decrees that the age limit on humans will max out at 120 and, a small handful of righteous aside, within a few generations that is what we see happen globally and it is still happening today. Later God will provide 70 as an average which has not been surpassed (as an average) yet. (think globally)

    What is amazing is that in the past forty years or so DNA research has revealed the existence of telomeres and the Hayflick Limit. Telomeres are the terminal contact points on our DNA strands and they control the replication process. Each time the DNA in a cell is replicated a portion of the telomere is lost. This means that each strand of DNA does have a limited number of times it can be replicated. This limited number of times is called the Hayflick Limit. Research has indicated that many of our aging issues are related to cell replication failure which usually begins to have serious effects in our sixties and the Hayflick Limit is postualted to be around 120+/-.

    Interestingly enough cancer cells are infused with telomerase which seems to lengthen the telomeres – so a cancer cell can divide like crazy when normal cells are running down so to speak. Also of note is that there do appear to be vertebrates and invertebrates with substantially longer telomeres or naturally occuring telomerase which gives them significantly or relatively longer lifespans than humans.

    So what if God created man in his own image just within a biological shell subject to the Hayflick Limit of 120 years or so and provided that the fruits and vegetables combined with the preflood conditions that existed would be high in the building blocks of telomerase and that this allowed for the significantly longer lifestyles of the early population. Then post flood conditions are such that telomerase does not naturally exist in a way humans can access it and so the Hayflick Limit becomes the rule with 70 being the average.

    Alternatively it can be argued that the telomere in early humans was longer as created and after the flood experienced rapid mutation (subject to God’s decree) to a shorter length. This would possibly explain the decreasing lifespans which drop precipitously but not necessarily suddenly over the next few generations after the flood and have remained relatively stable since the days of Joseph.

    Uh, what does this have to do with the Ruach H’Kodesh?

  6. If the apostle John was inspired, as most of us assume is the case, then he explains creation somewhat differently than Jay does. Genesis doesn’t say the Spirit DID anything at all in creating. John agrees with Genesis even if that disagrees with the Spirit being involved in creation. John specifies that all creating was done by God’s WORD who later came to earth and took the form of a man called Jesus. Did we notice that ALL things were made through HIM and nothing was made without HIM. That’s JESUS. The Spirit was not involved in creation then or at any time.

  7. But according to Genesis 1:2 the Spirit was present at creation.

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