Ezekiel’s Spirit Motif in the Context of African Pentecostal Theology

by Samuel Muindi (Author)
©2023 Monographs XII, 210 Pages


Ezekiel has often been called ‘the prophet of the spirit’ because of his surpassing use of the word רוח, ‘spirit’. The main argument of this book is that Ezekiel’s ‘spirit’ motif conveys a polysemous symbolism which, nonetheless, accentuates an overarching leitmotiv. Ezekiel’s ‘spirit’ symbolism signifies a paradigm shift in ancient Israelite visualization of divine presence in Israel: from visible phenomena and experiences, mediated through rituals at cultic shrines in Israel, to an omnipresence that is not necessarily mediated through cultus.
Moreover, author Samuel W. Muindi posits that the African Pentecostal ‘en-spirited’ worldview is an apt hermeneutical lens for understanding Ezekielian ‘spirit’ symbolism. The experiences of the Ezekielian exilic community prefigure dynamic equivalents in African communities. As such, Ezekielian ‘spirit’ symbolism critically informs the African Pentecostal ‘en-spirited’ worldview while the latter illumines Ezekielian ‘spirit’ symbolism.
This book is aimed at students of Biblical theology and others who wish to enrich their understanding of hermeneutics as well as Biblical pneumatology as an ‘en-spirited’ worldview.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1. Ezekiel’s “Spirit” and the African “En-Spirited” Worldview
  • Introduction
  • Methodological Approach
  • Reader-Response Hermeneutical Paradigm
  • The Study Context
  • Chapter 2. Ezekiel in Contemporary Scholarship
  • Ezekiel: The Text
  • Ezekiel: Socio-Historical Setting
  • Ezekiel: Literary and Thematic Designs
  • Ezekiel in Canonical Context
  • Ezekiel in Ancient Near Eastern Context
  • Chapter 3. The Word “רוח” in the Hebrew Bible
  • Introduction
  • Ezekiel’s רוח Symbolism
  • Ezekiel’s רוח: A New Theological Paradigm
  • Ezekiel’s רוח Theological Paradigm in Post-Exilic Israel
  • Chapter 4. African Pentecostal Pneumatology
  • Introduction
  • African Spirituality
  • African Pentecostal Pneumatology
  • African Biblical Interpretation: Inculturation
  • Biblical Inculturation: The Process
  • Chapter 5. Ezekiel’s רוח Symbolism and the African Pentecostal Pneumatology
  • Introduction
  • Ezekiel and African Dynamic Equivalents
  • Ezekiel’s רוח Motif and the African Reader
  • Inculturation Hermeneutics: The African Context
  • Hermeneutic of Liberation: The African Context
  • Hermeneutic of Liberation: The Everlasting Covenant
  • Hermeneutic of Liberation: Dialectical Tensions
  • Hermeneutic of Hope
  • African Pentecostal Pneumatology and Ezekielian רוח Scholarship
  • Chapter 6. Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Author Index
  • Subject Index


The present work is a revised version of my doctoral dissertation at Boston University.

The work owes much to many; my doctorvater, Robert C. Neville, inspired me to relate my Hebrew Bible studies to African theological dynamics, particularly the “en-spirited” worldview of African spirituality in general and the African Pentecostal pneumatology in particular.

I am grateful to Dr Kathryn P. Darr who nurtured my love for the Hebrew Bible prophetic literature in general and Ezekiel’s “spirit” worldview in particular. Both Dr Alejandro F. Botta and Dr. Kirk Wegter-McNelly prodded me throughout my project with perceptive and critical questions which undergirded the project with theological cogency and academic rigor.

As a biblical faith person, my interaction with the Scriptures is not simply for academic interest but, more importantly, for life concerns as well. Like Ezra of old who “had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10 KJV), I study the Scriptures to encounter God and to hear Him speak to me, to do His will and to teach it to my generation. I am aware that the journey of seeking to understand divine revelation in the Scriptures is a lifelong one and that, in the end, we have to confess, like the apostle Paul, that “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also known” (1 Cor 13:12 KJV).

·1· Ezekiel’s “Spirit” and the African “En-Spirited” Worldview


Ezekiel has often been referred to as “the prophet of the spirit” due to his excessive use of the word רוח which appears in the Ezekielian text fifty-two times. In comparison, the relatively larger prophetic literature texts in the Hebrew Bible, notably Isaiah and Jeremiah, use the word רוח fifty-times and eighteen-times, respectively. The word רוח is, apparently, a nuanced symbolism in the Hebrew Bible; it is variously interpreted as: wind, storm wind, breath of life, the dynamic power of Yahweh, the human faculty of understanding, the human inward disposition of feeling and emotion, the moral will or the mind, the realm of divinity, the agency of animation, the agency of inspiration, or the power of God at work in the created world.1 As Miles van Pelt, Walter Kaiser, and Daniel Block observe:

Since רוח has such a broad range of meanings, it is difficult to capture its semantic breadth with a single term or phrase …what is invisible is difficult to define … the invisible essence of רוח is known primarily by its effect on the visible world, by which we can then attempt to perceive its essence. Thus, רוח is a term representing something unseen in order that the visible effect of this invisible force might be adequately apprehended.2

The above description tendentiously portrays רוח as an incorporeal power or force. However, as Daniel Block remarks elsewhere, “the רוח is the power of God at work among humankind; it is creating, animating, energizing force. The רוח can hardly be identified as none other than God himself.”3 Given the wide semantic range of the term, רוח could as well be a conceptual construct, a metaphor, or a cipher that symbolizes more than an influence or power. Ezekiel, for example, often experiences רוח as the “hand of Yahweh.”:4

שם יד־יהוה … ותבא בי רוח כאשר דבר אלי עליו וחהי … אל־יחזקאל ־יהוה דבר היה היה

“The word of Yahweh came to Ezekiel … and the hand of Yahweh was upon him there … and as he spoke to me, a רוח entered into me” (Ezek 1:3–2:2),5

נשאתני … ויד־יהוה עלי חזקה ורוח

“A רוח lifted me up … the hand of Yahweh was strong upon me” (Ezek 3:14),

ותפל עלי שם יד אדני יהוה---ותשא אתי רוח

“The hand of the Lord Yahweh fell on me there …lifted me up” (Ezek 8:1–3),

היתה עלי יד־יהוה ויוצאני ברוח יהוה

“The hand of Yahweh was upon me; he brought me out by the רוח of Yahweh” (Ezek 37:1).

Ezekiel’s reported experiences of the רוח as an apparent immediacy of divine presence is akin to the “spirit” worldviews of the Christian communities of the Global South,6 particularly the “spirit” worldview of the African Pentecostal- theological pneumatology.7 The latter accentuate the immediacy of divine presence in existential circumstances without necessarily the agency of ecclesial intermediation or sacramental rituals.8 However, there has hardly been any hermeneutical attempt in biblical scholarship to relate Ezekiel’s רוח motif to the African “spirit” worldview in general and the African Pentecostal pneumatology in particular.9 This monograph is an attempt to address the lacuna. The working hypothesis herein is that the Ezekielian leitwort, רוח, represents a polysemous symbolism which, nonetheless, accentuates an overarching leitmotiv; the symbolism signifies a paradigm shift, or theological development, in ancient Israelite visualization of divine presence. It is a paradigm shift from visualizing divine presence in terms of theophanic phenomena, mediated through religious rituals at cultic sites in Israel, to ethereal conceptualizations of “unmediated” experiences of divine presence in Israel.10 Thus, the Ezekielian רוח motif is, arguably, a pneumatological construct which accentuates the transcendence of Yahweh while at the same time attempting to integrate, relationally, the transcendent realm of Yahweh with his immanence in the existential exilic and post-exilic worlds of the ancient Israelites. As George Montague observes:

With Ezekiel, an entirely new ‘wind’ fits his vocation to rally the hopes of the exiles and prepare this remnant to become the new and purified people of the restoration. The spirit now appears everywhere, both as the author of the prophet’s own experience and as the objective agent of renewal.11

The African “spirit” worldview, which, arguably, informs the African Pentecostal pneumatology, plausibly emerges out of the people’s perceptual experiences of divine presence and activity in their existential circumstances. The African “spirt” worldview readily embraces an “encounter with God in real life and action … a living communion with God who is experienced as being personally present in the relationships of humanity.”12 It is, hence, an apt hermeneutical lens through which Ezekiel’s רוח motif can be interpreted.13 Reciprocally, Ezekiel’s רוח motif is an apt hermeneutical lens which provides a biblical basis for understanding the “spiritual” experiences of the African Christian communities, particularly the African Pentecostal pneumatology. The cultural settings of the Global South, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, resonate with the idyllic country settings of the ancient Israelite biblical world as portrayed in the Hebrew Bible. The biblical stories of the Hebrew Bible form the bedrock of the African biblical faith narratives,14 hence the proprietary of interpreting the Hebrew Bible in the contemporary contexts of the African biblical-faith communities.

Biblical interpretation is implicit in all communities of biblical faith and is contextual.15 As Francis Watson argues, “Christian theology cannot evade the task of biblical interpretation; it is in the biblical texts that the irreplaceable primary testimony to the God acknowledged in Christian faith is to be found … biblical interpretation is therefore theology’s primary task.”16 As observed above, biblical interpretation is contextual. Indeed, as Elizabeth Freund notes, “no work of art and no interpreter is free of history, society or any other system of signification.”17 And, as Robert Neville remarks, the experiences of the communities of faith are essential components in the task of biblical interpretation:

Experience is an important source for theology, and for critiquing Scripture, tradition and reason because it provides the ground for relevance in theological assertions. Although theology is unwise to confine itself to the needs of a particular domain of experience, it has no ground for determining in what respects theological assertions need interpretation except by appeal to experience.”18

Biblical interpretation is thus contextually oriented; an interpretive approach that is abstracted from the existential experiences and concerns of communities of biblical faith is limited in its practical relevance. A preliminary question that is plausibly brought to the fore by the modern scientific ethos of biblical interpretation is the reasonableness of interpreting the Bible in cultural contexts, such as Africa, that readily embrace trans-rational dimensions of reality. The methodological presupposition that is implicit in the modern scientific ethos of biblical interpretation is poignantly posited by Rudolf Bultmann thus:

Modern science does not believe that the course of nature can be interrupted or, so to speak, perforated by supernatural powers … The same is true of modern study of history which does not take into account any intervention of God or of the devil or of demons in the course of history … Modern men take it for granted that the course of nature and of history, like their own inner life and their practical life, is nowhere interrupted by the intervention of supernatural powers.19

The modern scientific ethos of objectivity has, however, been challenged by a post-objectivist philosophy of science; the latter views “objectivism” as reductionistic. Wentzel van Huyssteen, for instance, points out that contemporary theological and scientific discourses are equally characterized by “a rejection of reductionism and a new awareness of the hermeneutical dimension of science.”20 Stanley Grenz likewise argues that the contemporary view of science is that the scientific paradigm describes reality as exposed to the scientist’s method of questioning. As such, the scientist’s observation is:


XII, 210
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2024 (February)
African Spirituality African Pentecostalism Afrocentrism Biblical Inculturation Christo-paganism Divine presence Divine abandonment Dynamic equivalents En-spirited worldview Intertexts Hermeneutical Lens Leitwort Mnemic hermeneutics Reader response Transcendent-immanence Trauma theory Ezekiel’s Spirit Motif in the Context of African Pentecostal Theology Samuel W. Muindi
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, Oxford, 2024. xii, 210 pp.

Biographical notes

Samuel Muindi (Author)

Samuel W. Muindi is professor of Biblical and Pentecostal studies at the International Leadership University, Nairobi, Kenya, where he also served as the Deputy Vice Chancellor. He holds an M.Div from Oral Roberts University, USA; an M.Th from Duke University, USA; a Th.D from Boston University, USA; and a Ph.D in Pentecostal Studies from the University of Birmingham, U.K. His recent works include Ancient Israelite and African Wisdom Traditions: A Comparative Hermeneutical Analysis (2015) and Pentecostal-Charismatic Prophecy: Empirical-Theological Analysis (Peter Lang, 2017).


Title: Ezekiel’s Spirit Motif in the Context of African Pentecostal Theology