Breath of God

January 25th, 2014

Psalm 119:33-40

Psalm 119, an alphabetical acrostic, praises Torah, God’s law. It contains praises, laments, meditations, petitions, and assurances of God’s presence. The 176 verses are divided into twenty-two sections, each named after a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

In today’s text, the subtitle is hei, the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The picture associated with this letter is a window because the letter actually has three sides, similar to our n. According to the Talmud, God created the universe with the letter hei. Hei has creative power.

When the Holy Spirit dwells within a person, that person takes on a new identity; the old person passes away and new life is given. It is hei God breathes into Adam to change him from a bit of dirt into a living, breathing human being. God shared breath with Adam and continues to do so with us. The hei has life-changing and life-giving qualities.

I am sure we can look around our congregations and see what changes are reflected in people’s lives when God breathes hei into them. I know a young woman, who would not even talk on the phone to order a pizza, whose life has been transformed through hei. Her confidence and self-esteem grow daily. Through patience, encouragement, some mentoring, and encouraging her to take advantage of opportunities for growth, I have seen a life reborn. The patience and encouragement as well as the giving of time to be with this young mother are also gifts of hei, the Spirit.

Our small town recently hosted the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life event. This young woman, because of her involvement with the event and her growing self-confidence, went out to ask for money and door prizes from businesses and made announcements over the loudspeaker. She even surprised herself! What a joy to witness the change in her life and the life of her family as she is less dependent upon others and moves out of her comfort zone to do ordinary and extraordinary things. This is hei.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, Abram is one of the earliest patriarchs whose life is recounted for our faith and instruction. Abram and his wife, Sarai, had wanted children for many years. The couple even tried to take “control” of the situation and at eighty-six years of age, Abram fathered Ishmael, the ancestor of modern-day Arabs, by Hagar, Sarai’s servant. Later, God renewed his covenant with Abram, promising that the land of Canaan would remain in the possession of Abram’s family forever and that Abram would have a son of his own (Genesis 17). At this time, God gave the couple new names—Abram became Abraham, and Sarai became Sarah. Scripture says God talked to Abraham and promised a son through his wife, Sarah.

When God changed their names, God essentially added a letter—hei, the breath of God. It was only after the names were changed and hei was added to their lives that they were able to give birth to a new life through their son, Isaac.

Psalm 119:33-40 reflects Abram’s life. The story of the renewal of the covenant comes right after Ishmael is born, right after Abram sins by not trusting God. The author of this psalm begins this stanza by asking for instruction to know God’s statutes and for the desire to follow the law once he understands it.

Abraham and Sarah had to wait another fourteen years before Isaac was born. Even with hei, they still made mistakes, but their faith that God would not forsake them remained strong. They were willing to move out of their comfort zones many times to be obedient. When they did make mistakes, they confessed and returned to the Lord’s way. “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, and revive me in Your way” is the translation from the New King James version of verse 37. Revive is a verb meaning to restore life. The NRSV uses the phrase “give me life.” Either way, this is a petition for a renewed desire to follow the Lord’s path, for hei to be imparted into a person’s being, and for guidance and wisdom to follow the right direction.

The last verse of our text is another request for revival, this time for righteousness. We have the righteousness of Christ, but, like Abraham and other humans, we forget and lean on our own wisdom, desires, and needs to determine our course. We need hei to revive righteousness in our lives.

My young friend is growing in her faith, her courage, and her self-confidence. She is willing to take on new challenges and experiences, much like Abraham and Sarah. Her life is an example, not only for her children but also for others as to the power of hei. I do not hesitate to tell her that life has many surprises in store for her, both good and bad. I hasten to assure her that she has the inner strength to do what is necessary for her family and for her relationship with God. She has hei—the breath of life! 

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