1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis1:1-2)
The feast of Pentecost was 50 days after the Passover and Jesus’ Crucifixion. Jesus had ascended 10 days earlier. On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit was given to the Church.
In most mainline churches people know very little about the Holy Spirit. Is He a like a person, a force, a ghost or a “magic potion?”
Rather than trying to answer this question in one devotion, I’d like to use the next few weeks to answer this question by looking at various passages about the Holy Spirit. Hopefully it will make the celebration of Pentecost even more significant.
The first picture we have of the Holy Spirit is found in first two verses of the Old Testament.
The Holy Spirit is part of the Creation process. God the Father created the heavens and the earth, but He had not yet begun bringing order to it. It was formless and void.
The Holy Spirit is there – hovering. Although our passage doesn’t tell us this, the rest of Scripture convinces me that the Spirit is eager to bring life and direction and purpose. He is God’s breath – He is the agent of life, direction and purpose.
This first picture communicates three things:
– The Spirit’s presence
– His freedom
– His eagerness to get going with bringing life to the void.
Although many are afraid of the Holy Spirit, we should see Him as God’s creation agent – bringing full, beautiful, abundant LIFE out of dark and formless voids!
7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
Both the Hebrew (“Ruach”) and Greek (“Pneuma”) words for the Holy Spirit also mean breath or wind. (Think of words like pneumatic)
Here in Genesis we are told that human beings are made alive by the power and working of the Spirit. We are unique in all of creation in that we alone have the capacity to indwelt by the Holy Spirit. But more about that in later devotions…
Our thoughts for today need to center on this powerful image: The Spirit gives life. When my son Caleb was born, the all important moment was that first breath – the sign of life.
The picture of God breathing into the nostrils really implies that He is giving us something of who He is. It is a very intimate picture.
When we administer CPR to someone who has stopped breathing, most of our breath is Carbon Dioxide with a bit of unused oxygen. The value of what we do is that we get the lungs going again. But God didn’t just breathe CO2 into our lungs – He breathed the “breathe of life” He shares the awesome life-giving spirit with us…
The earliest pictures we have of the Spirit tell us that He is the order-bringer and life-giver. When we look at human beings in their awesome capacity to be so _alive_ we are seeing the trademark of the Holy Spirit.
37 The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”
When Pharoah had some disturbing dreams there was no-one who could explain them to him. Eventually the Pharoah’s cupbearer remembered Joseph who had correctly interpreted his dream. And they summoned him.
Joseph was adamant that it was God working through him to interpret the dreams: “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”
After Pharoah described the dream, Joseph was not only able to explain what it meant, but he was also to formulate a competent plan to address the future problems the dream warned them of.
Pharoah immediately realised that this was not all Joseph’s work. God’s Holy Spirit was prompting, illuminating and inspiring Joseph so that he could see more that what human eyes could see.
The Holy Spirit still does this in the lives of believers today:
– granting vision and clarity
– helping us make sense of difficult circumstances
– enabling us to come up with excellent problem-solving strategies
There is human wisdom, vision and strategy. When the Holy Spirit supplements this, it goes to an entirely new level!
The key to having this gift working in our lives is to be as humble as Joseph was.
Talents on Steroids!
1 Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts– 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. (Exodus31:1-5)
This reading comes from the time that Moses was instructed to build the tabernacle. The Israelites were migrant people travelling through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. They were not settled and their skills were centered around survival and their herds.
To build the tabernacle according to the exacting standards laid down would require more than talent. It would need people uniquely and supernaturally gifted to do the work in limited circumstances.
Bezalel was chosen by God. We don’t know whether he had a natural inclination toward craftsmanship – I suspect he may well have, but now with the aid of the Holy Spirit, he could excel.
I’ve experienced this at different times in my life where God has amplified one of my skills or talents to a point that I know that it was not just me, but that what I had was “augmented” and “filled out” by God’s Spirit.
This is a significant characteristic of the work of the Holy Spirit: He doesn’t only do the big and dramatic – He is often at work in this supplementing and supporting way. He is with us, comes alongside us and assists us as we do God’s work.
Let’s be open to His help!!!
The LORD said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17 I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.
One of the key lessons Moses had to learn had to do with delegation. He had to learn to share the load and burden of leadership with others.
What is significant in this passage is that Moses drew on people who were already recognised as leaders. Having set them apart, God imbued them with His Spirit turning a normal gift of leadership into Spiritual Leadership.
By the power of the Holy Spirit these seventy elders could exercise the same kind of leadership that Moses did:
When it comes to doing God’s work, normal leadership abilities are only a starting point. God will multiply and supplement our leadership with the amazing caring and guiding influence of His Holy Spirit.
Leaders should regularly set themselves apart to receive God’s gracious Spirit. They should ask God to amplify and add to their leadership. This means that they should deal with sin in their lives and keep an open channel of communication to God.
When the Spirit is allowed to work in us in this way, we can expect gracious, wise and effective leadership gifts to be manifested.
Or we can try to lead in our own strength…
2 When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him (Numbers24:2)
Balaam is one of the last people we would expect the Holy Spirit to work in. He was a pagan priest, prophet and curse-pronouncer. He was hired by Balaak of Moabites to curse the Israelites.
God confronted Balaam on the way and although Baalam was stubborn, he eventually surrendered his agenda and refused to curse God’s people. Now, even though he has not become an Israelite or even a committed believer, God’s Spirit comes upon him to bless the nation of Israel.
We tend to limit God’s Spirit to the church. We seem to think that God can only work in the hearts of committed believing people. Over the years I have seen God move graciously in people who do not claim to be Christians. I learned to recognise the fingerprints of God everywhere I go.
When human beings are open to God’s goodness, truth and love they can often become a place where the Holy Spirit is at work- either obviously or anonymously. This doesn’t mean that these people are Christians or that we can accept everything that they stand for, but it does mean that there is an openness to God which He can use to glorify His name.
The Spirit can move in small and big ways in the hearts of people. He is not a “body-snatcher” but will graciously work in those who are open to goodness, truth and love. For me this explains some of the beautiful art and music we see created by people who would not call themselves Christians. This explains acts of courageous justice, truth and mercy coming from folk who are not connected to the church. When hearts are even slightly open, the Holy Spirit can and will work to bring life, beauty and truth.
More than Adrenalin
34 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. (Judges6:34)
Throughout the Old Testament we find this phrase “the Spirit of the Lord came upon…” The recipients of this “coming upon” include Gideon, Jephtah, Samson, David, Saul, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many other prominent leaders, kings and prophets.
One might be tempted to liken these to the adrenalin rush one gets in the heat of battle or the flash of creative inspiration one has when facing a complex challenge.
But it is more than that: The coming of the Spirit in this way in the OT is more than just heightened awareness or a moment of clear focus. It is the Spirit assisting a human being to transcend their limitations to perform acts of strength, leadership or spiritual wisdom that go far above their normal capacity and bring about heightened results.
Most scholars tell us that in the Old Testament the Spirit came and went whereas the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit resides in us permanently. I agree with this, but we should not therefore assume that there are not times when the Holy Spirit will surge powerfully to the forefront in our lives even though He is always at work in us.
If we look at the New Testament, there are times that the apostles were powerfully gripped by the Spirit – particularly when they were preaching the gospel or confronting evil.
So, even though we are constantly indwelt by the Holy Spirit, there can be times that there will be a surging of His power in our lives that enables us to do more than our best in the service of God’s Kingdom – but it is never just for our thrill or pleasure, but always in the service of the spreading of the Gospel.
6 The Spirit of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. 7 Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.
When God called Saul to be king, he was a timid and shy man. When it was announced that he would be king they had to search for him and he was eventually found hiding amongst the baggage.
But God had high hopes for Saul. Saul could be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. So Samuel prepares him for this event: The Spirit would “come upon” him and energise, empower and embolden him.
Saul had time to prepare his heart and it happened as Samuel said. The Holy Spirit worked powerfully in Saul giving him the courage and authority to summon and lead the people in their first battle to face their enemies.
Sadly Saul became self-sufficient and the resulting disasters led to him becoming insecure and ineffective – in fact, he became open to another spirit, an evil one, that preyed on his darkness and drove him into depression.
There is hope and warning in this account:
– God can wonderfully transform our weaknesses into strengths
– But if we do not co-operate with His will in humility, we place ourselves at huge risk of being consumed by darkness.
You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. (Nehemiah9:20)
Nehemiah led the efforts to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem after they returned from their exile in Babylon. After the wall was rebuilt, he gathered the people in a service of repentence and rededication.
Part of the rededication ceremony was a review of their history which revealed God’s consistent faithfulness and the people’s consistent failure to keep even the basics of their covenant with God.
What Nehemiah emphasises here and again in vs 30 is the role of the Holy Spirit in instructing and guiding them. This is an important part of the Spirit’s work – to shape, mold, teach, train and equip the people of God.
He will use teachers, precepts and prophets to do it, but the Spirit is the one who brings these truths home to us. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth. John in his first letter also reminds the church that they do not need “enlightened teachers” (gnostic heretics) to teach them because they are anointed by the Spirit of God.
The Holy Spirit is the one who makes God’s truths real to us and who fills us with wisdom and helps us to process our knowledge in a God-honouring way.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of confession. Although the Old Testament understanding of the Holy Spirit is not as clearly developed as it is in the New, David already understood that God’s holiness meant that His Spirit and sin had very little in common.
David knew that God would not abide with the presence of sin in his life. In the New Testament this is described as grieving or quenching the work of the Spirit.
If we seriously want God to fill our lives, we have to give Him control _in_ our lives. It means that we allow God to govern our lives and we walk according to His requirements. When we sin, we grab the controls of our lives heading our way instead of His way – doing “our thing” instead of His will.
When we grab control back in certain areas of our lives, we can be certain that the Holy Spirit will withdraw His influence, guidance and blessing from those areas of our lives until we are ready with repentant hearts to allow Him to be in control again.
David feared losing touch with the presence of God. There is the terrible danger that I might slowly drive the Spirit from just about every area in my life so that I don’t even fear losing my closeness to God!
May we always experience the closeness to God that the Spirit brings so that we will fear anything that might take that closeness away!
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalms139:7-10)
Psalm 139 is all about God’s initimate knowledge and love of us. It speaks about how we are fearfully and wonderfully made and it ends with a prayer for God’s illumination in the psalmist’s heart and on his life.
But by far the biggest portion of the psalm is devoted to the idea of God eternal presence. This omnipresence (all/total/complete presence) is the function of the Holy Spirit. It is His closeness and “nearby-ness” that the Psalmist speaks of.
This closeness is a comfort and a joy – but it is also a challenge. The psalmist complains of feeling “hemmed in” in vs.5. This is because the Holy Spirit isn’t just a passive presence or impartial observer… He is not just _a_ spirit but the _Holy_ Spirit. He will not only comfort and strengthen us in times of trouble, but He will also convict and prompt us about the things that are not “kosher” in our lives.
But when we walk in the paths that He points us toward then “His right hand holds us fast.”
Guidance on God’s Will
Teach me to do your will, for you are my God;
may your good Spirit lead me on level ground. (Psalms143:10)
Hebrew poetry doesn’t rhyme – it uses parallelisms: The poet finds more than one way to say the same thing.
Here in Psalm 143 the Psalmist brings two sets of things together:
– His God and the “good Spirit” are one and the same.
– God’s will and “level ground” are also the same.
Both reminders are important:
We often treat the Holy Spirit as a “power pack” or “magic potion” but He is part and parcel of the triune Godhead. He is as much part of God as the Father and Son are. He is good – a word that in Hebrew has much richer nuances than it has in English. “Good” in English lacks the depth, character and beauty of the Hebrew word used here. We’d have to put “good” in italics or capitals to get the real sense of what the psalmist is conveying here.
God’s will is level ground – think about the Hebrew culture of the day … They were farmers and herders. Level ground is open and free – it is a place of openness and freedom where crops can easily grow and cattle can graze safely. God’s will is a place where we can grow and prosper in open free space.
God’s Good Spirit can guide us to this open level space. It’s one of the things He’ll do if we make Him _our_ God and listen to Him!
A King’s Wisdom
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him–
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD (Isaiah11:2)
Isaiah prophesied the coming of a King. We recognise it as a prophecy about Jesus, but we must remember that it was partially fulfilled in Isaiah’s lifetime in the coming of King Hezekiah. This is important, otherwise we will have to assume that these aspects of the Spirit’s work are only available to Christ.
Isaiah believed that the gift of wisdom could be bestowed on people. He uses a triple parallelism to give a full explanation of what it means to have the wisdom of the Spirit.
– Understanding: The ability to have insight into circumstances, to penetrate the story behind the story. To understand the forces behind the surface issues.
– Counsel: The ability to give good advice – to be strategic. Particularly to be able to listen, discern and direct.
– Power: In this context, I would suggest that power has to do with self-mastery and self-control. People who are exceptionally wise are usually people don’t let their tempers or tongues get the better of them.
– Knowledge: This may refer to supernatural knowledge (knowing things that we would not know by normal means) or an exceptional ability to assimilate knowledge. Elisha demonstrated supernatural knowledge when he knew in advance where one the enemy kings was going to launch surprise attacks. Solomon was renowned for his botanical knowledge (demonstrating the ability to assimilate knowledge)
– The Fear of the Lord: This has to do with doing things God’s way and interpreting life with the clear understanding that God is the Sovereign and Supreme ruler over all and that we are answerable to Him.
This Spirit-given Wisdom resided in Jesus, but He is the same Spirit who would work in us if we would allow Him to.
Woe if I go without the Spirit
“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 is prophesying against the Israelites who were threatened by the Babylonians and, instead of relying on God, went off and tried to set up a military alliance with Egypt. (He later described the Egyptians as a splintering reed – a walking stick that would collapse when they leaned on it.)
The still small voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to the people called them to repentence but they wouldn’t listen. Later in the same chapter Isaiah would admonish them with the following words:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
You said, `No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, `We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
We cannot ask for God’s power until we stop relying on other sources of strength. We cannot ask for guidance if we plan to go our own way. We cannot expect that the Holy Spirit will always lead us along paths that seem obvious to us. In ch.55 Isaiah says this:
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the LORD.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God has an awesome plan for our lives. The Holy Spirit will guide us in the fulfilment of that plan. If we ignore His promptings, we will not only miss out on God’s plan, but we sin and walk in the darkness.
1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners
Just so that there is no misunderstanding…
When God works in our lives by His Spirit, He has a clear agenda. And that agenda is this: He wants to use us to comfort, heal and release people who are impoverished, broken and entrapped.
He wants us to be symbols of hope and peace to those who are poor. Not only the spiritually poor, but the materially poor too. If we allow Him to, the Spirit will give us the kind of generosity that we can give of our time, talent and treasure to the needy in a way that will be good news to them. Without the Spirit empowering us, our efforts will be patronising and insulting – with His help we can be genuine and convincing.
The Spirit will help us be agents of healing especially among the broken-hearted. We will be led to draw alongside those who mourn and grieve and suffer and be given the sensitivity and the wisdom to offer them comfort and healing. Without the Spirit’s guidance we will be insensitive and irrelevant – with His help we will listen well and through our love and care bind up those who are broken.
When we are empowered by the Spirit, we will develop a conscience for social injustices – we lie awake over those whose rights and dignity has been compromised by our broken worldly system. God will move us to help them be free. William Wilberforce’s remarkable struggle to abolish slavery is an example of what the Spirit will do in us. If our efforts are not empowered by the Spirit, we are just “bleeding heart” liberals making token guestures to soothe our consciences – with his power we persist until we can make a real difference.
Ahhh, but you may argue that this is a prophecy about Jesus, but in John 20, Jesus breathes the Spirit on His disciples and says “As the Father sent me, I am sending you.”
You’ve been warned: If you allow the Spirit to work in you, these things will happen in your life.
Fair Warning Continued
and provide for those who grieve in Zion–
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah61:3)
Yesterday we saw that the Spirit will move us to comfort, heal and release people who are impoverished, broken and entrapped. This in itself is awesome and exciting, but what is just as exciting is the mood, atmosphere and vibe of this work we are called to! Continuing from the verse we looked at yesterday, Isaiah spells out the surprising vitality of the work of the Spirit in us.
For many people religion is sackcloth, ashes, mourning and despair. Many Christians seem to have been “baptised in lemon juice” – they come across, harsh, cold, forbidding and lacking in love and joy. This is what empty, formalistic and legalistic religiosity looks like.
However, when the Spirit empowers our faith and our work, the hallmarks are beauty, gladness and praise that displace and replace ashes, mourning and despair.
People empowered by the Spirit are solid trees, deeply rooted in righteousness, and always pointing upwards. People are drawn to sit in their shade.
10 Yet they rebelled
and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So he turned and became their enemy
and he himself fought against them. (Isaiah63:10)
Many people think that it is only in the New Testament where the Holy Spirit is depicted as a person and not as some kind of “force” or “power pack.” Isaiah is recounting Israel’s history, particularly explaining how they ended up in exile in Babylon.
What is significant is that our text tells us that they “grieved” (or “vexed”) God’s Holy Spirit. If we analyse Isaiah’s complaints against them (recorded in ch 1-39), there are probably a few headings we can pull out:
– Idolatry: Worshipping idols and things instead of God.
– Injustice: Neglecting the poor and marginalised.
– Hypocrisy: Empty, meaningless and faithless religious rituals
– Rebellion: Flagrant disobedience
These things grieved the Spirit of God. For nearly 400 years the Israelites grieved the Spirit and this resulted in the Babylonians being used and summoned by God as an instrument of judgment against the disobedient, idolatrous, hard-hearted and hypocritical Israelites.
The Spirit _can_ be grieved. He doesn’t benignly tolerate our rebellious ways – He wants to transform us. If we stubbornly continue in faithless and idolatrous ways, we will grieve Him and He will make war against our sinful nature.
like cattle that go down to the plain,
they were given rest by the Spirit of the LORD.
This is how you guided your people
to make for yourself a glorious name. (Isaiah63:14)
Isaiah is going through the history of Israel to show them how God was with them when they came out of Egypt to settle into the promised land.
He likened that journey to that of cattle moving from the sparse craggy heights where it is risky and the footing is treacherous to the plain where it is lush, the footing is easier and the animals grow sleek and fat.
Isaiah is saying that the Holy Spirit is the one who brings us to those moments of rest and growth. He brings us to times in our lives where we can find peace and grow in our relationship with God and others – when we are secure in ourselves and at peace with life.
But what is the difference between spiritual rest and laziness? Spiritual rest is not the lack of activity – cattle in the plain still graze, produce offspring and milk. Rest brings about growth, recovery and multiplication. Rest is more a state of mind – a peaceful restful purposefulness that is marked by an absence of insecurity, doubt and fear. Laziness is unproductive: the only thing that grows is our comfortable inertia!
Laziness focusses on self – Holy Spirit induced rest glorifies God.
19 When the living creatures moved, the wheels beside them moved; and when the living creatures rose from the ground, the wheels also rose. 20 Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. (Ezekiel1:19-20)
If you thought that Isaiah said much more about the Holy Spirit than you’d expected to find in the Old Testament, then you’re in for an even bigger surprise with Ezekiel.
Ezekiel worked from about 597BC. He was one of the exiles in Babylon and he helped the Israelite exiles to understand that God was with them even though their beloved temple had been destroyed. Ezekiel helped them understand that the Holy Spirit was with them and that He would revive, renew and rebuild the nation.
Ezekiel starts with a vision of wheels with eyes, creatures, an ice-platform and a throne. To cut a long story short, the vision is of a divine “chariot” on which God’s Throne rests. The creatures look like the Babylonian statues and the message was that worldly powers are just the creatures that pull the chariot of God’s glory around.
The significant thing about Ezekiel’s pictures of the Holy Spirit here and in the rest of the book is this idea of _motion_. The Holy Spirit moves! But not only is the Spirit in motion, present even at the Kebar river in Babylon, but the Spirit also _moves_ people. Here he is at work moving the Babylonians and later the Persians. Elsewhere in the book the Spirit will move Ezekiel and the people of God.
God’s Spirit is always moving – do you remember Genesis 1:1-2? “The Spirit of God was moving over the waters of the unshaped world – ready to bring life, order and meaning.”
Maybe Jesus put it best when He said: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John3:8)
If we want to be Spirit-guided people, we’d better prepare for motion! He will find us wherever we are… But He won’t leave us there!
1 Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the gate of the house of the LORD that faces east. There at the entrance to the gate were twenty-five men, and I saw among them Jaazaniah son of Azzur and Pelatiah son of Benaiah, leaders of the people. 2 The LORD said to me, “Son of man, these are the men who are plotting evil and giving wicked advice in this city. (Ezekiel11:1)
Recorded in the book of Ezekiel are 8 or 9 instances where the Spirit “lifts” Ezekiel up to see a vision or event of one sort or another. Here in this passage Ezekiel gets to be a “fly on the wall” while these men – all prominent leaders – are having a meeting in Jerusalem just before the Babylonians destroy it.
Remember: Ezekiel is in Babylon – these men are in Jerusalem. They are plotting and scheming about the money they stand to make out of the chaos that will be unleashed when the Babylonians invade. In vs3 they say: `Will it not soon be time to build houses? This city is a cooking pot, and we are the meat.’
Ezekiel is therefore able to expose their wickedness through the Holy Spirit’s vision and guidance.
The prophet Elisha was also given this ability to hear the plans of the enemy Aramean King when he was planning to invade Israel. The New Testament calls this a “word of knowledge.”
Sometimes it is a clear vision – other times we “just know” something that we did not learn by natural means. We learn it through God’s working in us.
This doesn’t happen to everybody and it doesn’t happen all the time. But I have learned to be obedient when I get the urge to phone someone out of the blue – almost always they say “I’m so glad you called!”
New heart and Spirit
36:24 ” `For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel36:24-28)
This awesome promise is part of a greater promise of forgiveness, renewal and restoration. God is addressing the hope-depleted, faith-diminished and devotion-decreased Israelites in Exile in Babylon.
They had given up hope.
They had lost everything.
They thought that they were forgotten.
– forgiveness (sprinkled with clean water)
– renewal (heart transplant & Spirit filling)
– restoration (to the land and to being God’s people)
The picture of renewal is awesome.
Their hearts were stone – because of their sin and because of their suffering. In Hebrew thinking the heart is not the seat of emotions but rather the control room of a person’s life. Their control-centers were bitter, cynical and empty of grace. God promises that this can change!
But that’s not all! The promise is that Holy Spirit will take up residence in them to move them in commitment and devotion that they might live according to God’s ways.
Are you hope-depleted or faith-diminished? Has your heart turned to stone through the pain and disappointment you’ve experienced? God wants to forgive, renew and restore!
7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.
9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet–a vast army.
These verses are part of the famous passage concerning Ezekiel and the Valley of Dry Bones. When God asked Ezekiel, “Son of Man can these bones live?”, Ezekiel wisely answered “You alone know Sovereign Lord.”
The bones are dry, bleached and pretty desolate. Kind of like the picture of Israel we saw in ch.36: hope-depleted, faith-diminished and devotion-decreased.
Ezekiel preaches the Word of the Lord to them and this reassambles the bones into skeletons, gives them muscle, tendons and flesh but there is no life – they’re corpses on the ground.
So God asks him to prophesy to the breath (wind – Hebrew Ruach) that the breath would breathe into the corpses and give LIFE!
The Spirit gives life. He gets them up, He mobilises them, He arranges them in formation – they’re not just a crowd… They’re an army.
Sometimes we have the resources, gifts and talents needed for life and yet there is something missing. We just don’t have what it takes to get moving. We are demotivated, in disarray and directionless. The Holy Spirit will inspire, unite and lead us.
So we need to pray the old hymn:
1. Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love what thou dost love,
and do what thou wouldst do.
2. Breathe on me, Breath of God,
until my heart is pure,
until with thee I will one will,
to do and to endure.
3. Breathe on me, Breath of God,
till I am wholly thine,
till all this earthly part of me
glows with thy fire divine.
4. Breathe on me, Breath of God,
so shall I never die,
but live with thee the perfect life
of thine eternity.
(Text: Edwin Hatch, 1835-1889)
The River #1
1 The man brought me back to the entrance of the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was flowing from the south side.
Ezekiel is still in Babylon. The Spirit has once again taken him on a visionary trip – He is seeing a picture of the heavenly temple (the one in Jerusalem has not been rebuilt yet.) This vision lasts from ch.40-47.
It is a glorious vision of the temple and the priesthood, but the description reaches its climax here in ch.47 with the description of the river of the Holy Spirit flowing from the temple. We’ll take a couple of days to tease out the nuances.
Jesus himself referred to this river when He attended the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. On the last day of the feast, a priest would pour a jar of water out at the altar. John tells us: ‘On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.’ (John7:37-39)
Today the important aspect is to recognise that the stream (which becomes a river) begins flowing at the ALTAR. It is from this place of ultimate sacrifice that the river will flow. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross enables our forgiveness so that the Holy Spirit can work in us.
There is no other starting point!
The River #2
3 As the man went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. 4 He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. 5 He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in–a river that no one could cross. 6 He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?” (Ezekiel47:3-6)
We’re picking up the imagery used for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Ezekiel is seeing this amazing river which starts flowing from the altar in the temple, out of the south side of the temple through the land.
What is striking here is that the stream grows deeper and deeper. It is ankle-deep, knee-deep, waist-deep and then too deep to cross. It is symbolic of two important aspects of the Spirit:
1. Do not underestimate small beginnings. Although the initial stream is shallow, the river swells and grows into something great and awesome. When God’s Spirit moves, He often begins with one person who “has an idea” and before you know it, a nation is transformed or some other great thing has happened. In God’s kingdom, great outcomes almost always come out of small beginnings.
2. The Spirit seems to prefer to take us through progressive stages in our relationship with Him – although many seek dramatic experiences with the Holy Spirit – it does not (from this picture anyway) seem to be the norm for someone to be “tossed into the ‘Deep End'” by the Holy Spirit’s working in our lives (Although there are exceptions…) It would appear that the _normal_ Christian experience is to grow or wade into a deeper experience of God in our lives.
The problem is that many of us are so afraid of the Holy Spirit that we splash around the shallows of the ankle-deep river wearing life-jackets, water-wings and a life-preserver and our fears keep us from ever going in deeper…
The River #3
Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. (Ezekiel47:6-8)
Ezekiel is still exploring this incredible river flowing from the temple – the place of sacrifice and worship. Fortunately for him, they seem to have come out of the water which is now way too deep to wade across and now they are exploring the river from the banks.
His angelic guide indicates that this river flows down into the Desert regions and ends up ending in the “Sea in the Arabah.” The only “sea” in this region is the Dead Sea which is situated at one of the lowest points on the earth’s crust. The Jordan river pours into it and because there is nowhere for the the water to drain out, it evaporates there, leaving all the chemicals and salts behind, making a mineral cocktail so toxic that the Dead Sea cannot sustain life because the water is so dense with salts.
But this river is different! Even in the desert regions this river is flanked by trees and there is abundance of life in these waters – so much so that the river will make the Dead Sea fresh again!!
In vs 9 the angel says this: “Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.”
What an awesome picture! The Holy Spirit is a life-giver and life-bringer. Where He is at work, death is transformed into life.
When our lives are dead with the salination of pain and sin, the Spirit flowing from us can result in life.
It is interesting that the angel indicates that the Dead Sea will become like the Great Sea (Sea of Galilee). The Galilee Sea has both input and output. The Dead Sea has only an input. Maybe this is why Jesus connected so emphatically to this picture in John7:38 “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow FROM within him.”
There is no escaping that fact that if we want to be filled with the Spirit and experience His life, we will become people of OUTPUT!
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
The prophet Joel shaped his prophetic message around an experience that struck real fear into an agricultural community – a plague of locusts. He compares the calamities of war, famine and disaster to wave after wave of locusts.
Disaster is a call to humility, repentence and dependence on God. Joel promised that real repentance would be met by restoration – “the repaying of the years the locust has eaten…” (2:25) and when this restoration took place, they would know that there is a God in Israel (2:27) and then afterward…
…God’s Spirit would be poured out!
This prophecy is best interpreted in the coming of Christ: Christ who took away our sins (the years the locust ate) and by his resurrection proved that there is a God in Israel.
Here’s how Joel saw the coming of the Spirit: Prophecy, Dreams and Visions. These are three supernatural phenomena that give us access to God’s will and plan.
When it comes to prophecy, we tend to think of fortune-telling and future-predicting. In the Biblical sense of the word, “prophecy” is God’s opinion on current affairs.
Dreams and Visions are mental images or “pictures” that give us some idea of what God is doing, and as is so often the case, a picture is worth a thousand words.
So what is the lesson here? In spite of our past disasters, God wants to heal us. Whether we’re young or old, male or female, parents or children,God pours His Spirit on us so that we can know Him better.
8 But as for me, I am filled with power,
with the Spirit of the LORD,
and with justice and might,
to declare to Jacob his transgression,
to Israel his sin.
This is a beautiful example of Hebrew Parallelism – Hebrew poetry doesn’t rhyme – it repeats the same idea with other words…
Here we have 2 ideas:
– What a gives the prophet his “go” (in 3 parallel lines)
– What the prophet must do. (in 2 parallel lines)
Let’s start with what a prophet does… The prophet’s role is to show a nation where it is going wrong and bring them back to God. Today many self-appointed prophets try to predict people’s future – which is often just spiritual manipulation. Others just endlessly catalog the failures of the church, the society and the government without pointing to the solution in any meaningful way. The true prophet’s role is to remind people of their need for God and God’s availability to those who will call on Him.
Whether they want to be reminded or not…!
This arduous task requires a special kind of petrol: Micah (who was a contemporary of Isaiah) describes his fuel in three parallel lines. Significantly (and Hebrew poetry works like this) the center line talks about the Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit fills Micah with power, justice and valiant might. The word used for fills has connotations of a winepress filled and pressed and overflowing. His is running over with Divine zeal, energy and justice.
When God calls us to tough jobs He will give us the petrol!!!
PS: While some may feel that the picture of the Holy Spirit as Prophet Petrol is too impersonal, we need to understand that there is a strong strand in the “rope” of Old Testament teaching on the Holy Spirit that regards the Spirit as a power source more than a person – but the implication here is: God is just and valiant and so too shall his servant empowered by Him be.
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.
When the exiles returned to from Exile to Israel, they were a rag-tag bunch that came home to a burnt-out shell of Jerusalem and a very dilapidated and depressed community of has-beens and non-starters. Rebuilding the temple was low on the priority and possibility lists.
Zerubbabel was the king in charge, and he was not expected to amount to much. Zechariah had a vision about Zerubbabel:
The vision was of a lampstand with seven wicks, each of the wicks with its own channel to the bowl of olive oil and either side of the bowl were two olive trees.
The implication: The olive trees would supply the bowl endlessly, and perfect (seven implies perfection) light would come from this lamp.
The application: Zerubbabel may not look like much, but he will be endlessly supplied by the Holy Spirt. Our own strength peters out and our best efforts end in the sputtering flame of our limited endurance, but we can have the strength to press on and endure when God’s Spirit keeps us going.
It’s not by OUR might, not by OUR strength, but by HIS Spirit!
12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry.
This is the last of the Old Testament pictures we have from the Old Testament and it is an interesting one.
On the surface of it – Zechariah is rebuking the people of Israel for being hard-hearted and ignoring the words of the prophets he had sent… Sounds pretty straight-forward. These funny prophet guys are God-sent and they speak words inspired by the Spirit and we should listen to them… Pretty straight-forward right?
Wrong! The wrinkle comes in the fact that Zechariah spells out the kind of message that these Spirit-led, Spirit-filled and Spirit-guided prophets bring and it is not the kind of airy-fairy, not-very-contrary message that we would suspect…
We think that Spiritual thoughts are airy fairy warm fuzzy non-practical thoughts. We think spirituality is all about being heavenly (to the extent that we are no earthly good at all!) But Zechariah knows another kind of Spirituality:
In vs9-10 Zechariah extends a definition of true spiritualy
— Administer true justice;
— show mercy and compassion to one another.
— Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.
— In your hearts do not think evil of each other.’
This is a tough, change-your-attitude and gather-your-courage kind of spirituality. We think that the only thoughts the Spirit would give are the “airy fairy” ones, but the Spirit through the prophets would offer these challenges:
– Justice is Spiritual
– Acted-upon compassion is Spiritual
– Protecting widows, orphans, the alien and the poor is spiritual
– Thinking well of others (even our enemies) is spirituail.
This is a very challenging picture of spirituality for me!