Empire Takes Your Breath Away

In my previous post, What Is God’s Breath?, I wrote of the three times God clearly breathes into something in scripture. When God breathes into something he breathes in light, love, and life.

While we read of God breathing into things, we read something very interesting about the queen of Sheba in 1 Kings 10. “And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food on his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her.” (1 Kings 10,4-5)

“There was no more breath in her.” The queen of Sheba lost her breath.

What does it mean that the queen of Sheba lost her breath?

Previously, I simply thought it meant that she was really, really impressed with Solomon. But, this time as I read the passage with the understanding that God breathes in light, love, and life, I thought that perhaps the opposite happened to the queen of Sheba in this passage. Perhaps when she had no more breath in her she lost the light, love, and life that she had. Perhaps the queen of Sheba died. Not physically, but spiritually.

What took the queen of Sheba’s breath away?

Solomon’s kingdom.

Or, we could more generally say empire.

Empire took away the queen of Sheba’s breath. Empire stole the light, love, and life that the queen of Sheba had.

We typically think of how great and awesome Solomon’s kingdom was. Gold was so prevalent that everything Solomon drank from was made of it. Silver, arguably the second most precious metal to man, was counted as nothing. We think of Solomon’s kingdom as the height of Israel.

But, scripture tells us that Solomon enslaved thousands of people to build his empire. Scripture also tells us that Solomon traded in Egyptian horses and chariots despite Moses’ laws that the kings of Israel should not do that. In other words, Solomon traded in, and got rich from, the trading of the instruments of war, even though Solomon had a kingdom that was at peace. There was no need for Solomon to get rich from being an arms dealer. This is beginning to sound like any other empire we would know.

There is also something else very interesting about Solomon’s kingdom. “Now the weight of gold that came so Solomon in one year was 666 talents of gold.” (1 Kings 10.14)

In my 20 plus years of being a Christian, I have never heard anyone mention the fact that Solomon received 666 talents of gold in one year. I find this very odd given the fixation on the number 666 in Revelation. Especially since most everyone knows that the book of Revelation draws on imagery from  and connections to the Old Testament repeatedly.

Revelation 13.18 says, “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of man, and his number is 666.”

Shouldn’t we at least pause to think how this might connect with Solomon and his empire?

We know that in Revelation John is contrasting the kingdom of God to the Roman empire, the greatest empire of man that the world has ever known. To live in that empire was to live outside the gates of God’s kingdom where there was only light. There was no night, no darkness. Therefore, to live in empire was to live in darkness. As you read through Revelation, you also get the feeling that to live in the Roman empire, or an empire of man, is to also live in fear and death, which are of course are the opposites of love and life.

So, when we really think about, Solomon’s kingdom while grand and impressive, was really just another empire like any of man’s empires. And, while the queen of Sheba may have been impressed by it, perhaps because she wished she had an empire just like it, ultimately the desire for that empire took her breath away. Solomon’s empire took away her light, love, and life. It spiritually killed her.

Empire does the same to us. It does not matter if it is the Spanish, the Dutch, the English, or the American empire. Beholding any empire of man will take your breath away. It will spiritually kill you. To worship empire will cause you to lose your light, love, and life. God is trying to breathe light, love, and life into you, but empire will take it away. This is a tale told all the way through scripture.

Sadly, American Christians have succumbed to the worship of the American empire to a significant degree. They have lost their breath.

What Is God’s Breath?

There are three times in scripture when we are told that God breathed.

  1. “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” – Genesis 2.7
  2. And when he [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.'” – John 20.22
  3. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” – 2 Timothy 3.16

The Bible declares that God breathes. But, we know that God doesn’t literally breathe like we do just like God doesn’t literally have hands or a back as scripture says.

If God doesn’t literally breathe, then what is God’s breath?

In Genesis 2.7, the Hebrew word for breath is neshamah. Strong’s defines this word as a puff, i.e. wind, vital breath, divine inspiration. The Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew defines neshamah as breath, essential to life and a causative agent for an activity of God.

“A causative agent for an activity of God” is a interesting part of the definition of neshamah as this is exactly the role the Spirit plays in God’s creation of the universe in Genesis 1. “In the beginning, God created…And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” In a sense, the Spirit was ready to give birth to the universe. The word for Spirit in Genesis 1.2 is ruah, which has a range of meanings including spirit, breath, or wind.

So, metaphorically we can understand God’s breath as his Spirit. This is why when Jesus breathed on his disciples he told them to receive the Holy Spirit.

God’s Spirit is his essence, his divine nature. So, God’s Spirit is made up of God’s attributes, which Paul says are invisible and known since the foundation of the world in Romans 1.

What are the invisible attributes of God, his Spirit, and therefore his breath?

  1. Life – “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life.” – 1 John 5.11-12
  2. Love – “God is love.” – 1 John 4.8 and 16.
  3. Light – “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” – 1 John 1.5

Go back to the scriptures that started this post. Three times we are told that God breathed in scripture. And, each one reveals a different invisible attribute of God. Each one reveals a particular aspect of God’s breath, his Spirit, his essence.

Genesis 2.7 says that God breathed his breath into the man’s nostrils and the man became a living being.

God’s breath is life.

In John 20.19-23, Jesus breathed on the disciples and told them to receive the Holy Spirit. But, notice what Jesus says immediately before he breathed on them. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20.21)

How did the Father send Jesus?

John 3.17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God sent Jesus to save the world, the whole world, the entire universe and everything in it.

How would Jesus save the world?

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” – 1 John 4.9-10

Love was made manifest among us when God sent Jesus into the world. And, God sent Jesus into the world that we live through him. And, the love of God was most fully displayed by Jesus on the cross when he died for us.

So, when Jesus told the disciples that he is sending them as the Father sent him, he told them that he was sending in love. Further, he was sending them in love so that they would forgive. Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.” (John 20.22-23) To forgive the sins of another is to give life to them.

God’s breath is love.

There is much debate about just how to translate 2 Timothy 3.16 and what Paul meant by the word theopneustos, or God-breathed. Whether all scripture is God-breathed or when scripture is God-breathed, the key point at the moment is the result of the breath of God on scripture. If scripture is God-breathed, then it is useful or profitable for certain things – teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

Note that teaching, reproof, correction, and training are not life itself. Nor are they love. However, each of them, in their own way, are methods to bring someone who is off course, someone who has erred, back onto the correct path. The correct path, or way, that we are to be on is love. When we deviate from that path, God-breathed scripture is there to put us back on the way of love.

God-breathed scripture illuminates the path or way for us. Psalm 119:105 says, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

Isaiah 51.4 says, “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples.”

Jesus said the entire law could be summed up in two commandments – love God and love your neighbor. Love is the law went out from God, or was sent into the world as John says. And, this law, this love, Jesus, was “the light of men” and “the true light, which gives light to everyone.”

Taking all of this together, we could say that God-breathed scripture is light.

God’s breath is light.

God’s breath is his Spirit, his essence, his nature. God’s essence or nature is revealed by his invisible attributes – life, love, light. An inspired reading of scripture reveals exactly this to us in the three passages that God breathes.

God’s breath if life. – Genesis 2.7

God’s breath is love. – John 20.22

God’s breath is light. – 2 Timothy 3.16