Meet the Holy Spirit
In the first reference to the Him in the Bible, the Holy Spirit is hovering near the Father to help Him accomplish His agenda.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,” Genesis 1:1-2, ESV.
We will point out that the dynamic relationship between the Father and the Spirit as depicted in Genesis 1:1-2 has practical relevance for every person who longs to see God bring deeper-level change in their life or in the life of a friend.
Frequently people go to Genesis 1 to examine the relationship between science and the Bible. As important as that subject is, it is probably not the Hebrew author’s main concern. Along with many other students of Scripture, I believe that the literary structure of Genesis 1 unfolds as follows.
Topic Sentence (Genesis 1:1)
Genesis 1:1 presents the chapter’s topic sentence, a global statement that tells us what the remainder of the chapter will be about, namely, the creation of the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1 does not argue for God’s existence; rather, it simply assumes that God existed prior to creation and declares that God created the heavens and the earth. Everything we see around us and above us had a beginning — everything, except God. God is eternal; the heavens and the earth are not.
In Genesis 1:2 we learn about the original condition of the heavens and the earth.
“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep,” Genesis 1:2, ESV.
The Hebrew words transliterated into English are tohuw (without form) and bowhoo (void). Incidentally, the same phrase occurs in Jeremiah 4:23: “I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void,” (ESV).
WITHOUT FORM (Genesis 1:2)
The word for “without form” or “formless,” according to Strong’s (08414), comes from an unused root meaning “to lie waste; a desolation.”
The same Hebrew word occurs two more times in the Old Testament.
“Caravans turn aside from their routes;
they go up into the wasteland [tohuw or to’-hoo] and perish,” Job 6:18, NIV.
Hence, the word “formless” (tohuw) refers to something that lacks form or structure like a pile of spaghetti or a glob of clay on a potter’s wheel. By extension the word refers to a place that is desolate, e.g., a wasteland or a wilderness.
By choosing the word tohuw the author of Genesis is telling us about the original condition of the world at the first stroke of creation. It was formless. It had no structure, no order, no pattern, no symmetry, no beauty. The earth was like a desolate wasteland.
The clear sense in Genesis 1:2 is that the earth is not yet fit for habitation and that God has a great deal of preparatory work to do before it will be.[i]
The phrase “without form and void” (1:2) establishes an outline the remainder of Genesis 1.
- Days 1-3a: God gives form to that which is formless by separating and gathering
- Days 3b-6: God fills that which is empty by making and creating
As a capstone to the work of creation, Genesis 2:1 presents the satisfying outcome.
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them,” Genesis 2:1, ESV.
THE HOLY SPIRIT’S ROLE
God the Father initiated the act of creation but He did not act alone. Rather, in Genesis 1 and 2, He included the Holy Spirit. Theologian Wayne Grudem observes, “The testimony of the Scripture to the specific activity of the Holy Spirit in Creation is scarce.”[ii] Hence, we must be careful to not say more than the Bible itself says.
With that caution in mind, let’s focus on the Spirit’s role in Genesis 1 and the implications for us.
“And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters,” Genesis 1:2, ESV.
The Hebrew word for ‘Spirit’ in Genesis 1:2 is ruach and it may be translated as: breath, wind, spirit / Spirit.[iii] In the context of Genesis 1:2, the most fitting translation is “Spirit”. What is the Spirit of God doing? He is “hovering over the face of the waters,” Genesis 1:2, ESV. That means that He is “moving over” or “fluttering over” the waters.
According to one Jewish author, “hovering” is symbolized in the Torah “as an eagle that stirs-up her nest and hovers over her young,” “touching yet not touching.” She flutters over her young.
“Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
that flutters over its young,
spreading out its wings, catching them,
bearing them on its pinions,” Deuteronomy 32:11, ESV.
Can you picture an eagle “hovering” over its young? Her wings move in a gentle, vibrating, pulsating, fluttering motion. That’s what the Spirit of God is doing in Genesis 1:2 – He is hovering over something that is formless and empty.
What is the “hovering” Spirit waiting for?
For the Father’s command; for the Father’s decree; for the Father’s executive order; for the Father’s word — “Let there be!”
The text implies that as soon as the Father issues His decree, the Spirit — who, in sense, is the Father’s Divine Assistant — goes to work and implements it. For example, the Father declares, “Let there be light!” … and there is! because the Spirit makes it happen.
An Artist’s Perspective
Let’s suppose that you are an artist and you decide to draw a series of pictures that depict the sequence of events set forth in Genesis 1. What will you draw in your first picture? And your second?
Picture #1 will depict the world as formless and empty. Father, Son, and Spirit are present and the Spirit is “hovering over” the waters.
In picture #2, the Father speaks. He issues a decree. “Let there be!”
That which was formless now has form,
and that which was empty is now filled.
The Holy Spirit’s Role
The Spirit’s role in creation is affirmed in a couple other places in Scripture.
“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
And by the breath of His mouth [i.e., by the Spirit] all their host,” Ps. 33:6, NAS.
“When you send your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth,” Ps. 104:30, NIV.
“The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life,” Job 33:4, NAS.
Theologian Wayne Grudem observes,
From the very beginning of creation we have an indication that the Holy Spirit’s work is to complete and sustain what God the Father has planned and what the Son has begun.[iv]
What we must see is this: During the original act of creation, the Spirit did not sit by idly in His celestial rocking chair watching the world take shape. Rather, in response to the Father’s command, the Spirit rolled up His sleeves and went to work. The Spirit brought form and fullness to the universe and to the earth.
What is the relevance of this for ordinary people like you and me?
1. God the Father delights in giving form to that which is formless and filling that which is empty; and, God the Father’s assistant in this great work is the Holy Spirit.
One of God’s desires is to replicate Genesis 1 in our lives.
Picture in your mind a continuum. The movement in Genesis 1 is from unstructured and chaotic toward structured and orderly. It is from empty and void toward fullness and wholeness.
Think about dynamics in your life, in your family, and in your church.
- the way leadership happens.
- how jobs and projects get done.
Which end of the continuum best describes what life is like for you?
In addition, reflect on how you feel. Are you feeling lonely and alone? Has someone upon whom you counted abandoned you leaving a void in your life? Perhaps you are feeling confused, or like life is on the edge of being out of control.
Sometimes our lives look and feel tohoo and bowhoo, like the backside of a tapestry.
The good news from Genesis 1 is this: Through the Spirit, God the Father delights in moving us toward the right side of the continuum. He delights in giving form to that which is formless and filling that which is empty. Derek Kidner affirms that “God’s normal method is to work from the formless to the formed.”[v] God the Father’s assistant in this great work is the Holy Spirit.
How does the Father do it?
In short, God the Father issues a decree; He speaks forth a command. Then, the Spirit of God, along with the Son, steps up-to-the-plate and carries it out. God the Father is like a Master Architect. God the Spirit is His divine assistant, firing-up the saw, pounding in the nails, and getting the job done.
2. In our day the Spirit hovers near broken and needy people.
Whenever we see some aspect of our lives that is chaotic, disorderly, empty, dark, or broken, we can invite the Spirit of God to hover near. We can also ask the Father to speak the word that will release the Spirit to shift from neutral into drive, forming what is formless, and filling what is empty.
3. Frequently the Father instructs us to speak the word that will release the Spirit to work.
A pastor from South Korea named Dr. Cho wrote about how he began to see visions of people being healed while he preached. He also felt that his church was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Spirit was hovering near. Dr. Cho did not know what to do with the images he saw, and, except for some animated worship, nothing much happened. One day Dr. Cho sought the Lord for understanding and God answered him through a vision he saw while praying. Dr. Cho wrote,
The earth was without form and void and the Holy Spirit hovered over the earth, incubating it; but nothing happened. God then revealed an important truth to me. He said, “In Genesis 1 the Holy Spirit was present – the mighty anointing of the Holy Spirit incubating and brooding over the waters. Did anything happen at that point? No, nothing.” Then God spoke [to me],
You feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in your church – the pulsating, permeating presence of the Holy Spirit – but nothing will happen, no soul will be saved, no broken home rejoined, until you speak the word! Don’t just beg and beg for what you need.
Give the word! Let me [God] have the material with which I can build miraculous results. Speak forth. Say, “Let there be!” Follow the example I set in creating the world. Say what you see.
- Let blind eyes be healed!
- Let crippled feet walk!
- Let broken hearts, broken homes, and broken lives be mended!’[vi]
In a parallel illustration Brad Long wrote,
In 1978, at a PCC conference in Montreat, North Carolina, an estimated nine hundred people stood in exalted, Spirit-led praise of Jesus Christ. After a period of singing, we stood in silence. The Holy Spirit’s presence was vibrant, nearly palpable; to me, it felt like the thundering clouds before a storm. Awed by the presence, we waited for something to happen. It was like the dawn of creation.
Suddenly, there came into my mind the words, “Bow down before me, bow down before me, for I am the mighty King.” I knew that the Lord was speaking to me, but I was afraid that I might be wrong. As I inwardly struggled to discern whether it really was of the Lord, or whether I would just make a fool out of myself by speaking these words, the words grew hot within me! Finally, I took the risk and started to speak them out. To my amazement, no sooner had I said, “Bow” than everyone in the whole group instantly fell to their knees![vii]
The Holy Spirit needed the word He had given Brad to speak in order to do His work. What followed was an amazing period in which the Holy Spirit moved in the group with healing and other manifestations of power.
We Can and Can Not
We cannot control when, where, or how the Spirit of God will hover in our lives or in our midst.
We cannot demand that the Spirit respond to our commands. We can issue commands all day long but the Spirit is not obligated to do what we implore Him to do. For example, we can say:
- Let the lawn be mowed!
- Let our children live in peace and harmony!
- Let our weekends be filled with meaningful friendships and activities!
- Let all our investments grow by 10% per year!
- Let there be an all-church picnic!
- Let a new ministries begin in September!
- Let our endowment fund be fully funded by Thanksgiving!
We can issue commands all day long but unless our orders originate in the heart of our Heavenly Father and are expressed through us when the time is right, they will not produce fruit. They may produce a flurry of activity but not necessarily spiritual fruit.
By contrast, everything that God decrees, and everything that God guides us to decree, comes to fruition. Hence, we worship God!
We are limited but we are not neutralized. We can:
- Invite the Spirit of God to draw near. “Hover near, Holy Spirit, hover near!”
- Ask Jesus to open our eyes to see where the Spirit is already hovering.
- Ask Jesus to reveal how we are to cooperate with Him – what words we are to speak in order to release the Spirit to shift from neutral to drive and accomplish the Father’s works in our midst.
As we speak these words in response to God’s guidance, He acts to bring form and fullness into our lives and the lives of others.
Here’s a prayer that many find helpful.
Lord Jesus, open our eyes to see, and our hearts to “know” when and where the Spirit of God is hovering. Reveal to us how we are to cooperate with You. Graciously open our ears to “hear” the words that You want us to speak. Grant courage to speak in faith. Bring light, life, healing, wholeness, freedom, and restoration to Your people for Your glory. Amen.
For further thought and discussion:
- Talk about a time when you sensed that the Holy Spirit was hovering near. What happened? If you could re-live that experience, what would you do or say differently?
- Talk about a situation where you long for the Holy Spirit to hover near.
For much more on the person and work of the Holy Spirit in Scripture and in my life, order my book on Amazon, FireStarter: The Holy Spirit Empowers.
© 2017 Philip J. Noordmans
[i] See Grudem, 288
[ii] Grudem, 267
[iii] BDB, 924
[iv] Grudem, 635
[v] Kidner, 45
[vi] Cho, 81
[vii] Long, 216
Brown, Driver, & Briggs. (1974). Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Cho, D. (. (1979). The Fourth Dimension. Seoul, Korea: Seoul Logos Co., Inc.
Grudem, W. (1994). Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Kidner, D. (1967). Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Long, Brad; Whitaker, Bob; Byron, Gene; and Selig, Larry. (1998). The PRMI Dunamis Project. In the Spirit’s Power: The Gifts of the Holy Spirit . www.prmi.org.
Originally posted Oct. 15, 2012