Does God need to breathe to stay alive as we who are made in his image must do? Of course not. Yet there are occasions reported in the Bible when God exhaled or inhaled.
What God breathes out
When you or I breathe out we expel carbon dioxide which would extinguish a candle flame, because we expel death in the form of this poisonous gas. But when God breathed into the fully formed Adam he became a living creature (Genesis 2:7).
Unlike us, God exhales life. In Ezekiel 37:1-14 the man of God watched in prophetic vision as God re-assembled at his servant’s say-so a jigsaw of totally dehydrated, scattered bones of a defeated army strewn across a valley floor, and like Adam they were given again full human bodily form, clothed with muscle and skin but inert and lifeless until the Breath of God filled them at Ezekiel’s further command, when suddenly he found himself gazing in wonder on a fully functional army, all breathing healthily.
‘Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live’ (Ezekiel 37:9).
Then the Lord told him to prophesy to his spiritually dried up nation, promising: ‘I will put my Spirit within [them] and [they] shall live’ (Ezekiel 37: 14).
All of the above is the backdrop in the apostles’ understanding of what the risen Jesus was doing to them in their locked upper room on that first ‘Easter’ Sunday evening. When ‘ … he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit”’ (John 20:19-23) he exhaled his resurrection life into them and they were ‘born from above’ (John 3:5-8). This equipped them to minister a gospel of forgiveness – to preach effectively a message of pardon from sin (20:23; 1 John 1:17-19).
So, how does this differ from what happened soon after on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2? To borrow David Pawson’s analogy: on Easter Sunday he gently breathed ‘Ha-ah-ah-ah’ (as we do to clean our glasses), but on Pentecost Sunday he went ‘Whoooosh!’ – wind, breath and spirit/Spirit are all possible meanings of the Greek pneuma. The ascended and enthroned Jesus was now equipping his disciples with signs and wonders (such as speaking in untaught languages and prophesying) to accompany their gospel message (see Acts 2:17-22,33,36,43) as well as healings and exorcisms.
Why God breathes in
God sometimes chooses to inhale. The first scriptural instance occurred after the Flood when Noah emerged from the ark onto an earth reeking of the foul stenches of rotting vegetation and putrid corpses and offered burnt offerings from his limited supply of sheep and bulls. God, we are told, enjoyed the inviting kitchen aromas of roast beef and roast lamb. The fact that ‘the Lord smelt the pleasing aroma’ (Genesis 8:20-27) implies that it is never merely a waste of breath into a vacuum to adore the Lord and praise him for the offering of Jesus on the cross – it bring a smile of sheer bliss to his lips!