In my previous post, I explained that the word ruach in the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament, or TaNaKh) means breath, wind, and spirit. Before we continue to explore the doctrine of the Holy Spirit in my future posts, I would like to note that the word ruach (which is used to refer to the Spirit of God) can have other meanings that will later shed light on the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives as Christians.
First, the word ruach can refer to the breath of life, the element that gives life to all creatures. In Genesis 6:17, 7:15, and 7:22, the word ruach refers to the breath in every living creature, both animals or humans. Consequently, Moses and Aaron seem to indicate that all creatures (humans and animals) have ruach (Numbers 16:22). Psalm 104:29 also indicates that all creatures die and return to the dust when God takes away their ruach (breath). Thus, the word ruach refers to the breath of God, which He uses to give life to all creatures on Earth.
Second, the word ruach can refer to the human spirit (or soul), an immaterial component in every human being. In Job 32:8, there is a distinction between the ruach in a human being and the breath (neshamah) of God (the breath that God breathed into the man’s nostrils in Genesis 2:7).
In Proverbs 16:2, God weights the spirits (ruach) of human beings. Here, the human ruach is equated with the human heart; it is the human component where a person’s intentions are found. In fact, in Isaiah 26:9, the soul (nephesh) and the spirit (ruach) are equated with each other.
Third, the word ruach (seeing that it can refer to the human soul) is also closely associated with emotions. In Proverbs 18:14, the human body can experience sickness and the spirit (ruach) can experience an emotional wound. In Genesis 41:8, Pharaoh’s spirit (ruach) is vexed because of a dream. In Numbers 5:14, a husband can feel extremely jealous because of a spirit (ruach) of jealousy. In 1 Samuel 1:15, Hannah’s spirit is sorrowful (ruach). In Psalm 106:33, Moses’ spirit (ruach) is provoked to anger. In Job 7:11, Job’s spirit (ruach) experiences anguish.
Sometimes, the figurative state of a person’s spirit represents emotions. In Genesis 45:27, Jacob’s spirit revived when Jacob learned that Joseph was alive: this does not mean that Jacob’s spirit was literally dead, but that upon hearing good news, Jacob was filled with excitement. In Joshua 5:1, the kings of the Amorites and the Canaanites had no more spirit in them because they feared the Israelites; and in 1 Kings 10:5 and 2 Chronicles 9:4, the Queen of Sheba had no more spirit in her because she was perplexed by Solomon’s wealth. Once again, these verses do not mean that people were literally left without a spirit, but that the emotions they experienced were so strong they overwhelmed them.
As we can see, the word ruach is very diverse. It can refer to the life-giving element in every living creature, it can refer to the human soul, and it can also be associated with human emotions. This is all very interesting, especially when we consider that God often uses the spirits of human beings to get human beings to accomplish His will.
In 1 Chronicles 5:26, God stirred the spirits of the kings Pul and Tiglathpilneser to take captive the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh as a punishment for their sins. In 2 Chronicles 21:16, God stirred the spirits of the Philistines and the Arabians against Jehoram, and so the Philistines and the Arabians attacked Judah and took away Jehoram’s wealth and family. This was also God’s punishment over Jehoram.
Finally, in 2 Chronicles 36:22, God stirred the spirit of Cyrus, King of Persia; and Cyrus gave the command to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem so that God’s prophesies through Jeremiah would be fulfilled. Moreover, even when reading Exodus 35:21, we should not lose sight that it is the Lord who stirred the hearts and made willing the spirits of the people.
Given the close association of the word ruach with the human soul and with human emotions, it seems that when the Bible indicates that God stirred someone’s spirit, it means that God caused strong emotions in that person(s) so that he or she would do God’s will. Not only does this knowledge give us insight in how God worked in people during Old Testament times, but I think it also gives us some insight in how He worked in people during New Testament times, and in how He continues to work in us today.
Questions for Reflection
- How is the biblical use of the word ruach similar or different to the modern use of the word spirit?
- According to the Bible, there is an immaterial component (a soul or spirit) in every human being. Do you agree with this view? Do people in our day and age agree or disagree with this view?
- How does understanding the meaning of the word ruach enrich your understanding of the Holy Spirit in the Bible?
- Have you ever experienced strong emotions directing you to do something for God or according to God’s will?
God, our Father, you are the God of the spirits of all flesh: you have given life to all, and you keep us all alive by your great power. You know me, you know my soul, you know my emotions, and you know my intentions. Nothing about me is hidden from you. To you I confess my sins, my faults, and my dreams.
Lord, I bow down before you. Stir my spirit to obey you, stir my spirit to worship you, stir my spirit to serve you. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, I pray to you. Amen.
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©2018, Marcelo E. Carcach. All rights reserved.