Why does the author of Genesis make a point to name God’s Spirit in Genesis 1 and 2? In this week’s episode, Tim, Jon, and Carissa embark on a new journey for the BibleProject podcast—reading the Torah in thematic movements, starting with a close look at the Holy Spirit’s role in the book of Genesis.
It’s a metaphor—the basic image of ruakh is breath or wind, so invisible, animating energy. There’s an invisible energy that I breathe in and breathe out, and that’s ruakh. And then I look out in the world, and I see the ruakh blowing in the trees and the grass. That’s animating energy too, and it’s the very thing I take in when I inhale. So calling God’s invisible Spirit ruakh is a metaphor, taking my visible, human experience of ruakh in and out and seeing ruakh at work in the world, and coming to the conclusion that the beautiful mind behind all this … all this must be a result of that being’s ruakh.
In part one (00:00-10:00), Tim, Jon, and Carissa introduce something new for the BibleProject podcast: walking through the Torah not chapter by chapter but movement by movement, tracing a singular theme in each movement. The first movement of the first scroll of Scripture is Genesis 1-11, in which we will trace the theme of God’s Spirit.
The Bible is a collection of scrolls, which are grouped into larger bodies of scrolls (e.g., the Torah or the Prophets). Each of those scrolls is divided thematically into movements. In fact, the original scrolls didn’t have chapters—English translators added those later. Rather, the biblical authors created a design (what we’re calling movements) signaled by repetition and symmetry.
By training our minds to read the Bible in movements, we can see the structure of larger sections of Scripture united by themes, which greatly influences the way we understand the meaning of entire sections of text.
The Genesis scroll has four movements, and God’s Spirit is mentioned only in the first and last ones. The first movement is Genesis 1:1-11:26, which is composed of three parts: Genesis 1-5 (Adam and Eve), 6-10 (Noah), and 11:1-26 (Babel).
In part two (10:00-23:00), Tim, Jon, and Carissa dive into the theme of the Holy Spirit in movement one of Genesis. God’s Spirit appears in eight passages in this movement.
The first time God’s Spirit appears in the Bible is in Genesis 1:1-2. The Hebrew word for spirit is ruakh, which means breath—the invisible life-energy of a person. It can also mean wind—an invisible power (breath) that animates humans and all creation.
Why does the author of Genesis specifically identify not just God but the Spirit of God in this passage? It’s a metaphor. We can observe in the world around us the wind blowing in the trees and the grass, and it “animates” the movement of those plants. It’s also the very element we inhale that allows us to live. This physical experience and image becomes a picture of the beautiful mind behind all of creation—he energizes and sustains all life. That’s what the author of Genesis is showing us in Genesis 1:2.
In part three (23:00-39:00), the team discusses the next literary unit in Genesis 2:4-3:24, the Eden narrative.
When this narrative opens, the land is dry and barren, devoid of human, animal, and plant life (and incapable of sustaining such creatures anyway). In Genesis 2:7, God forms Adam from the ground, but he’s lifeless until God breathes the breath of life into his nostrils. The Hebrew word for “breath of life” here is not ruakh but nishmat hayyim. Both humans and animals receive this life-giving breath. Our role and responsibility to represent God (see Genesis 1:26-27) sets humans apart from animals.
In part four (39:00-50:00), Tim, Jon, and Carissa discuss the next appearance of God’s Spirit, which occurs in Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve eat from the tree of knowing good and evil.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
This picture of Yahweh walking about/strolling in the garden, waiting for the humans to join him, is a powerful image of divine and human intimacy idealized in the garden. Throughout the rest of the Hebrew Bible, righteous people are called “those who walk/stroll with Yahweh,” which means they relate to God in the Eden ideal.
The phrase in Genesis 3:8, “the cool of the day,” shows that the translator has interpreted the Hebrew expression to mean a certain time of day. But the word translated here as cool is ruakh, so the literal phrase is “the wind of the day.” The author of Genesis is conjuring an image: God is walking in the garden, and the humans hear him coming and hide. This is the first of many moments throughout the Hebrew Bible where God shows up (especially after humans have failed a test), and the sound of his arrival is loud, intimidating, and indistinguishable from thunder. The voice of Yahweh is sometimes depicted as a character in its own right.
In part five (50:00-end), Tim, Jon, and Carissa summarize the first three appearances and actions of God’s Spirit in the opening movement of Genesis.
In the first movement of the Genesis scroll, we witness the role of God’s Spirit to both give and take away life.
Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel and Zach McKinley. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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God’s Spirit in Creation
Series: Genesis Scroll E1
Podcast Date: January 3, 2022, 56:52
Speakers in the audio file: Jon Collins, Tim Mackie, Carissa Quinn
Jon: Hey, this is Jon at BibleProject. Before today's episode, I want to make sure that you know about something really exciting. And that is our brand new BibleProject app. On our app, you're going to find all of our videos and podcasts. But the app will also guide you on a reading journey through the Bible.
We're going to read the Bible together in movements. These are larger sections of Scripture. And we're going to be tracing themes, developing skills for reading the Bible as a unified story that leads to Jesus. You can find out more about the app and the link to the download at Bibleproject.com/announce.
God is Spirit. In Hebrew, the word "spirit" is "ruakh."
Tim: The basic image of ruakh is "breath." It's an invisible energy that I breathe in and breathe out. That's ruakh. And then I look out in the world and I see the ruakh blowing in the trees and the grass. And that's an animating energy. (00:01:00) And it's the very thing that I take in when I inhale.
Calling God's invisible, energizing presence ruakh is a metaphor. Whatever beautiful mind is behind all of this, the first uncaused cause, so to speak, that generates and animates all of this and sustains it, this must be a result of that being's ruakh.
Jon: Hey, this is Jon at BibleProject. And today we begin a new journey. We're going to read through the Bible slowly, movement by movement, tracing biblical themes. This is our attempt to learn how to read the Bible while we read the Bible.
These conversations are a companion to the reading journey that you can do in our app. So if you haven't downloaded the BibleProject app, I recommend you do so. A movement of Scripture is a large section of chapters and stories that all together (00:02:00) make a coherent, beautiful whole. Every scroll in the Hebrew Bible generally has three or four movements.
And while we read through a movement of Scripture, we're going to trace one biblical theme. We're going to find where it appears, and its keywords and synonyms. And we're going to use those words as links that help us uncover that theme.
This is the beginning of our journey. So we're going to begin in the first movement of the Bible, which is roughly Genesis chapter 1 through 11. And in these pages, we're going to trace the theme of God's ruakh. And it won't take long for us to find him. God's ruakh shows up in the third line. "The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep abyss, but the ruakh of God hovered over the waters."
Tim: When darkness is over the face of the chaotic ocean, it's called “tehom,” which was the Hebrew word for the abysmal, chaotic ocean waters. (00:03:00) But the moment that Elohim's ruakh, his life-giving presence and breath, is there, you don't refer to that deep abyss as tehom anymore. You refer to it with a more neutral term, the waters.
The waters can also give life in the form of wells and streams and rivers. So it's as if already there's a transformation, the chaos into order by the presence of the ruakh of Elohim.
Jon: The life-giving, energizing Spirit of God in the first movement of Scripture. Thanks for joining us. Here we go.
All right. We are starting something new.
Jon: I'm sitting here with Tim and Carissa. Hey.
Jon: Hello. Good morning.
Tim: Good morning. This new thing that we're doing is we're walking through the Bible movement by movement tracing one theme in that movement. And this (00:04:00) conversation is going to be on the movement Genesis 1 through 11, which is the first movement or the first scroll of the Bible. And we're going to be tracing the theme of Holy Spirit or God's ruakh.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Carissa: And obviously, there are lots of themes through this movement. But this is one we are practicing our skills of reading with.
Jon: Yes, that's great. We are practicing. This idea is let's go through the Bible movement by movement, begin to kind of onboard the idea that the Bible is presented in movements, and try to kind of like read the Bible in movements—
Tim: Yes. But an even bigger picture, it's a collection of scrolls that are themselves organized into big groups of scrolls like the Torah or the Prophets.
Tim: But then when you zoom in to like the Torah, there's five scrolls. And then each of those scrolls is not broken up into chapters. And that was our last conversation. Chapters are not the original literary organization given to the scrolls. (00:05:00) Rather, the biblical authors gave a design to this and what we're calling movements. And those movements are signaled to the reader by all these layers of repetition and moments of beginning and closure, and so on.
And then within each movement, there's parts. And then within each part, there are sections. And it's all arranged in beautiful patterns of repetition and symmetry to help your mind trace the themes that link all the way through.
So it's kind of like the movements are the way it's organized into parts. And then when we’re tracing a theme, we're really just tracing or tracking a repeated word or image through a particular movement. And that's a muscle you got to develop in reading biblical literature. And once you develop it, you start to notice all kinds of cool stuff.
Carissa: And reading the movements, for me at least, can be helpful because you can see the structure of a whole section that's united and coherent. And that contributes to how we understand the meaning (00:06:00) of a section of text. And also, because the main themes are going to change from movement to movement. So we're focusing on Holy Spirit in Genesis 1 through 11. And that comes up later, but isn't as prominent of a theme as it is there.
Tim: In fact, the Genesis scroll has four large literary movements. God's Spirit only is mentioned in the first movement, Genesis 1 to 11. And then in the last movement, in the Joseph's story.
Carissa: Yeah. And even there, it's both God's Spirit ... I think that occurs once in that movement, and then the human spirit or—
Tim: In the Joseph story, you're saying?
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Joseph is marked by the presence of God's Spirit, which gives him wisdom to be a ruler. Come on. In fact, it's a meaningful kind of envelope frame around the whole book of Genesis.
Carissa: Oh, that's interesting.
Tim: Joseph becomes the first narrative image of a supercharged human who's ruling by the Spirit and wisdom of God. Which is what Genesis 1 set you up to hope for. Anyway, we're getting ahead of ourselves. (00:07:00) But the point is, is that this is why we're reading in movements, not chapters. And this is why we're tracing words through. And we're going to just go through the Torah, doing this movement by movement.
Jon: Yeah, we'll get through the Torah in 2022 is the idea. And then we'll just keep going from there. And so if you've been listening along, and you're like, "Man, we spent a lot of time in Genesis," well, here we are again.
Carissa: It's kind of an important book ...
Jon: But we'll get beyond that with this new plan. Also, we have an app that is coming out in January 2022. And lots of cool things in the app. But one of them is going to be this habit, this muscle of reading movements and tracing a theme in an interactive way so that you could actually read, find the themes, unlock the themes. So this podcast conversation is going to accompany that journey.
Jon: Which will be a really cool thing to do, a great way to read through the Bible. (00:08:00)
Tim: So right now, the mission before us, we could trace many themes, as you said, Carissa, through Genesis 1 through 11, which is the first literary movement. Actually, it is Genesis 1:1 through 11:26. There's three parts to it. It goes into kind of three steps. Each introduces a key set of figures onto the stage.
One is the first part is Adam and Eve. That's chapters 1 through 5. Then you have the story of Noah and his sons, chapters 6 through 10. And then Abraham comes onto the scene.
Jon: He gets a little moment in the sun.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. But it's a story of a mother and a father, whose children make up three sons. Three sets of parents and three sons. And each one of these is a little variation. Similar, but yet different from each other, ending in different ways. And God's Spirit is right in the thick of it weaving the story together.
Jon: So that's movement one. (00:09:00) And then, just so you know where this is heading in Genesis, movement two is a story of Abraham.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: And then movement three is a story of—
Tim: Isaac and Jacob. A father and son get their stories merged together ...
Carissa: It's interesting.
Tim: ... in Genesis 25:18 through chapter 37 verse 1.
Carissa: This is where chapter divisions aren't the best.
Tim: Part where the chapter divisions is kind of a blunder.
Jon: And that leads to movement four, which would be then the Jacob stories.
Tim: Or the story of Joseph.
Jon: Or Joseph's stories.
Tim: Really, it's the story of Jacob's sons or otherwise known as the story of Joseph and his brothers.
Jon: Yeah, Joseph and his 11 brothers. That's the scroll of Genesis, four movements as just a quick summary. If you hadn't listened to the movement conversation, we're borrowing movements from language that comes from symphonies. And it's a great way to think about how the scrolls are designed that you get this melody, these themes, these ideas, (00:10:00) and then they're repeated in these large blocks. So we're not thinking in chapters, we're thinking in movements.
Tim: That's right.
Carissa: So the movements are connected. Like the book of Genesis has four movements. And those movements are even connected to each other by these repeating patterns.
Tim: Correct. Yeah, repeated imagery, vocabulary, repeated stories. Yeah, stuff like that.
Section break (00:10:22)
Jon: All right. So Genesis 1 through 11 and God’s Spirit. Let's jump in.
Tim: All right. So we are going to start in once again, the first sentences of the Genesis scroll. In the last episode, we already camped out on these opening two ... it was actually three lines, or a few lines here. But we'll just revisit again. We're going to get a total of I think it's eight.
If you're looking for the theme of God's Spirit in the first literary movement, you're going to come across eight passages that link it all together.
Carissa: Yeah, I think all of these eight passages use the word "spirit" or ruakh, except for the one in Genesis 2. But it's a really strong theme there, anyway.
Tim: Yeah, exactly. It's already a good example of how you can't just get out a concordance and look for the same word. That's one thing you need to do. But you also need to pay attention to the way a synonym or a similar image can get repeated. So it'll be a good teaching example when we get to Genesis 2.
But just to bring us back, these are the opening lines of the first creation narrative in (00:12:00) Genesis 1 and 2. The opening words are ... Carissa, I'll let you have the honors.
Carissa: Okay. "In the beginning Elohim created the skies and the land. Now the land was wild and waste, and darkness was over the face of the deep, but the Spirit wind, the ruakh of Elohim, was over the face of the waters."
Tim: We've probably talked about these two verses more than any other two verses in the Bible over the seven years in this project. So to summarize past discussions, these opening lines are set out in three parts. The opening and closing parts mention Elohim's involvement in creation. And then the center two lines refer to the pre-creation state. I'm trying to imagine the blank canvas of nothingness with which Elohim started.
Jon: And "Elohim" is just the general word for "a divine being."
Tim: There you go. Yes. (00:13:00) It gets translated into English as "God." I've just gotten into the habit of transliterating the Hebrew word. In other words, spelling the Hebrew word with English letters—
Tim: Yeah, it just kind of gets you to think about it. So Elohim it's a generic title in Hebrew and in English for deity. So we begin with a summary statement. Elohim created everything up there, everything down here. What was the beginning state?
Carissa: Wild and waste and the chaotic deep waters.
Tim: That's right. Dark deep waters.
Carissa: Dark deep waters. A state of chaos, darkness, de creation state or pre-creation—
Tim: Pre, yeah. So the last line in the mention of the ruakh is the Hebrew word that gets translated as "spirit" or "wind." Jon, why do I have spirit/wind there?
Jon: Because in Hebrew "ruakh" is translated "spirit." It's also translated "wind." It's also translated "breath." Those three ideas that have three separate (00:14:00) words in English, have one word in Hebrew, which is ruakh. So in Hebrew, you don't really think of those things as separate ideas. You think of them as kind of one idea.
Tim: They're interconnected. It depends on context. Because if a ruakh is blowing in the trees, you don't think of it as a person's breath. But in the biblical imagination, you think of it as God's breath.
Jon: Yeah. A very enchanted way to see the world.
Tim: It is.
Carissa: Yes. It's the invisible life energy of a person or of God. But spirit, wind, and breath are all united by that idea.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. So the interesting image is that in the middle of disorder and darkness, before there was order, Elohim proceeded that. And the way that Elohim is present within darkness and disorder is in the invisible form of his ruakh. (00:15:00)
And also, important, we've talked about this in the past that when darkness is over the face of the chaotic ocean it's called tehom, which was the Hebrew word for the abysmal, chaotic ocean waters. But the moment that Elohim's ruakh, his life-giving presence and breath, is there, you don't refer to that deep abyss as tehom anymore. You refer to it with a more neutral term—the waters. Because tehom is almost always negative. It'll swallow you up and make you drown in it.
Carissa: The deep.
Tim: But the waters can do that, but the waters can also give life in the form of wells and streams and rivers. So it’s as if already there's a transformation of the chaos into order by the presence of the ruakh of Elohim.
So yeah, the opening portrait is the ruakh of Elohim is the way Elohim is present in the midst of dark, chaotic places, (00:16:00) bringing about order and setting things in motion that will result in the emergence of a garden from these waters, and life and fruit trees and people and families and peace with the animals and blessing on the seventh day.
Jon: So how is saying that Elohim's ruakh is present different than just saying Elohim is present? Right?
Jon: Because an Elohim is a spiritual being, right? So Elohim is spirit, I suppose.
Tim: Yeah, sure.
Jon: So yeah, why this differentiation? Why wouldn't this verse just say, "And God was over the face of the earth?"
Carissa: Yeah, why refer to God as the spirit?
Jon: Or take this aspect of God, I suppose, of his ruakh and saying that's what was there versus just he was there.
Tim: Good. Okay. I think we talked about this years ago when we went through the Spirit of God conversations. (00:17:00) I mean, at its core it's a metaphor. The basic image of ruakh of our experience for which we have a word is breath or wind. So invisible, animating energy. There's an invisible energy that I breathe in and breathe out. And that's ruakh.
And then I look out in the world, and I see the ruakh blowing in the trees and the grass. And that's an animating energy. And it's the very thing that I take in when I inhale. So calling God's invisible, energizing presence ruakh is a metaphor. It's taking my very physical experience, human experience of ruakh in and out and seeing ruakh work in the world and come into the conclusion that whatever beautiful mind is behind all of this, the first uncaused cause, so to speak, that generates and animates all of this and sustains it, this must be a result of that being's ruakh.
Jon: The being's animating energy.
Tim: Yeah. An invisible life (00:18:00) energizing, animating presence.
Carissa: So the ruakh is all about animating life. So to describe God's ruakh here means, as the reader, we're thinking, oh, like life is about to happen. Or at least that association is made when you keep reading. It also seems like it's connected to the next verse where God speaks because God's breath and speech are really similar.
Tim: Closely connected. Yeah, that's right. The next sentence in Genesis after the Spirit of Elohim over the face of the waters is "And Elohim said ..." He speaks. Yeah, what you're saying—when you speak you breathe out.
Jon: You use your breath.
Tim: You use your breath.
Jon: Your ruakh.
Tim: It's right. To say a word. I mean, all of our language about a transcendent being who isn't a part of creation but rather is the ground and source of all existence and being in creation, it's always going to be (00:19:00) metaphorical. Because all language is based on experience. And then I use that experience to go out and create paradigms for how I see the world.
So I have invisible breath that animates me, but I receive it. I don't give it to anybody else. I receive it. So you're imagining that the beautiful mind that sustains everything must be the giver of breath and the source of all ruakh. I think that's how the imagery works.
Carissa: Yeah, that's sustaining life. Which is what the next link is all about, is how the ruakh animates humans.
Tim: Exactly right. You know, I'm recalling from years ago when we had this conversation, we were trying to find maybe a more ... in our way of seeing the world, trying to find a category for it. I think for a while we camped out on the concept of bios, the life principle.
Jon: Oh, yeah.
Tim: And then I think we ended on energy.
Jon: We just called it energy.
Tim: Energy, yeah.
Jon: Yeah. Because your breath is connected to this idea of the energy. (00:20:00)
Tim: Energizes me.
Jon: Energizes you. The wind is energizing the air. And your spirits, this idea of your life force, yeah, what's animating you? And those are all connected ideas.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. So maybe just one—
Jon: But we got in trouble calling it energy because once you start getting into the theology of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit's more than just an animating life force.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Jon: The Holy Spirit is—
Carissa: A person.
Tim: That's right. And even though we said in the video it's God's personal energizing presence, people were still a little dismayed that we used the word "energy."
Carissa: Yeah. Because you weren't trying to say it's just energy. But it's like energetic—
Tim: It's personal energizing presence. But that doesn't mean it's not energy. It means it's energy that comes from personal ... just personal source.
Carissa: Great. I'd love to be a personal energizing presence or have one.
Tim: Just a later Psalm that picks up this imagery (00:21:00) and language of the ruakh in Genesis 1. Psalm 104 is this whole meditation on the nature of creation using the language and imagery of Genesis 1. A section of the psalm starts in verse 27 where the poet's talking about all the animals in creation, about how they wait for Elohim to give them food at the proper time.
And whenever you see a deer grazing in the field, you're watching Elohim give food to them. And you're looking at Elohim's open hand to satisfy his creatures. Verse 29. "When you, Elohim, hide your face, they are dismayed. When you take away their ruach, they expire and return to the dust."
So the ruakh is what brought all the creatures out of the ground in Genesis 1. So when their ruakh (00:22:00) goes away, they go back to the dust. “You send forth your ruakh, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” Such great meditation here.
So in Genesis 1, when God says, "Let creatures emerge out of the ground," he doesn't say, “Let my ruakh bring the creatures out of the ground.” What it says is, let them come out of the ground. But you know from reading Genesis 1 that anything comes out of anything because of the ruakh all the way back ... right there in that pivot verse, verse 2.
And so also, here, you can talk about a creature being born, a deer being born as the sending out of God's ruakh to create. And then when the ruakh is withdrawn, that's de-creation or an undoing of creation. So that's the idea here.
Carissa: Yeah, it sounds so mystical in English to me to say their (00:23:00) spirit is taken from them. But to make that connection with their breath and their life that's connected to their breath, and that God's Spirit is what sustains that, that just feels so much more of a cohesive idea.
Tim: Yeah, I totally agree. Yeah. So that's kind of like a bridge to the second appearance of this theme in Genesis 1 through 11. And that's in Genesis 2.
Section break (00:23:27)
Tim: So Genesis 2:4 begins the next literary unit after the seven day creation narrative. And it's the garden of Eden story. And that goes from chapter 2 verse 4 to chapter 3 verse 24. So from the creation of Eden, and then humans in Eden, that's the opening scenes. And then the exile from Eden at the end of chapter 3. It's kind of a beginning and end.
And what we're told at the beginning of the Eden story is that there were no shrubs and no plants in the land, because there had not been any water. And there were no humans. So no water, no plants, no humans—
Jon: But wasn't God hovering over the waters? It's gotta be a lot of waters.
Tim: Okay. Remember all the way back when the opening two lines that describe the disorder in the pre-creation chaos, you remember their conflicting (00:25:00) images, if you take them literally. Because that's describing the land as a waste—
Carissa: Wild and waste.
Tim: Yeah, wild and waste desert. And then the next line describes it as a dark, chaotic ocean. You're like, "Wait, where'd the land and the desert go?" Yeah. And the point is they are two coordinated images. Deserts are usually lands that don't have enough water. And chaotic oceans have too much water and no land.
Carissa: It's kind of a chaotic image to put those together. You're like, "What is it?"
Tim: Yeah. So yeah, one has not enough water, the other image has too much water. So the rest of Genesis 1 takes off with that image of too much water.
Jon: Right. The land emerges out of the water.
Tim: Separating the waters, land emerges out of the water. The Eden narrative picks up that wasteland idea and turns it into a whole narrative.
Jon: Where the land doesn't have enough water.
Tim: Now we start with land as the starting point, but the land without water.
Jon: This is the land, wild and waste.
Carissa: And the Eden narrative you mean Genesis 2:4.
Tim: Genesis 2:4 and following. Yeah, that's right. (00:26:00) So the first creation narrative of the seven days begins with too much water. It's about bringing land out. The Eden narrative begins with too much land and no water. And again, depending on your assumptions that you bring to the Bible, you know, you're going to find a way to maybe harmonize or make those work into a linear sequence. So you can reconstruct the historical processes by which creation emerged.
Or you might bring a different assumption to say the goal of these narratives is to set two perspectives on creation. Two ways ancient Israelites could talk about creation: creation out of water or creation out of the desert. And they're both ways of describing the same thing in different images.
So we have no plants, no water, and no humans. So what God proceeds to do is first bring up water out of the ground. Like little spring. That gives you mud. And then Yahweh Elohim is able to form ‘adam from the adama.
Jon: Human from the ground. (00:27:00)
Tim: Yeah, the human from the dust of the ground.
Jon: So ‘adam is human. Adama is the ground.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Tim: Wordplay. But even though you have ‘adam from the adama, you've just got a pile of mud or like a statue. You have an idol or the beginning stages of an idol statue. But to turn that into an image of Elohim you need to give it life. And so these are the important lines in Genesis 2:7. “Yahweh Elohim breathed into the nostrils the breath of life.” And it's not the word ruakh.
Jon: It could have been, right?
Tim: It could have been.
Jon: The ruakh of life.
Tim: But it uses a synonym instead. Nishmat.
Carissa: Nishmat hayyim.
Tim: Yeah, nishmat hayyim.
Carissa: But that's used later and paired with ruakh, I think.
Tim: Yeah, that's right.
Carissa: After the flood?
Tim: That's right.
Carissa: Or during the flood.
Tim: Correct, yeah. In the seven-day creation narrative it's God's ruakh that brings about life that culminates (00:28:00) in the images of God—the humans who are called to rule. In the Eden narrative, it's God's nishmat. His exhalation that passes into the mud to give it life.
And now you've got two images for God's Spirit. You have the word "ruakh" and you have the word "nishmat." And then later narratives are going to just pick up both of those and connect them together because they're just two ways of talking about the same thing.
So you go from dirt to animated creature, and the transition from ‘adam from the adama to become a living being. And what happened in between the two of those?
Carissa: The breath.
Jon: God breathed the breath of life.
Tim: Yeah, you got it.
Jon: So in this way, our spirit is just God's Spirit kind of being given to us.
Tim: Yeah, the breath. Borrowed breath.
Jon: Our Spirit is God's borrowed breath.
Tim: Oh, yeah. Remember back to Psalm 104. That line, Psalm 104:29, "When you take away (00:29:00) their ruakh—”
Jon: Their breath.
Tim: When you take away the ruakh of the animals they die. So every living creature within this worldview is living on borrowed ruakh or borrowed nishmat.
Carissa: And that's paired with the "you send forth your Spirit," and "they're created." If you take those two in parallel, their spirit and death is parallel with God's Spirit and life.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. Or contrast.
Carissa: Yeah, yeah. They are contrasted. But the parallels between their spirit and God's Spirit as the same thing, when the animal has it they're alive, when they don't they die. There's an interesting way to think about human breath. I mean, that's what you're saying. It's God's sustaining life that is our spirit.
Jon: Now, having a spirit then doesn't make us different than the animals.
Tim: No, no.
Jon: Because the animals are also given God's animating breaths.
Carissa: Yeah. The breath of life I think is also (00:30:00) given to animals in one of these creation passages.
Jon: So what sets us apart from the animals being called the image of God doesn't have to do with having a spirit.
Jon: It has to do with something else.
Tim: Every living thing is animated by God's Spirit in the biblical story.
Jon: Yeah, it's really fascinating.
Tim: I think it's why when these ideas develop later there's a human ruakh. Humans have a ruakh, like our animating breath. But there develops a usage that ruakh can also come to talk about not just the life principle, but also the driving forces of our minds and our desires.
So Isaiah will say, "Who can know the ruakh of the Lord?" And what he means is who can understand the purposes or plans? Because purposes are also invisible. But they make things happen in the world.
Jon: I see. Yeah.
Tim: When you have an idea—and I'm not trying to get into like the mind, body problem (00:31:00) of like what is an idea? And where does it exist?
Jon: You can't see it.
Tim: Face value, observational point of view, you know, I have an idea to like go make an omelet. And all of a sudden, this idea that exists invisibly results in an actual physical reality, the creation of an omelet. And so God has invisible purposes that have physical results. And so humans have a ruakh.
So ruakh can come to me in the mind as well in certain contexts. And that seems like in the New Testament it often means that. Especially in the writings of Paul, he'll use the word "ruakh" to refer to life principle, but also your mental principle, too. So this language is flexible in the hands of the biblical author.
Jon: That makes sense. But I kind of want to sit for a second still with this idea that I think my assumption would be, oh, the reason why humans are special is because (00:32:00) we have this thing. And maybe in English I would use the word "soul" more. And that's a whole nother thing.
Tim: Well, actually, that word is used right here in Genesis 2:7. In my translation I've translated it "being."
Tim: But it's the phrase nephesh chayyah. "Chayyah," the word "living life." And then this is the word “nephesh.” We've made a word study video on this.
Jon: This is nephesh right here. Being.
Tim: Yeah, being. So Genesis—
Jon: Which is often translated as "soul" in your Bible.
Carissa: Later. Yeah.
Tim: Here, let's go. I'm looking at the New American Standard Version translation of Genesis 2:7. “The human became a living being.”
Carissa: But even this, this is exactly what the animals are called in—
Tim: Yes, yes. Exactly.
Carissa: In the same chapter.
Tim: In what translation ... I think it must be in the King James. Genesis 2:7. So Genesis 2:7 ... (00:33:00) I'm comparing multiple translations here.
Jon: NIV is "living being."
Tim: NIV is "living being."
Jon: ESV is "living creature." NASB is "living being."
Jon: NRSV, "living being."
Tim: Here we go.
Jon: Living soul.
Tim: Living soul.
Carissa: Living soul.
Jon: Because nephesh is often translated "soul."
Tim: It is.
Jon: Quick word study on nephesh is—
Tim: It refers to a whole embodied living creature.
Jon: Your living being.
Tim: Your living being. So including your invisible animating energy, but almost always primarily your embodiment as a physical creature.
Jon: Which is almost the opposite of what we think of as a soul.
Tim: Yeah. At least to the modern English soul.
Jon: Modern English.
Tim: I think in older English it kind of had this meaning.
Jon: Had that meaning.
Tim: So what you're talking about, Carissa, is that earlier in Genesis 1 the creatures are called living beings. In Genesis 1:21, the creatures, (00:34:00) the birds and the fish are all called nephesh chayyah (living creatures). So actually, the animals are first called this.
Jon: Are first called living souls. Is it in King James they're called a soul?
Tim: Good question. Let's check it. Yeah, that'd be kind of funny.
Jon: I bet you it's not.
Tim: In Genesis 1:20.
Carissa: That was it. “Moving creature.”
Tim: Oh, there they translate it "moving creature."
Carissa: That part of it ... this ... what follows too: “that hath life.”
Jon: Oh, “that hath life.”
Tim: “Creature that hath life.” That's interesting.
Jon: The same thing.
Tim: Same phrase in Hebrew. Nephesh chayyah. Here they translate it “creatures with life.” And then when it's applied to humans, they translate it "living soul."
Jon: Living soul.
Tim: I think that's an unfortunate move, or they missed a chance to show in English—
Jon: But that kind of messes with your categories, right? Because again, what I'm trying to land on here is what makes humans special in the biblical narrative?
Tim: That's right. And it's not that they have ruakh.
Jon: It's not that they have ruakh and it's not that they have a nephesh.
Tim: No, no. (00:35:00) That's right.
Jon: All the animals have nephesh and ruakh. Spirit and soul as often translated. But in the biblical narrative, God takes humans and says, "You are my image." And in my mind that was always connected to some special, disembodied part of me. Whether you want to call it soul or spirit or something. But it's not. It's something else.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. So yeah, when we're getting to day six up in Genesis, the description of the creation of humans comes in three parts. And what sets them apart from the animals is not that they have life or breath or are living creatures. It's that they are given God's authority to rule. And it’s stated twice in a nice little chiasm, where the humans are told to rule, God said, "Let them rule." And then he calls them his image in a little poem in Genesis 1:27. And then he repeats it: "Let them rule." So it's representation and rule (00:36:00) is what makes the humans differ in the narrative.
Jon: And why us and not the deer?
Tim: Why don't the deer rule the world?
Jon: Yeah, and it's not because of nephesh. It's not because of ruakh.
Tim: That's right.
Jon: It's because of something else.
Carissa: Image and authority to rule.
Jon: Humanity. And the Bible doesn't say what is it about humans, our anatomy, our whatever.
Tim: That's right. And for a long time, I just wanted to limit it to say, “Well, let's just go for what the biblical authors were saying.” But you know, we can't stop there. The biblical authors are opening a door for us to ponder and meditate on, man, well, it's not just that we represent God. How do we represent God? With what capacities and faculties are we different from the animal world and the plant world—
Jon: That we are God's representatives?
Tim: Yeah. That opens the door to the kind of more classic answers to this, rationality or intelligence or ... And people debate all these things. Relationship building. Yeah, that kind of thing. (00:37:00) But for the biblical authors, the baseline is that humans are set apart with a stewardship and responsibility to rule in a way that mirrors and represents God's rule. That's kind of the baseline. So that's Genesis 2. That's the second appearance of—
Carissa: Just to recap what we do when we see these links. If you're reading through, and you read in Genesis 1, "The ruakh of God is hovering over the waters," and then Genesis 2, "the breath of God gives life to humans," when you see a link like that, the author is asking you to pair those things together and look at them and compare them and see how maybe the story is moving forward.
Actually, your question about the spirit and the soul was bringing up for me that when you do pair those two things together, they're supposed to be seen as consistent in the sense that that same spirit that was animating all creation, that was giving life to the trees, and the land, and the water was the same spirit that that gives (00:38:00) life to humanity and animals.
So it's almost the opposite of what we typically think of when we think of the spirit or soul differentiating humans from all creation. It's like no, the point being made is actually that humans are so united with the created order, and God's breath was breathed into all that exists. And humans too. He sustains it all. It's like the analogy is drawing those things even closer than farther apart.
Tim: That's right. Not only does it not set us apart, it's the very thing that ...
Jon: Connects us to everything else.
Tim: ... connects us to the animal and the plant world. Yeah, exactly.
Jon: It feels much more Eastern, which I guess this is an Eastern document.
Tim: It's ancient Eastern literature that it would make sense. Okay, that's the second appearance of this theme. We're—
Jon: We're trucking along.
Tim: We're trucking along. I think appearance like four through seven of this theme are all pretty similar. So the next time (00:39:00) that the word "ruakh" appears is after the humans disobey the divine command and take from the tree of knowing good and bad.
Section break (00:39:10)
Jon: So we're still in the Eden literary unit.
Tim: Yeah. So what happens is that God puts the human in the garden, gives the human a command, "Hey, I want to give you eternal life. Eat from the tree of eternal life. It's all yours. But there's one tree, the tree of knowing good and bad. It'll kill you if you eat from it. Just don't take from that tree." We'll just step around the rabbit hole as we've gone down it many times.
So then God splits the human into two, so that the one becomes two so that those two who are different can become one through covenant. And then what happens is that an animal over which the humans are supposed to rule, but there's this animal that doesn't like the humans ruling wants to usurp—
Jon: This is the snake?
Tim: And this is the snake.
Jon: This is all backstory to where we're at.
Tim: Yeah. The snake deceives the humans, tricks them into thinking that choosing death is actually the way to life. Tricks the humans into thinking that they're not the image of Elohim, says "You can become Elohim if you just take this knowledge for yourself."
Jon: That's better than (00:41:00) being an image. Be the thing that you're imaging.
Tim: Yeah, quit being a statue, become the real thing. So the humans break God's command and take from the tree they weren't supposed to. And the first thing that happens, Genesis 3:7, is that their eyes are open and they realize that they are naked. They're arom, which is a wordplay. Because you're told that the serpent was arum.
Tim: Shrewd. Quick thinking. Quick on its feet (pun intended). And so because of the arum of the snake the humans end up arom after the tree. So the first thing they do is hide from each other, hide their bodies from each other.
Second thing is they hear the sound of Yahweh Elohim. It was walking about in the garden at the ruakh ha-yom (at the wind of the day).
Jon: There it is.
Tim: There it is.
Tim: Ruakh. The third—
Jon: Translated "wind."
Tim: Wind. Yeah. Now—
Jon: Because again, (00:42:00) ruakh in Hebrew can mean spirit, breath, or wind.
Tim: That's right.
Carissa: And sometimes this one's translated as "cool." In the cool of the day.
Tim: So here I'm comparing translations. The NIV translates it as "the cool of the day." Actually, that's not translating. They're interpreting the image. The presumption is wind refers to the temperature.
Carissa: That maybe this was a way to talk about a certain time of day.
Jon: Interesting intuitive move here. It sounds nice.
Tim: ESV goes same direction. NASB—
Jon: They really set a precedent there.
Tim: Ooh, NRSV "at the time of the evening breeze"? So they're saying not just—
Jon: So they got the breeze in there, the wind—
Tim: Yeah. But they infer—
Carissa: The evening. Hmm.
Jon: They refer to a time.
Jon: Okay, interesting.
Tim: And King James, "the cool of the day."
Jon: Wow. Everyone is making moves.
Carissa: So the question moves for me is, when we come across this, are we supposed to see, oh, ruakh, it can also just be used this other way to talk about a certain (00:43:00) kind of weather? Or is it that we're supposed to see a link between this and Genesis 2 and Genesis 1?
Jon: Yeah. Because arguably sometimes ruakh is just literally talking about weather.
Carissa: It might be wind.
Jon: But in the ancient imagination that's never separated from God's life and energy.
Tim: Breath and life. Yeah, that's right.
Jon: So even if it's just talking about the weather it's not just talking about the weather.
Tim: The longer I've thought about this ... I think it's one of these examples of a super dense image that's capable of kind of multiple nuances. So they're in a garden with trees. So how would they hear the sound of Yahweh walking in the garden?
Tim: Well, you know, wind blowing in the trees. That's actually a pretty good way to imagine it. Also, what type of wind, especially in that part of the world, does the wind often blow? It is often in the afternoons. It has to do with the fact that it's so dang hot.
Jon: Same with the Columbia River? That's when the winds come up for sailing. (00:44:00)
Tim: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, in our neck of the world. So not always, but often there's afternoon winds. The question is, is there more here? And here I'm going to just look at the fact that there's a structure to this verse here. You hear the sound of Yahweh Elohim. It was walking in the garden at the windy time of day, and they hid. So there's this connection of images. There's a sound that's walking, and that sound is coordinated with wind.
Jon: The reason why you're translating "it was walking" because it's referring to the sound? The sound was walking?
Tim: Oh, I see. Let me see.
Carissa: God was walking.
Tim: Yes, it's ambiguous.
Tim: It's ambiguous. Could be the hear the sound of Yahweh Elohim and it's Yahweh Elohim that was walking. Or sound could be the subject of the walking and it's the sound walking. I think that's also an intentional too. So the point is that when the sound shows up in this apparently physical, some sort of, manifestation (00:45:00) there's wind.
So what this is laying tracks for is a really important design pattern that's going to appear. So here's just a quick, nerdy thing. There's going to appear a whole repetition of the voice or the sound of the Lord showing up, especially at key moments when people have failed a test.
For example, at Mount Sinai, when on the third day, the Israelites failed to go up the mountain when they're invited to on the third day, what shows up are sounds and lightning and thick clouds and a trumpet sound, and the people are freaked out. Just like in the garden. The sound of Yahweh shows up and the people are afraid.
Jon: This time it's not the sound of wind in the trees.
Tim: Yeah, totally.
Jon: It's lightning and trumpets.
Tim: Yeah, that's right. So in the same way, what you learn about the sound of Yahweh when he shows up personally (00:46:00) is that's the same personal presence of Yahweh that takes up residence in the tent in Israel's tabernacle. So that when Moses goes into the tabernacle, he hears the sound speaking to him from above the ark of the covenant.
And then as you trace, just do a word study on "the sound of the voice of Yahweh," it's associated with storms and wind. So we could do a lot more here. But the point is, is what we're—
Jon: This is kind of the seed of that?
Tim: It's the seed of that idea, of the personal appearance of Yahweh that is frightening.
Jon: This is a storm of sorts.
Tim: This is a little storm in the garden. Little garden storm.
Jon: Little garden storm. "Cool of the day" doesn't give you the sense of a garden storm.
Tim: It doesn't.
Carissa: It sounds too peaceful.
Tim: Or the evening breeze.
Jon: Yeah, that sounds nice.
Tim: Whatever this appearance of the sound of Yahweh coming and blowing through the garden, it clearly makes them afraid because they hide. And then when God says, "Why are you hiding?" he said, (00:47:00) "I was freaked out."
Carissa: Yeah. You can kind of imagine it though. Humans in the garden and they start to hear this like tree wrestling coming from far away, and it's this invisible life force that they can hear in the leaves. That is pretty scary.
Tim: Totally. So the fear, the hiding, the wind is all connected sequence there.
Jon: And nakedness too is in there.
Tim: That's right. But the reason that he's afraid, because I was naked, was because the only reason I know I'm naked because I did the thing you told me not to do. So this is Yahweh showing up like—
Jon: Like a storm.
Tim: Yeah. Like a storm. Like a stern parent showing up. I have had this experience so many times with my kids.
Jon: It's interesting.
Tim: Even if I come in and I'm not angry, there'll be like a somber tone. When I come in and the kids are fighting over something, and then me or Jessica comes in, that's that thing here. (00:48:00)
Carissa: It's like Yahweh or Elohim storming in.
Tim: Whoa. Yeah, that's right.
Tim: This is kind of adding a new layer of meaning to the ruakh. The wind can mean energized, life-giving presence or that same life-giving presence that can whip up order out of disorder can also be a storm that is very intimidating. You think it might ...
Jon: Destroy you.
Tim: ... de-create you.
Carissa: It's such a good point.
Tim: It can bring about creation, but it can also de-create.
Jon: And it can.
Tim: And it can. Sometimes it does.
Carissa: So can bring life and ...
Tim: Take away life.
Carissa: ... take away life.
Tim: Yes. Yeah.
Jon: So "storm" would be a better translation here in a way. Walking in the garden at a storm during the day. That gets more of the idea that we're talking about.
Jon: That's interesting.
Tim: It's also the case that “the day” ... In the biblical prophets, (00:49:00) the Day of the Lord is always depicted as the coming of a great storm. The day of Yahweh, day of ... Actually here. Let's look at a great example. So here's a later biblical author who's totally got Genesis 3:8 on the brain. Zephaniah 1. “‘I'm going to completely remove all things from the face of the land,’ says Yahweh."
Jon: That's a lot of things. Whoa.
Tim: And notice he's going to move right through the list of animals from Genesis 1. “I'll remove human, beast, birds of the sky, fish of the sea. The ruins along with the wicked, I'll cut off humans from the face of the land." And you're like, "Whoa, de-creation."
Carissa: Yeah. Undo creation.
Tim: But then very specifically, he's going to hone in on Judah and Jerusalem because they're worshipping Baal, they're bowing down to the host of heavens, and yet they swear to Yahweh as if I'm their God, but then they'll swear by (00:50:00) Malkam—by the name of another god. And this whole thing is called the day of Yahweh. The day. So that whole motif that will become the day of Yahweh and the storm in de-creation is kind of ...
Jon: Embedded here.
Tim: ... embedded right in this. Anyhow, number three. How are we doing?
Carissa: It's great.
Tim: Okay. You want to do one more?
Tim: All right, okay.
Section break (00:50:27)
Tim: So those are the first three appearances of the theme of the spirit in Genesis 1 to 11. And we got to chapter 3. One, two, and three.
Jon: Yeah. God's ruakh shows up first in this kind of pre-creation state of chaos in order to bring life and order. And then we see God's ruakh not called ruakh but called ... what's the synonym?
Jon: The breath animating humans. The human mud statues to become living beings, living souls, living nephesh.
Tim: That's similar to its role in Genesis in the seven-day creation.
Jon: Yeah, creating life.
Tim: Yeah, creating life out of nonlife.
Jon: And then on the third one, after the humans who are meant to be God's representatives decide they'd rather be God and decide good and evil on their own terms. After that decision, the ruakh appears in the garden along with the sound of God. And we're really supposed to be thinking kind of a storm. So that same life-giving energy that brings order, all of a sudden, (00:52:00) when you're on the wrong side of it, actually it is intimidating.
Tim: Will be your undoing. It can be your undoing.
Carissa: So the ruakh is that invisible life, energy, or invisible energy that animates life, gives life ...
Jon: Animating energy.
Carissa: ... and de-creates or can take away life.
Carissa: You know what's interesting is that Genesis 2 passage, the breath of life, “He breathed into their nostrils the breath of life.” And then the Genesis 3 passage you were just talking about when there's the stormy wind, I'm thinking about an angry God. And the way that God's anger is described as long of nostril, that it's like this breath coming out of the nostrils that signifies anger. I wonder if there's a connection there between like the breath of God it can be life-giving; it can also be described as anger.
Tim: Yeah. Oh, man, yes. I was actually just studying the crossing through the sea narrative in Exodus. And in the (00:53:00) poem in Exodus 15 that describes the story, it says "You blew your ruakh through your nostrils."
Jon: Oh, yeah.
Tim: It's anger.
Carissa: And it piled the water up.
Tim: "In your hot anger you blew out of your nostrils a ruakh on the waters." But in that case—
Jon: For everyone who's not following along, in Hebrew, to be angry is a Hebrew idiom to be long of nostril.
Tim: That's to be patient.
Jon: Oh, to be patient. Yeah, yeah.
Tim: Long of nostril.
Carissa: Slow to anger.
Jon: Slow to anger is long of nostril.
Tim: To be angry is hot nostril.
Jon: Hot nostrils.
Carissa: The hot breath that comes out.
Tim: So in that story, God's ruakh comes out of his nose brings death and destruction to Pharaoh, the oppressor, and the tyrant. But it separates the waters to create dry land for the liberated slaves.
Carissa: So it's described both as in terms of anger the breath is—
Jon: God's storm is creating life. (00:54:00)
Carissa: Yeah. And it's also described as Spirit giving life. That's really interesting. The creation and de-creation at the same time.
Tim: In the same story, God's Spirit is taking away life and creating a new opportunity for life.
Jon: A path?
Tim: Yeah. But in both cases, it's the ruakh from God's nostrils. So it's a cool example of, again, how these later narratives will develop the images and invite you into a really profound insight into the character of God that you need to sit with. But it does so by picking up the thread of earlier links from these words.
So we've just looked at three biblical passages. It took us a long time and we're now thinking about the hot nostrils of God.
Jon: Yes, we are.
Tim: I love the Bible.
Jon: All right. In the next episode then we'll look at ... there's five more hits?
Jon: All right. We'll see if can we get through them.
Thanks for listening to this episode of BibleProject podcast. Next week we continue looking (00:55:00) at the theme of ruakh in the first movement of Scripture. And as we continue, we're going to see how God's ruakh is also responsible for justice.
Tim: God tells Noah, "Hey, I'm going to spare you and your family. So make for yourself a little wooden Eden." So outside the boat, the breath of life is going to be taken away. But inside the little ark, the breath of life remains in the remnant. It's the remnant that's sustained by the Spirit of God.
Jon: Today's show was produced by Cooper Peltz. Dan Gummel, Zach McKinley are our editors, and Lindsey Ponder with the show notes.
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