Do not Grieve the Spirit

One of the thrills of preaching is getting to do in-depth exegesis every week. This week I learned something new that brought to new life the familiar command: “do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30). This is a direct echo of Isaiah 63:1-14 (see v. 10), which is itself an echo and allusion to the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt with direct links to Exodus 33.


Let me set the context. In Isaiah 63, verses 1-6 depict the messianic judgment and victory of the anointed conqueror. In verse 7, the prophet begins to “recount the steadfast love of the Lord” and “the great goodness to the house of Israel.”  Verse 8 then specifically recounts how God brought his people Israel into a covenant relationship with himself, by becoming their Saviour – this, no doubt, referring to God’s saving them by redeeming them from bondage in Egypt (see “redemption” in v. 4, “redeemed” in v. 9, and “Redeemer” in v.16). Verse 9, echoing Exodus 33:12-14, states that God granted Israel his very own presence. But in verse 10 we see that Israel “rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.” Nevertheless, God was faithful to his people, putting his Spirit in their midst (v. 11) and dividing the Red Sea by his glorious right arm in order to make for himself an everlasting name (v. 12). The Spirit of the Lord gave them rest, and the Lord made for himself a glorious name (v. 14). This harks back to God’s own words to Moses in Exodus 33:14: “And he said, ‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’”  And the way the presence of God went with Moses and Israel was by the Spirit of the Lord. “The Spirit of the Lord gave them rest” (Isa. 63:14).


Peter O’Brien summarizes: “The links between the two biblical passages are so significant as to suggest a typological correspondence between the two events in the history of God’s covenant people. In Isaiah 63, which looks back to the exodus, Yahweh is presented as the Saviour of Israel, who redeemed his people from Egypt, brought them into a covenant relationship with himself, led them by his own personal presence (i.e. his Holy Spirit) through the wilderness, and gave them rest. For its part, Israel the covenant people had rebelled against its Lord ‘and grieved his Holy Spirit’ (v. 10). In Ephesians Paul addresses the new covenant community, ‘the one new man’ (2:15) comprising Jews and Gentiles who have been redeemed (1:7) and reconciled to God through the cross of Christ (2:14-18). They have become a holy temple in the Lord, the place where God himself dwells by his Spirit (2:21, 22). Using the language of Isaiah 63:10, Paul issues a warning to this new community not to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, ‘as Israel had done’ in the wilderness (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1-11), the more so since they have been sealed by that same Holy Spirit until the day of redemption (4:30).” [Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999) 347-348. O’Brien’s full discussion (p. 346-349) of the redemptive-historical significance of this passage is the richest commentary on this passage I have read.]


So, Paul takes this Exodus motif, applies it to the new covenant people of God who are sealed and indwelt by the Spirit and repeats the words of Isaiah 63:10 in the form of an exhortation: “do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” Don’t be like Israel in the wilderness, grieving the Spirit by warring with your words – murmuring and complaining and criticizing and not believing the good promises of God. Don’t make the Spirit sad. Instead, speak good words that give grace to others, building them up in their point of need (Eph. 4:29b).



mwh said...

I agree with your and O'Brien's exegesis of Isa. 63. And Eph. 4 is clearly an illusion to Isa. 63. And I'm greater than 90% confident (in agreeance with you) that Paul intended to invoke the context of Isa. 63 when he quoted it. But, I'm not sure if verse 30 needs to be taken as part of the same command as verse 29. Given the Negative Prohibition/Theological Justification parallel with verses 25, 26-27, and 28; and given the Quote/Exhortation parallel of verses 26-27, might it be better to take verse 30 as a stand-alone command. Verse 29 and verse 30 can each form their own independent and closed commands, and agree with the previously outlined structure for commands. Nothing in Isa. 63 requires a contextual connection with the command concering the use of speech. And it is a large argument to build based upon a single conjunction (kai). Might it be better to take it as a stand-alone command that comes in a sequence of other commands?



Brian G. Hedges said...

Good question, and I'm glad someone else besides me cares enough about exegesis to ask questions like this!

The reasons for taking verse 30 with verse 29 are:

(1) the conjunction "and" (kai)- it is one of three imperatives in this section to begin with a kai (like v. 26 - be angry AND sin not) and v. 32b - as (kai) God in Christ forgave you) and the other two are clearly linked to what goes before

(2) the parallel between v. 30 and v. 27

(3) the pattern of negative/positive in the other commands (if v. 30 is a separate command, it breaks pattern including no positive counterpart)

(4) the links between our speech and the Spirit in Eph. 5:18-19 and 1 Thess. 5:18-19

I'm certainly not a Greek scholar, so this could be wrong. But several scholars (and in my judgment theirs are the best overall commentaries on Ephesians) throw their weight behind this interpretation, including Harold Hoehner (p. 631), Peter O'Brien (p. 345-346 - though he concedes that the admonition "provides a further motivation for the earlier warnings, not simply that of v. 29."); and Andrew Lincoln (p. 307, who also references Abbott, Robinson, Gnilka, Schnackenburg, and Bruce for support).