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Understanding the Ruach HaKodesh

One of the major issues we deal with when interacting with people, particularly Christians, is what it means to be ‘filled with the Spirit’ or if we believe in or practice some of the various manifestations of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues, words of knowledge and the like. This is to say nothing of the more extreme manifestations such as gold dust, laughing or barking. So from the perspective of Scripture, Jewish tradition and the experiences recorded in Acts concerning the Natzrim community, what does it mean to have or experience the Ruach haKodesh?

To begin with, we must realize that the Ruach haKodesh was not limited to Acts chapter two and following. Moshe had it and distributed it to the elders. Yahushua breathed on his talmidim before his ascension and they received it. The prophets had it. Saul and David had it. The question is ‘what is ‘it’’? Is ‘it’ a person? Not in the normal way of thinking. Look up person in the dictionary, and we will find that a definition of the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost that makes it a person is misleading. And if ‘it’ were a person, ‘it’ would be a she, not a he, ruach is feminine.

Nor is the Ruach simply a ‘power’ from G-d. The way we should define Ruach haKodesh is as an intense experience of the Divine. It is powerful, yes. It is personal in the sense that we come closer to YHVH than at any other time. What Ruach haKodesh is, is a penetration of the spiritual realm to the highest levels, where one can have the reality of the Divine Presence, one can align one’s will with His, at times see the past and the future because in His presence it is all one. In a very real sense, this is what we were created for, to have this kind of relationship with our Creator, to walk with Him and talk with Him as a man speaks to his friend. We know that Adam, Enoch, Avraham, Moshe and others had this kind of relationship with G-d. It is available to all of us because He wants our fellowship.

It is an ‘experience’ that was part of life in the first Temple period and before, one of the unfortunate results being the prevalence of idolatry due to people taking the short cuts offered by paganism to have a ‘spiritual experience’. Thus the ‘prophetic schools’ were ‘put out of business’ at the time of Babylonian captivity and the methods and understanding used to ‘receive the Ruach haKodesh’ were lost until the prophesy of Joel chapter two was fulfilled. So if we define Ruach haKodesh as a ‘prophetic experience’ in which we come into the Divine Presence in a very unique way, and as one that was part of the life of Israel in the past was was promised to be so again in the future, we will have very different expectations about it.

From the above examples and others in the Tenach we can learn a few things about this prophetic experience. First, it is very often a visible manifestation, something others can see. In I Samuel 10 Sha’ul, after meeting Samuel and being anointed king, met with a band of men who were making music and prophesying and when he met them, he too received the ‘Spirit (Ruach) of YHVH’. He also became a different man, change through the ruach, not unlike that found in the ‘New Testament’. Of course we have the same kind of example among the elders in Moshe’s time (Num 11). Moshe wished that all of the people could prophesy, that they could all have the same intimate experience with YHVH that he did and the elders did when they sat in the presence of G-d. This parallels the experience of the Ruach in Acts, where everyone could see that something was going on in Acts 2 and that the ‘receiving’ of the Ruach was something that could be seen by those present.

Second, and perhaps most important in our consideration, is that is can be taught, trained for, and ‘induced’, even against one’s will on occasion (I Sam 19:18-24). We know that prophets, Elijah for example, had disciples who learned the prophetic way. There were ‘schools of the prophets’ and some of them were quite large, even in Israel’s idolatrous times (II Kings 2). These men and women learned how to invite the Ruach haKodesh upon themselves. Ultimately, and we need to keep this in mind as we continue, the presence of G-d in one’s life through the Ruach haKodesh is G-d’s prerogative and the training or process of learning enables one to be in the position to receive. Otherwise it is an occult system with a formula of cause and effect devoid of truth and righteousness, practices prevalent in the first Temple period.

What did the schools of the prophets teach were aids to the Ruach experience? First of all, the experience is based on a life of piety, blameless in matters of Torah. This is why the counterfeits were (and are) so prevalent, few are willing to make the sacrifices to live life so in line with Torah, the primary training tool by which we strengthen our faith and relationship with G-d. So one can do all the other things that I may suggest after this but without a consistent, holy, pious life, one cannot come into the presence of G-d, nor can the presence of G-d come to you.

Often, in order to put oneself in a position to receive the Ruach, one had to remove oneself from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Ramah, in the time of Samuel, was such a place where the prophets would gather. We know that Yitzach was alone in a field ‘meditating’ when Rebekah and Eliazar approached. Yochannon was ‘in the ruach’ while in exile on Patmos. Prophesy requires mental quietude and one has to be trained to achieve that state when it is physically quiet so one can also have it when it is not so quiet.

What other things assisted them in receiving prophesy? Music often played a large part of it. As we saw in Saul’s experience, music often accompanied it, and Elisha used it as a way of ‘inducing’ the ruach (II Kings 3:14-16). Music aids in reducing extraneous thoughts and breaking down the ego, facilitating connection with G-d. Music plays a large part in the worship of G-d in the heavenlies and when we experience the ruach, we join in with that worship. There were also particular physical positions described in scripture that also assisted the worshipper, including spreading the hands toward heaven (Ezra 9:5) and kneeling (II Chron 6:13). And the understanding and use of the various names of G-d also were part of opening oneself up to the Ruach. In addition to the recitation of the names of G-d, meditating on scripture, particularly the psalms, has also been a recognized method of bringing about Ruach HaKodash. Many of the Psalms, particularly those of David and Moshe, where either guides to the prophetic experience or were composed in that ‘state’. And as is evident in Acts, the experience can be ‘transferred’ from one righteous individual to another, often through the laying on of hands.

What was the experience of the Ruach like? It was often very emotional, characterized by rejoicing, singing or crying out, or even weeping (Isa 24:14, Ps 17:1), sometimes it was accompanied by inarticulate sounds (Isa 38:14, 31:4, Ps 115:7) and can result in visions (Isa, Eze). This is one of the reasons the Talmidim were accused of being drunk, because of the emotions and fantastic nature of the experience. At it’s deeper levels, it includes focused attention on the mysteries of G-d found in the Torah. Because the Ruach experience was so rare in the time of Yahushua, no one had the ability to see into the mysteries of Torah that would have revealed the Messiah so obviously. Such concentration also enables one to clearly see and understand concepts, problems and other things thoroughly.

That this was part of the early Nazarene community is without question. We have mentioned Yochannon’s revelation, and we can add Rabbi Sha’ul’s experience of the heavenlies. Kefa said that what was happening on Shavuot was a fulfillment of Joel 2 and that the experience of the Ruach was now available to ‘all flesh’. The experience of the Ruach was not limited by nation or ethnicity, it was available to anyone. This would be demonstrated in the life of Cornelius and his household first, and to many other Gentiles in the future. YHVH was recreating a community that as a rule would be intimate with Him. He did this by enabling them to obey Torah by writing it on their hearts, the prerequisite for the Ruach. But when the community moved away from strict Torah observance, the experience and the power of the Ruach once again went into exile. We as a community have the opportunity to bring it back, to have it available once again, if we are willing to learn and to make the sacrifices piety demands. Then we will again walk in the power and ‘ecstasy of the Spirit’ and we will be the ones to turn the world upside down once more.