Category Archives: Holy Spirit in History

Trusting God’s Spirit!

“So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 4v6).

As a new Christian, I’m not sure if I really understood the wording  of this scripture at the time. After all, what is ‘might’ and how does it differ to ‘power’? Moreover, why does God instruct us  to operate in His Holy Spirit rather than rely on human ability?

In researching the scripture for this post , I came across an answer on the Internet in which ‘might’ was described  as ‘strength.’ It was illustrated by the fact that a person can have  ‘might but have no power’ because it is dependent on the ability to do things or know certain information or posses a type of personality that draws people to you. Hence, why Zechariah advises that our human ability to manipulate might, power, popularity, charisma, persuasiveness (et al) need to be set aside if order that the Spirit can be given free reign to convict, encourage, enliven and empower in a way that honours God. In other put our egos aside and allow God through His Spirit to speak.’

 


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How does the promise of God impact us now?

“As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, will not depart from you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will always be on your lips, on the lips of your children and on the lips of their descendants—from this time on and forever,” says the Lord. (Isaiah 59v21)

Given that God’s promise to Isaiah occurs several hundred years before the birth of Jesus and the Holy Spirit coming upon the people at Pentecost, we will do well to consider how this makes sense with the words being used. Although the Holy Spirit has not entered and filled people at this point of time,  God has said it will happen and because of this it’s a certainty that cannot be reversed. The words of the Divine will be proved true and a time will come when the Holy Spirit will fill not just the receiving generation, but also all other generations after that. Unlike God’s Spirit that rested upon a leader or judge or prophet to fulfil God’s purpose and plan for a specific moment in time, things are about to change so that all who worship God will be part of the programme of restoration, whether they are young or old or yet to come. It’s good news (and they knew it even if they didn’t fully understand the depth of the promise made to them.)


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Idols versus the pursuit of God

‘For this is what the high and exalted One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.‘ ( Isaiah 57).

The most important thing I take from this passage is how God is not absent but at work all the time – for whole chapter,  click here. In this passage, the believers reason that God has removed Himself from them, when the reality is  he is present and proactive. He has not 
  1. abandoned them?
  2. forgotten them?
  3. held a grudge against them all this time?

Why? Because He knows our frailty. Our temptation to sin. How we our made of dust and that to dust, we will  one day return. But there is something more because each of us within our mortal frame,  carry a soul that has the potential to be united with God. A  conduit if you will into which God’ pours his Holy Spirit (if asked) which unites  with our spirit to help us to walk in the ways of God so that we will not be so easily led astray into the worship and pursuit of worthless things.

In Isaiah’s days, the worthless objects were mute idols – objects that people believed gave them power, wealth, well-being and long lives. Interestingly, this thinking still exists today in people’s pursuit of excessive wealth,  the need for fame, a lengthy life at all costs and independence from those around them who may remind them how fleeting life can be.

Isaiah’s assessment? Don’t look to yourself but return to God with lowly and contrite hearts and God will heal and restore. A message that is still relevant to our world today.


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The Lord will call you back.

“The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.’ (Isaiah 54v6).

As always, much of scripture is filled with symbolism and this passage is full of it. The people of God are likened to a wife who has abandoned her husband in her search for wealth and security. In terms of the metaphor, she is the manifestation of God’s people who are immature and young, abandoning what they know for another (god) who they hope will bring about a change in her fortunes – but the wife (God’s people), are rejected a second time by other nations making her fate complete. In her mind, she reasons that she can’t return to former not her current provider who has abandoned her – so what is left to do?The answer that is in front of her is the obvious one – she must repent and return to the One who truly loves. The God who is ready to forgive and restore if only s/he will return. And those with a keen memory with recount the parable of the prodigal son who rebels, leaves home with his share of the money only to return destitute in the hope that his father will take him on as a slave. So imagine his surprise when the father races out to greet and welcome him into the home, not as a servant but as family. So too, God’s delight and promise for the people of Israel who have rebelled and walked away from God yet are willing to change and turn back for home in an instant.


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A lesson from Babylonia?

‘Come near me and listen to this: “From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens, I am there.” And now the Sovereign Lord has sent me, endowed with his Spirit.’ (Isaiah 48v16).
Okay, this verse is one of many in a tongue-lashing that the people of Israel receive in regard to their duplicity and disobedience to God. Again, for the full story, click here. The chapter can be summarised something like this:
  1. First off recognise and accept that you are a stubborn people who disobey. (v4)
  2. Understand that this is your nature as you are easily led astray (v8)
  3. You have settled in a land that God has not ordained for you as His People (v20)

In other words, recognise that although you have defiled yourself by seeking out a life with people who worship idols and do not worship the One True Living God, it is still within your power to return to God. To choose the Lord Almighty! And why should God’s people do this?

Well, the Sovereign Lord in union with the Holy Spirit speaks into the lives of those who know they have transgressed and gone their own way. (v16) People who are without a teacher  and need the reassurance of a God who is both the Holy One of Israel but also their Redeemer as well. The same God who travelled with their ancestors as they left Israel and spent 40 years in the desert but did not let them thirst or go hungry (v21-22). A God who heard their cries, knew their weakness but was still ready and able to restore.


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The ‘how to’ on finding peace and rest in God.

‘Lord, by such things people live; and my spirit finds life in them too. You restored me to health and let me live.’ (Isaiah 38v16)

To understand this verse in context you might want to read the whole chapter of Isaiah 38 which can be found by clicking here.

Done that? Great! Now, we’re ready to consider Hezekiah’s reflection on his illness and recovery as he questions: why these terrible things are happening to him (v10);  the emptiness and isolation in his life (v11); his desolation of death that awaits him (v12);  and finally the heart-felt cry that follows as he pleads, ‘I am being threatened Lord, come to my aid!’

Like many in early times who believed that calamity came upon a person because they had somehow displeased God, Hezekiah shows his limited understanding of what has befallen him with the words ‘(God) himself has done this.’ It’s possible the king’s misunderstanding was due to the influence of fertility cults with their dualistic ideas that God was capable of both good and evil acts. However, whatever way Hezekiah understands this- as either God directed or circumstantial – one thing is for sure: It does not dent his faith and belief that God is faithful and attentive and through faith in Him, he will find peace and rest.

 

 


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How to kickstart your spiritual life?

…till the Spirit is poured on us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest.’ (Isaiah 32v15)

These words are spoken by the prophet Isaiah to the people of God who have gone astray. Desperate to be like the cultic groups that surround them and do they things they do, the people of Israel had turned away from God to engage in fertility and idol worship involving multiple gods, incest, immorality and even child sacrifice, etc. In short, the people lost all semblance of what it meant to be chosen by God as a community that would be a beacon of light to others who would see their lives and look to the One True God  .

Okay, fast forward a few hundred years and things are about to change big time as God’s ultimate plan fires into action. Jerusalem: following Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, the disciples lock themselves  away for three weeks  to await  God’s (promised) Holy Spirit . Then – bingo! One day, the Holy Spirit fills the room where they are praying and falls upon the disciples – no longer fearful of being arrested and killed as Jesus was – the disciples fall out of the house into the streets, praising God in tongues to those people visiting the city from different regions who are amazed to hear them speak in their native language.  Amazed, they ask who they are and how they can hear them in their native tongue. Peter explains  about Jesus death and their need to believe in him and that day 3000 people  believe his message, repent  and are baptised before returning home to tell others the ‘good news.’

Returning to our verse ‘the Spirit is poured on us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest.’ we see how the prophet is foretelling the day  when God’s Holy Spirit will be released to fill and dwell in the people of the earth. An invisible event that will be like  a river that floods into the desert of people’s lives where they were  once  spiritually dead but now are  resuscitated and brought back to life. This is the promise of God and the work of the Holy Spirit!

 

 


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‘Approved by God?’

“Those who are wayward in spirit will gain understanding; those who complain will accept instruction.” (Isaiah 29v24)

“Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the Lord, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin’ (Isaiah 30v1)

Coming a few hundred years before the day of Pentecost – when God’s Holy Spirit falls on the disciples and visitors to Jerusalem and they speak in tongues and prophesies – this first verse almost sounds like Jesus’ foretelling of what is to come: ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.’

However, Pentecost is yet to happen so what does verse 24 mean? Well, it seems that the prophet is making a unique distinction between a person who is ‘wayward’ and one who is ‘wilful.’ In short, a person who is open to learn from their mistakes, seek forgiveness and  move on, rather than allow themselves to be dragged into a cycle of disappointment, anger and bitterness. That is, a person who is open to instruction and prepared to heed it.

Really important to note in this verse that Spirit is denoted with a capital letter to show this is not human in nature but is the Spirit that is the essence of God. The same Spirit who hovered over the waters in Genesis 1. Why does God call them obstinate? Because they refuse to listen and allow God’s Spirit to direct their lives and actions. As a result, the people make plans for themselves and rubber stamp it as ‘approved by God’ and yet, nothing could be further from the truth. The fact that they continue in this process is the reason why God accuses them of ‘heaping sin upon sin.’ How different is this from those who are ‘wayward in spirit’ yet willing to learn – prone to complain but ready to be instructed.

 

 

 


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Understanding ‘spirit’ in context – part 3

‘He will be a spirit of justice to the one who sits in judgment, a source of strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate.’ (Isaiah 28v6).

Great as verses 6 is, it needs to be understood in the context of the verses that come before it.  In Judah 28  we learn that the leaders of Ephraim and Judah have made a right mess of things. In response, God promises a leader who will be faithful and bring change. Hence,

In that day the Lord Almighty
    will be a glorious crown,
a beautiful wreath
    for the remnant of his people.
He will be a spirit of justice
    to the one who sits in judgment,
a source of strength
    to those who turn back the battle at the gate.

Now, unlike the previous two posts in which the term ‘spirit’ was used as the ‘essence’ of the person,   ‘Spirit’ as it is mentioned here, relates directly to the Divine. Why? Because we are told that God will be ‘a spirit of justice to the one who sits in judgement.’

While it is easy to see this as alluding to  the ‘Trinity of God’ where Father, Son and Holy Spirit  reign, the reference to a king who turns back the enemy at the gate seems to suggests that this is a historical monarch.  Which is very interesting as it also suggests that in this instance the Spirit will rest  on the person (and not within!). As such, the Spirit is given for a specific amount of time to enable the leader to accomplish the task they have been given. Which makes perfect sense given that Pentecost has yet to come when God’s spirit will reside in all who are open to receiving Him. But for now, God will operate through the leader who is ready to bring about justice and judgement.

 


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The spirits of the departed – and the living!

The realm of the dead below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you— all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones— all those who were kings over the nations.’ (Isaiah 14v9). 
For those who lived in the time of Isaiah, this verse – inspiring as it is – would have made little sense. Sure, many had a belief in Sheol – the place where the dead were often imagined to inhabit. An Underworld in which the dead were separated from the living and never the two could meet again  unless under a unique circumstance.

The unique circumstance is detailed by Isaiah as he pronounces that with God’s coming  the dead will stir, spirits will rise and respected leaders (living and dead) will rise from their thrones to acknowledge the One True God. Yes, they were and are kings over the nations but a day is coming when God will return and those who were feted in their lifetime will realise how small a thing it was compared to the majesty and glory of God who controls both time and circumstance!


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