The Heart of It All: The Holy Spirit

April 16, 2013

by Peter Amsterdam

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

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(For an introduction and explanation regarding this series overall, please see The Heart of It All: Introduction.)

As discussed in an earlier article, the Holy Spirit is one of the Persons of the Trinity, and this Person is equally God along with the Father and the Son, Jesus.

Descriptions of “The Spirit of God”

In the Old Testament, the concept of three persons in one GodFather, Son, and Holy Spirithad not yet been revealed. It only started to become revealed during and after Jesus’ ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. While the writers of the Old Testament didn’t understand the concept of the Trinity or see the Holy Spirit as a member of the Trinity, they did write about “the Spirit of the Lord” and “the Spirit of God.” In this sense they saw the Spirit as a part of God, as His power or action.

When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met [Saul], and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them.[1]

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed [David] in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward.[2]

The Old Testament speaks of God’s Spirit in a possessive manner, as “My Spirit,” “Your Spirit,” “Your Holy Spirit,” “His Holy Spirit,” again showing that the Old Testament writers saw God’s Spirit as a part of God.

Cast me not away from Your presence, and take not Your Holy Spirit from me.[3]

They rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit … Where is He who put in the midst of them His Holy Spirit [4]

Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence?[5]

The Spirit of God is spoken of as being involved in the creation of the world and the giving of life to living beings.

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.[6]

By His Spirit He adorned the heavens.[7]

The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.[8]

O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom have You made them all; the earth is full of Your creatures … When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created.[9]

The Work and Manifestations of God’s Spirit

Besides taking part in creation, God’s Spirit is seen at work throughout the Old Testament.

When Moses was leading the children of Israel during their 40 years in the desert, God’s Spirit was upon him. When the burden of leading the people was too much for him, God put His Spirit upon seventy elders of the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Gather for Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone.”[10]

When Moses was told that he wouldn’t lead the Hebrew people into the Promised Land, he spoke to the Lord, saying:

“Let the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh, appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the Lord may not be as sheep that have no shepherd.” So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight.”[11]

Joshua was said to have the Spirit within him. Others, called judges, who were to later lead the people after Joshua died, also had the Spirit of God come upon them.

When the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them, Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and the Lord gave [the] king of Mesopotamia into his hand.[12]

The Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; then he blew the trumpet, and the Abiezrites gathered behind him.[13]

The Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah.[14]

The woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the young man grew, and the Lord blessed him. And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him ... Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat … Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men.[15]

She [Delilah] said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the Lord had left him.[16]

In these instances the Spirit of the Lord came upon people at certain times, but didn’t dwell within them permanently.

Anointing of the Spirit on Israel’s Kings

After the time of the judges, the line of the kings of Israel began. The Bible notes that the Spirit came upon the first two kings, Saul and David. When Samuel first anointed Saul to be king over Israel, he told Saul a number of things that would happen, and said that once those things came to pass, God’s Spirit would come upon him. These things happened as Samuel said they would, and God’s Spirit fell upon Saul at that time, and at other times as well.

“Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man …”When they came to the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them.[17]

The Spirit of God came upon Saul ...[18]

In Saul’s case, because of his disobedience, God’s Spirit was later withdrawn from him.

The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul … [19]

The Spirit was given to David years before he was made king.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.[20]

The Spirit of God was also mentioned in relation to prophecy within the Old Testament.

Now these are the last words of David:… “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; His word is on my tongue.”[21]

The Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him [Moses], and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it. [22]

Samuel told Saul:

As soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.[23]

Others Filled with the Spirit

When giving Moses instructions for building the ark of the covenant, and for the tabernacle (the tent which housed the ark of the covenant), as well as the altar, the priestly vestments, and the many vessels needed in the tabernacle and during the sacrifices, God told him of specific workmen that He had filled with His Spirit, ability, intelligence, knowledge and craftsmanship.

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel … and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab ... And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you.”[24]

The Spirit of the Lord also came upon the Old Testament prophets. In 2 Peter, referring to prophecy within Scripture (referring to the Old Testament), it says that the prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit.

Know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.[25]

The Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and He said to me, “Say, Thus says the Lord ...”[26]

They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets.[27]

I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin.[28]

Within the Old Testament, the Spirit of God was clearly active in a variety of ways. When the Spirit came upon or empowered people, it seems to have been for a specific instance or for a limited duration.

Author J. Rodman Williams expressed it this way:

The Spirit could “clothe” someone but, like clothing, was not a permanent vestment. Thus the endowment of the Spirit was largely transitory: for an occasion, for a task, or for an utterance. It was not an abiding reality.[29]

The New Testament and Pentecost

God did, however, speak of a time in the future (which we now know was at Pentecost) when His Spirit would dwell within His people, and not just a few of them but all of them—including women, as well as servants, which for that time and in that culture was a strong way to make the point that it was for everybody.

It shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out My Spirit.[30]

I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules.[31]

During the 400-year period between the last writings of the Old Testament and the time just prior to Jesus’ birth, there is little evidence of the movement of God’s Spirit, especially in the realm of prophecy or guidance given directly from the Lord.

The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels says: The Talmud illustrates this opinion: “When Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the latter prophets, were dead, the Holy Spirit departed from Israel.”[32]

However, at the dawning of New Testament times, the Holy Spirit is seen once again moving and acting among God’s people in relation to the birth of God the Son, Jesus. Elizabeth and Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptist, were filled with the Spirit. Their son, John, was filled while still in his mother’s womb. The Holy Spirit came upon Mary and overshadowed her so that she conceived Jesus.

When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”[33]

Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied [34]

You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his [John the Baptist’s] birth, for he will be great before the Lord. … He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.[35]

Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus. And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holythe Son of God.”[36]

While the Spirit of God is seen as being manifested all throughout the Old Testament writings, it is in the life and ministry of Jesus, and in the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, that we see the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit poured forth in an expanded and widespread manner. Subsequent articles will cover this and other aspects of the Holy Spirit.

[1] 1 Samuel 10:10.

[2] 1 Samuel 16:13.

[3] Psalm 51:11.

[4] Isaiah 63:10–11.

[5] Psalm 139:7.

[6] Genesis 1:2.

[7] Job 26:13 NKJV.

[8] Job 33:4.

[9] Psalm 104:24,30.

[10] Numbers 11:16–17.

[11] Numbers 27:16–19.

[12] Judges 3:9–10.

[13] Judges 6:34 NKJV.

[14] Judges 11:29.

[15] Judges 13:24–25, 14:6, 15:14–15.

[16] Judges 16:20.

[17] 1 Samuel 10:6,10 NAU.

[18] 1 Samuel 11:6 NAU.

[19] 1 Samuel 16:14.

[20] 1 Samuel 16:13 NKJV.

[21] 2 Samuel 23:1–2.

[22] Numbers 11:25.

[23] 1 Samuel 10:5–6.

[24] Exodus 31:1–6.

[25] 2 Peter 1:20–21 NAU.

[26] Ezekiel 11:5.

[27] Zechariah 7:12.

[28] Micah 3:8.

[29] J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, Systematic Theology from a Charismatic Perspective, Volume 2 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 160.

[30] Joel 2:28–29.

[31] Ezekiel 36:26–27.

[32] Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 637.

[33] Luke 1:41–42.

[34] Luke 1:67.

[35] Luke 1:14–15.

[36] Luke 1:31, 34–35.