Question: "What is the meaning of the Hebrew word ruach?"
Answer: The Hebrew ruach means “wind,” “breath,” or “spirit.” The corresponding Greek word is pneuma. Both words are commonly used in passages referring to the Holy Spirit. The word’s first use in the Bible appears in the second verse: “The Spirit of God [Ruach Elohim] was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2). In Genesis 6:17 ruach is translated “breath of life.” Genesis 8:1 uses ruach to describe the “wind” God sent over the earth to recede the Flood waters. Altogether, the word ruach is found almost 400 times in the Old Testament.
Often, when the Old Testament talks about the “Spirit of the Lord” or the “Spirit of God,” the word for “Spirit” is Ruach. Use of ruach as “spirit” when not linked with God usually is in reference to the human spirit. This can mean the actual spirit of a human (the immaterial part of humans akin to the soul) or one’s mood, emotional state, or general disposition. Ruach as “breath” or “wind” can be a reference to literal breath or wind, or it can take on a figurative meaning such as in the idiom “a mere breath.”
God’s Ruach is the source of life. The Ruach of God is the One who gives life to all creation. We could say that God’s Ruach has created every other (non-divine) ruach that exists. All living creatures owe the breath of life to the Creative Spirit of God. Moses states this truth explicitly: “God . . . gives breath [ruach] to all living things” (Numbers 27:16). Job understood this truth as well: “As long as I have life within me, the breath [ruach] of God in my nostrils” (Job 27:3). Later, Elihu tells Job, “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4).
God used the phrase Ruach Yahweh in His promise that the Messiah would be empowered by the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:2; see also Isaiah 42:1). This prophecy was fulfilled in Jesus; at His baptism in the Jordan River, John saw “the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him” (Matthew 3:16).