God hermeneutics

When did God first appear on Earth?

Soon after arriving in Indonesia in the early 1980’s I remember when I first heard the Indonesian expression Roh Kudus meaning the Holy Spirit that I had the impression it gave me the feeling of a soft gentle loving God. The Indonesian word ‘roh’ meaning ‘spirit’ is probably derived from Arabic as are many Indonesian words. And since Arabic and Hebrew share a common source, both being semitic languages, it is no coincidence then that ‘roh’ sounds very similar to the Hebrew word רוַּח ruach.

The first time the Hebrew word appeared in our history was in the first words in the book of beginnings–the book of Genesis verses 2. Here we read Genesis 1:1-2 where the first bolded Hebrew word (reading right to left) is Ruach.

 בְּ·רֵאשִׁ֖ית בָּרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֑ים אֵ֥ת הַ·שָּׁמַ֖יִם וְ·אֵ֥ת הָ·אָֽרֶץ׃
וְ·הָ·אָ֗רֶץ הָיְתָ֥ה תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָ·בֹ֔הוּ וְ·חֹ֖שֶׁךְ עַל־ פְּנֵ֣י תְה֑וֹם וְ·ר֣וּחַ אֱלֹהִ֔ים מְרַחֶ֖פֶת עַל־ פְּנֵ֥י הַ·מָּֽיִם׃

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)

The second verse there, Genesis 1:2, is transliterated as follows:

wə·hā·’ā·reṣ, hā·yə·ṯāh  ṯō·hū  wā·ḇō·hū,  wə·ḥō·šeḵ  ‘al-  pə·nê  ṯə·hō·wm;  wə·rū·aḥ  ’ĕ·lō·hîm, mə·ra·ḥe·p̄eṯ  ‘al-  pə·nê  ham·mā·yim. (Strong’s meaning are actively linked)

The Hebrew words,  רוַּח אֱלוֹהִים  Ruach Elohim, describe God’s presence in the beginning of the world. The Hebrew word ruach can mean either ‘wind’ or ‘spirit’. So how do we know which meaning is intended in this most very important verse?

Hovering eagleWas it the wind or the Spirit of God that moved over the waters? The answer may be found in the verb that follows. The Hebrew word מְרַחֶ֖פֶת merahefet is derived from רָחַף rachaph, which means to hover over or to brood over, like a mother bird might brood over her chicks. The word merahefet is also found in another verse in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 32:11.

 כְּ·נֶ֙שֶׁר֙ יָעִ֣יר קִנּ֔·וֹ עַל־ גּוֹזָלָ֖י·ו יְרַחֵ֑ף יִפְרֹ֤שׂ כְּנָפָי·ו֙ יִקָּחֵ֔·הוּ יִשָּׂאֵ֖·הוּ עַל־ אֶבְרָתֽ·וֹ׃

As an eagle stirs up her nest, flutters over her young, spreads abroad her wings, takes them, bears them on her wings: so the LORD alone did lead him,. (Deuteronomy 32:11,12)

The mother eagle hovering over her nest expresses the utmost care, love and affection as she flutters (merahefet) over her young and bears them upon her wings. The Lord God (YHWH) said in the same way He took care of His own, a reference to Jacob, who embodied the nation of Israel.

hoveringA Hebrew reading of the Bible makes everything clear: wind cannot express tender love, care and affection! A wind blows dispassionately and indifferently – while the Spirit of God caringly and lovingly flutters over His creation. This loving, passionate hovering that we see expressed in the passages in both Deuteronomy and Genesis can only refer to God’s Spirit! One other case where the same Hebrew word is used is in Jeremiah 23:9. There is has the meaning of ‘shake’ or ‘tremble’ as in his bones shake due to reverence of the Lord.

This reminds me of what the Lord Jesus Christ said:

The wind blows where it lists [wills], and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell from where it comes, and where it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8 )

The Spirit of God is like the wind but He is personal and leads us on the path God has chosen. We cannot know however where He will come or go as that is totally within the prescribed will of God, which we are not necessarily given to know.

By John Gideon Hartnett

Dr John G. Hartnett is an Australian physicist and cosmologist, and a Christian with a biblical creationist worldview. He received a B.Sc. (Hons) and Ph.D. (with distinction) in Physics from The University of Western Australia, W.A., Australia. He was an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award (DORA) fellow at the University of Adelaide, with rank of Associate Professor. Now he is retired. He has published more than 200 papers in scientific journals, book chapters and conference proceedings.