Question: "What does the Bible mean when it refers to the four winds?"
Answer: Wind is frequently used in the Bible as a metaphor for some spiritual truth (e.g., Psalm 78:39 and Jeremiah 22:22). This holds true when the Bible refers to the “four winds.” The phrase “four winds” is used principally to describe the whole of the earth or heaven. The “four winds” encompass all directions or the “four corners” of the earth: north, south, east, and west (Jeremiah 49:36; Matthew 24:31).
Different translations give different renderings. For example, in Zechariah 6:5, the ESV gives “the four winds of heaven,” but the NIV translates it as “the four spirits of heaven.” The discrepancy is understandable, since the Hebrew word for “wind” can also mean “spirit.” Hebrews 1:7 says God makes “his angels winds” (ESV), or “spirits” (NIV).
It should be noted, when the phrase “four winds” is mentioned in the Bible, it’s usually in reference to some remarkable, unusual, or devastating event. These events are being reported by some of the Lord’s prophets, most often in the form of a vision (Ezekiel 37:9; Daniel 7:2; Zechariah 2:6).
The “four winds” in Revelation 7:1 are one example of the phrase being used in the context of judgment: “I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree.” This use of the “four winds” is different than other references because the winds are being held back rather than being sent forth. The holding back of the four winds represents the whole theme of Revelation 7, which is a worshipful respite from the outpouring of God’s judgments. The four winds that had previously represented destruction and affliction on the earth now serve as the most moving and hope-filled promise from God for the protection of His people: “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God” (verse 3), “and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (verse 17).