3 - Emblems and Pictures of the Holy Spirit

Emblems and Pictures of the Holy Spirit


The Holy Spirit

by Joel Portman



Symbols are important! God uses symbolic language to teach spiritual truths to men. The many God-given symbolic presentations of the Spirit in His Word teach us important truths about the Holy Spirit. Those emblems are not merely the ideas of men. They have been chosen by God because they give suggestive descriptions of various aspects of the Spirit’s character and work. In the Word of God, the Holy Spirit Himself has communicated to us God’s mind. Therefore we can be sure that these chosen types, symbols and emblems have a definite purpose designed to reveal truth that God has purposed for us to know about Himself. He wants to convey to our understanding truths concerning His own Person.  In other words, the emblems of the Holy Spirit give teaching that will help us know more about Him.

There are also individuals in the Scripture who seem to illustrate His character and work. The Word of God does not tell us that they are “types” of the Holy Spirit.  However, those persons give us pictures that help us understand truths about the Holy Spirit. We will also consider them in this section.



The wind symbolizes the Spirit in a number of references. In John 3:8, the Lord told Nicodemus that the sovereign working of the Holy Spirit in the individual was like the movement of the wind. The wind is unseen by man, but it is real and has great power to cause results. In this way it pictures God’s dealings with men. The wind, whether referring to the physical wind or the Spirit, is not directed by man but by God. The wind comes from the heavens, not earth, but it affects men on the earth, as the Holy Spirit does. The wind, though unseen, seems to have life in it, and who could doubt that it can be felt personally? So the work of the Spirit is powerful, though unseen, and that work has tangible qualities and results. It is invisible, sovereign and heavenly, and it results in men receiving spiritual life by a new birth from above. John 3:5 and I Peter 1:22-23 make clear that it is the Holy Spirit applying the truths of the Word of God Who brings about this result in men.

In Ezek.37, Ezekiel’s prophesying to the dry bones in the valley resulted in bodies being formed, but they had no life. God told him to prophesy to the wind to come and give life to those bodies; this resulted in an army of standing men. The context makes clear that this picture shows the future work of God toward Israel to restore and give life to a nation that has been spiritually dead. Verse 14 tells us that the Spirit of God would do this work.

The word that is translated “spirit” in both Old and New Testaments is the same word that is also used for “wind” or “breath.”  The breath is the display of the life force of the body, and James 2:26 says that the body without the spirit (or breath) is dead. It is the breath that shows the body is alive (I Kings 17:17), so it is the Holy Spirit Who gives life spiritually and is the evidence of that life (Romans 8:9) seen in the works that follow.

Perhaps this partly explains why when God breathed into Adam the breath of life (‘lives’, in the plural) in  Gen.2:7,  man became a living soul. Could the use of the plural ‘lives’ indicate that through the breath of God, man not only received physical life, but also had the capacity for life on a spiritual plane in which he could enjoy fellowship with God? This was God’s original purpose for men. He was constituted a person with a physical body, a soul, and a spirit. Though sin ruined that condition, yet it is still God’s purpose to have men in fellowship with Himself. This is a work through which the inbreathed Spirit of God brings life to spiritually dead sinners and makes them children of God.  He is still doing this work today!

It is notable that the Holy Spirit’s coming on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:2) was accompanied by the sound of a rushing mighty wind that filled all the house where they were. This coming began His work to fit and empower believers to serve God in this scene of spiritual death and darkness. It was also His work through which the Body of Christ was formed. His work also produced spiritual life in individual believers that would be expressed through their daily lives, primarily through their fellowship in local assemblies that are the expression of God’s corporate testimony today.

DOVE (Gen.8:8-12, Matt.3:16)

The descent of the Holy Spirit as a Dove at the baptism of the Lord Jesus is found in all four gospels. Looking back in Genesis, we consider Noah’s sending out the dove from the ark. That dove’s  actions in relation to the earth after the flood suggestively present to us a picture of One so pure and holy that in an evil, defiled world there was and is no place where He can rest. The raven could rest and feed on any dead material and enjoy it, even as the old nature and the flesh can feed on the dead, rotten material of this decaying world. The dove could only find rest and food in the ark. That was the only resting place for the dove until the flood had passed and the water was fully abated. This makes us think of the Holy Spirit, Who could find His rest and abode in this world in the Person of the Lord Jesus. It was only in Him that He could abide with perfect contentment. The Dove’s coming in this unique way and finding a place of rest in this world had to wait until the Lord Jesus was publicly manifested at His baptism. Then the Holy Spirit as the Dove descended from heaven and lighted upon Him. All the gospel writers record the descent of the Dove  and  tell us that it lighted upon Him, but it is John who tells us that it “abode upon him” (John 1:32). This seems to be uniquely connected with John’s presentation of Christ as the One Who was truly God in the midst of a defiled world. Only God manifest in flesh could provide in this world a place where the Holy Spirit could rest and abide. Even now, the only genuine place of abode for the Holy Spirit in this world is in that which concerns the Lord Himself, the believer in Him. This will continue to be true until the full development of God’s purposes for the earth that result in its cleansing to make it suitable for His presence among men.

The Holy Spirit as the Dove presents to us His purity, His heavenly origin, His tenderness, and His singleness of devotion and purpose toward the will of God.

FIRE (Acts 2:3, Rev.4:5)

Fire in Scripture may symbolize various truths such as the Lord’s presence (Ex.3:2), God’s approval and acceptance (Lev.9:24, I Kings 18:38) as well as God’s discipline and testing (Zech. 2:5, Mal.3:3, Rev.1:14). It is also a symbol of the Word of God (Jer.5:14, 20:9) and of God’s judgment (Lev.10:2).

The Holy Spirit is also symbolized by fire. On the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), the cloven tongues that sat on each of the disciples were not tongues of fire, but they appeared as fire, as a flame going upward divides into parts. Some would link that fire-like appearance with John’s prophecy (Mat.3:11) concerning the baptism of fire. As a result, they tell us that these believers experienced this aspect of the baptism on that day. However, it is more accurate, we believe, to see that this fire baptism refers to the future judgment of God on the unbelievers. More will be said about baptism in the Spirit later.

The seven lamps of fire before the throne in Rev.4:5 are spoken of as the seven Spirits of God. These lamps of fire present to us the Holy Spirit in relation to the righteous government of God’s throne. In that capacity, He will search out and expose all which is contrary to the character of that throne, thus bringing it into judgment.


WATER (John 4:14, 7:38-39)

Water also typifies more than one thing in Scripture; in its various forms it has different meanings. In Gen.7, the waters of the flood speak of God’s judgment on men, irresistible in its effect and all-inclusive in its scope, overwhelming and destroying. The Lord spoke of His death as a baptism (Lk.12:50), and the Psalmist describes Christ's sufferings as an overwhelming flood (Ps. 69: 2, 14-15).

Still, or quietly flowing waters speak to us of the Word of God and its refreshment to the soul (Ps. 23:2-3, John 3:5). Waters drawn out in a pitcher to be used for man suggest that portion of God’s Word that we have appropriated to be of benefit (Mark 14:13).

Flowing or living water with its power and effectiveness speaks of the Holy Spirit. Living water carries the idea of a spring or artesian well that comes up of its own power. It is different from the water that men must draw up for themselves of their own energy. That water is the unsatisfying water of this world (John 4:7-10). Living water suggests the springing up of the water with power in itself to refresh souls and give life, producing blessing to the individual and to others to whom it would flow. It is something that man does not produce or obtain for himself. The Spirit of God’s operations are not static, but dynamic. His work toward the believer produces results that are different from anything produced by natural or fleshly means. That work in the believer will also result in an outflow of blessing in the power of the Holy Spirit to those around (John 7:38-39).

OIL (Ex. 27:20-21, 40:9-16, Lev.2:1-16, 14:10-32)

Olive oil was a prominent element in Israel’s daily lives and worship in the Old Testament and it also symbolizes the Holy Spirit. It was found with the meal offering, mingled with it and poured upon it. This suggests the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to the conception of Christ in the womb of the virgin (His humanity). It also speaks of His being filled with the Holy Spirit as well as being anointed by the Holy Spirit at the commencement of His public ministry (Acts 10:38).

Oil was used in connection with the cleansing of the leper and the consecration of the priests. This suggests to us the Spirit’s work toward the believer, both to cleanse us from the defilement of sin and to sanctify us (set us apart) to God. It teaches us that He gives power for Divine service and priestly work (worship) before God. With regard to the priest as well as the cleansed leper, the oil was put on the blood that had been applied to the right ear, the right thumb, and the great toe of the right foot. This seems to suggest a link between the leper and the priest. We suggest that the Holy Spirit applies the cleansing power of the work of Christ to the soul to make us completely clean from sin’s defilement; that work also fits us for service and worship before God. God saves men that they might enter into His presence as worshippers. Both the blood and the oil touch those parts that speak of our attention and hearing (the ear), our grasp or occupation of life (the thumb) and our walk or pathway for God (the toe). All is to be made usable for God and His service. In the New Testament this action seems to be linked with the anointing of the believer by the Holy Spirit in I John 2:20 and II Cor.1:21. Oil was the element of anointing, and points to the work of the Spirit.

Oil also was the ingredient that caused the lamps to burn in the tabernacle. This teaches us that the power of the Holy Spirit is essential to maintain all testimony for God. In fact, the Lord told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would provide the power for witnessing (John 15:26, Acts 1:8) and without Him there would be no witness. The power and unction of the Holy Spirit maintains light in the darkness of this world, light that displays the glory of Christ and makes Him known. Matt.25:1-13 teaches that the lack of oil in the lamps gave evidence that the ones called “foolish virgins” were not prepared for His coming. It is the inward reality of the Holy Spirit that is vital, not the outward form of testimony and profession.

EARNEST (II Cor.1:22, 5:5, Eph.1:14)

The Holy Spirit is called the earnest of the inheritance to the believer. This word indicates a promise to be fulfilled, a portion of the coming entirety. The modern Greek word is linked with a marriage promise, the engagement ring, and signifies that all that is promised will be completely fulfilled.

In this capacity, the Spirit indwelling the believer guarantees that the promises of God regarding future blessings will be fully carried out. He is presently making real to our hearts a foretaste of what is yet to come and He enables us to live now in the anticipation of future glory. One can enjoy the blessed privilege of knowing the power of a coming day, even as they experience His work.

The earnest has the thought of a down payment on a purchased possession, and in Ephesians we learn that it is until, or with a view to the redemption of the purchased possession. One day the Lord, Who has purchased the believer to be His own, will come and take full possession of that believer and thus fulfill every term of His promise for eternity.

SEAL (II Cor.1:22, Eph.1:13, 4:30)

The seal in everyday Bible life speaks to us of several interesting things regarding the work of the Holy Spirit. A seal was placed on a document to attest to its authenticity and to signify the authority that accompanied it. The seal of Rome was placed on the tomb of the Lord Jesus, a seal that could not be broken by anyone without impugning the power of Rome (unless by One with higher power). The seal indicated the security of the contents of a vessel and guaranteed that all was there that should be. We experience this almost daily in our lives today, when we examine and then break a seal on purchased packages of medicines or other materials about which security is a concern. A seal still provides a distinguishing mark of ownership when a purchased item is stamped to show it is the buyer’s property.

The Holy Spirit as the seal indwells the child of God to represent God’s authority over that believer and to guarantee his security in this dark world with its opposing powers. He is the One Who assures the believer that he can never lose his salvation and that what God intends for the future is sure.  The Holy Spirit in us attests to the reality that we belong to Christ (Rom.8:9) and that we will one day be with and like Him forever. Thus, the indwelling Spirit as the seal is one of the many guarantees of the eternal security of the believer. That seal verifies to us and to an unseen host of spiritual enemies that each feeble  believer is the property of the One Who redeemed him and as such, cannot be lost.


In addition, there are some other symbols that are not so clearly defined as representative of the Holy Spirit but which seem to typify Him in some way. The Dew (Ex.16:13-14) upon which the manna came down suggests the Holy Spirit. He is seen in relation to the coming of the Lord Jesus into the world to be the food of His people, giving life to their souls and sustaining them in their wilderness journey. Through His unswerving holiness, the Spirit provided the conditions in which the Lord in His perfect purity could come into humanity in a life separated from that which was of the earth. He prepared the way for His coming. Christ was the heavenly Bread Who came down in the quietness and darkness of the night, unknown by men to whom He came, the answer to the type of the manna.

There are some men in the Scriptures who suggest aspects of the Holy Spirit, though it does not define them as being types of the Spirit. Most recognize Abraham’s servant in Gen.24 as a picture of  the Holy Spirit. Was He not the One Who went into the far country to seek the bride for the Only Son?  Having wooed her to the Son, He was bringing her along the journey to be linked with Him as His Bride. In this beautiful picture we cannot avoid seeing the present work of the Holy Spirit, bringing the Bride to the Lord Jesus. That Bride is composed of all those whose hearts have been won to Him and who long to be with Him forever. Along the journey as we travel home to be with Him, the Spirit is unfolding to our hearts precious truths concerning His greatness and wonderful character that only make us appreciate Him all the more.

In Gen.43, Joseph’s steward ordering the house and expressing the authority of his master, pictures to us the work of the Holy Spirit. He was instrumental in bringing conviction of sin and effecting the restoration of the brothers to Joseph. This pictures a necessary work toward us as saints when we are away from God and our ways are not  according to His will.  We  can lack  affection to our  Lord and show insubjection to His authority that hinders our relationship with Him. The Spirit works to bring conviction and restoration of our souls to Him again. This work also foreshadows what He will do for Israel nationally in a coming day, a work that will result in true repentance and full restoration to their long-rejected Messiah.

The overseer of Boaz’ field during the harvest in Ruth 2 suggests the work of the Spirit with relation to the spiritual harvest and our service for our blessed Master. This overseer directed the work and the workmen in that harvest. He knew the Master and His will, the Field and its needs, and the Workers and their abilities. Our service for our Lord is to be empowered and directed by the Holy Spirit in agreement with the will of the Lord Himself.

We see a beautiful  picture of  the Holy Spirit in the man bearing the pitcher of water in Mark 14 and other gospels. He provided guidance for the disciples that led them to the place of the Lord’s choosing, which for us is the local assembly gathered to Himself alone. No doubt the man also pictures for us those men whom the Spirit would use as guides and overseers for the assembly. These are the men who are to have a sufficient portion of the Word of God (the pitcher of water) to be used for cleansing (John 13) and refreshment for the disciples. We see Desirous Believers who want to know the place, a Definite Place to which He wants to lead them according to the Lord’s will, Divine Guidance in the man with the pitcher of water, and a Distinct Person Who Himself comes and is in the midst. What a blessed and delightful place for a true disciple to be! The Spirit brings the saint to that place where the Lord is honored.

These are some of the precious emblems and pictures of the Holy Spirit that God has given us. We should study them carefully so that we might learn the lessons that they are intended to teach us about the Holy Spirit of God. We are sure that every one of them will give us a part of the picture that will enhance our appreciation of His qualities and work toward us today.

            “Long the Blessed Guide has led me

              By the desert road;

            Now I see the golden towers,

              City of my God.

            There, amidst the love and glory,

               He is waiting yet;

            On His hand a name is graven

               He can ne’er forget.”

                        Paul Gerhardt  (BHB #155)