Rector's Reflections - 16 May

Rector’s Reflections 

Thursday 16th May 2024

Come, Holy Ghost, Our Souls Inspire

In yesterday’s Reflections, I referred to the “sevenfold gifts”  of the Spirit, as enumerated in a well-known passage from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah: “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord”.  Readers with an attention to detail might be wondering why these gifts of the Spirit are described as “sevenfold”,  when only six are listed in the text. There are two reasons for this. The first is that there was a very influential translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, a translation which scholars refer to as the Septuagint. The Septuagint translation added an additional gift of the Spirit, the gift of piety, and so this brings up the total to 7.  This addition was included in the standard Latin translation of the bible, known as the Vulgate, and ever since it has been traditional to list the gifts of the Spirit as seven in number, rather than 6.  However, there is another reason why it has been traditional to refer to the “sevenfold gifts” of the Spirit.  In the Bible,  seven is a number symbolizing perfection and completeness. By saying that the gifts of the Spirit are “sevenfold”, we are saying that the Spirit gives us all that we need to meet the challenges of life, and to give glory to God in all that we think and do.

The first two gifts of the Spirit are listed as “wisdom and understanding”.   It is not easy to see how we are to interpret this phrase. One reading would be to say that “wisdom” and “understanding”  are simply synonyms, and the text uses both words for the purposes of emphasis.  This was a common feature of Hebrew poetry: it was quite acceptable to make the same point twice over in the same sentence,  with some variance in the words or the imagery used.  However, another interpretation would be to point to the book of Deuteronomy, where the same phrase is used to describe the observance of God’s law:   “You must observe [the statutes and commandments ] diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment [ie understanding] to the peoples”  (Deuteronomy 4, verse 6).   Whatever the finer points of interpretation, I think the key message is this: we need the gift of wisdom, and this gift comes from God and involves following God’s laws and commandments.  Mere understanding is not enough : we can understand a situation, and yet make a silly or harmful decision.  The best decisions are made when we combine understanding with wisdom.

The next gifts of the spirit are the gifts of “counsel and might”.  Again, the interpretation of  this phrase is not entirely clear.  But it seems that the “gift of counsel” refers to the gift of giving advice to others. This gift is particularly important for individuals in positions of authority or leadership.  Those who lead organisations are often expected to give advice. But the giving of advice is an art. What advice do we give?  To whom do we give it?  What words do we choose? What tone do we adopt?    Of course, our hope is that our advice will be listened to, and our words will lead to appropriate action.  This might well be why we asked to pray not only for the gift of “counsel”, but also for the gift of “might”.  The word “might” can also be translated as “strength”, “power” or “vigour”. In the context, this seems to be a prayer to for the strength or power to bring our plans to fruition.  Being able to give good advice to others is, of course, a wonderful gift. But what if our advice is not heeded, and nothing gets done?  So we need to add a prayer that God will give us the energy and strength we need to ensure that our advice is actually put into practice.

Finally, we pray for the “spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord”.  This pair of qualities is found elsewhere in the Bible, for example the Book of Deuteronomy.  The phrase “fear of the Lord” means paying God the respect which is due to him: it involves “showing reverence to God” or “showing God due respect”.  It doesn’t mean that God expects us to be frightened of him. God loves us, and so there is no need to fear Him  in the sense of being frightened of Him.  When we pray for the “spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord”  we are praying for the wisdom which comes from the knowledge of God’s nature and character, and from obedience to his teachings and commandments. It is also a prayer for help in putting first things first in our lives.  It is a prayer to ask God to remind us that what is most important is our worship of Him. If we focus on our relationship with God, and seek above all to give Him honour and respect, everything else will fall into place. 

What more might all this mean in practice?  We will look at this in the days ahead, as we continue our exploration of Come, Holy Ghost, our Souls inspire.


Powered by Church Edit