In the Biblical story about Adam and Eve, we read in the traditional King James Version that they “heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8). In the Revised Standard Version, the last phrase reads, “at the time of the evening breeze.” Both translations are trying to express the meaning behind the Hebrew words, which are, le Ruach ha Yom. Yom means “day”; so this is describing the time of day when Ruach usually happens. Scholars tell us this phrase is an idiom in Hebrew for the late afternoon, when breezes normally relieve the afternoon Middle Eastern heat.
If you’ve listened to much church teaching and preaching, you may recognize that Ruach is also the Hebrew word for “Spirit.” However, in the earliest chapters of the Bible, the word is shown to have a much broader meaning. Its first use is in the opening of the Creation account, where we read:
In the beginning God created[ the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and empty, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while Ruach from God swept over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1-2)
In the King James Version of this passage, Ruach is translated by “Spirit,” but other versions choose words such as “wind” or “breath.”
As a matter of fact, the word Ruach is used 389 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. Of these, 112 occurrences clearly refer to “wind”, while 30 are best translated by “breath.” Of the passages where “spirit” would be the best translation, more than half refer to the human spirit, while 85 to 90 are specifically speaking of the Spirit of God. What these nuances of meaning have in common is that they all seem to indicate an invisible force that is moving. This is true whether the moving force is a natural phenomenon, part of a human person, or a manifestation of God himself.
The familiar flood story in Genesis 6 to 8 uses Ruach five times, in all the varieties of meaning the word can have:
Then the LORD said, “My Spirit [Ruach] shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years.” (6:3)
For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath [Ruach] of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. (6:17)
They went into the ark with Noah, two and two of all flesh in which there was the breath [Ruach] of life. (7:15)
All flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all human beings; everything on dry land in whose nostrils was the breath [Ruach] of life died. (7:21-22)
God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind [Ruach] blow over the earth, and the waters subsided. (8:1)
On this hot day in June of 2021, I’m comforted by a cool breeze. That cool breeze reminds me that all the unseen positive movements in my experience are coming from the First Wind, the First Mover, the One who breathed Creation into existence and keeps breathing Life into it by his gracious Spirit. He is and will always be my cool breeze in the heat of life.
– Pastor George Van Alstine