The Spirit in the Old Testament

Spirit of God

“Spirit” is a term that most people are familiar with. It is used in a variety of ways in our speech; however, we want to examine what the Bible has to say about “spirit”. We are introduced to “spirit” very early in the Bible as it is used in the second verse of the Bible, in the phrase, “Spirit of God”.

It is very important to always consider the context in which a word is used. In this case, “spirit” is called “the spirit of God.” This tells us that, whatever “spirit” is, it is God’s.  The “Spirit of God” was moving or hovering over the face or surface of the waters.  At that time the planet was waste and desolate, dark and covered in water.

The next thing we read is, “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:3-4, ESV).

From this initial case, the “Spirit of God” would indicate “spirit” is His power.

To further explore this concept, a concordance and lexicon are very useful. A concordance can show us where else this English word is used in Scripture and a Lexicon can give us the original Hebrew word that has been translated and also where else in Scripture this particular Hebrew word is used.

The word, “spirit” in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word, “ruwach” (roo’-akh) meaning: wind; breath, that is exhalation; figuratively life, anger, unsubstantiality; by extension a region of the sky”.

This word, “spirit” is a common noun and not a proper name. This tells us that we can disregard the capital “S” (some translations render it “spirit of God”).  We also learn that “spirit” means wind or breath and has been translated as air, anger, blast, breath, and cool (temperature), for example.

By searching the Hebrew word “ruwach”, using a concordance or computer Bible program we learn that:

  • “ruwach” (spirit) is used 378 times in 348 verses in the Old Testament;
  •  “ruwach” is translated “cool” as in temperature (Genesis 3:8);
  • “spirit” is used in the sense of that which allows us to live (Genesis 6:3);
  • “ruwach” is translated “breath” in the phrase, “breath of life” (Genesis 6:17; 7:15,22);
  • “ruwach” is translated “wind” and this is how God dried the water from the earth after the flood (Genesis 8:1);
  • “ruwach” is translated “mind” in terms of “grief of mind” or the way one thinks (Genesis 26:35).

Although this is a very brief search, it indicates that “spirit” has a variety of applications and meanings and therefore, the translators translated it into different English words based on context. When it is used in relation to God, “spirit” seems to refer to His power or ability to act.

The following is a summary of the use of “ruwach” (H7307) in the first 5 books of the Bible:

 Wind/PowerPower/AbilityBreath of LifeWay of Thinking
Genesis1:2; 3:8; 8:141:386:3,17; 7:17,2226:35; 41:8; 45:27
Exodus10:13,19; 14:21; 15:8,1028:3; 31:3 6:9; 35:21,31
Numbers11:3111:17,25,26,29; 24:2; 27:1816:22; 27:165:14,30; 14:24
Deuteronomy 34:9 2:30

Once a concept or teaching begins to take shape, you can begin to explore further as you continue to read through the scriptures and apply what you have learned and test your understanding. As we have seen, for example, the term “spirit” is used many times in Genesis through to Deuteronomy and there are four different ways in which the term is primarily used.  This shows us how important it is to read a passage carefully and in the proper context.

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