Many years ago, I read Watchman’s Nee’s book ‘Release of the Spirit’ then later on his epic ‘The Spiritual Man.’ Both of which have helped to think of the ‘soul’ as the receptacle in which God’s Spirit operates. Now, while this verse seems strange in the sense that it suggests our spirit can be provoked to anger, there are three things to consider here:
- During the time of Ecclesiastes- long before the day of Pentecost – the Holy Spirit did not live within the person but came upon them at God’s direction to facilitate ‘one off’ acts to achieve God’s will.
- Because of this, it’s quite possible the term ‘spirit’ is used here to reference a sense of the person’s emotional response as to what is happening.
- The understanding of our own human spirit is different to that of God’s Spirit. The human spirit being carnal in nature as easily influenced by our human (carnal) nature.
However you understand the term ‘spirit’, one thing is sure – we as humans can easily be provoked to anger where rash actions land us in trouble. That is why we can say something that is cruel in the heat of the moment or hold on to a grudge even though slighted by someone many years earlier. In such times, the advice offered in the wisdom Book of Ecclesiastes is to not be quickly provoked because ‘anger resides in the lap of fools.’
‘A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.’ (Matthew 12 v20-21)
This week we take a momentary break from considering the activity of the Holy Spirit in Old Testament history to reflect on an incident recorded in Matt 12.
It’s the Sabbath and Jesus and his disciples are walking through a field (v1,2) picking the corn and eating it. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been a problem for Jesus or his followers but to the Prarisees that had spotted them doing this, it was a grevious offence because it was considered as an act of defiance against God and his rules.
Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees, reminding them of how King David once helped himself and his men to the consecrated bread in the temple, angers the Pharisees even more who (unable to counter his argumant or defend their zealous actions) leave for home – but Jesus is not finished with them yet because:
‘…going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus,they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.(v9-14)
But what has all this got to do with Isaiah’s prophesy about how Messiah (Jesus) will neither quarrel nor cry out, nor break a bruised reed? To understand this we must look to Jesus’ generosity to his detractors, refusing to chasticse or speak revenge on them. Indeed, in the same way he was gentle to those who would persecute him and those in their care, but he is loving and forgiving too.
‘So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”
But the woman said to him, “Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?” 1Samuel 28 v8-9
The thing I find most striking about this account is that the woman – in response to the King’s request to call up a spirit from the grave – shows more integrity than Saul in that moment. “Surely you know what Saul has done.” Or put another way, ‘Saul, you of all people should know as you are the King who has driven away mediums and spiritists like myself!’
At this point, the woman thinks that King Saul is intent on tricking her so that she can be arrested and killed – hence her response: “Why have you set a trap… to bring about my death?” Of course, what the woman doesn’t realise is how far the mighty man has fallen. How far Saul has transgressed and broken relationship with God to the point where he is prepared to turn to the dark side rather than face Him and be presented with the reality of his vindictive life and damaged decision-making.
In truth, all of us will at some point in our life find ourselves so desperate and far away from God that we will seek out our own way to move forward (without God). Saul’s issue was his pride. Setting it aside by admitting his weakness and mistakes was his problem!
‘But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.’ (Numbers 14v24)
How do you read this verse? Personally, I think the word ‘spirit’ is used here for something akin to temperament or mindset. Why will Caleb and his descendants enter the land while others will not?
Well… Caleb is following God ‘whole heartedly’ and because of that, his descendants are to be blessed also. Between the lines, what we read is that while a person may be following God they may at times be not fully committed and find their heart taken up with other things.
Watchman Nee observes similar in ‘Release of the Spirit’ in which he outlines how an infilling of the Holy Spirit is dependent on the inclination and availability of the soul. A receptacle that can be filled by God’s Spirit but also things associated with human desire. In short, the distractions of this world or God’s Kingdom. For Caleb, following God wholeheartedly was never in question and the only option.