The Sustainer of Life: The Role of the Spirit of God in Creation

Dr Scott A. Ellington, Lecturer, Emmanuel College, Franklin Springs, Georgia

The following article investigates the role of the Spirit of God in creation. The Spirit remains aloof from the initial creation of the cosmos recorded in Genesis, having instead the responsibility for continually sustaining and redeeming life. The unusual participle used to describe the Spirit’s presence in Genesis 1:2c מרחפת (merachefet), best characterises the ongoing and unfinished nature of the Spirit’s creative activity. For the writer of Job, the Spirit of God works constantly to sustain life. In the Psalms the Spirit as creator comes to be identified both with the enduring presence of God and with the maintenance of spiritual and moral life.

The Unassuming Spirit

The Bible opens with accounts of God’s creation of the cosmos that provide the theological underpinnings for all that follows, most particularly for understanding the scope of God’s sovereignty and the trajectory of his redemptive plan. Already in the second verse of Genesis we encounter God’s רוח (ruach), hovering over the face of the unformed chaos. Given their placement and prominent role in our understanding of the larger biblical narrative, it is surprising that the Old Testament has so little to say about God’s creation and even less about the role of God’s Spirit in that creation. Additionally, Israel’s understanding of the role of the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) or Spirit of God in creation is a late development. Direct references to the Spirit as creator are found only in Gen. 1:2 (a Priestly text), Job 27:3; 33:4; 34:14-15; Pss. 33:6; 51:10-12; and 104:29-301. In this article I will develop the hypothesis that the principal activity of the spiritus creator in the Old Testament is not found in the original creation of the cosmos, but rather in the sustaining and re-creating of life. The creative role of the Spirit is characterised not by a past event, but by perpetual movement and unfolding potential.

Letting the Text Speak

In considering the person and action of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament, two basic decisions need to be made with regard to the nature of biblical revelation and the understanding of the Spirit that we draw from it. The first is whether we should consider the biblical revelation of Spirit to be homogenous or contextual and unfolding. Should we expect each biblical writer to have a similar understanding of the identity and function of the Spirit of God or does that understanding evolve with the addition of new revelation and shift to reflect the unique context and concern of each writer?

A second and closely related decision concerning biblical revelation is whether we should regard it as essentially ontological or epistemological in nature. By this I mean, do biblical statements about the Spirit of God depict the essential nature of the Spirit, regardless of whether or not the biblical writer is aware of all that his or her revelation incorporates and implies, or do such statements reflect the understanding of the writer, so that what we are offered by the biblical writer is always shaped by context and limited by perspective? An ontological reading of the text allows the New Testament reader to look back from a “privileged” perspective and discern a meaning in the text that was denied its author. If, on the other hand, we read the text epistemologically, focusing on what the writer does and does not know, such surplus meanings are limited or excluded all together. Such an approach argues for answering the questions “What does this text say?” and “What does this author know?” before moving on to the question “How does this text fit with the larger biblical witness?”

Several conservative authors writing on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament engage in a certain amount of “back reading” in their approach to the biblical text. They assume a degree of homogeneity, so that references to the Spirit are thought to reflect a New Testament understanding, even when that understanding is clearly alien to the text’s author. They further assume that the revelation offered describes the ontological nature of the Spirit rather than the Spirit as she reveals herself to be in a contextually limited way.2 Leon Wood, for example, argues that Old Testament references to the Spirit of God should be understood as references to the third person of the Trinity. Furthermore, Wood maintains that revelation is ontological, that is, that it expresses how God is rather than how he is encountered or perceived to be.

It is also important to recognise that the matter of the identity of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is not so much a question of what people thought regarding this member of the Godhead as it is what the intention was of God Himself who inspired the writers.3

But this begs the question, how can we distinguish “what God intended” from “what people thought”? All we have to go on is the text and the perspective offered by its authors. To go behind the text and speculate on “what God intended” is, in fact, to read our own concerns into the text. Bolstered by his assumption, Wood draws a theological portrait of the Holy Spirit based on the New Testament and then looks for points of contact between that portrait and references to the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. “What God intended” is, for Wood, nothing more than the overlaying of one understanding of the Spirit onto another, so that the Old Testament’s unique contributions to our understanding of the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) are frequently blurred or passed over altogether.

John Rea takes a more moderate approach, finding “intimations” of the Trinity in God’s use of the first person plural, such as is found in Genesis 1:26;4 “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”5 But even this more restrained approach imports an explanation that is nowhere clearly articulated in the Old Testament, all the while ignoring other more indigenous explanations for the plural, such as the gathering of heavenly hosts in Job 1 or the divine council in Psalm 82.

Such an approach has two detrimental effects on our reading of the text. First of all, it “flattens” individual texts, forcing on each a homogeneity that often robs them of their voice, so that they can make no unique contribution to our understanding of the Spirit. In a headlong rush to find traces of the Trinity in the opening pages of the Bible, we do not permit ourselves the question, “What might we learn about the Spirit from a writer who shares with us no such insights into her nature?”

Secondly, such flattening of the text, by muting the individual voice of the text and opening the door to the import of surplus meanings, facilitates the imposition of theological frameworks that are foreign to the biblical writers. Again Wood provides an example of the excesses of such an approach. Not content with finding a mature Trinitarianism in the Old Testament accounts of the Spirit, he insists that each of the Spirit’s major New Testament offices can be found in the Old. In a strained series of arguments, he attests to evidence of the spiritual renewal of individuals by the Spirit, the indwelling of the Spirit, sealing by the Spirit so that the “believer” is eternally secure, and filling with the Spirit in the Old Testament.6 While Wood’s lack of moderation admittedly leaves him vulnerable to easy criticism, he nevertheless illumines for us a set of assumptions that are often brought, consciously or unconsciously, to a study of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament.

When, however, we allow that we cannot get behind “what people thought (and said)” to a hypothetical “what God intended,” we are left with drawing insight from that which can be pointed to in the text. Lloyd Neve is correct in his assessment that the רוח (ruach) of God is revealed not in an ontological sense, but as an expression of God’s action and intent.

In the Old Testament literature ruach is only used to express God’s activity as he relates himself to his world, his creation, his people. It was Israel’s way of describing God, not as he is in himself, but as he communicates to the world his power, his life, his anger, his will, his very presence.7

In this article I will attempt to value the individual voices of the Old Testament both for what they do and what they do not say about the Spirit of God. I will develop the hypothesis that, with regard to the Spirit’s role as creator, she is described not as the architect or principal agent of original creation, but as the sustainer of creation and the promise of renewed life.

Wind or Spirit?

The Spirit of God appears already in the second verse of Genesis where she is remarkable for the ambiguity and open-endedness of her activity. One of the questions that has dominated the discussion of this first biblical reference to the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) is whether we should see in this phrase a reference to God’s Spirit, to the breath of God, or simply to a mighty wind sent by God. This question centers on the relationship between the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) in verse 2c with the “formless void” and the “covering darkness” that precede it. Both Gerhard von Rad and Claus Westermann understand the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) to be in a parallel relationship with the formless void of the earth and the darkness that covers the sea. Westermann suggests that verse 2 provides a three-part description of the uncreated state of the world in preparation for God’s first word of creation in verse 3, translating רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) as “God’s wind.”8 Westermann’s explanation, though, does not account for the reference being to God’s רוח (ruach), which suggests an adversative relationship to the void and the darkness. Von Rad points out that there is no further mention of the spirit taking an active role in the creation process, so that רוח (ruach) is unlikely to refer here to God’s spirit, and suggests the translation “storm of God.”9 While von Rad’s observation does not offer sufficient grounds for his understanding רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) to refer to God’s wind rather than his Spirit, it is nevertheless suggestive. There is a decided gap between the hovering רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) and the creative word that follows in verse 3. The hovering Spirit remains in the background as God speaks the word and initiates creation, but never alights to take a more active role.

The suggestion that אלהים (elohim) should be understood as a superlative, thus a “mighty wind,” has even less to commend it. As Hildebrandt points out, such an understanding of רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) would be unique in the Old Testament.

In the OT, the phrase ruah elohim occurs fifteen times in Hebrew and five times in Aramaic. It is never rendered “mighty wind” or “a wind of God” in these occurrences. If the writer intended to convey “mighty wind,” he would have used an adjective to make this clear (cf. Jonah 1:4; Job 1:19).10

Hildebrandt’s assertion that the ו (waw) that precedes רוח (ruach) should be understood as an adversative provides the most probable reading11. Based on this adversative relationship of the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) to the pre-formed creation and the observation that the phrase is uniformly translated “Spirit of God” in each of its other appearances, Hildebrandt opts correctly for a translation of God’s Spirit, rather than a wind from God12. But what role, if any, does the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) play in the creation that is initiated by God’s word in verse 3?

In the Beginning the Spirit of God Kept Hovering

It is not the Spirit of God that creates in chapter 1, but his word. Indeed God’s Spirit receives no further mention in the creation accounts that follow. Thus, a second question that has been central to the discussion of the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) in Genesis 1 is what role, if any, does this Spirit play in the original creation event?

Numbers of scholars have argued that the Spirit’s active participation in creation is implicit, based on the possibility of translating רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) as “God’s breath” and the act of God’s speech beginning in verse 3. Hildebrandt, for example, follows Stek and Tengstrom who argue for just such an implied connection. “It is evident,” says Hildebrandt, “that the ruah elohim is not only superintending the work of creation but in fact brings creation about through the word. The passage is emphasising the actual, powerful presence of God, who brings the spoken word into reality by the Spirit.”13

Yet this connection, though intimated, is never clearly stated and the absence of any such unambiguous association is suggestive. DeRoche observes similarities between the Genesis 1 creation account, the flood reversal beginning in Genesis 8:1, and God’s parting of the Red Sea in Exodus 14:21. Noting parallels in creation language and imagery, DeRoche argues that in each instance the presence of the רוח (ruach) from God announces, but does not enact the creation or re-creation that follows. In all three instances, DeRoche suggests, the רוח (ruach) serves to herald an impending creative act, but is not an active agent in that act.

Neither is the fact that the ruah plays no role in the account of creation a problem, especially in the light of Gen 8:1 and Exod 14:21. In neither the flood story nor the account of the crossing of the Red Sea does the ruah appear other than in these two verses. In all three examples the appearance of the ruah is annunciatory. Once that task has been accomplished, it disappears from the scene.14

Though the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) is present at the creation, we should not conclude from this that the breath expelled by God as he speaks creation into being is an active and direct expression of the Spirit of God.

Ellen van Wolde argues that the רוח אלהים (ruah elohim) in Gen. 1:2 should be understood in terms of creative potential that describes the pre-relational state of God prior to his first creative act.

In this situation of the beginning the ruach elohim stands for God as he is before he begins to create and for God who still does not have a relationship with ‘beings’, because these do not yet exist. The moment God begins to speak, God ceases to be ruach elohim and becomes elohim, the creator God.15

Van Wolde’s hypothesis that the nature of God changes ontologically with the act of creation is not a compelling one. Were that the case, we would not expect to see further references to the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) after the opening verses of Genesis. Van Wolde’s argument does, however, underscore something that we do observe in the Genesis creation account, namely, that the Spirit remains aloof from the stages of creation, with her exact role ambiguous. “Thus ruah elohim,” John Walton suggests, “can retain a provocative ambivalence in meaning.”16 This partitioning of the Spirit, so that her activity is more potential than realised, is, I would argue, far from accidental. Throughout the Old Testament the Spirit’s role in creation is not its initiation, but its perpetuation.

This open-ended function of the Spirit is reflected in the verb used to describe her action. God’s Spirit “moves,” “flutters,” or “hovers” מרחפת (merachefet) over the deep waters. The only other occurrence of the verb רחף (rachaf) in the piel is an imperfect found in Deuteronomy 32:11; “As an eagle stirs up its nest, and hovers ירחף (yerachef) over its young.” The Genesis occurrence is a piel participle, which suggests ongoing movement that never quite alights nor comes to rest. The Spirit’s presence is active, expectant, and ongoing. There is a sense of anticipation and imminent action. But that action is not fully realised in and is certainly not exhausted by the initial creation of the cosmos. That the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) is present at creation seems clear,17 but her involvement has been over-emphasised. Eduard Schwietzer contends that the Spirit’s presence in Gen. 1:2 serves first and foremost to underscore her role as sustainer of creation.

Here [in Gen. 1:2] . . . the Spirit of God is grasped as a dynamic and creative principle. But it is not a matter only, or even principally, of the activity of God’s will completing the creation of the universe (cf. Ps. Xxxiii. 6); it is much more the fact that this dynamic force is responsible for all that is alive, for all physical life. The Spirit of God is the active principle which proceeds from God and gives life to the physical world (Gen. ii. 7).18

The primary role of the Spirit in creation as it is described both here and elsewhere in the Old Testament is not with its inception, but its continuation. “In the Old Testament,” says Derek Kidner, “the Spirit is a term for God’s ongoing energy, creative and sustaining (cf. Job 33:4; Ps. 104:30).”19 For Lyle Dabney, the Genesis account of the world’s creation “interprets the world as defined not by necessity but by possibility, that is, as fraught with the very possibility of God’s Spirit.”20 The רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) is present at the beginning, but she comes into her own as creator through the ongoing activity of sustaining and recreating life.

The Relation of Spirit and Word

The most obvious point of contact between the hovering Spirit and the creation that follows is the spoken word. As we have already seen, numbers of scholars draw a direct connection between God’s Spirit and his word from the lexical range of רוח (ruach) which may be translated wind, breath, or spirit. Hildebrandt acknowledges, though, that the participle מרחפת (merachefet) must preclude a translation in 1:2c of the “breath of God,” so that a direct association between the רוח (ruach) and the דבר (dabar) cannot be made. But, as was mentioned above, he nevertheless envisions a partnership between Spirit and word in creation.

It is evident that the ruah elohim is not only superintending the work of creation but in fact brings creation about through the word. The passage is emphasising the actual, powerful presence of God, who brings the spoken word into reality by the Spirit. Thus, the Spirit and the word work together to present how the one God is responsible for all that is seen in the physical universe.21

Hildebrandt does not, however, offer any support for his supposition. Neve also suggests a partnership between Spirit and word in which the Spirit acts both in the ongoing role of standing against chaos and partners with the word in creation.

But the spirit of God, not at all out of harmony with the spirit of God that has been described from the earliest writings of the Old Testament, not only joins the God of creation in v. 1 to the same God in v. 3, maintaining the continued action of the creative God of verse 1 over against the chaos, but also in harmony with Ps 33:6, finds its direct issuance in the creative word of v. 3. The spirit of God is the creative power of God which joins with the word, bearing and articulating it, in the creative act. On the other hand the word communicates and authenticates the spirit, making it specific and concrete (“Let there be light”) a fact which served the pre-exilic prophets well in distinguishing the spirit. Particularly in this passage the word safeguards the spirit from interpretation as an emanation, the divine fiat revealing that the true nature of spirit is power at work in creation.22

But such a partnership, though not excluded by the Genesis 1 account, finds remarkably little support in subsequent references to the Spirit in creation. Neve suggests only two other references which expressly connect the creative Spirit with God’s word, Pss. 33:6 and 147:18.23

Psalm 147 praises God for his power and provision for Jerusalem. The psalmist does not call to mind God’s forming of the cosmos, but rather his provision for his creation and his command of the seasons. By his word he sends snow and by his word he melts it. The רוח (ruach) in verse 18, given the context of Yahweh’s control of the seasons, is best translated wind rather than Spirit, just as the NRSV does. “He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.”24 Also, the references to Yahweh’s word are not to his creative word ברא (bara) does not appear in the psalm), but to his statutes and ordinances (v. 19).

Psalm 33 praises God for his dominion and appeals to his power over his creation in order to show his authority over the nations (vv. 10-11).25 Verse 6 reads “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all their hosts by the breath of his mouth.” The NIV, ASV, NKJV, and Tanakh also translate רוח (ruach) here as “breath,” suggesting that an association between the spoken word of Gen. 1:3 ff. and the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) in 1:2c is not being affirmed. The focus of the psalmist is on Yahweh’s character, specifically his righteousness, justice and steadfast love which fills his creation, as well as on his dominion over the forces of nature.26 An equating of the hovering Spirit with the spoken word is far less tenable here than in the Genesis account.

To summarise, then, only a single verse outside of Genesis 1 expressly joins Yahweh’s רוח (ruach) with his דבר (dabar) in a creation context. But the writer of Psalm 33 has little interest in the breath of God as an agent of creation. That interest lies with Yahweh’s commanding word with which he exercises his dominion over the nations. In speaking more broadly of the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) as creator, the Old Testament writers saw the creative function of the Spirit in the power to sustain creation and to restore life.

The Spirit that Creates Our Every Breath

The dominant role of the creating Spirit is not as an agent for establishing the cosmos, though the Spirit was present hovering over the face of the deep, but as the creative power that sustains life. Job most particularly understands life in terms of the ongoing creation of the רוח (ruach) of God. Job 27:3 equates the presence of the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) with continued life; “as long as my breath is in me and the spirit of God is in my nostrils.”27 For Job, though, life is more than simply maintaining the mechanics of existence. It is the continued possession of the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) that enables Job to keep his tongue from falsehood and to hold to his integrity. Ironically, it is God’s Spirit that empowers Job to contest with God “who has taken away my right” and “has made my soul bitter.” In an association not unlike that found in Psalm 33:4-9, Job realises a relationship between the fact that the breath of life is a gift of God’s spirit and the moral imperative to righteousness and integrity that such a gift implies.

In a speech permeated not with God’s words but with his own, Elihu affirms in 33:4 that “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”28 The רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) is the giver of life for each individual person and Elihu finds in the fact that all of humanity shares the same need for the Spirit’s ongoing creation an essential social leveler. Elihu may be the youngest and by society’s standards the least worthy to speak, but he is equal with his elders in that he shares with them the continual need for the Spirit’s creation. “It is,” says Gerald Wilson, “the ultimate reminder of human dependency on the creator – the essence of ‘fear of God.’ ”29 The Spirit that hovered over the deep in anticipation of the first word of creation is now perpetually creating life with each new birth and, indeed, with every new breath, so that none of us ever moves very far from the place when we were naked, newly formed and utterly contingent.

Elihu, like Job, sees God’s Spirit both as the giver of life and the gift of life.

If he should take back his spirit to himself,
and gather to himself his breath,
all flesh would perish together,
and all mortals return to dust.” (34:14-15)

It is not simply that the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) grants each breath. Apart from the enduring presence and activity of that Spirit, humans possess no breath of their own. As with Psalm 104:29-30, the emphasis here is not on God’s initial creation, but on the utter dependence of every living thing on God’s Spirit in order to draw their next breath.

The Spirit as the Presence of God

The manifestation of God’s Spirit as the sustainer of creation is most fully expressed within the Psalter. On three occasions, in a move that is unique to the Psalm writers, the creating רוח (ruach) of God is paired with his face or presence פנים (panim).30 In Psalm 139:7 the writer exclaims “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” Admittedly this psalm makes no direct reference to God’s creating Spirit, but the constant presence of that Spirit includes the moment of the psalmist’s conception as he or she is formed, knit together and made (vv. 13-15).

In a more explicit depiction, Psalm 104 portrays God’s care and provision for his creation. Verses 27-30 read:

These all look to you to give them their food in due season;

when you give to them, they gather it up;

when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

When you hide your face, they are dismayed;

when you take away their breath, they die and return to dust.

When you send forth your spirit, they are created ברא (bara);

and you renew the face of the ground. [italics added]

The psalmist describes a three-part movement from filling, to emptying and death, to new creation and rebirth. Verses 29-30 offer a chiasm that intertwine God’s Spirit and face or presence פנים (panim) with the spirit and face of his creation. When God hides his פנים (panim) the רוח (ruach) that sustains creation is withdrawn, so that the now empty physical bodies dissolve and return to dust. The process of creation is reversed and they are un-made. When God sends forth his רוח (ruach), a new act of creation occurs whereby the פנים (panim) of the ground is made new. Whereas the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) hovered, as it were, in the background while God spoke the cosmos into creation, she has come for the psalmist to embody God’s presence. Though the Old Testament nowhere presents the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) as the third person of the Trinity, nevertheless we have in the Psalter a decisive shift in thinking about the Spirit as she is now equated with the person and presence of God.

There is a second way, though, in which the psalms writers advance Israel’s understanding of God’s creative Spirit, anticipating the Spirit’s role in the New Testament. Hildebrandt suggests that the function of the Spirit as sustainer of physical life in the Old Testament continues in the New Testament, but that “the focus there changes from the physical to the spiritual dimensions of life.”31 Psalm 51 pairs God’s creative רוח (ruach) with his פנים (panim), but this time it is the spiritual and not the physical life of the psalmist that is the object of that creative force. In 51:10-12 we read:

Hide your face from my sins,

and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

and put a new and right spirit within me.

Do not cast me away from your presence,

and do not take your holy spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Just as in Psalm 104, here too the hiding of God’s face leads to death. Firstly, it results metaphorically in the death of the writer’s sin. If God would only hide his face from those sins, they would be erased and would cease to live. Secondly, though, sin has occasioned the need for a fresh act of creation in the psalm writer. It is not possible to repair or reform the heart of the psalmist. The damaged heart must be re-created and the warped spirit replaced. It is perhaps no accident that the description of this new role of the Spirit as sustainer of a person’s spiritual life is accompanied by one of the very few references in the Old Testament to God’s רוח קדש (ruach qodesh) or “holy spirit.”32


Though far from being an exhaustive exploration of the role of the Spirit of God as creator in the Old Testament, this present study suggests a number of conclusions.

1) Old Testament writers are relentlessly reluctant simply to equate the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) that hovers over the face of the waters in Gen. 1:2 with the God who speaks the cosmos into existence beginning in verse 3. The absence of any direct reference to the Spirit in either of the creation accounts that follow seems unlikely to be accidental or unintentional.

2) The unusual use of the piel participle מרחפת (merachefet) creates a sense of perpetual movement and unfolding potential. Though present at the inception of creation, the real task of the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) awaits the dawning of the seventh day. God may rest from his labor, but his Spirit cannot. Were the Spirit to cease from creating, even for a moment, our own רוח (ruach) would depart and we would return to dust.

3) Though the Old Testament offers no clear understanding of the Trinity, we do find a development in the thinking of its writers, so that the רוח אלהים (ruach elohim) as a creative force gradually comes to be identified with the פנים (panim) or presence of God. This association is a reciprocal one. In the Psalms the רוח (ruach) is less an expression of God’s power and more an expression of his self. Similarly, whereas God could contemplate withholding his פנים (panim) from Israel in Exodus 33 after their sin with the Golden Calf, for the psalmist no such withdrawal of the Spirit is possible if life is to continue. This association of the רוח (ruach) and the פנים (panim) of God sets the stage for eventually personifying God’s spirit.

4) Though more fully developed in the New Testament, there is nevertheless among Old Testament writers room for the role of the Spirit in creating and re-creating the spiritual and moral aspects of personhood. God’s spirit that sustains Job also empowers him to speak truth and maintain his integrity. For the psalmist, sin does not simply damage, it destroys completely, so that a new act of creation is called for. The creating Spirit makes our own spirits anew. For the writers of the Old Testament, the Spirit’s creation is found in every breath that we breath and with every cry for renewal that we pray.

  1. While noting a heavy wisdom influence on these texts, Lloyd Neve argues for their origin either in the prophetic or other independent traditions. The Spirit of God in the Old Testament (Tokyo: Seibunsha, 1977), 108-111. 

  2. The decision with regard to pronouns used for the Spirit is a vexed one. I have chosen a feminine personal pronoun because I understand the Spirit to gain a measure of personification in the Old Testament and I have adopted a feminine personal pronoun in order to acknowledge both the feminine form of the term in Hebrew and the fact that it is the male and female together who comprise the image of God. To refer to the Spirit of God as a woman tells us no more about the “gender” of God than does referring to Yahweh or even the Father as a man. My choice, though not arbitrary, is certainly not theologically loaded. 

  3. Leon J. Wood, The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1998), 19. 

  4. John Rea, The Holy Spirit in the Bible (Lake Mary, Florida: Creation House, 1990), 19. 

  5. Unless otherwise indicated, biblical citations are draw from the New Revised Standard Version. 

  6. Wood, 68-72. 

  7. Neve, 2. 

  8. Claus Westermann, Genesis: A Practical Commentary, translated by David Green (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1987), 8. 

  9. Gerhard von Rad, Genesis, revised edition, translated by John H. Marks (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972), 49-50. 

  10. Wilf Hildebrandt, An Old Testament Theology of the Spirit of God (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1995), 34. 

  11. Ibid., 32. 

  12. Fabry also argues for an adversative sense, but on very different grounds. Drawing on the adversarial relationship between wind and water in many Near Eastern cosmogonies, he asserts that the wind of God would be understood as raging against the primordial sea in a “fundamental preexisting polarity.” H. – J. Fabry, “רוח,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, vol. 13, edited by Johannes Botterweck et al. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), 365-402, 384-385. See also Neve, 66. 

  13. Hildebrandt, 35. So also Wood, 23; Rea, 29; and Eduard Schwietzer Spirit of God (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1960), 3. 

  14. M. P. DeRoche, “The ruah elohim in Gen 1:2c; Creation or Chaos?,” in Ascribe to the Lord: Biblical and Other Studies in Memory of Peter C. Craigie edited by Lyle Eslinger and Glen Taylor, Glen (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1988), 315. 

  15. Ellen van Wolde, Stories of the Beginning: Genesis 1-11 and Other Creation Stories, trans. John Bowden (Ridgefield, CT: Morehouse Publishing, 1996), 21. 

  16. John H. Walton, “Creation,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, edited by T. Desmond Alexander and David W. Baker (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 157. 

  17. Neve’s suggestion is the most useful, that the Spirit is not to be equated with the spoken word of God, but that she accompanies and stands along side of that word as the cosmos are created. (109) 

  18. Schwietzer, 3. 

  19. Derek Kidner, Genesis (London: Tyndale Press, 1968), 45. 

  20. D. Lyle Dabney, “The Nature of the Spirit: Creation as a Premonition,” in The Work of the Spirit: Pneumatology and Pentecostalism, edited by Michael Welker (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 77-78. 

  21. Hildebrandt, 35. 

  22. Neve, 69. 

  23. Ibid., 109. 

  24. The NAS and NKJV also opt for wind and the NIV for breezes, while the Tanakh perhaps alludes more directly to the creation account with the reading “He issues a command – it melts them; He breathes – the waters flow.” 

  25. Craig Broyles argues that focus of vv. 6-19 is on God’s dominion. Psalms (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrikson Publishers,1999), 165. 

  26. See Scott A. Ellington, “The Face of God as His Creating Spirit: The Interplay of Yahweh’s panim and ruach in Psalm 104:29-30,” in The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth: Pentecostal Forays in Science and Theology of Creation, edited by Amos Yong (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Press), 2009. 

  27. H. H. Rowley asserts that “[t]he reference to ‘nostrils’ here show that the meaning is ‘breath’, and that the line is synonymously parallel with the preceding line; ‘spirit’ is simply for stylistic variation.” Job (Greenwood, S C: The Attic Press, 1970), 220-21. This rendering, though, offers no explanation for the affirmation that it is God’s רוח (ruach), suggesting more than a straightforward synonymous relationship “breath” in 3a. 

  28. In the opening verses of Elihu’s address he gives answer, declares, speaks, opens his lips, answers, speaks, offers words, opens his mouth, speaks, declares, and speaks. 

  29. Job (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrikson Publishers, 2007), 369. 

  30. See Scott A. Ellington, “The Face of God as His Creating Spirit: The Interplay of Yahweh’s panim and ruach in Psalm 104:29-30,” in The Spirit Renews the Face of the Earth: Pentecostal Forays in Science and Theology of Creation, edited by Amos Yong (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Press), 2009. 

  31. Hildebrandt, 196. 

  32. Also Isaiah 63:10-11.