Understanding the term ‘spirit’ in context – part 2

‘My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness.’ (Isaiah 26v9)

‘They are now dead, they live no more; their spirits do not rise. You punished them and brought them to ruin; you wiped out all memory of them.’ (Isaiah 26v14).

In the last post, we considered how the term ‘spirit’ is often used interchangeably by humans to mean a variety of things. In v9, I find it interesting that the ‘soul yearns…in the night’  and yet ‘in the morning, the ‘spirit longs for (God).’ I’m not quite certain what the difference is here though given this is written hundreds of years before Pentecost, we must presume that the term ‘spirit’ is used in a way that is some way akin to the ‘heart’ with all its emotional resonance of yearning and longing.

Likewise, the reference to how the spirits of the dead do not rise seems more akin with the idea of the essence’ or ‘life’ in the person. Yes, the dead are no longer able to participate in the way  they once were but is it fair to consider God as the author of a punishment that brought them ruin – a travesty which also threatens to wipe away all memory of them? Might it possibly be that this is the prophet’s interpretation of what he believes will happen to those who are disobedient? That said, the prophet would also know the truth that sooner or later, we all die. But God’s love, compassion and forgiveness, extends to everyone. To grasp this is to begin to understand God’s spirit in context and what this really means to long for and yearn after Him.

 


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Understanding the term ‘spirit’ in context

‘The Egyptians will lose heart, and I will bring their plans to nothing; they will consult the idols and the spirits of the dead, the mediums and the spiritists.’ (Isaiah 19v3)

‘The Lord has poured into them a spirit of dizziness; they make Egypt stagger in all that she does, as a drunkard staggers around in his vomit.’ (Isaiah 19v14).

When I first began this exploration of the different uses of the term ‘spirit’ in the Old Testament, little did I imagine the wealth of understanding that would be picked up along the way. Some are obvious like the reference to God’s Spirit. Others less so where the  term  refers to an emotional state such as my ‘spirit was crushed.’

In the first of these two scriptures (Isa 19v3) we learn that the people achieve nothing because rather than seeking the living God they focused their efforts on consulting idols and the dead. This may have partly  inspired by the idea that the dead – having transited this world to another – might be in a place where they could affect change for the petitioner – though it may just as easily be superstitious nonsense. However, the people’s  approach to spiritists would have been an act of disobedience as they were instructed to have nothing to do invoking such people – as seen in King Saul’s visit to the witch at Endor to ask her to elicit Samuel from the dead so that he could seek advice (I Sam 28). The fact that Saul disguised himself for the trip so that he would not be recognised , tells us everything we  need to know about his conscience and how he knew what he was doing was wrong.

In the second scripture, the ‘spirit of dizziness’ (Isa 19v14) is no spirit at all and is better rendered a  ‘sense of panic and confusion coming upon them.’  Here, it is important to note that nothing evil resides in God. The sense of uneasiness that came upon them was attributed to God as if like a spirit  flowing from God and into them – but , in reality,  the Egyptians were overwhelmed by a sense of fear that rendered them incapable and paralysed to act  – in the same way that people become incapable when drunk. The spirit that came upon  them was not from God but a manifestation of  guilt, fear and consequence about themselves and their actions.

 


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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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‘You give them something to eat?’

‘The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.’ (Isaiah 11v2)

This scripture  ends in the Jerusalem Bible with the words ‘ The fear of Yahweh is his breath.’ Actually, in the verses that follows  we learn that …

 

‘...God does not judge by appearances, he gives no verdict on hearsay, but judges the  wretched with integrity and with equity gives a verdict for the poor of the land.’ ( v3-4)

 

Now, here’s the rub. While this Scripture foretells the future coming of One in whom the Holy Spirit lives that will right the wrongs of injustice of the world for the glory of God, for the christian believer (today) who has received the same spirit from God, the same is expected of us. It is also our calling  to

  • not judge by appearances
  • not sanction hearsay as truth
  • judge in favour of the poor, downtrodden and displaced

How different is this to the world we live in today where  the successful are lauded, people admire the wealthy who have made millions exploiting others or  have corrupted or done away with the systems that were established to address the needs of the poor and vulnerable.

Yet the work of the Holy Spirit is the converse of this – yes, in our lives we may experience the gift of tongues, prophesy and all manner of other things but we are a hollow gong if we are not driven by  the essence of love.  Why? Because God’s love is revealed through us to those who are mentally physically, spiritually and emotionally destitute. Rather like the thousands of people who found themselves drawn many miles away from their homes and families to a desolate place so that they could  listen to Jesus speak…but then found themselves without food and with no shelter. The same words that flummoxed the disciples that day who when telling Jesus to send the people  away because it was late and they  had no food to eat, still ring true for us today. ‘You give them something to eat!’ (Matt 14)


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The how’s and why’s of God’s Spirit of judgement and fire?

‘… he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire.’ (Isaiah 4v4)

It is easy in this verse to misunderstand what is being said by the prophet. The reference to a spirit of judgement and a spirit of fire seems to suggest that multiple spirits are in operation – each with their own particular function. And yes, our New Testament understanding is that there is One God and One Spirit so how are we to understand this?

For me, this passage speaks of the future way in which God will operate in the world – a time that was heralded at the first Pentecost in which the visitors from many nations came to Jerusalem are were cut to the heart by Peter’s words (Act 2) as he tells them the way to God is through Jesus Christ who was crucified by one and all who fail to believe his message. ‘What must we do?’ comes the collective reply of the visitors who are mortified and experiencing judgement as the spirit touches them. ‘ Repent and be baptised,’ replies  Peter as God’s Holy Spirit, like a fire descends on the visitors, who then go back to their communities taking the message of God. In short, in this instance – One Spirit- two functions: to help people recognise their need for forgiveness and (once achieved) to physically, mentally and spiritually receive God into their lives as the Holy Spirit indwells them as Counseller, Guide and Enabler (to name but a few). Be blessed and know God’s Spirit lives within

 


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God’s eternal plan?

‘and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.’ (Ecclesiastes 12v7).

I can remember as a child learning how the majority of dust that finds its way into a home arises from our decaying bodies – by that I mean, the erosion of minute skin follicles that collectively settle on surfaces until someone gets a duster or vacuum and cleans up. I also remember learning that skin replenishes itself every seven years – an obvious necessity given that we can’t erode skin without new skin appearing at some point to replace it.

With the development of DNA in more recent years, I remember hearing how within each human being, traces of star dust can be found. In other words, we are intrinsically linked to the physical act of Creation in a much larger way than first supposed – and why not if Adam is created from the soil of earth which is part of an expanding universe?  Personally, I love the thought that within my DNA is the essence of the start of the universe, the far flung places on the farthest edge of the Milky Way or wherever. But what has this to do with  ‘dust returning to the ground it came from and (our) spirit(s) returning to God?

Well, much as we may like to think that God and Creation are one and the same, this is inaccurate. We know this because from a theological perspective,  God is the author of Creation. Indeed, Creation occurs through God’s spoken Word and made for Himself…but also for others things to inhabit and grow: humans, insects, mammals, dinosaurs, birds etc. Now, interestingly, the Holy Spirit who was instrumental in the creative act at the start of time, also figures in God’s rescue plan for humanity. The Holy Spirit who infills humans with the presence of the eternal God creates a blend between the physically created and the eternally present God. Hence, the reason why at the end of our lives, our dust returns to the ground it came from, and our spirit returns to God who gave it.’


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Understanding ourselves?

‘Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.’
(Ecclesiastes 7v9)

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3.  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.’

 


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The way of all things?

“Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecclesiates 3v21)

Classified as one of the Bible’s great wisdom books, The Book of Ecclesiastes deals with deep questions about God, human life and our environment. Perplexing questions such as does the body have a soul? Is life meaningless? Can the outcomes of life be changed?  And in this passage, it compares and contrasts the fate of human life with animal life.

It starts by questioning as to what is feasible and available for humans to know. After all, only God is omniscient (all-seeing) and can know what happens to the hidden things after death occurs . That’s why the different destinations that an animal and human might experience in their journey at the end of their life is an important one to consider. In one instance, the return of animals into the earth (a created state) from whence they came seems like an obvious outcome  considering they have come from earth they to that they will return.

But what of humans? Are we the same? Do we live and die a spiritual death or is there more to life than that?  The question as to whether anyone knows if the human spirit rises upwards or downwards is important because at the core of this christian understanding is the state of the soul and what outcome may occur at the end of our physical life on earth? Of course, this final state is measured in a variety of ways: some by people making death bed confessions as to how they have failed God. Others, in how they trusted God and chose to believe  that the God who beings mercy into proceedings, will deliver on what has been promised and cause those who have believed in Jesus to rise to heaven for His  Glory Sake.

 

 


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The Hope of Glory?

“This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.” (Daniel 4v18)

Aside from King Nebuchadnezzar’s presumption that his dream is important enough to require interpretation, there is the little matter of how none of the wise men in his kingdom have the ability to interpret it. It’s as if the king realises that wisdom alone will not result in the meaning of the message being made clear to him as that can only be realised through Divine intervention. In short, through Daniel and the god that resides in him.

Now, while Christians today may not all be gifted with making sense of dreams and offering a godly interpretation, the reality is that for those who believe and are open to God’s Holy Spirit living within them, they each have the potential of understanding and explaining what is presently unfathomable to those with questions. Hence, why Paul announces to the believers, ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory!’ If you’re a Christian then we believe that a valuable deposit rests within each of us. A deposit of God’s Holy Spirit  that has the potential to transform and reveal within us, the Holy God to whom we have chosen to believe and follow – it’s as simple as that – Christian Basics 101.


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‘Interpret it for me!’

‘I said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me.’ (Daniel 4v9)

In the last post we considered how Nebuchadnezzar – the king of Babylon – observed early on that the spirit of a holy god was operating within Daniel. Whether this was from the young man’s tenacity in standing up to his captors in refusing to eat food sacrificed to idols or the answers he gave Nebuchadnezzar, we can’t be sure. But what  do know and see is the start of a burgeoning relationship between the men.
That said,  Daniel is under pressure to perform. We see this as Nebuchadnezzar states his belief that the spirit of the holy gods live within him and that no mystery is beyond his insight and explanation of Daniel. Interestingly, despite these insights, Nebuchadnezzar is surprisingly slow in regard to understanding that Daniel is monotheistic in his belief- that is worshipping the one true God over the ‘many gods’ that Nebuchadnezzar believes in. Yes, the king knows a holy interpreter even if he does not understand that God is one and not many. Still, he is not deterred andDaniel is there to do a job as he prepares him with the words: ‘Here is my dream, interpret it for me!’ (to be continued…)

 

 


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