The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
The Holy Spirit | The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
The Holy Spirit was active in the people of the Old Testament, but His full power was not revealed until the ministry of Jesus, and also at Pentecost. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word translated as spirit is ruah, a word which is also sometimes translated as wind or breath. Thus references to the breath or wind of God can also refer to the Holy Spirit.
Ezekiel, in his vision of the valley of dry bones, was instructed by God, "Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." (Ezekiel 37:9). Job in 33:4 wrote, "The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life."
1. The Holy Spirit had an active role in creation. In the creation account found in Genesis, Genesis 1:2 states, "...the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." When God created man, He formed man from the dust of the ground and then breathed the breath of life into him. Genesis 2:7 states, "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Job in his book adds some insight into the creation of man when he writes, "The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life." (Job 33:4). In the Psalms, we see that the Holy Spirit is active in sustaining Creation. David wrote, "Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth." (Psalm 104:30).
Matthew Henry comments on this Psalm, "The psalmist wonders at the works of God. The works of art, the more closely they are looked upon, the more rough they appear; the works of nature appear more fine and exact. They are all made in wisdom, for they all answer the end they were designed to serve. Every spring is an emblem of the resurrection, when a new world rises, as it were, out of the ruins of the old one. But man alone lives beyond death. When the Lord takes away his breath, his soul enters on another state, and his body will be raised, either to glory or to misery. May the Lord send forth his Spirit, and new-create our souls to holiness."
2. The Holy Spirit was active in communicating to God's people. He anointed and came upon men to deliver God's messages of instruction and judgment. Nehemiah wrote regarding Israel's wandering in the wilderness, "Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst." (Nehemiah 9:20). Micah wrote regarding his ministry, "But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the LORD, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin." (Micah 3:8). The second book of Chronicles recorded the Spirit of God coming upon men to speak to the people, "Then upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, came the Spirit of the LORD in the midst of the congregation." (2 Chronicles 20:14).
The instructions and scriptures given to God's people came through the Holy Spirit as He moved upon holy men of God. Peter wrote in his second epistle, "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." (2 Peter 1:21). Concerning the prophecies surrounding Judas and his betrayal of Christ, the author of Acts recorded, "Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus." (Acts 1:16).
3. The Holy Spirit helped those in leadership over God's people. When Moses chosen out seventy elders to help him govern the people, God took the spirit upon Moses and gave Him to the elders. God instructed Moses, "Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee. And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with thee, that thou bear it not thyself alone." (Numbers 11:16-17).
When Joshua was commissioned to succeed Moses, God said that the spirit was in him. In Numbers 27:18, we read, "And the LORD said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him." The same Spirit came upon Gideon (Judges 6:34) and also Samson (Judges 14:5-6). When David was anointed king by Samuel, the Spirit departed from Saul and came upon David (1 Samuel 16:13). God's great and precious promise came to Zerubbabel, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts." (Zechariah 4:6). The greatest qualification for leadership was (and still is) to have the presence and anointing of God's Spirit.
4. The Holy Spirit came upon individuals to equip them for a special task. Even Pharaoh acknowledged that Joseph was full of God's Spirit. In Genesis 41:38, we read, "And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?" In the construction of the temple, the leaders of the craftsmen and artisans were filled with the Spirit to carry out their work according to God's plans. In Exodus 31:1-5 we read, "And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship."
5. The Holy Spirit led people toward walking in righteousness and holiness. David, in his great psalm of repentance, penned, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee." (Psalms 51:10-13). In Psalm 143:10, David wrote, " Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness."
6. The Holy Spirit came upon and empowered only a few selected individuals chosen for special service, from judges to prophets to kings to even temple craftsmen. But these examples reveal God's principle that when He chooses a person for service, His Spirit will fill and empower them. There was no general outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon God's people in the Old Testament, but a coming age in which God's Spirit would fall was promised. Joel wrote the great promise of the Lord, "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit." (Joel 2:28-29). On the day of Pentecost, Peter commented, "This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:16-21).
Several passages in the Old Testament look forward to the coming age of the Spirit. Ezekiel 36:25-27 records God's promise, "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." The prophet Isaiah wrote, "Until the spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field" (Isaiah 32:15). He also wrote in Isaiah 59:20-21, "And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD. As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seedˆçs seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever."
God promised that when the life and power of His Spirit would come upon His people, they would be enabled to prophesy, see visions, have prophetic dreams, live a life of obedience, holiness, and righteousness, and be witnesses with great power and boldness. The Old Testament prophets foresaw and prophesied about the age of the Messiah when the outpouring and filling of the Holy Spirit, not for a selected few but to "whosoever will", would take place. This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, just a few days after Jesus ascended into Heaven, and thus began the great harvest of souls of the last days.