The Hebrew Word Ruach and God’s Breath in our Lungs
What is the Meaning of Hebrew word Ruach?
Ruach (pronounced roo-akh) is the Hebrew word for spirit, breath, or wind. When spoken, the word engages one’s breath and lungs. The first mention of Ruach in the Bible is in the very first chapter of Genesis – Genesis 1:2 to be exact:
And the earth was a formless and desolate emptiness, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit (Ruach) of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.
The Bible translates the word Ruach into all of the aforementioned English words. Which means that when we read our Bible, we may not always realize that in Hebrew these verses had something very important in common.
Ruach is described as a wind (for example, in Numbers 11:31 and Exodus 10:13), but also as spirit (in Judges 6:34, 1 Samuel 16:14 and 1 Kings 18:12). And then, in Job it is translated as breath (12:10).
Ruach HaKodesh and the Ruach Elohim
But the meaning that we should pay closest attention to is spirit – because it applies to the name of the Holy Spirit as well. Knowing that, we will realize that Ruach HaKodesh (the Holy Spirit) appears already in the Old Testament! For example, in Psalm 51:11 when David prayed:
“Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take your Ruach HaKodesh from me.”
Similarly, Ruach Elohim means the Spirit of God. In many references in the Old Testament, the Ruach Elohim comes upon an individual and allows him to speak for the Lord. In Genesis 41:38, Pharaoh said of Moses,
“Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Ruach Elohim?”
The Ruach Elohim was very present when the Temple of the Lord was built. The Lord filled Bezalel with the Spirit of God, along with the ability, craftsmanship and skill to execute the creative designs. The Lord inspired all the artistry, according to what He had in mind for His holy Temple. (Exodus 31:3, Exodus 35:31)
“The Spirit of the Lord even came upon Balaam when he attempted to curse the people of Israel. Instead, he blessed them.” (Number 24:2)
Are Ruach Elohim and the Holy Spirit One and the Same?
In the Old Testament, we see that the Ruach Elohim, or the Ruach HaKodesh, quickens, fills, comes upon and comforts. Which is also what we know that the Holy Spirit does in the New Testament.
This gives a case for Trinitarian theology in the Old Testament. It is there all along, we can see that the work of the Father is individual from the work of the Ruach. It is also uniquely separate from the Word – which we know personified in Jesus. (John 1:1-18)
In relationship to living creatures, those with a nephesh chaya—a living spirit, it is the Ruach that gives life. Ruach, being intangible but present, also signifies consciousness and creative vitality that is unique to human creation. We bear the image of God, which separates us from the animal kingdom.
In Ezekiel 37, Ruach gave life to the dry bones that Ezekiel saw in his vision. Once the words are spoken over them, they come to life and grow muscle, tendons, ligaments and flesh. In this case, it is the Ruach which gives life, where previously there was none.
Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones was a visual allegory for the rebirth of the nation of Israel. It would come to be physically first (dry bones), and then later, the nation will come to faith!
The Work of the Holy Spirit
It is undeniable that it is the work of the Ruach when a person comes to faith in Jesus the Messiah. The most radical example that comes to mind is the supernatural encounter of the Apostle Paul.
After seeing a vision of Jesus on Damascus road, Paul is temporarily blinded. Ananias lays hands on him, the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, falls on Paul. At that encounter, the scales fall from his eyes and his sight is restored. (Acts 9:17-18)
The work of the Ruach – the Spirit, does two important things. He restores sight by waking up the human spirit through confession. The Spirit removes the obstacles of being “dead in one’s trespasses.”
But at the same time, He functions as a light Himself. He illuminates us to the truth and reality of life with God in Christ. The Ruach (Spirit), in the words of Sinclair Ferguson, “does not add information about Jesus, He simply opens our eyes to see who He really is.”
The Ruach quickens us to the veracity of Scriptures, which are God breathed. The Spirit verifies them and makes our hearts respond to the truth therein. The role of the Word and Spirit are intimately entwined. The word is breathed by God. Psalm 33:6 says, by the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath (ruach) of his mouth all their host.
The Ruach Our Helper
Like a flashlight shone in the darkness, the Spirit of God lights our path. And much like raccoons and mice like to come out at night, who can deny that there are also “critters” in our hearts. Perhaps pride, vanity, being overly concerned with the matters of this world, numbness. The Ruach shines a light on all our undesirables and ministers to our need with gentle correction and care.
Ferguson continues that the Ruach (Spirit) “enlightens our minds to enable to us know, see, grasp and apply the will and purposes of God.” The Ruach reminds us of Jesus’ words in the gospels, leads us to truth in the epistles and shows us the things to come in Revelation.
He is our comforter, our counselor and our helper. You may have been to therapy or had a deep conversation with a friend, but another person will never give you a complete picture of your situation. They don’t have the same experiences or memories or thoughts. And likewise, any compassion we may have for others will be limited by us simply not having walked a mile in their shoes.
The Ruach Comforts in Need
19th Century preacher Charles Spurgeon writes about the power and efficacy of the Ruach’s comfort in times of need and sorrow:
“Sometimes, when we go and visit people we mistake their disease, we want to comfort them on this point. Whereas they do not require any such comfort at all, and they would be better left alone than spoiled by such unwise comforters as we are.
“But oh, how wise the Holy Spirit is! He takes the soul, lays it on the table, and dissects it in a moment; He finds out the root of the matter, He sees where the complaint is. And then He applies the knife where something is required to be taken away or puts a plaster where the sore is. He never mistakes. Oh, how wise, the blessed Holy Ghost! From every comforter I turn and leave them all, for thou art He who alone givest the wisest consolation.”
Symbols of the Holy Spirit
We can trust that the Ruach knows our whole story, our beginning middle and end. He will always give us guidance and comfort when we lack. And He burdens us in the care of others in their need when the time is right.
There are many symbols of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible, but perhaps the most recognizable one is that of a dove. Luke 3:22 says that the Spirit descended like a dove upon Jesus. Meanwhile, in the Old Testament, the dove was used to search for habitable land and a symbol of peace. Today doves still hold their peaceful connotation, and they also signify cleanliness and purity.
Another well recognized symbol is fire. What’s interesting is that fire is air (or breath – ruach) caught up with heat. Acts 2 gives us a picture of a rushing wind and tongues of fire.
A powerful image of the Holy Spirit appears in Isaiah 59:19. The prophet writes that the Lord arrives “… like a rushing tide driven by the breath of the Lord”. What an awesome image of God’s power and beauty! This verse reminds me of the way the ocean crashes over rocks at the shore. As the tide rolls in, the waves are unstoppable and have immense power when they hit the rocks.
Ruach – the Living Breath of Our Being
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:11 an encouragement to the believers in Rome, and to us today:
“If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”
Now, don’t miss that—Paul is saying that the Spirit who arrives like the unstoppable power of a rushing tide, which resurrected Messiah Jesus from the dead, lives in YOU, today!
It means that if you’re facing an obstacle today, God is able to send his Spirit to you with the power of a “rushing tide”!
God is encouraging us today through His Ruach. He is our comforter, helper, encourager, the breath of life. He brings us a new life in Messiah, and though our outward bodies are wasting away, our inner man, is being renewed each day. It happens through the power of Ruach – God’s breath within us.
When you read the Bible, knowing some Hebrew words will always enhance your understanding. Check out the 7 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know.
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Ferguson, Sinclair. “The Gracious Work of the Holy Spirit.” Ligonier Ministries. May 09, 2018. https://www.ligonier.org/blog/gracious-work-holy-spirit/.
Ferguson, Sinclair. “The Holy Spirit’s Ministry.” Ligonier Ministries. August 06, 2018. https://www.ligonier.org/blog/holy-spirits-ministry/.
Parsons, John J. “Hebrew Names of God.” Hebrew4Christians. Accessed May 23, 2021. https://www.hebrew4christians.com/Names_of_G-d/Spirit_of_God/spirit_of_god.html.
Spurgeon, Charles. “The Holy Spirit a Comforter.” http://www.nonprofitpages.com/elm/chs_comfort.htm. Accessed May 23, 2021. http://www.nonprofitpages.com/elm/chs_comfort.htm.