In a previous post we went through various stories in Israel’s history that relate fire to the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. We noted that fire from God’s presence had great symbolic importance relating to God’s acceptance of a priesthood and a Temple.
Those of us who have gone to a Bible-believing church for any length of time have already been taught about the connection between wind and the Holy Spirit in the Bible, so we won’t cover those more direct connections here. This post will reflect on wind in Israel’s history to see the “sound of a rushing mighty wind” in Acts 2 in a fuller light.
One connection between wind and Pentecost that I have yet to hear covered in church relates to the ultimate salvation story of the Hebrew Bible – the crossing of the Red Sea. [Exodus 14:21-29]
After their walk out of Egypt God takes them to the edge of the “Red Sea.” This point is surrounded by impassible mountains to the north and south and the sea to the east. The west becomes blocked when the Egyptian army rolls in at dusk, effectively trapping them along the coast.
God intervenes by interposing His column of fire/cloud between the western side of the Israelite camp and the Egyptians, halting their advance. He instructs Moses to raise his walking stick over the sea. As Moses does this, God sends a strong wind to divide the waters, drying the seabed in the process. The Israelites then proceed to walk across the dry seabed over the remainder of the night and emerge at the other side by morning.
The Egyptians, showing more guts than good sense, enter the water-lined chasm in hot pursuit as the cloud lifts. God abruptly changes the wind direction and the fearsome Egyptian military machine finds its permanent home at the bottom of the sea.
God’s creative use of the wind in the final saving event of Israel’s Exodus firmly establishes wind as a symbol of God’s saving power. Israel’s first worship song, written immediately after this event, poetically links the wind with God’s “breath.” [Exodus 15:8-11]
God’s “breath” not only brings salvation. It also brings life to the first human being. [Genesis 2:7] Presumably this life is passed on in the great chain of human reproduction, so you do not need to see God physically breathing into each human being as it is born.
In one of the great prophetic passages of comfort to a people in exile, God gives Ezekiel a vision of a valley of dry bones. [Ezekiel 37:1-14] These bones represent a nation totally destroyed beyond hope of restoration. In this vision, God puts the bones back together and covers them with flesh and skin. He tells the prophet to call for “breath” to come “from the four winds” and enter the bodies to bring them back to life. Interestingly enough, the words translated “breath,” “wind” and “spirit” in this passage are the same word in the Hebrew language that this was first written in. God’s “breath” or “wind” gives hope for a lost and hopeless people.
One important aspect about wind as noted in Exodus 14 and 15 is that human beings cannot control it. It is symbolic of God’s sovereignty that the wind can only be controlled by God. Psalm 104:4, referring to God’s greatness, states,
“you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.” [NRSV]
[Note that some older Bible translations translate “messengers” as “angels” and “winds” as “spirits.” These older Bibles may also follow the Greek translation of the Psalm in stating that God “makes his angels spirits.” This way of translating is illogical in the context of the Psalm, which is about how God orders and uses the creation for His glory. Besides, it makes no sense for God to “make his angels spirits" when He originally created them that way. In both ancient Hebrew and Greek, the words for “angel” and “spirit” have a wide range of meaning that must be considered in the context of the passage.]
Among the more shocking things Jesus’ disciples saw during His ministry with them was Him rebuking the wind and waves for nearly drowning them. At His command, the wind dies down, allowing the waves to settle. Among themselves the astonished disciples ask, “who then is this, that he commands even the winds and water, and they obey him?” [Luke 8:25] This is one of the passages that suggests that Jesus is, in fact, God almighty Himself in human flesh.
In 2 Kings 2:9-11 God uses a whirlwind to transport Elijah into the heavens. At least symbolically, Elijah has been transported to heaven, another symbol of salvation. In a similar vein Colossians 1:13 notes how God’s saving power has already “rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.”
Another biblical image of wind that applies is that of God speaking to Job out of a whirlwind. [Job 38:1] By the time God has questioned Job about the difference between Creator and created there is only one reasonable response in Job 42:5-6:
“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
So as God signals His presence with the sound of a mighty rushing wind and speaks through His disciples there is also only one reasonable response [Acts 2:37-38]: Repentance, baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit.
The sound of the might rushing wind in the upper room wasn’t just a meaningless sound effect intended to draw a crowd. For the disciples, it was loaded with meaning!
It was a sign of salvation, just as for Israel at the Red Sea.
It was a symbol of hope for Israel and anyone else who would come to Jesus.
It was symbolic of the transfer of the disciples from the “kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of His beloved Son. “
It was a sign that what happened to the disciples was from Jesus’ own sovereign will, since He had already demonstrated control over the wind.
It was also a sign that God was empowering these men as God’s messengers and ministers, using the same elements as mentioned in Psalm 104:4 to “ordain” them. Empowered by His Spirit, they can function as His ministers and messengers, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ’s ministry of salvation via His death and resurrection.
Finally, it was a sign of God’s overwhelming presence – a presence that confronts human beings with their own limits in the face of His overwhelming greatness. His is a presence that demands a clean conscience and a clean heart. Only repentance (change of heart and action) and acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf may clean up the conscience in a way that allows us to remain in His presence without discomfort. It is no wonder that the Apostle Paul would later call this a “ministry of reconciliation” between God and humanity.
On that Pentecost day Jesus Christ sent the sound of a “rushing mighty wind” that was not just a crowd-drawing sound effect. It was a sign of God’s mighty saving hand: the winds of change in God’s plan of salvation.