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In the Hebrew Bible, the Spirit of the Lord empowers people. Examples include:

Judges 14:19 The Lord’s spirit empowered him. [NET]

The word used in Judges 14:19 is a form of tsalach meaning "rush, prosper, fall upon." It is also used in the sense of God's Spirit empowering in Judges 14:6, 15:14; 1 Samuel 10:10, and others. The ESV translates it as "rushed" in Judges 14:19 and seeing that different phrasing prompted this question.

Judges 6:34 The Lord’s spirit took control of Gideon. He blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. [NET]

This word comes from labash which means to "put on clothes/wear." 1 Chronicles 12:18 and 2 Chronicles 24:20 also use labash in the sense of the Spirit empowering people.

Many other verses translated "and the Spirit of the Lord came upon X" (e.g. Judges 3:10, 11:29) use a conjugation of hyh and would be understood as "and the Spirit of the Lord was upon X."

In the KJV, all three of these phrases are typically translated with "came upon X." Judges uses all of these phrases and an author/final editor might have reasons for drawing distinctions in the events. Are there different meanings/emphases in these words when used for how the Spirit empowers?

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The Hebrew Words for the Spirit Coming on People

In both Testaments, the Holy Spirit comes upon people to empower them for acts they could not do themselves or at the very least could not do as well themselves as when empowered. While many of the references are to God's Spirit empowering to prophesy (and most people seem to default to this example), the Spirit empowers in many other ways. For example, when the Tabernacle was being built, God filled Bezalel with the Spirit to give him wisdom, understanding, and knowledge in workmanship as an artisan to work in precious metals, jewels, and wood carving (Exodus 31:1-5). Similarly, this wisdom was given to other artisans (Exodus 31:6-11). As another example, the Spirit of the Lord gave Samson his great strength (Judges 14:6). Several words are used for this empowering in Scripture.

Clothed - Labash

Literal and Symbolic Meanings

Labash means to put on a garment or clothe oneself with a garment. It can also be used figuratively such as in "clothed with shame" (Job 8:22; Psalm 35:26; 109:29) [completely shamed], "clothed with the slain (Isaiah 14:19) [surrounded by corpses], clothed with majesty and strength (Psalm 93:1), clothed with trembling (Ezekiel 26:16), etc. In numerous examples, it is God who puts the item on the recipient:

There is an interesting wordplay in Job 29:14. In one of his defenses, Job says that he clothed himself with righteousness and it likewise clothed itself with him. The English can be misread as simply repeating ("I put on righteousness, and it clothed me:" as if righteousness were a cloak), but the Hebrew means that righteousness put Job on, more literally, "I put on righteousness and it put on me." That is, everything about Job, within and without, is righteous. He is saying righteousness completely fills him.

The Spirit and Labash

Three times in the Old Testament, God's Spirit is used with labash.

  • Judges 6:34 "The Lord’s spirit took control of Gideon. He blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him." (ורוח יהוה לבשה את גדעון)
  • 1 Chronicles 12:18 "But a spirit empowered Amasai, the leader of the thirty warriors, and he said:..." (ורוח לבשה את עמשׁי)
  • 2 Chronicles 24:20 "God’s Spirit energized Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest." (ורוח אלהים לבשה את זכריה בן יהוידע הכהן)

In all of these verse, the Spirit is the subject with an active verb and a person receiving the action (the 'eth particle in Hebrew marks the direct object). That means that it is the Spirit that puts on the While some translations use "the Spirit clothed Gideon/Amasai/Zechariah," that leads to meaning contrary to what the Hebrew pictures. The imagery there sounds as if the Spirit of God is laying on the recipient like a cloak. However, in all of these verses, it is the Spirit that puts on the person. That is, the Spirit wears the person like a glove or cloak. If the Spirit were acting as the clothes, different Hebrew grammar would have been used. The phrase would have used Gideon as the subject and marked "Spirit of the Lord" with the 'eth.

When Gideon is put on by the Spirit, the change in Gideon is immediate, striking, and a complete 180. Before, Gideon had threshed wheat in a winepress (Judges 6:11) and argued that he, as the youngest son in the weakest clan of a minor tribe, could not be the one used to deliver God. In fact, he doubted the strength of God to even rescue the people. However, when the Spirit put him on, Gideon no longer doubted God's power. For a short time afterwards, he doubted God's intention to use him (the fleece incident is after the empowering), but he had no doubts of God's power. Gideon becomes a wise and mighty warrior (Judges 8:1ff). Gideon's life after the empowering is a checkered one. He rejects a crown but makes an ephod (he even names one of his children Abimelech which means "my father was a king"). He stops Baalism during his life, but once he dies it returns.

The other two examples of the Spirit and labash do not have enough of the person's life before empowering to see how different they became. However, in the case of Zechariah, his speech after being empowered led to his martyrdom. In Amasai's case, it led to him being accepted by David as an ally.

In all three cases, the lives of the men were changed forever.1

Rushed - Tsalach

Tsalach means "rush, prosper, fall upon." The word is translated "prosper" more than any other way. It is also used in the sense of God's Spirit empowering in:

  • Judges 14:6 "The Lord’s spirit empowered him and he tore the lion in two with his bare hands as easily as one would tear a young goat."
  • Judges 14:19 "The Lord’s spirit empowered him. He went down to Ashkelon and murdered thirty men."
  • Judges 15:14 "But the Lord’s spirit empowered him."
  • 1 Samuel 10:6 "Then the spirit of the Lord will rush upon you and you will prophesy with them. You will be changed into a different person."
  • 1 Samuel 10:10 "When Saul and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a company of prophets was coming out to meet him. Then the spirit of God rushed upon Saul and he prophesied among them."
  • 1 Samuel 11:6 "The Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and he became very angry."
  • 1 Samuel 16:13 "So Samuel took the horn full of olive oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers. The Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day onward. Then Samuel got up and went to Ramah."
  • 1 Samuel 18:10 "The next day an evil spirit from God rushed upon Saul and he prophesied within his house. Now David was playing the lyre that day. There was a spear in Saul’s hand," Note: "an evil spirit"

Amos 5:6 uses the same word: "Seek the Lord so you can live! Otherwise he will break out like fire against Joseph’s family;"

Similar to labash, when men are empowered in the sense of tsalach they do mighty things for God. Samson, hardly a man of peace, killed a lion, 30 men, and then a thousand when empowered. He also led the tribes for 20 years. In him, the Spirit came and went. At times he was empowered yet always had the choice to not obey. Each time, he yielded to the Spirit, and until the time after he told Delilah the symbol of his strength2, he was not disappointed. Interestingly, while Samson is often portrayed as tall and muscular, the Bible never indicates this. In fact, the Philistines cannot explain Samson's strength. If he were bulging with muscles, they would have had a starting point. However, Samson's strength came not in his muscles but from God. Like most of the others who are empowered this way, the Spirit empowers for a time and then withdraws.

David is a special case. Only in his case does the Spirit come upon him from that day onward. Even during his time with Bathsheba and dealing with the rebellion, David was empowered. It is obvious that these empowerments are not to the extent that they take away a person's free will or make them unable to sin. But David gave God all the credit for his reign and military victories (Psalm 18).

As pointed out by David, all the examples of tsalach use the Hebrew preposition 'al (upon) or el (to/into) to mark who the Spirit empowers. These examples are also the only times that tsalach is followed by that preposition. Alone, the word usually means "prosper." In this verbal phrase, it takes on the meaning of "empowerment" (seen by translations such as "rushed upon" and "came mightily upon").

When the Spirit moves like this, the recipient is no longer accepting of the status quo and seeks changes.

Was/Came - HYH

These all indicate not simply that the Spirit was upon the recipient (as if it had been there before) but the grammar shows a sequence to the events (these are waw-consecutives on an imperfect verb). This is their empowering moment. Before, as in the case of Otheniel, they may have been mighty men and heroes. Afterwards, they were something more because of God's empowerment.

Conclusion

The different words show different flavors of the empowering of the Spirit. When labash is used, the recipient is controlled by the Spirit for the extent of the time. This is the word used for a person putting on clothes. However, it is not the person who wears the Spirit but the Spirit who wears the person. Tsalach is a mighty empowering of the Spirit for a specific purpose. In the case of Samson and the others, it came and went as needed. With King David, however, the Spirit empowered him from that day onward. The final word, forms of hyh indicates that was the time of change but doesn't give more details about the extent of the change.

No matter the word used, the empowerment of the Spirit makes the recipient different.


Notes

1Compare the change in Peter from before Pentecost to the empowering event of that day. Peter was not the same man afterwards.

2While it is popular to say that Samson's strength was in his hair, the Bible never says that. Samson's strength came from God's Spirit being upon him. The long hair was the symbol of the Nazarite vow laid upon Samson from his birth. The Bible tells us that it was not because of his hair cut that his strength left him but because the Lord had left him (Judges 16:20).

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    Nicely done! (Especially on lābaš - the formulation of Job 29:14 is very striking.) On ṣālaḥ, probably worth noting that all examples are ṣālaḥ ʿal (except 1 Sam 16:13; 18:10 which use ʾel instead), and the only examples of this vb + prep combo. Is it likely that in these cases it ṣālaḥ is a "phrasal verb" (a bit like the difference between "shut" and "shut up", or "look" and "look out"), and its sense idiomatic? Anyway - appreciate your work on this!
    – Dɑvïd
    Sep 19 '14 at 23:34
  • Thanks for pointing those out! I'm also looking at some things in the Septuagint and found a couple more Hebrew words I'd like to look into (male' is used in Exodus).
    – Frank Luke
    Sep 20 '14 at 3:11
  • It's one of the "trivia" questions I like to ask: "Who in the Bible was the first to be 'filled with the Spirit'?" The answer is in Exodus, of course. ;)
    – Dɑvïd
    Sep 20 '14 at 8:22
  • Hello, Frank - also you can also add that the "filling of the Spirit of God" (Ex 31:3 and Ex 35:31) was something that had occurred and was manifest in wisdom and understanding.
    – Joseph
    Sep 21 '14 at 1:25
  • @Joseph, that's up for the next bit. I had a complete answer for labash and tsalach and wanted to get that down. male' and the LXX are next.
    – Frank Luke
    Sep 21 '14 at 13:21
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I have no problem with the verbs used. תצלח can mean "rested" upon or "came" upon or "passed upon" which are some of the translations that the Complete Jewish Bible (with Rashi Commentary) translates it. I think you're confused by the verbs because you're dealing with a Christian concept of the Holy Spirit being something of an entity, which I think is inconsistent with what the authors of the Hebrew Scriptures had in mind. I think if you look at the phrase "ruach Hashem" [I'm using Hashem - literally "The Name" - as a substitute for the Tetragramaton which I don't feel comfortable writing] as the spirit of prophecy, then these verses and many others make more sense.

Rabbinic commentaries note that in the Torah Jacob, after his wrestle with the angel, is referred to as Israel when the spirit of prophecy is upon him, and as Jacob when it is lacking. So at Gen. 37:13 he is Israel when he tells Joseph to look for his brothers (because there he is acting as God's agent moving events to where they will go), but thereafter, when Joseph is reportedly killed by a lion, Israel reverts to Jacob until he finally meets his son in Egypt. Once he loses (temporarily) his spirit of prophecy, Jacob no longer can see the big picture; he is out of touch with God, and through those chapters where he describes Jacob seems weakend and less powerful. Similarly, when Samuel informs Saul that God has decided David should be king, the spirit of God leaves Saul and in its vacuum he is left with an evil spirit. I Sam. 16:14-15. If we read that as a spirit of prophecy, we see that when a person possesses the spirit, he is filled with energy, and when it suddenly leaves, he is left in gloom.

So, the spirit of God is empowering, and its loss could be devastating for one who had it and lost it. When one has it, one can wear it like a piece of clothing, because it becomes part of their persona; when it is gone, they are naked and insane (1 Sam. 19:24 also Targum Yonaton to that verse).

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Hardly an answer, more of question.. But I will pose it as an answer and await comment. In John 14:17 NKJV we have a striking distinction made between two 'relationships' of Spirit and man.

the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:17 NKJV)

Is this not the essence of the New Covenant and distinct from the Old; namely this 'inwardness'. It is seen again in Jeremiah and Ezekiel with references to the law being written 'within' rather than 'upon'. I see it as the inward working of the Spirit upon the nature/disposition/ in which new desires are born and grow. The saints of an older dispensation were not notably transformed in character by the rushing-upon/clothing-upon but the New Covenant brings a New Life and New prospects of living out the life that he puts within. ??

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    – agarza
    May 26 at 12:58
  • Hi Ron, welcome to the site! Is your view then that yes, the Spirit does empower people in different ways? Or do you see it that the Spirit empowers everybody in a given time period in the same way? May 27 at 1:53
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Logical Formation

  • The Biblical Meaning to the Word Spirit
  • The Rendering of Judges 14:19ab
  • Understanding the Usage of the Word "Empowers"
  • Rendering Judges 14:19a w/ Alternate Synonyms
  • The Rendering of Judges 6:34

The Biblical Meaning to the Word Spirit

The Hebrew word for spirit is (ר֣וּחַ)
(ר֣וּחַ) means wind.

The Greek word used for the word Spirit is (Πνεῦμα)
"Πνεῦμα" is an ancient Greek word for "breath" Since the result of the Holy Breath is specific displays of attitudes for ease of understanding translators use the word "Spirit".

Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon. (Judges 14:19ab NKJV)

καὶ ἐξεῖλεν αὐτὸ εἰς χεῖρας αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐπορεύετο πορευόμενος (Judges 14:19ab Septuagint)


The Rendering of Judges 14:19ab

The Hebrew Version

ותצלח עליו רוח יהוה וירד אשקלון ויך מהם שלשים איש (Judges 14:19ab Hebrew OT: WLC (Consonants Only))

AND CAME (ותצלח)
ON THE(עליו)[Preposition]
WIND (רוח)[Noun]
GOD(יהוה)
AND HE WENT DOWN(וירד)
TO ASHKELON(אשקלון)
AND SLEW(ויך) LIKE(מהם) THIRTY(שלשים) MEN (איש)

And came on the wind God! And he went down to Ashkelon and slew like thirty men. (Judges 14:19ab Decoded)


Understanding the Usage of the Word "Empowers"

The [NET] version translates AND CAME (ותצלח) as "Empowers".

The Vav (ו) acts as a conjunction letter.

The Root (צלח)"tsalach" means "rush, advance, prosper, fall upon."

The Septuagint Uses the Word "ἐξεῖλεν"

ἐξεῖλεν (Verb: Aor Act Ind 3rd Sin) means: to set free, deliver, rescue.


Rendering Judges 14:19a w/ Alternate Synonyms

  • And rushed down the wind God! (Judges 14:19a possibility)
  • And advancing on the wind God! (Judges 14:19a possibility)
  • And prospering on the wind God! (Judges 14:19a possibility)
  • And falling upon the wind God! (Judges 14:19a possibility)
  • And freeing the wind God! (Judges 14:19a possibility)
  • And delivering the wind God! (Judges 14:19a possibility)
  • And to rescue, the wind God, (Judges 14:19a possibility)

The Rendering of Judges 6:34

ורוח יהוה לבשה את־גדעון ויתקע בשופר ויזעק אביעזר אחריו (Judges 6:34 Hebrew OT: WLC (Consonants Only))

AND WIND (ורוח)
GOD (יהוה)
CAME ON (לבשה) - To Put On, CLothed
(את) - The Direct-Object Marker
GIDEON (גדעון)
AND HE BLEW (ויתקע)
A TRUMPET (בשופר)
AND WAS GATHERED (ויזעק)
ABI-EZER (אביעזר)
AFTER (אחריו)

And wind God came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, and was gathered Abi-ezer after. (Judges 6:34 Decoded)


Was Upon / Came Upon

The Wind of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord delivered Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed over Cushan-Rishathaim. (Judges 3:10)

Then the Wind of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon. (Judges 11:29)

Wind is is the act of POWER
The Laws of Thermodynamics are results of the Laws of Motion. Motion is the act of Power. Providing everything with Functionality.

So the Authority of God is the Truth. The Truth gives authority to functionality, and functionality at its greatest reducibility is motion. Through motion all things are formed, and also the greatest display of power the very universe itself.

So are there differences in how the motion empowers people?
Yes.

Two examples of the truth giving different authority to motion.

One man sets off an Atom bomb with the push of a button.

One man picks up a feather with his fingers.

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    This makes no sense. Keep in mind that part of showing work is clearly connecting the dots beginning from the text. Much of your conclusion is non sequitur.
    – Dan
    Sep 15 '14 at 16:34
  • @Daи What conclusion does not logically follow from the previous statement? What is not clear?
    – Decrypted
    Sep 16 '14 at 19:04
  • Just about everything doesn't follow from the preceding section. For instance, how is the Greek word's meaning relevant unless you are making a point using the Septuagint (which you do not appear to be doing)?
    – Dan
    Sep 18 '14 at 2:06
  • @Daи The Greek usage was only to support that the term Spirit maintained its definition as a type of wind even through the language shift. But I do like the idea of adding references from the Septuagint, thanks.
    – Decrypted
    Sep 18 '14 at 2:35
  • Also I feel the need to specify what the term Spirit means, for how can one know how the Spirit empowers if they do not know what the Spirit is? Without correctly defining the term one can come to the adulterated meaning of the spirit as a Ghost which is a perverted teaching that has infected Christianity, for our understanding of a ghost in English is beyond the boundaries. It is similar to saying that candy is sugar. Indeed parts of candy represent sugar, but there is more to candy then just sugar. The same applies to the term Ghost when compared to Wind.
    – Decrypted
    Sep 18 '14 at 2:41

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