9. The Spirit of God in the Old Testament

In Appendix 4, we have listed all verses that describe the Spirit of YHVH, and the Spirit of ELOHIM as the Spirit of God, which we have separated into the following five categories.

God as Spirit

Of course, God is Spirit, as Jesus said. I Kings 18:12, 2 King 2:16, Psalms 139:7, Isaiah 40:3, and Micah 2:7 describe the Spirit of YHVH as God Himself.

The Spirit of YHVH, as God Himself, was described with masculine pronouns. Isaiah said, “who has directed the Spirit of YHVH, or as His counsellor has taught Him?” (Isaiah 40:13) The Greek Septuagint translated this as, “Who has known the mind of the Lord? and who has been his counsellor, to instruct him?” The Apostle Paul used similar words, in 1 Corinthians 2:16, “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?”

The Spirit of God as the Spirit of the Breath of Life

Paul said that God is “over all and through all and in you all”(Ephesians 4:6). As the Spirit of Life, the Spirit of God is in every person. But God said, “My Spirit will not strive with man forever, for he indeed is flesh, yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years” (Genesis 6:3).

The Spirit of God as the Spirit of the breath of life, is always described with feminine pronouns, because this Spirit does not describe God Himself, but the breath of God. In A.D. 30, the Jewish theologian Philo said, “why, since he knew the name of the Spirit when he says, “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the Waters,” he now speaks of breath, and not of the Spirit” 1.

Trinitarians have suggested that the phrase “Spirit of God” in Genesis 1:2 is proof of a “third person” of the Godhead who existed eternally with Christ and God. However, the Jewish Bible has noted that the Hebrew words “RUAH ELOHIM” in Genesis 1:2 should be translated as “wind” or “breath of God.” This is evident from other Old Testament Books and the Jewish Targumim. The phrase “Spirit” is “RUAH” in Hebrew and has the primary meanings of “wind or breath,” as does the word “Pneuma” in Greek.

The true meaning of RUAH ELOHIM in creation is probably best explained by Psalms 33:6:

“By the Word of YHVH the heavens were made,
and by the breath of His mouth all their host.”

Job called the Word, “the Spirit of EL,” and described the “breath of God,”

“The Spirit of EL, SHE-made-me, And the Breath of the Almighty, gives me life.”

Job 33:4

Psalms 104:30 also has Genesis 1:2 in mind, to say the breath of God brought life into being:

“You send out your Wind (or Breath), they are created;
And You renew the face of the earth.”

“RUAH of God” in Genesis 1:2 is translated as “Wind of God” in the Jewish Targumim. This is particularly evident in the “Jerusalem Targum,” which uses the expression “merciful wind” in both Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 8:1:

“a merciful wind from before YHVH was blowing over the surface of the waters.”2

Genesis 1:2

“and YHVH caused the wind of mercies to pass over the earth,
and the waters were dried.”

Genesis 8:1

The Targum Onkelos reads “and a wind from before the Lord blew upon the face of the waters.”

The Greek Septuagint does not have the article “the,” before “Pneuma of God,” suggesting that “wind” is the meaning (καὶ πνεῦμα θεοῦ ἐπεφέρετο ἐπάνω τοῦ ὕδατος, Wind of God moved over the water). 3

The first seven uses of the expression “RUAH” occur in Genesis 1–8, where we see that “wind” or “breath of life” is always the meaning. The first occurrence is Genesis 1:2, which speaks of the “wind” or “breath” that brought life into the world.

Genesis 1:2

“Wind from God was over the face of the waters”

Genesis 3:8

“walking in the breeze of the day”

Genesis 6:3

“My spirit (breath of life) shall not always strive with man”

Genesis 6:17

“all flesh in which is the breath of life”

Genesis 7:15

“all flesh in which was the breath of life”

Genesis 7:22

“all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life

Genesis 8:1

“And God made a wind to pass over the face of the earth and caused the waters to subside” (as He did in Genesis 1:2)

The Jewish Bible, JPS Tanakh (1985), now recognizes “Wind” as the most appropriate translation in Genesis 1:2.

(For more on Genesis 1:2, see Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers.)

The Spirit of God as the Spirit of Wisdom

[I pray] that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,
may give unto you the spirit of wisdom

Ephesians 1:17

The Targumim described creation in Genesis 1:1, “with wisdom.” In the Paris (Jerusalem) Fragment, we read: “With wisdom, the Lord created and perfected the heavens and the earth,”

The creation of the world by “wisdom” is also described in Proverbs 8, “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I have been established from everlasting, from the beginning, before there was ever an earth” (Proverbs 8:22-23).

The Spirit of Wisdom was given to the craftsmen as described in Exodus 28:3, 31:3, and 35:31, where we read: “He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship.”

Joshua was also described as having “the Spirit of Wisdom” and Deuteronomy 34:9.

In Numbers 27:18, we read “Take Joshua, son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him.” The Neofiti Targum translates Numbers 27:18, as “And the Lord said to Moses: “Take Joshua bar Nun, upon whom a holy קדש spirit דרוח from before the Lord מן קדם ייי dwells שרייה, and you shall lay your hand upon him.” Here, the Targumist described the Spirit of God as “a holy spirit,” but most importantly, note that the Targumist was saying that Joshua already had the Spirit of Wisdom before Moses laid his hand on him. In Deuteronomy 34:9, we read “Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him.” It seems that Joshua became “full” of the spirit of wisdom after Moses laid his lands on him. Here, the Targum says, “full of the spirit of wisdom.”

In Numbers 27:18, the Targumist used the expression “from before the Lord מן קדם ייי.” This comes from Daniel 7:10, where Daniel saw a vision of the Ancient of Days, and “a river of fire came forth from before Him.” This suggests that the Targumist saw may see the Spirit in Joshua as the Spirit of God Himself. Targum Jonathan reliably ascribes this meaning from Daniel 7:10, but other Targumists may not understand this expression with the same meaning. However, the Targum Neofiti used the expression “Holy Spirit,” three times, in Numbers 11, to describe the anointing of the Spirit of Christ on the seventy elders.

Joshua was not anointed by the Spirit of Christ, rather he was full of the Spirit of God. Joshua was originally Hosea, until he was renamed Joshua, by Moses. Joshua is the Hebrew name of Jesus. John said that “the Law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Joshua did not receive the Spirit that brought Israel the law, but he was full of the Spirit of God, as the future Christ. He was the only person in the Old Testament, to made full of the spirt through the laying on of hands – as in the New Testament.

So, Isaiah told us that the anointing of the Spirit of God on Jesus would be, “The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:2).

The Spirit of God as the Spirit of Prophecy

The Spirit of God was called the Spirit of Prophecy by Jonathan Ben Uziel, and later by the Apostle John, in Revelation 19:10.

The masculine pronouns were used to describe the Spirit of YHVH as Himself, in 2 Samuel 23:2. Jonathan Ben Uziel called this  “a Spirit of prophecy before YHVH,” בְרוּחַ נְבוּאָה קֳדָם יְיָ;

As mentioned, this expression comes from Daniel 7:10, we see the Ancient of Days, and “a river of fire issued forth and came FROM BEFORE HIM.”

In Isaiah 61:1, and Micah 3:8, Targum Jonathan makes the same description of the Spirit of God, as a“a Spirit of prophecy FROM BEFORE YHVH,” רוּחַ נְבוּאָה מִן קֳדָם יוי. This described the Spirit of God that was put on Christ, and the power of the Most High in Micah.

All prophecy comes from God Himself, as Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (b. 1040–d. 1106), Ravi, said, “all expressions of prophecy are indicated by [the word] דבר, just as with: “Has the Lord indeed spoken only in Moses? Has he not spoken also in us? (הרק אך במשה דבר הלא גם בנו דבר אדבר בו)” (Num. 12:2).” Beginning in Exodus 6:10, the Hebrew word דָבַר, “dabar,” (strongs 1696) only described the speaking of the invisible God, YHVH. He was the true speaker of all prophecy. The word dabar, דבר, with different vowels דָּבָר is “the Word” (strongs 1697). When He speaks on behalf of God, His speaking is described by the Hebrew word, “אָמַר” “amar.”

The true Spirit of prophecy is God Himself. He was “the Spirit of Prophecy” from the beginning. But no one heard His voice. His Messenger was Christ, the Word. Jesus said, “you have neither heard his voice nor seen His form at any time” (John 5:37).

Jonathan ben Uziel also called “the hand of YHVH” – “the Spirit of Prophecy before YHVH.

The power of God enables men to prophecy. This continues in the New Testament, (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8, I Corinthians 12:11; Hebrews 2:4).

Micah said, “I am full of power by the Spirit of YHVH.” Jonathan Ben Uziel translated this as “I am filled with the strength of the spirit of prophecy from the Lord.”

The power of the Most High is also called “the hand of YHVH.”

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says, “the hand of the Lord] The phrase is most frequently employed in the Pentateuch and the historical books to signify God’s power exerted in punishment. Cf. Exodus 9:3, ‘The hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle’. See also Deuteronomy 2:15; Joshua 22:31; Jdg 2:15. But it is also used of the divine power which strengthened and supported Elijah, 1 Kings 18:46, and several times in Ezekiel.”4 It also comes on a musician in 2 Kings 3:15.

In 1 Kings 18:46, 2 Kings 3:15, Ezekiel 1:3; 3:14, 22; 33:22; 37:1, and 40:1, the Targumist translates “hand of YHVH” as “a Spirit of Prophecy from before YHVH.”  For example in Ezekiel 1:3, we read, “the hand of YHVH was upon him there.” The Targumist says, “upon him there, the spirit of prophecy from before the Lord was upon him there, עֲלוֹהִי תַמָן רוּחַ נְבוּאָה מִן קֻ<דם> יוי׃.” This is the same expression used in Isaiah 61:1, and Micah 3:8, preceded by “upon him there,” עֲלוֹהִי תַמָן, the same words that appear in the Hebrew text.

  1. Allegorical Interpretation, XIII (33)
  2. The verb “blow” also suggests wind as the proper translation. See footnotes in: The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis, by Michael Maher.
  3. J.W. Wevers, Notes on the Greek Text of Genesis, 1993, p. 2
  4. Commentary of 2 Kings 3:15