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Pastor Glenn McDonald: The Spirit Interprets

The US Navy had no business winning the Battle of Midway, the epic turning point of the Pacific theater of action in World War II.

In June 1942, the American fleet was considerably smaller than the Imperial Japanese Navy. It boasted half as many aircraft carriers. American pilots were far less experienced in aerial combat, and the planes they flew were dramatically less maneuverable than the Japanese Zeroes they would have to meet in life-or-death dogfights.

Military initiative was entirely on the side of the Japanese. Since their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor six months earlier, they had piled up one major victory after another, capturing strategic territories and driving Great Britain almost entirely from the scene.

Now the Japanese were preparing for a knockout blow against the US. Their primary fleet, under the command of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, was sailing east across the Pacific in the hopes of surprising and eliminating America’s three remaining carriers.

But US officials knew something the Japanese didn’t know.

Months earlier, they had cracked Japan’s main operational code, dubbed JN-25b. Japanese military leaders were so certain of its invincibility that they didn’t bother revising their communication apparatus on a regular basis.

As a result, America’s secret team of cryptanalysts and linguists, shown above and led by Lieutenant Commander Joseph Rochefort, were able to intercept and decipher generous portions of Japan’s coded radio traffic within days, if not hours. Messages that appeared to be, at first glance, mere gibberish, were quickly translated into what they really were – military orders from Tokyo.

That’s how the codebreakers learned that a massive Japanese fleet, with four carriers, was heading for a target called AF. But what was AF?

Rochefort was confident that AF was Midway, a pair of tiny atolls about 1200 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor, so named because they lie roughly midway between Hawaii and the Asian coast.

Military officials in Washington, however, were skeptical. What if AF turned out to be Fiji, New Caledonia, or even California? How could they possibly send America’s few remaining naval assets on a wild goose chase to the middle of nowhere, leaving Yamamoto free to do whatever he wanted? How could anyone be sure that AF was really Midway?

Rochefort resorted to a clever bit of deception. He ordered the personnel on Midway to radio Pearl Harbor that the salt-water evaporators on the base had become inoperative. Two days later, a coded Japanese message reported that AF was running out of fresh drinking water.


Confident that the Japanese fleet was heading for Midway, the American carriers quietly took up a position nearby.

The rest is history. On June 6, 1942, waves of American torpedo planes and dive bombers, seemingly coming out of nowhere, descended on the Imperial fleet. All four Japanese carriers were sunk. Yamamoto retreated with his remaining ships. Fighting in the Pacific went on for three more dreadful years, but Japan was never again able to mount a major offensive.

The Battle of Midway, and ultimately the war itself, was won because people poring over an “unbreakable” code figured out how to transform incomprehensible babble into the enemy’s deepest secrets.

When you think about it, that’s the Holy Spirit’s job, too.

It’s quite possible to read the Bible and be totally unimpressed. To the cynic or the casual reader, God’s Word can seem like little more than a collection of sacred slogans from a time long ago.

But the Spirit changes all that.

When our hearts are open, when an honest inquirer says, “God, if you’re really there, please speak to me through these pages,” the Holy Spirit becomes an interpreter. The Spirit cracks the code. What at first glance looks like religious rubbish begins to come alive.

It’s safe to say that hundreds of millions of people have had the experience of a flash of insight, a sudden realization that this whole God thing might be real after all.

The apostle Paul has something to say about that in I Corinthians 2:10-13:

“The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.”

The Holy Spirit opens our minds to the “deep things of God.”

We may go to school to earn degrees that will permit us to add impressive letters after our name. But the deepest insights in our life with God will come “not in words taught by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit.”

How can we personally engage this aspect of the Spirit’s work?

We can pray this prayer – every new day, and every time we turn to Scripture. It’s just 15 words:

Lord, open my eyes to who you are, and I’ll open my heart to you.

The exciting part is what follows – our chance to experience the many different ways that God will choose to answer that simple request.

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