And God said, "Let there be light." And there was Light. Genesis chapter 1 verse 3

Spirit, Breath, Life | Understanding Genesis Chapter 1 verse 3

There is a meaning in Genesis 1:3 that our English cannot quite capture, because we English speakers have separated the concepts of spirit, breath, and life.

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Back in verse 2, we were told that the “spirit of God was moving over the water.” The Hebrew word for “spirit” here is “ruach.”

Like most Hebrew words, ruach has a rang of meaning in English. It can mean”spirit,” yes, but also “wind,” and “breath.”

So, when the writer of Genesis 1:2 speaks about God’s spirit moving over the surface of those formless, chaotic waters, he might just as well be Spirit against Darknessspeaking about God breathing over those waters.

“Spirit” in ancient times

To the writers of the Old Testament, the spirit was not some metaphysical or supernatural entity encased inside the flesh. Rather, the spirit is the umbilical cord which allows life to exist and keep on existing.

Humans have to breathe in about twenty times every minute—even more when excited, or frightened. This is the tether that sustains our lives, tying us directly to this planet with a knot even more powerful than gravity. We can escape the pull of gravity, leave the atmosphere of this planet, but we cannot escape our need for breath.

Our spirit is not something contained within ourselves. It is our connection to the world outside ourselves. If that connection snaps, our life snaps with it. If we stop breathing, we die.

The power of breath

But breath does more than just keep us alive. It also allows us to communicate.

The Power of Breath | When we speak, we share ourselves with the worldWhen we breathe in, our bodies absorb the oxygen needed to keep us alive. But when we breathe out, expelling the carbon dioxide that our bodies have no use for, we use that air to speak. Without air, we could not form words.

By breathing in, we show our dependence on the world around us. By breathing out, we give ourselves back to the world, communicate our thoughts and dreams.

By breathing in, we sustain our spirits. By breathing out, we share our spirits. 

When God “breathes”

God, of course, has no need for oxygen. God has no need for us, either, or for the universe. We were created to be dependent on our world, and through that dependence, to begin to understand our dependence on God.

God depends on nothing. But still, God breathes—not literally, of course. We humans understand it as breathing, because we know that without breath we would die, and we compare this to the relationship between ourselves and God.

Without breath we would cease to exist. Without God, the universe would not exist.

The war of… words?

God speaks against OblivionBack in verse 2, I said Genesis chapter 1 tells the story of a great war: Chaos against Order, Life against Death, God against Oblivion. I will speak more about the war in verse 4 (the next post).

For now, take note of the weapon that God uses to wage war. No swords, no armies. Only this: the Breath of Life.

When we speak, we share ourselves with the world around us. As humans gifted from birth with the ability to form language, we often take speaking for granted. We rarely acknowledge the incredible power of words – the ability to share ourselves, our thoughts, our ideas from one mind to another.

In a way, when we speak, we are sharing our life-force with the universe.

This is the great weapon of all spirits, and of God’s Spirit especially. No, God does not literally speak. That’s just the way we humans understand it. So in that human understanding, the writer of Genesis 1 tells us a story in which the Spirit wages war against the Darkness, by speaking.

To create the universe, God speaks, breathes out into Oblivion, and forces it away. God’s breath becomes the life-force that animates all other life-forces. Even today, some billions of years after science tells us that the universe began, we are still connected to this same breath.

Breathing exercises are used by many people to help calm down, focus, or relax. Have you ever used any of these? Why do you think they work so well? As you go through your day today, think about your breathing from time to time, and focus on breath as a connection point between you and God.

Share as you feel comfortable sharing in the comment section!


Catch up on Understanding Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2.<==

==>Find Genesis 1:4 Here!

7 thoughts on “Spirit, Breath, Life | Understanding Genesis Chapter 1 verse 3”

  1. Breathing exercises have been a huge part of every type of meditative spiritual practice that I’ve ever tried. It’s a huge part of many different ideologies including yoga, tai chi, and meditation too. The same principles that these practices utilize are also being prescribed to help with sleep disorders, anxiety, and more. Breath certainly is a central part of a healthy and happy life, no matter what one believes in otherwise.

    • Exactly Aly! To me, it’s a constant reminder that we humans are not built to be self sufficient or self reliant. We depend on the world around us, and we share this dependence with literally everything else.

  2. I never thought of connecting breathing to God.  It does make sense to me as I am a strong believer that there is God. I go  to church every Saturday afternoon instead of Sunday.  When I need to do deep breathing it makes me feel good, so now when I do I will think of God.  I always talk to Universe for positive thinking and I always thank God for his blessings. Some known figures who preach positive thinking use the Universe in their preaching. I studied Religeon in Elementary so I don’t remember much of it.  Would you say God has been around even before years BC?  I will be interested to know.  Thank you.  


    • I would say that God has been around since before time itself began. 

      Your comments about the universe and God bring up what I think is the fundamental religious difference between the world-view of animism/polytheism and monotheism/deism. 

      The monotheistic religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, believe that there is one all powerful creator God who created all that is and who exists beyond time and space. For more on that, you might be interested in Creation ex Nihilo, where I talk about God creating the universe our of nothing.

      In contrast, animism/polytheism worships, more or less, the forces of nature and believes that nature itself, or “the universe” is divine. 

      In my opinion, Christianity could stand to take animism’s appreciation for nature a bit more seriously. Breathing exercises are a way to connect with nature and understand our symbiotic relationship with the world around us. 

      However, Christians are forbidden to outright worship nature, because nature is just another created thing, like ourselves. We are rather encouraged to use our appreciation of nature as a gateway into relationship with nature’s creator, God. In breathing exercises, we acknowledge our dependence on the world around us, and through that connection, we also connect with the God who made both us and our world.

  3. God is the beginning of all living things, His Spirit hovering upon the face of the deep was His Almighty Holy Presence. God breathed into man and he became a living soul. Without the breath of life by the Spirit of God we would not be here. We were made in his image and likeness. The breath of life is the free Gift from God that keeps us alive. When that breath is withdrawn we die. The Spirit of God Is Life, Power, and Love.

    • Yes and amen, Norman. You bring up the important parallel here between God “breathing” life into the universe in Genesis 1 and God breathing life directly into Adam in the Genesis 2 story. Different Hebrew words are used for “breath/spirit” in Genesis 2, which is why we usually translate one “Spirit of God” (Gen 1:2) and the other “Breath of Life” (Gen 2:7). But is the same concept each time. God animates the universe, and all things within the universe, including humans, with God’s own life force.

  4. God is the beginning of all living things, His Spirit hovering upon the face of the deep was His Almighty Holy Presence. God breathed into man and he became a living soul. Without the breath of life by the Spirit of God we would not be here. We were made in his image and likeness. The breath of life is the free Gift from God that keeps us alive. When that breath is withdrawn we die. The Spirit of God Is Life, Power, and Love.


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