Today's proverb offers us an interesting insight into the beautiful subtlety that is the original language of scripture. If you look up this verse in your bible you will see a footnote after the word "spirit" (or breath/wind) and this is because the Hebrew word for spirit also is the word for breath, and wind.
This is important to understand the greater meaning of this particular proverb, and many other passages of scripture as well. Just as we take a deep breath that can go down into our "innermost parts" on a physical level, our spirit touches the innermost parts of who we are as a person. The proverb says this is like a lamp or light of the Lord. This idea that air, light, and fire all combine in this metaphor shows us the miracle of a close relationship with God. It transcends the physical into the spiritual.
That's why our biblical translators most often translate this in context as "spirit." They know the author of Proverbs wasn't talking about physical breath but of the spiritual realities of a godly life. But it is good to slow down and consider how the concepts of wind and spirit are intertwined in the mind of the original audience in scripture so we can appreciate fully the idea that is being conveyed.
This happens in the New Testament as well, with the idea of spirit and wind intertwining. Jesus was having a conversation with Nicodemus about the kingdom of heaven:
This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’
Now we might like to think Nicodemus is being dense. Any child who has been to Sunday school knows what it means to be born again. What was Nicodemus' issue? It was perhaps twofold. The New Testament was written in Greek, and in that language above and again are the same word. So it could be they were having this conversation in Greek (Nicodemus is a Greek name after all, and many 'educated' Jews spoke Greek over Aramaic or Hebrew) and he's confused, did you mean again, or from above Jesus? Surely a man can't enter his mother a second time, that can't be.
But the 'again' part would have had Nicodemus at a loss as well. When a Gentile wished to become a believer in the God of Israel, they had to undergo a process, that included baptism, and be "born again" as an Israelite. Are you saying that I, a Hebrew believer in the God of Israel need to be born again, just like gentiles do? Why would that be? I was born into the household of God already!
Jesus continued "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
In both Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek, the word for spirit is the word for wind or breath. Just like it is with the wind, so it is with the Spirit. The conversation continues:
Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
That last sentence is key. Nicodemus is focused on the earthly reality of him being born into a Hebrew family. Are you talking about being physically born again Jesus? Are you talking about wind, or talking about the spirit?
"If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?" Nicodemus was distracted by the physical and not able to hear the spiritual truth Jesus was telling him. He knew when scripture meant wind, and when it meant spirit, he was a teacher of Israel. But his identity was wrapped up in who he was physically. So he struggled with this concept because of his earthly focus.
And we too can lose our way when we focus on our earthly realities over our spiritual life. Our proverb for today shows us that our relationship with God can be an illuminating, life-giving experience. But we lose out on that when we choose physical breath over spiritual truth or chase the wind instead of pursuing the Spirit.
So today let's take the time to let the love and truth of God sink deeply into our spirits, like a spiritual breath of fresh air. Just like our physical bodies need us to breathe so that we may live, our spirits need God to live eternally as well.
Father, I am grateful for the life you have breathed into me, both physically and spiritually. Jesus, teach me today the spiritual truths I need to grow in my love and faith in you. Send your Holy Spirit to bring my spirit to live, that your love, mercy, and peace can extend to the innermost parts of my being. I love you, Lord, be my purpose and my focus today. Amen.