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Joel uses the act of pouring to describe God providing His spirit to all the people of Israel:

After that,
I will pour out My spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy;
Your old men shall dream dreams,
And your young men shall see visions.

I will even pour out My spirit
Upon male and female slaves in those days. —Joel 3:1–2 (NJPS)

(This is Joel 2:28–29 in most other English translations.)

My naive reading suggested the spirit is poured like water or perhaps wine, but Peter seems to think it was the tongues of fire reported in Acts 2. Does Joel give us any indication about what the physical analogy might be? Is he referring to some image in previous texts?

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3 Answers 3

The tanakh contains several references to God's "spirit" (ruach). This spirit sometimes "comes" (1 Sam 16:13) or "hovers" (Gen 1:2). Twice it is "poured", once in Joel (per the question) and once in Isaiah 44:3:

כִּי אֶצָּק-מַיִם עַל-צָמֵא, וְנֹזְלִים עַל-יַבָּשָׁה; אֶצֹּק רוּחִי עַל-זַרְעֶךָ, וּבִרְכָתִי עַל-צֶאֱצָאֶיךָ.

For I will pour water upon the thirsty land, and streams upon the dry ground; I will pour My spirit upon thy seed, and My blessing upon thine offspring;

In Joel the physical analogy is left unstated, but Isaiah is drawing a parallel with water -- just as water nourishes the thirsty land, allowing (plant) seeds to grow, the divine spirit nourishes people, particularly "thine offspring".

Isaiah also uses pouring from above (righteousness this time, not spirit) in 45:8:

הַרְעִיפוּ שָׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל, וּשְׁחָקִים יִזְּלוּ-צֶדֶק; תִּפְתַּח-אֶרֶץ וְיִפְרוּ-יֶשַׁע, וּצְדָקָה תַצְמִיחַ יַחַד--אֲנִי יְהוָה, בְּרָאתִיו.

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, that they may bring forth salvation, and let her cause righteousness to spring up together; I the LORD have created it.

Blessings (not specifically the divine spirit, but good things from God) are "poured" too. Malachi 3:10 talks about pouring from "the windows of heaven":

הָבִיאוּ אֶת-כָּל-הַמַּעֲשֵׂר אֶל-בֵּית הָאוֹצָר, וִיהִי טֶרֶף בְּבֵיתִי, וּבְחָנוּנִי נָא בָּזֹאת, אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת: אִם-לֹא אֶפְתַּח לָכֶם, אֵת אֲרֻבּוֹת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וַהֲרִיקֹתִי לָכֶם בְּרָכָה, עַד-בְּלִי-דָי.

Bring ye the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall be more than sufficiency.

We see something pouring from "the windows of heaven" in Gen 7:11 at the start of the flood, where it's definitely talking about water:

בִּשְׁנַת שֵׁשׁ-מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה, לְחַיֵּי-נֹחַ, בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשֵּׁנִי, בְּשִׁבְעָה-עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ--בַּיּוֹם הַזֶּה, נִבְקְעוּ כָּל-מַעְיְנֹת תְּהוֹם רַבָּה, וַאֲרֻבֹּת הַשָּׁמַיִם, נִפְתָּחוּ.

In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.

All of these precedents point to water; Joel himself does not specify, but Occam's razor suggests that this is the most-likely interpetation.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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The spirit is also poured out in Zech. 12:10. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 May 31 '13 at 8:55
    
@H3br3wHamm3r81 thanks, I forgot about that one. There, the "spirit of grace and supplication" is being poured; more-specific imagery isn't clear to me. –  Gone Quiet May 31 '13 at 12:59

I agree with this answer that one primary referent would be water, but would not limit it to that. I suggest that in this outpouring and its description, there are allusions to the linked concepts of both anointing and baptism (e.g. levitical washings etc). The latter suggests water; the former suggests oil, which was poured upon the head of priests and other messiahs (anointed ones). See e.g. Ex 29:7, 21 etc, where anointing oil is poured/sprinkled on Aaron and his sons; 1 Sam 10:1; 16:1, 13 etc, where kings were anointed.

The anointing with oil therefore apparently marked out one as set apart and empowered for specific service. In particular, priests, kings and prophets were anointed. Thus, the corresponding theology of the outpouring of the Spirit upon "all flesh" is that all the recipients are in some sense priests, kings, and prophets.

With regard to the priesthood, the Spirit-outpouring in Acts 2 can be seen as a facet of the move from hierarchical access to God under the old creation (e.g. Mosaic covenant: high priest > general priesthood > Kohathites > other Levites > general Israelites etc) toward an equal access, whereby all God's people are fully qualified to approach Him.

Something similar could be said with reference to prophets. In Num 11, the 70 elders gathered by Moses speak by the Spirit, but then two men who had not gathered begin to prophesy, as well. When Joshua complains, Moses expresses the longing that all of Yahweh's people would be prophets. Acts 2 reflects that impulse; in some sense all are participants in the Spirit in the way Moses hoped.

On a related note, it appears that the descent of the Spirit added to the water baptism of Jesus by John—who, note, was a priest—intends to echo priestly ordination. Thus when Peter urges his hearers to be baptized with water and thus receive this promised Spirit (Acts 2:38), he is implying that in Jesus there is induction into a new "nation of priests" (a theme he also uses elsewhere (1 Pet 2:9).

Oil was also of course used to keep lamps lit, which in turn connects to the tongues of fire which appear upon the disciples' heads during the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts 2. The lamp theme likewise is connected to the Spirit theme elsewhere in the NT (e.g. Rev 4:5).

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The prophet Joel is drawing upon imagery and concepts from Ezekiel (who had in turn drawn from his predecessor Jeremiah), and the following paragraphs will help to tie the thoughts all together.

First, the Day of Pentecost happened to be the same day when the Law of Moses was given on Sinai (Feast of Weeks). That is, the Book of Acts indicates that the New Covenant was given to Israel on the exact same day that the Old Covenant was given to Israel (Feast of Weeks = Pentecost).

As regards the New Covenant, there are three primary aspects to the New Covenant according to Hebrews 8:8-12, which is a quotation of Jeremiah 31:31-34...

  1. The forgiveness of sins
  2. The placement of God's law in the mind, and the writing of God's law on the heart
  3. The universal knowledge of the Lord

In Hebrews 10:11-18, we read that "at the present time" only the first two aspects of the New Covenant are in effect with one slight change. That is, instead of the placement of God's law in the mind and the writing of God's law on the heart, the law of God is instead written on the mind and is placed upon the heart. In other words, at the current time there is an emphasis and priority in the New Testament on the renewal of ones mind through the written word of God (Rom 12:1-2 and Eph 4:22-24).

Secondly, in the Book of Ezekiel the New Covenant appears to include the new heart, which amplifies what Jeremiah had earlier mentioned was the second aspect of the New Covenant.

Ezek 11:19-20 (NASB)
19 And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.

Ezekiel is beckoning the reader to the Book of Deuteronomy, where the Lord had first made this promise that he would one day remove their hearts of stone.

Deut 30:6 (NASB)
6 “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live...”

In other words, Ezekiel is prophesying that the Lord will not only circumcise their hearts (by the removal of the diseased heart of stone), but will also provide his people the "new" heart, which will enable them to obey him.

For example, Ezekiel mentions the new heart yet a second time in Ezekiel 36:24-28 (which hearkens the reader yet again back to Deut 30:6). But in this latter passage of Ezekiel, Ezekiel amplifies yet more on this new heart and now mentions both water and the giving of God's Spirit in the same context. That is, there is now the image of water raining down ("sprinkling") from heaven with the giving of the Spirit of God, and this imagery is what Joel (and then Peter) had used to refer on the Day of Pentecost, when the New Covenant was announced to Israel (which was the same day that the Old Covenant was announced to Israel).

In other words, Ezekiel amplifies the second aspect of Jeremiah's New Covenant, when he ties the circumcised heart to the Book of Deuteronomy. Not only does Ezekiel go back to Deuteronomy, but indicates that the good news is that a new heart will be provided with both "water" and and God's Spirit.

So, if we connect Jeremiah's New Covenant with Ezekiel's amplification of the new heart (the second aspect of Jeremiah's New Covenant), we then arrive at four primary aspects of the New Covenant--

  1. The forgiveness of sins
  2. The placement of God's law in the mind, and the writing of God's law on the heart
    -- The old heart is first excised and replaced with a new heart
  3. The giving of "water" and the Spirit of God
  4. The universal knowledge of the Lord

So to recap, while Ezekiel does not mention Jeremiah's New Covenant per se, he does mention the heart of stone, which is not only excised by circumcision, but is then replaced with a new heart. Both the "sprinkling of water" (which Ezekiel says will clean the "filthiness") and the Spirit of God (who will enable obedience of the new heart) are part of this package.

It is therefore interesting, that if this water is eternal life which Jesus had described in John 4:13-14, then the filthiness is not sin, but spiritual death. That is, it is blood that removes sins (Lev 17:11 or Heb 9:22), but only water was necessary for the removal of any uncleanliness associated with death (Lev 15; Lev 17; Lev 22; Num 19; etc.). The removal of the old heart in the Christian New Testament is therefore the circumcision of spiritual death by the Spirit of God (Colossians 2:11-12 compared to Romans 2:29).

In other words, the outpouring from heaven in Acts 2:28-29 was the baptism of the Spirit of God (or "washing" in 1 Pet 3:21 and Tit 3:5), which was the inauguration of the New Covenant in full force (like a downpour of rainwater from heaven). This baptism of the Holy Spirit however was dry, because the "water" was eternal life, which was poured out by, and through, God's Spirit. (Spiritual death was thus cleansed away.) The fire of tongues takes us yet back again to Sinai, when the words of God were written on tablets of stone on the Feast of Weeks. On Pentecost (which is the same day as the Feast of Weeks) that same fire was now putting the word of God not on tablets of stone, but was now being written on minds and hearts according to 2 Corinthians 3:3. The audible, dynamic and intelligible articulation of the word of God resulted.

Therefore the prophet Joel, while he had never made mention of the "New Covenant" per se, had nonetheless drawn upon imagery and concepts from Ezekiel. Thus on Pentecost Peter quoted from Joel in Acts 2:28-29 regarding the "outpouring" of the Spirit (described by Ezekiel), but the context was the the New Covenant (described by Jeremiah), since the day of Pentecost was in fact the day that the Old Covenant was given to Israel.

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I got lost at "Ezekiel mentions...aspects of the new covenant", since in Ezekiel's (and Joel's) context there is no such thing as a new covenant, only the eternal covenant that God gave Israel at Sinai. So while this provides insight into what Paul might have meant by it, I'm having trouble understanding how it helps with what Joel meant. Can you help me understand? –  Gone Quiet May 31 '13 at 3:36
    
@MonicaCellio - thanks for the request of clarification. (I always heed your feedback to amplify my posts, since I tend to "compress and condense.") I have thus edited and amplified the posting to reflect that neither Ezekiel nor Joel had ever made any explicit mention per se of the words "New Covenant." –  Joseph May 31 '13 at 20:40
    
Thanks for the clarification. I figure we're all here to help each other, so I hope if I say something that seems cryptic or unsupported to you that you'll let me know so I can address it. –  Gone Quiet May 31 '13 at 21:20

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