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The Holy Spirit, The Word, and Prayer

Sabbath School commentary for discussion on Sabbath, March 11, 2017

These three words: Holy Spirit, the Word, and prayer are associated with spirituality. Oftentimes, spirituality is equated with quietness and silence. It is presumed that if a person is quiet, he or she must be spiritual. Spirituality is hardly attributed to a noisy and talkative person. Thus, anyone who is loud must not be spiritual. There is a tendency to equate silence with spirituality, even with holiness. In a local Seventh-day Adventist church where I grew up, there was a big printed Bible verse at the top of the chancel’s backdrop that said, “The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him.”[1]

Two words from that verse caught my attention—holy temple and silence. They impressed upon my young mind that I should worship God in silence. I have to keep quiet in the church. Even if I feel like speaking, I am expected not to even say “Amen!” Older folks in the church appreciated me whenever I remained silent throughout the whole church service. So, I associated holiness to silence as a child. Growing up, I felt that being silent would make me holier. I assumed that since the Holy Spirit works silently within a person, the effect should be silent in nature.

However, when I studied the use of the word “spirit” (Heb. ruach) in the Hebrew Scriptures, I discovered that the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is not silent at all. Even the effect of the work of the Holy Spirit is not something esoteric. Here are the examples:

After anointing Saul as king of Israel, prophet Samuel told him that when he approaches the town, where the Philistine garrison is, he will meet a group of prophets coming down from the hill prophesying with lyres, tambourines, flutes, and harps.  Then “the Spirit (ruach) of the LORD will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them” (1 Samuel 10:6, NIV).

The word “prophesying” here refers “not to foretelling future events but to the expression of divine truth in the form of sacred song.”[2] It is interesting to note the type of musical instruments mentioned in this text. These are not silent-sounding instruments. In other places of the Old Testament, for example, whenever the tambourine is used, it is always accompanied by sacred dancing (e.g., Exodus 15:20-21; Psalm 150:4). Indeed, expressing divine truth in the form of sacred song is not a quiet event. The manifestation and working of the Spirit of God in this occasion are not silent.

Prophet Ezekiel experienced the same powerful and loud manifestation of the Spirit of God. He writes, “Then the Spirit (ruach) lifted me up, and I heard behind me the voice of a great earthquake” (Ezekiel 3:12, ESV). In this example, we can see that the Holy Spirit is associated with “the voice of a great earthquake” (qol raash gadol). This is not a silent Spirit. Apparently, the manifestation of the Spirit is not something abstract. It pictures the Spirit of Yahweh in concrete terms.

Another powerful work of the Holy Spirit is shown in the life of Samson. When the Spirit of Yahweh came upon him, it came upon him mightily. The Bible describes, “Then the Spirit (ruach) of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat” (Judges 14:6a, ESV). Here is another powerful manifestation of the Spirit of God through Samson. He tore the lion with his bare hands. The powerful work of the Spirit of God is revealed here. It enables him to perform this incomparable feat.

Again, these examples in the Bible picture the Spirit of the LORD in concrete terms. There is nothing enigmatic in the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Its impact is expressed in powerful and active way. Indeed, when a person or a group of people were possessed by the Holy Spirit, an ostensible action is manifested. Thus, we can say that a “doing person” is a “man or woman of the Spirit.” Concrete works are recognizable evidence of the spirit-filled person. What a person does is the result of the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit.

It is general knowledge that spirituality includes meditation. It consists of meditating upon the Word of God. Now, even the word “meditation” in the Hebrew language is not described as a passive and silent act. For example, Psalm 1:2, notes, “in His law he meditates day and night” (NKJV). Joshua, as he took over the leadership from Moses, was told by God to “keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8, NIV). The Hebrew word for “meditate” in these two examples is hagah. Hagah is actually “a bodily action,” which “involves murmuring and mumbling words.”[3]

Traditionally, meditation is using our imagination as we read the Word of God. We imagine the scene where the story was originally told. We try to capture the sound and the smell of a narrative in the Bible. In other words, meditation is using our imagination creatively as we read the Scripture.

But the Hebrew word for meditation is not so much focused on using our imagination; it is uttering and speaking the Torah. That is why in Joshua 1:8, the LORD told him to keep the book of the Torah “always on your lips.” Meditating on the Torah is “making sounds of the words, getting the feel of the meaning as the syllables are shaped by larynx and tongue and lips.”[4] There is no imaginative process going on here.

Prophet Isaiah used the word hagah (meditate) “for the sounds that a lion makes over its prey.”[5] Isaiah 31:4, writes, “As a lion or a young lion growls (hagah) over his prey (ESV).” Meditation is not simply using our creative imagination but more of “hearing and rehearing these words as we sound them again, letting the sounds sink into our muscles and bones.”[6] Thus, “meditation is mastication.”[7]

This concept sheds light on Jesus’ words recorded in John 6:53-56, which talk about eating His flesh and blood. He associated eating his flesh and blood with abiding in Him and eternal life. Then, He emphasized in John 6:63, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (ESV). Jesus, in the Scriptures, is the spiritual food that we must eat and masticate. In effect, He does not say hear my words or read my words. Rather “eat” my word!

Indeed, there is nothing abstract in regard to one’s spirituality. Moreover, the manifestation and work of the Holy Spirit are described in a powerful and concrete way. Thus, spirituality is not something abstract or metaphysical but a concrete and tangible living and doing. Spirit possession of a person is a phenomenal behavior not some kind of an abstract attitude or intangible thinking process. A Spirit-filled person is active and dynamic.

 


[1] This verse is based on Habakkuk 2:20. If we will study the context of this verse, prophet Habakkuk had an ongoing candid dialogue with God asking Him, first of all, why is He not doing something about the violence, corruption, and injustices permeating the Judean society (Habakkuk 1:1-4). And when God answers him that He will use the Babylonians to end this wickedness in Judah, the more the prophet complained (Habakkuk 1:5-11). Why would God use a more wicked nation of Babylon to end Judah’s wickedness (Habakkuk 1:12-17)? At the beginning of chapter 2, Habakkuk writes, “I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint” (NRSV). What follows then in that chapter was God’s answers to Habakkuk’s complaints. At the end of God’s series of answers to the prophet, He concluded “Yahweh is in his holy temple. Let all the earth be silence (Heb. has) before Him” (vs. 20). In effect, God was telling Habakkuk “stop complaining” (be silent), because I am in control. This expression in Habakkuk is similar to Zechariah 2:13, “Be silent (Heb. has), all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling” (ESV). The reason to be silent before the Yahweh is because “he is springing into action” (Zechariah 2:13, NLT) from his holy temple.

[2]“Thou shalt prophesy” [1 Sam 10:6], The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary (ed. Francis D. Nichol; Washington, D.C.: Review & Herald, 1954), 2:494.

[3]Eugene H. Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1989), 26.

[4] Ibid.

[5]Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7]Ibid.

 

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