9. The Spirits from before Yihvah

The Ruah of God

According to the rules of Hebrew Grammar: “Common nouns (or appellatives) are by themselves indeterminate; they become determinate through a determining element, which may be the article: הַבֵּן the son; a suffix: בְּנִי my son; a determinate nomen rectum: בַּת הַמֶּ֫לֶךְ the daughter of the king; בַּת בְּנִי the daughter of my son; בַּת דָּוִד the daughter of David.”1Paul Joüon and T. Muraoka, A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew (Roma: Pontificio Istituto Biblico, 2006), 473.

This means that the expression “Angel of Yihvah” (מלאך יהוה) must be interpreted as “the Angel of Yivhah,” and “Ruah of God” (רוח אלהים) must be interpreted as “the Ruah of God.” But this certainly does not mean there is only one spirit that proceeded from God.

We know that ruah can mean breath, spirit, or wind.

There were three spirits that proceeded from God in the Old Testament: the breath of God, which was the spirit of life; the spirit of God in wisdom, and the spirit of Yihvah that was the hand of Yihvah, the power of God that spoke through the prophets.

In each case, the expression the “ruah of God” is determinate but has a different meaning.

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

God as spirit

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

The Spirit of Yihvah, as God Himself, is described with masculine pronouns. Isaiah said, “Who has directed the Spirit of Yihvah, 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 Philo meant that the expression “spirit of ELOHIM” in Genesis 1:2 did not describe God Himself because God is always called the “Spirit of Yihvah.” 

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 meaning 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 Yihvah, 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, when saying that 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.”

In Genesis 1:2, “RUAH of God” is translated as “Breath or 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 Yihvah was blowing over the surface of the waters.”2

Genesis 1:2

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

Genesis 8:1

In Genesis 1:2, the Targum Onkelos reads, “the breath or 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

“The breath of 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.”

The Jewish Bible, JPS Tanakh (1985), now recognizes “Wind” as the most appropriate translation in Genesis 1:2. However, if the determined form should be used, it seems most likely that Genesis 1:2 describes “the breath of God.”

(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 Targum describes creation in Genesis 1:1 as “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 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.”

After Moses laid his hand on him, Joshua became “full of the spirit of wisdom,” as we read in Deuteronomy 34:9.

Joshua 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, “The Law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). He was the only person in the Old Testament to be made full of the spirit of God 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 prophecy from before Yihvah

“The Spirit of Yihvah, HE-spoke in me, and His Word was on my tongue.”

2 Samuel 23:2

The Targumist understood that the masculine pronoun in 2 Samuel 23:2 identified the spirit of God, and called this “a spirit of prophecy before Yihvah,”

By a spirit of prophecy before the Lord I am speaking these things,
and the words of His holiness in my mouth I am ordering.

2 Samuel 23:2, Targum (Cathcart Translation)

In our Bibles, the expression “from before Him (Yihvah)” is only found in Daniel 7:10. Here, we see the Ancient of Days and “a river of fire issued forth and came FROM BEFORE HIM.” The “river of fire” is the spirit of prophecy that proceeds from God.

In Isaiah 61:1 and Micah 3:8, Targum Jonathan described the spirit of God as “the spirit of prophecy FROM BEFORE Yihvah,” רוּחַ נְבוּאָה מִן קֳדָם יוי. This was the spirit of God on Christ and the power of God in Micah.

The apostle John used the expression “spirit of prophecy” to describe the spirit of God in Revelation 19:10, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” The meaning is from John 15:26, “he/it will testify of Me.”

All prophecy comes from God

All prophecy comes from God Himself. As Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (1040-1106), a.k.a. 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 describes the speaking of the invisible God. He was the true speaker of all prophecy. The expression dabar, דבר, with different vowels דָּבָר is “the Word” (Strongs 1697). When the Word speaks on behalf of God, His speaking is described by the Hebrew word, “אָמַר” “amar.”

The true Spirit of prophecy is God Himself. His Messenger was Christ, the Word. Jesus said, “You have neither heard His voice nor seen His form at any time” (John 5:37).

The spirit of prophecy was the power in the prophets

The expression, “spirit of prophecy before Yihvah” is also used to describe the power of God. The spirit of God brings power, as we can also see 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 Yihvah” (Micah 3:8). Jonathan ben Uzziel translated this as, “I am filled with the strength of the spirit of prophecy from before the Lord.”

The Targumim also described “the hand of Yihvah” as “a spirit of prophecy before Yihvah.” In the Hebrew Old Testament, the expression, “the hand of Yihvah” described the power of God, beginning in the Book of Exodus.

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges says, “[the hand of the Lord] 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; and Jdg 2:15. But it is also used of the divine power that strengthened and supported Elijah, 1 Kings 18:46, and several times in Ezekiel” 4. The same hand is mentioned in Ezra 7:6,9,28, and Nehemiah 2:8,18.

Numbers 11:23, and Isaiah 59:1, ask “Has the hand of Yihvah been shortened?(קצרה יד־יהוה)” The Targum translates Isaiah 59:1 as “it is not on account of any deficiency of the power of Yihvah that you are not saved.”

The Targumim translated “the hand of Yihvah” as “a spirit of prophecy from before Yihvah” in 2 Kings 3:15, Ezekiel 1:3, 3:22, 8:1, 37:1, and 40:1. For example, in Ezekiel 1:3, we read, “The hand of Yihvah SHE-was upon him there.” Hand יד־ is a feminine noun and describes the spirit and power that proceeds from God, but not God Himself. The Targumist translated Ezekiel 11:3 as, “The spirit of prophecy from before the Lord was upon him there.”

The hand of Yihvah speaks to Ezekiel

Ezekiel is called “son of man” 93 times, and is well known as a foreshadow of Christ, “the Son of Man,” who is empowered by the spirit of God.

The Lord is “The Spirit”

In the first Chapter of Ezekiel, we are told that the Word of Yihvah came to Ezekiel, and the “hand of Yihvah was upon him there.”

He saw a vision of “living creatures” with the faces of a man, a lion, an ox, and an eagle. These are the four living creatures we find in Revelation 4, the saints in the kingdom of God. In verse 20, he says “wherever the Spirit wanted to go, they because there the Spirit went, and the wheels were lifted together with them, because spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.”

Here, the Hebrew text uses the definite article in הָר֖וּחַ, ha-ruah,“the Spirit.” As we discussed in last Chapter, the Hebrew Old Testament uses a definite article to describe a Spirit that is a being, and not just an anointing, or spirit that proceeds from God.  

The definite article tells us that “the Spirit” is the Spirit of Christ, “the Lord is the Spirit.” This is the Spirit followed by the living creatures, “They follow the Lamb (the Spirit) wherever He goes” (Revelation 14:4).

“Spirit” in the wheels

In verse 21, Ezekiel repeats the information of verse 20, “When those went, these went, when those stood, these stood, and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up together with them, for spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.”  

Here, as in verse 20, Ezekiel describes “spirit” without the definite article. The phrase “spirit” without the definite article we understand means “anointing” in the New Testament. It describes the “anointing” of the spirit of God after the Day of Pentecost.

The Targum, however, does not see Ezekiel 1 as a vision of the future but a vision of the present, as the Targum often does. It ignores “the Spirit” that is mentioned twice in Ezekiel 1:20, and translates this verse as:

Wherever they wished to go, there they would go, according to their will (רַעֲוָא), and the wheels rose correspondingly, for a spirit like that of the creatures was in the wheels.5

The spirit “like that of the creatures” can only be the Word as the firstborn of creation. In Ezekiel 2, it is identified as “the spirit” (רוּחָא – Aramaic determined form) that enters Ezekiel and “lifts” him up. From Chapter Two onwards, there is no difference in the meaning of the Hebrew text and the Targum, as both describe Ezekiel’s day.

“Spirit” enters Ezekiel and “lifts him up”

After Ezekiel watches these things in Chapter 1, “spirit” enters him, in Ezekiel 2:2. The “spirit” or “anointing” in the prophets was the Spirit of Christ.

Then “spirit” lifts up him up, as we are told in Ezekiel 3:12. In the next verse, he tells us that he heard “the noise of the wheels” in the living creatures: the creatures that he saw being lifted up by “spirit.” The same Hebrew verb “lifted” that described spirit that “lifted up” the living creatures, describes spirit that “lifts up” Ezekiel.

The hand of Yihvah speaks to Ezekiel

The most dramatic moment comes in Ezekiel 3:22. Ezekiel says, “then the hand of Yihvah was upon me there, and He said to me, “Arise, go out into the plain and there I will talk with you.”

Until now, the “hand of Yihvah” has only been understood as “the power of God.” This is the first time that we see “the hand of Yihvah” speaking. Perhaps from this verse, the Targumists understood that “the hand of Yihvah” meant “the spirit of prophecy from before Yihvah.”

How is Ezekiel able to hear from God directly? This happens after “spirit” or “anointing” enters him, and “lifts him up.” We find the same phenomenon in Revelation 1:10, where John says, “I was in spirit in the Lord’s Day, and I heard behind me a loud voice.” John heard the voice of Christ by the spirit of God. Paul called this “the manifestation of the Spirit … through the same spirit (the holy spirit),” in 1 Corinthians 12:7-8.

The hand of Yihvah is called the spirit of Yihvah

In Ezekiel 11:1-4, “spirit” lifts Ezekiel up again, and speaks to him in verses 2 to 4. This is a confirmation that “spirit” is the Spirit of Christ, the Word, who spoke to the prophets.

Then in Ezekiel 11:5, we are told that the “spirit of Yihvah fell upon me, and He said to me, “Speak! Thus says Yihvah…”

Here, the grammatical form is almost identical to Ezekiel 3:22, where the “hand of Yihvah” came on Ezekiel after “spirit” lifted him up.

Ezek 3:22

וַתְּהִ֥י          עָלַ֛י   שָׁ֖ם  יַד־  יְהוָ֑ה   וַיֹּ֣אמֶר  אֵלַ֗י     ק֥וּם

“Arise”  towards   and-said  Yihvah   hand there     upon  And-She-came

Ezek 11:5

וַתִּפֹּ֣ל        עָלַי֮    ר֣וּחַ    יְהוָה֒    וַיֹּ֣אמֶר  אֵלַ֗י     אֱמֹר֙

    “Speak”  towards  and-said    Yihvah     spirit      upon  And-she-falls

 The “hand of Yihvah” is now being called the “spirit of Yihvah.” This solidifies our understanding that the “hand of Yihvah” is the “spirit of Yihvah” that speaks to the prophets. The Targumist translates both expressions in Ezekiel 3:22, and 11:5, as “the spirit of prophecy from before Yihvah.”

This “spirit of Yihvah” is described in the feminine. That tells us that this spirit of Yihvah is not God Himself, but “spirit” that proceeds from God.

The hand of Yihvah is called the “spirit of ELOHIM”

The spirit of prophecy from before Yihvah is called “spirit of ELOHIM” in Ezekiel 11:24. “Then spirit lifted me up and brought me in a vision by spirit of ELOHIM to Chaldea.”

Here, the Targumist has assumed that “spirit” that lifted him up, is not “spirit of ELOHIM” in the next phrase, otherwise the sentence would have read “then spirit lifted me up and brought me in a vision to Chaldea.” The Targumist interprets “spirit of ELOHIM” as “the spirit of prophecy from before Yihvah.”

In fact, the Targum uses identical wording in Ezekiel 8:3; 11:24, and 37:1. The phrase דִשרָת עֲלַי describes the “dwelling” of the spirit of God on Ezekiel.















There is a slight difference in Ezekiel 8:3, where the Targum has בְחֵיזוּ “visions” instead of בְרוּחַ “spirit.” – “by a vision of prophecy from before the Lord.”

The dwelling of God with men

The expression “dwell” describes the spirit of God throughout the New Testament: “in My Father’s house are many dwelling places” (John 14:2); “a dwelling place of God in spirit” (Ephesians 2:22); “now is the dwelling of God with men” (Revelation 21:3).”

Beginning in Exodus 25:8, God promised “to dwell” with the sons of Israel (see also Exodus 29:45,46; Numbers 5:3; 35:34; 1 Kings 6:13; Ezek 43:7,9; Zech 2:10; 8:3). Here, the Hebrew word שָׁכַן, dwell, is translated into the Aramaic שׁרי in Exodus 25:8 in Targum Onkelos, and throughout the Targumim. 

Targum Jonathan used the Aramaic verb, dwell, שׁרי to describe “dwelling” of the hand of Yihvah, for example in: Judges 13:25; 14:6; 14:19; 15:14; 1 Samuel 10:6; 16:13; 19:20,23; Ezekiel 11:5,24; and 37:1. Targum Chronicles uses it in 2 Chronicles 15:1; and 24:20. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, and Targum Onkelos use it to describe the spirit of God on Balaam in Numbers 24:2.

The spirit of prophecy from before Yihvah in Micah

In Micah 3:8, we read, “I am full of power by the spirit of Yihvah.” The Targum translates this as “I am full of power by the spirit of prophecy from before Yihvah.’

In Micah 2:7, “the hand of Yihvah” was described as the “spirit of Yihvah.” Micah writes, “Is spirit of Yihvah short? (הקצר רוח יהוה) … do not My words do good?” This “spirit” is the hand of Yihvah described in Numbers 11:23, “Has the hand of Yihvah been shortened? (קצרה יד־יהוה).”

The Targum translates Micah 2:7 as, “has the word from before Yihvah (מֵימַר מִן קֳדָם יוי) been shortened …Are not all my words (פִתגָמֵי) right?” The normal expression for “Word of Yihvah” is מֵימְרָא דַיוי as used in Micah 3:11. Micah 2:7 is the only verse in all of Targum Jonathan, from Joshua to Malachi, where we find “the word from before Yihvah (מֵימַר מִן קֳדָם יוי).” What does it mean?  

The expression “and come the word of prophecy from before Yihvah (וַהֲוָה פִתגָם נְבוּאָה מִן קֳדָם יוי)” is used 33 times in Targum Jonathan where the Hebrew says, “and came the Word of Yihvah.” In Micah 2:7, Jonathan ben Uzziel is not translating, he is interpreting. He uses the expression “memra” (מֵימַר) with its true meaning as speech to say: “has speech from before Yihvah been shortened? … Are not all my words right?” This is speech by the “spirit of prophecy from before Yihvah.”

The action verbs of the Old testament

The Hebrew text uses action verbs to identify the spirit of Yihvah, and spirit of ELOHIM on the prophets. The expressions “clothed,” “rush” and “fell” describe the spirit of God as a spirit of power. We have listed the verbs used in all Old Testament. In some cases, there is no action verb, we are only told that the spirit of God “came to be” on the prophet.

The Targum calls “the spirit of Elijah” – “the spirit of Elijah.” It does not identify it as the spirit of God. You can see that the “holy spirit”— the spirit of Christ in Numbers 11, the spirit of God on Christ in Isaiah, and the spirit of Elijah, is always described by the same gentle action, “to rest,” as in Genesis 8:4, “the ark rested upon the mountains.” In Luke 1:17, the Angel of the Lord told Zechariah that John the Baptist would have the spirit and power of Elijah. But of course, shouldn’t the spirit of Elijah be the spirit of Christ? In verse 15, the Angel said that John would be “filled with the Holy Spirit” from his mother’s womb.

The power of Elijah was the hand of Yihvah, described in 1 Kings 18:46.

Three spirits proceed from God in the Old Testament

From the Book of Ezekiel, we understand there are three spirits that proceed from God in the Old Testament. All are called “spirit of ELOHIM” at least once (Gen 1:2; 41:38, Eze 11:24), and all three are described with feminine pronouns. These feminine pronouns distinguish the spirits that proceed from God, from God Himself, who is only called the Spirit of Yihvah and described with masculine pronouns.

In the New Testament, we will see another spirit that “proceeds” from the Father. The “spirit of truth,” poured out on the Day of Pentecost is similar to “the spirit of prophecy from before Yihvah” on Christ and the prophets.

The Targumim  describe three spirits that proceed from God. The spirit of the breath of life was called “a spirit of mercy from before Yihvah.” The spirit of God in wisdom was called “spirit of wisdom from before Yihvah.” And the hand of Yihvah was called “the spirit of power, or spirit of prophecy from before Yihvah.”

It seems that “from before Yihvah” became an automatic translation, or addition by the scribes, wherever “spirit of ELOHIM” and “spirit of Yihvah” appeared in the Hebrew text. For example, the spirit of wisdom is only described as being “from before Yihvah” when the Hebrew text says, “spirit of God in wisdom.” The addition of “from before” in 1 Kings 18:12, and 2 Kings 2:16 was certainly the work of copyists. In 1 Kings 18;12, a variant reading of מִן קְָדָם יוי in Sperberg’s apparatus is דייי. Here the Targum uses the determined form to describe “the Spirit of Yihvah” as God Himself, who took Elijah away.

The expression “from before” Yihvah describes a spirit other than “God Himself,” but it does not describe a spirit that “proceeds from” Yihvah. That is described by the expression “goes forth” in Daniel 7:10, and “proceeds from the Father” in John 15:26.

  1. Allegorical Interpretation, XIII (33)
  2. The verb “blow” also suggests breath or 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
  5. Cathcart, K., Maher, M., & McNamara, M., eds. (1990). The Aramaic Bible: The Targum of Ezekiel (S. H. Levey, Trans.; Vol. 13, Eze 1:20). The Liturgical Press.