Creation and Spirit: The work of the Holy Spirit in our world and God’s

Creation by ‘the word’ of God is a well-understood part of the Bible’s account by Christians generally: As Psalms 33:6 says, “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made…” But what is the role of the Spirit of God in creation, exactly? And what is his role in all things?

Attention to the work of the Holy Spirit has often concentrated on his gifts and miraculous workings, such as healing. It is in the realm of the ‘spiritual’ that we often focus when looking to see the Spirit at work. Does the Bible share such a singular focus when highlighting the Spirit’s work? What type of picture do the Scriptures paint when read in their entirely about the working of the Holy Spirit in the world?

The ‘Wind’ or the ‘Breath’ of God

Progressively throughout the Bible’s account of creation we see the development of the revelation of the Spirit of God as the central agent involved in all of God’s work in the universe he has made, from creation through to new creation.

The Hebrew word for ‘spirit’ literally connotes the movement of air, and so may be translated simply as ‘wind’. What is often translated in our English Bibles as the “Spirit” of God should perhaps be translated more literally as the “wind” of God. Genesis 1:2 is a prime example. The context dictates the intended meaning of the root word, so that in Hebrew this verse would read to the Jew: “the wind of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”

As the Bible’s narrative develops it becomes clear that a ‘wind’ from God and the ‘breath’ of God have a central purpose in God’s own acts of creation and recreation. From Genesis 1 onwards, the activity of God seems to involve – quite mysteriously at first – the agency of this ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ that comes from the LORD (Genesis 1:2; 8:1; Exodus 14:21 Numbers 11:31).

And in this way a ‘wind’ becomes in the Scripture a sign and symbol of God’s activity by his Holy Spirit (2 Samuel 22:11; Psalms 18:10; Psalms 104:3; John 3:8; Acts 2:2). So too, the ‘breath’ is used throughout the Bible as a symbol of God’s activity by his Spirit (Genesis 2:7; Ezekiel 37:5 ff; John 20:22)

The ‘Spirit’ and the ‘Word’ of God

The significance of this becomes apparent as the Scriptural revelation unfolds, portraying a deep intrinsic relationship between the ‘Spirit’ of God and the ‘Word’ of God. The LORD works, or affects his will, in one way but by two means. The one way that he works is with his mouth – figurative language (an anthropomorphism) for God working by speaking his will into existence. But from his mouth come two things that together are two means by which his one work and one will are carried out: from the mouth of the LORD come his Word and his Spirit.

Notice Isaiah 34:16: “For the mouth of the LORD has commanded, and his Spirit has gathered them.” Here are some further examples of where we see this. The following passages show this close connection between the work of both the word and spirit, proceeding from the mouth of the LORD:

“Then the channels of the sea were seen; the foundations of the world were laid bare, at the rebuke of the LORD [mouth/word], at the blast of the breath [or ‘spirit’] of his nostrils” (2 Samuel 22:16; cf. Psalms 18:15).

“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath [or ‘spirit’] of his mouth all their host” (Psalms 33:6).

“He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind [or ‘spirit’] blow and the waters flow” (Psalms 147:17-18).

“Seek and read from the book of the LORD: Not one of these shall be missing; none shall be without her mate. For the mouth of the LORD has commanded, and his Spirit has gathered them” (Isaiah 34:16).

“He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked” (Isaiah 11:4).

“…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17; cf. Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16); compare, “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God… Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations” (Revelation 19:13-15; cf. Revelation 1:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:8).
God’s word carries his command: his decree as to what will be done. His Spirit carries his power to enact that command and so is his agency by which that decree is done.

The Word of God is not the Spirit of God, though the two of course cannot be separated. Both proceed from God together. In order, the Word of God comes first, because it proceeds directly from the will of God who commands it; it is because he speaks his word that his breath is generated. So the Spirit proceeds from both God and the Word of God, just as the spoken word immediately generates breath. And the Spirit carries the Word of God (as breath carries the spoken word), just as the Word of God carries the will or decree of God.

And so it is said in Scripture both that God sends out his word and that he sends out his Spirit to perform his work:

He sends his Word:
“He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly;” (Psalms 147:15) “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

He sends his Spirit:
“When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground;” (Psalms 104:30) “Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live" (Ezekiel 37:9).
The agency of the Spirit

We are more familiar with the role of God the Father and of the Son in creation and salvation, partly because of summary verses readily found in the New Testament that explain: “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Corinthians 8:6; cf. Romans 11:36)

Here we see that while all things are from and for God the Father, all things are at the same time through God the Son. It is through the Son that all things exist because in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). And all things hold together in the Son because “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3)

Hebrews 1:3 is significant also for the role of the Holy Spirit in God’s work, because against the backdrop of the Old Testament revelation on the relationship between the Word and Spirit of God, it shows us the central role in creation of “the word of his power.”

It is by “the word of his power” that the universe was created to begin with, which as we have seen involved the agency of the Spirit of God who affected that word of God. The power of the word of God comes by the activity of the Holy Spirit, by whom God’s word is accomplished in the world. In other words, all things from God are done by the agency of the Holy Spirit.

To summarize: All things come from God through his word by the agency of his Spirit, whose activity and power makes effectual the word which God send it for his purpose. Let me give a few examples of this throughout God’s work that we see revealed through Scripture:

Creation, life and death by the Holy Spirit

Clearly present at the beginning, and involved in creation, the Spirit as the wind or breath of God was moving over the waters (Genesis 1:2, where the ‘spirit’ of God is literally the ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ of God). And in fact, Psalm 33:6 continues, “…their starry host [were made] by the breath [or ‘spirit’] of his mouth.” Job, describing God’s power over creation, which trembles at his rebuke, declares, “by his wind the heavens were made fair” (ESV Job 26:13, KJV: ‘his spirit’, NIV: ‘his breath’).

And even clearer from the beginning, the creation of people occurred by God’s Spirit: “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.” (Genesis 2:7; cf. Isaiah 42:5) Elihu speaking to Job says, “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” (Job 33:4).

Not only does all life come by the Holy Spirit, also “by the breath of God they perish, and by the blast of his anger they are consumed” (Eliphaz in Job 4:9). In direct reversal of his work in Genesis 2:7, the Psalmist says, “When you take away their breath [‘spirit’], they die and return to their dust.” (Psalms 104:29) “The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath [or ‘spirit’] of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. (Isaiah 40:7). Just as the LORD gives and takes away (Job 1:21), so also the Spirit breathes life and takes again that breath away.

Renewal by the Holy Spirit

Thankfully it is also in mercy that God by his Spirit brings from death, new life, in order to renew and so preserve his creation: “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” (Psalms 104:30)

Genesis’ account in the opening chapters of the Bible is followed by an account of Adam’s line, whose children are born only to die, having been created in the likeness of their father whose sin brought God’s judgment of death (Genesis 5:1-5).

In the next account in Genesis, of the renewal of the world by water in Noah’s time, again a wind from God, moving over the waters, brings dry ground to the feet of a new creation that emerges from the Ark (Genesis 8:1). Noah’s children however spread the effects of sin and judgment over the face of the whole earth (Genesis 11:8-9).

The book of Genesis ends with the account of Jacob, a generation promised to bring God’s blessing to the whole world, but who after Joseph face slavery under Egypt. But when he remembers his promise to Abraham, he again acts, this time to redeem Israel from Egypt, by a wind from God moving over the waters, causing God’s people to walk through the red sea on dry land and into their new world of service to God (Exodus 14:21). Moses responds in song: “By the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up…"The enemy boasted…But you blew with your breath, and the sea covered them” (Exodus 15:8-10).

Judgment by the Holy Spirit

God brought Israel up out of Egypt through water by the Holy Spirit so they would live and worship him as his own people. But after giving them his law to sanctify them, as he led them through the desert toward his promised paradise, in an act of judgment he provides for them the very food they crave having grumbled against Moses, “a wind went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea” (Numbers 11:31).

Sadly from their very exit of Egypt onwards, again and again throughout their history, Israel rebelled against God’s Spirit who had acted to redeem and lead them into their inheritance, so much so that Psalmist can only in praise of God appeal for mercy to upon the basis of his covenant faithfulness for a future salvation (Psalm 106:6-47).

Isaiah also attributes Israel’s history to the work of the Holy Spirit, and their judgment to rebellion against him: “In his love and mercy he redeemed them… yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them. Then his people recalled the days of old, the days of Moses and his people … Where is he who set his Holy Spirit among them, who sent his glorious arm of power to be at Moses' right hand, who divided the waters before them… they were given rest by the Spirit of the LORD…” (Isaiah 63:9-14)

A new judgment by the Holy Spirit

The prophet Isaiah spoke about one who would come not only come bring salvation, but also by the Spirit judgment: “he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath [or ‘spirit’] of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” (Isaiah 11:4; cf. 11:15). And again, “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” (Isaiah 42:1). The Holy Spirit will be the agent by which Christ brings his final judgment. Just as God’s final judgment will be executed through the mighty Word of God, it will also come by his powerful Spirit. For example, Paul describes God’s judgment of the lawless one, whom, “the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath [or ‘spirit’] of his mouth” (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

A new renewal by the Holy Spirit

But thankfully the Spirit will also bring for God’s people through judgment, salvation: “The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a [or ‘the’] spirit of judgment and a [or ‘the’] spirit of fire” (Isaiah 4:4). Isaiah foretold the very thing John the Baptist spoke of when he said, “"I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:11; cf. Luke 3:16).

Comparable with both the agency of water (for washing/cleansing) and of fire (for refinement/judgment), Christ will baptize with the agency of the Spirit. Christ who will pour out the Holy Spirit on his people will by him make them clean and consequently accepted by God; that is, by giving them his Spirit they will have forgiveness of sins (Cf. Malachi 3:1-6; 4:1; Acts 2:36-38).

In the new age of the Spirit the Lord Jesus washes us clean from sin by a baptism that is not merely outward with ceremonial water, but is inward, by the Holy Spirit, and whose outpouring on God’s people brings spiritual regeneration and renewal:

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
A new life, new death and new creation by the Holy Spirit

Ezekiel, at a time when eventually Israel were exiled and driven by the Spirit back into slavery to Babylon, foretold a day when, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

The Holy Spirit brings a new work in the hearts of his people: “circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit” (Romans 2:29); “by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (Romans 7:6; cf. Romans 6:17; 8:2-10); or in other words: “if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17; cf. Galatians 6:15)

And not only that, he will also affect a new work in their flesh too; there will also be a new work of creation in an age of resurrection from death and judgment: “Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people…And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live (Ezekiel 37:11-14)”. Just as the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Romans: “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” (Romans 8:11).

The Spirit’s work in all things

We’ve seen how the Holy Spirit works in the world. Against this backdrop, it is clearly a mistake to think of the Spirit’s activity in the world as involving a realm that is separate from the created physical universe. In the Bible’s universe, we do not actually see the Holy Spirit specializing more in the ‘spiritual’ than the ‘natural’ world.

To look for the Spirit’s activity primarily in the miraculous betrays a mistaken view of the Holy Spirit as working chiefly by intervention into the created world, usually with extraordinary effects: he manifests his presence with works of power that are super-natural. We may also seek the Spirit within the inner world of our emotions and subjective experience, betraying a tendency to think of the Spirit’s role in terms of the intangible world of feelings as opposed to the physical world of nature or the rational world of the mind, instead desiring after divine and personal encounters with God in search of experiences of his activity in ways that transcend the everyday order of the world.

But it is a mistake to think of the Holy Spirit’s work in the world with this type of false-separation between creation and spirit. The Spirit is involved in all things, just as God is behind all things. The Bible affirms that from and for God the Father are all things, who through his Son, who is the Word of God, are all things and through whom do all things exist, and that all these things are done by the power of his Holy Spirit.

Big and small, common and extraordinary, the grass growing, the leaves falling, storm and sunset, all of our living and moving, birth and rebirth, death and resurrection and eternity in the new creation: There is nothing that exists or comes to exist or is done in the universe that does not involve the agency of his Holy Spirit; all things are from God and there is nothing that he does not do by his Spirit. Our world is God’s world and nothing in all of his creation is isolated from and does not depend on the presence and power of his Spirit.

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