The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:1,2).
The Holy Spirit is a co-equal member of the Trinity which is the way God has revealed Himself to us — one God existing eternally as three persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Though they exist in perfect unity as one God, they are nevertheless perfectly distinct as three persons. Throughout the Bible, God is represented as working with and through the Holy Spirit. And though the revelation of the person of the Holy Spirit is progressive — He is more fully revealed in the New Testament — in fact there are eighty-eight references to Him in the Old Testament, beginning here in the opening verses of the Bible as the Spirit of God is associated with the divine creative activity.
The work of creation is also attributed to Jesus as in John 1:3, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” And also Colossians 1:16,17, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” This is not a contradiction but a testimony to the perfect unity and cooperation of the Trinity in all things.
In Genesis 1:2, some translations read wind or breath instead of Spirit but that is a misreading of the context. While it is true that the Hebrew word “ruach” may be translated wind, breath or Spirit, the translation of a word is determined by its context. For example, in Genesis 8:1 we read, “But God remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark; and God caused a wind (ruach) to pass over the earth, and the water subsided.”
In chapter 8 the subject is a force or natural phenomena which God used to dry up or push back the waters that had flooded the earth. Wind is an entirely fitting rendering of ruach in this setting. However, in Genesis 1:2 the context is the creation of the world. We are not talking about an impersonal force — wind or breath — but the creative activity of God, issuing from the Person of God. Therefore, Spirit is the appropriate translation.
Especially when we examine the verb used to describe the activity of the Spirit we see personal, as opposed to impersonal, activity. The text reads, “The Spirit of God was moving over the waters.” Other translations use the verb “hovering”. Both are proper renderings of a rare and interesting Hebrew verb, though hovering contributes more to the flavor of the Hebrew. This verb is used in only one other place in the Pentateuch (Deut. 32:11) in reference to a mother eagle stirring up her nest and fluttering over her young. It is a verb which cannot have as its subject wind or even breath — wind does not hover, nor does breath. Genesis 1:2 refers to God's personal creative presence through the Spirit.
To quote Stanley Horton in his excellent resource book, What The Bible Says About The Holy Spirit, “Closer examination of the entire first chapter of Genesis shows that God is the subject of most of the sentences in the chapter. We read that God created. God saw, God called, God made, God blessed. From this we see also that the Hebrew looks at the word God here as a definite noun. A common rule for Hebrew grammar makes the word Spirit definite also.” 1
We are not talking about an impersonal force but a personal presence — the Spirit of God. Of course, we must be careful not to introduce into the Old Testament a concept which God was not ready at this time in history to reveal. Because the Lord was teaching Israel to be faithful to Him in a context of idol-worshipping nations and tribes, it was necessary to stress the unity of God. Therefore, a primary statement of faith was, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deut. 6:4). The Trinitarian nature of God would not be fully revealed until later. But though we do not see here the Holy Spirit as a completely distinct personality, we do recognize the presence and activity of the Spirit of God.
Present and active is an accurate description of the Holy Spirit throughout the personal and national histories recorded in the Old Testament. Just as the Spirit had been involved in the work of creation, He was also at work after Adam and Eve fell into sin and disobedience. Through the righteous line of Seth, the Spirit of God was calling humanity back into righteous relationship with the Lord. A descendant of Seth named Enoch was a man “who walked with God” (Gen. 5:22) and prophetically warned the world of coming judgment (Jude 1:14,15). Though the Holy Spirit is not mentioned in the record of Enoch’s life, we know that his walk and his prophetic ministry must have been Spirit-empowered and Spirit-led because, as the Apostle Peter reminds us, “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). Enoch was a Spirit-led prophet.
In Genesis 6:3 we read, “Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.’” The world at that time is described as “only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5) and though God is a God of grace, slow to anger and quick to forgive, there is a limit to the season of grace. God had called to the world through a family of righteous worshippers and had warned the world prophetically through Enoch. He then warned the world for 120 years through the Spirit-inspired testimony of Noah, “A preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5). When the world ignored the call to repentance, the Lord brought the catastrophic judgment of the great flood, but only after the Holy Spirit had called and wrestled and warned through Enoch and Noah.
The Spirit of God was active during the time of the patriarchs. Pharaoh said of Joseph, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?” (Gen. 41:38). The word spirit is “ruach” and may be translated, “In whom is the Spirit of God.” The reference is to a Person working in history, not an impersonal force.
We need to take a moment and distinguish between the Hebrew words ruach and neshamah. We read in Genesis 2:7, “Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed (naphac) into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (or living soul).”
God breathed into man — began the respiratory process. Naphac means to breathe or blow. It is related to the word neshamah which means inspiration, breath, soul or spirit. It is used in Psalm 150:6, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”
However, the reference to Joseph in Genesis 41:38 does not say “in whom is the neshamah of God”. Rather, it says, “in whom is the Spirit (Ruach) of God.” Joseph was empowered and gifted by the Spirit of God for service unto the Lord in a particular way that was not yet available to any but those few chosen by God.
We see the Holy Spirit’s activity during the years after the Exodus from Egypt. When the burden of leading Israel became too great for Moses to bear by himself, he cried out to the Lord and God said, “Gather for Me seventy men from the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and their officers and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. Then I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you will not bear it all alone” (Numbers 11:16,17). The same Holy Spirit who blessed Moses with wisdom and strength poured out His blessing on the seventy elders. The result was that the elders were empowered to prophesy, that is, to speak with wisdom and clarity.
“Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again” (Numbers 11:25). Though they did not prophesy again, they brought Spirit-empowered assistance to Moses.
We see the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit in the building and furnishing of the tabernacle. Everything was to be done according to the very specific design and pattern which the Lord would provide. To accomplish His purpose, the Lord anointed craftsmen, artisans, with the Holy Spirit.
God said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship. And behold, I Myself have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan; and in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6).
Notice in 31:6, “I Myself have appointed” and “in the hearts of all who are skillful I have put skill.” These Spirit-blessed artisans were appointed and gifted by God with the wisdom to create, to invent, to design with artistic skill “the tent of meeting, and the ark of testimony, and the mercy seat upon it, and all the furniture of the tent, the table also and its utensils, and the pure gold lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering also with all its utensils, and the laver and its stand, the woven garments as well, and the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, with which to carry on their priesthood; the anointing oil also, and the fragrant incense for the holy place …” (31:7-11).
“Then Moses said to the sons of Israel, ‘See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship’” (Ex. 35:30,31).
The Lord designed these artisans with unique, particular talents so that they could express His creative design on earth. The Lord then placed His holy anointing upon their natural giftings. He inspired, blessed and empowered them by His Holy Spirit so that they could exercise their giftings to the glory of God.
James reminds us, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). All talent, all skill is a gift from God and surely today, as in every generation, the Lord is gifting musicians, painters, actors, writers, dancers, all variety of artisans. How often the world draws that talent away from God, conforms the artist to the prevailing darkness and corruption of the surrounding culture. The result is creative expression that grieves God, devalues truth, exploits men and women, enslaves the artist and creates even deeper darkness. But when we give our talents back to God in loving, worshipful surrender, the Holy Spirit will bless and anoint the artist and the gift, enabling us to maximize our talent and bring glory to God.
We see the Holy Spirit active in the life of Joshua. As Moses was preparing for his death, he asked the Lord to appoint a leader to replace him. “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’” (Numbers 27:18). Notice that Moses did not lay his hand on Joshua so he could be filled with the Spirit — he already was filled. Moses placed his hand on Joshua to ordain him for leadership. We do not know how or when Joshua was previously indwelt by the Spirit but we do know that when the time came for him to assume leadership, he was prepared.
The judges of the Old Testament were men and women uniquely called and gifted by the Spirit. In Judges 3:9,10 we read that Israel cried out for deliverance from her enemies and God raised up of a man named Othniel and, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he judged Israel.”
In Judges 6 and 7 we read of a weak, spiritually undiscerning, defeated man named Gideon. But in 6:34, we read, “So the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon.” The Hebrew “came upon” is different from other places where we read of the Spirit coming upon someone. The verb means that the Spirit “put on, was clothed with, clothed Himself with.” In other words, it was not Gideon who put on the Spirit but the Spirit who put on Gideon — Gideon was the clothes for the Spirit. This is not to imply divine invasion or aggression, but rather, the powerful presence of God in a yielded vessel.
What happened as a result of this divine empowerment? Gideon led a small, ragtag army of farmers and goat herders, 300 men to be exact, and they defeated 135,000 plunderers.
In the story of Samson, in Judges 13:25, the verb stir (or move) is used to describe the Spirit's action, “And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir (move) him.” One Bible scholar has said: “The verb ‘move’ (Judges 13:25) has the idea of thrust or impel. It also implies that he was stirred and aroused out of the sphere of the natural into the supernatural. This does not mean, as some suppose, that the Spirit overpowered him ... It means rather that when the Spirit came upon him, he could not be satisfied to accept things as they were. He was impelled to take action in the Spirit.” 2
In Judges 14:6, 14:19 and 15:14 the Holy Spirit’s interaction with Samson is translated,“the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily”. One authority interprets the verb as “to rush upon” or “to break in upon.” 3 This does not mean that Samson was overpowered. He was in control of himself but yielded to the Spirit. This was the secret of Samson’s strength — his yieldedness to the empowering Spirit of the Lord. There is no indication that he was a giant of a man. The Bible does not say that his hair was his strength but rather, a symbol of his consecration to God.
In Judges 16:20,21 we see that the outpouring of the Spirit in Samson’s life was limited in duration. 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 departed from him” (Judges 16:20). This is surely a reference to the Holy Spirit who had anointed him for service. Because of sin, the Spirit was withdrawn. The same thing happened to King Saul (I Samuel 16:14).
Samson was seized by his enemies and his strength failed him, not because his hair was cut but because “the Lord had left him.” God left him because of the compromise and sin which characterized his life. The Spirit of God cannot fill, empower, bless or anoint a life that has been corrupted by sin. In Judges 16:29,30 Samson grasped the two pillars of the Philistine temple and pushed against them “with all his might” According to one authority, this phrase could be translated, “with all His (God’s) might”. 4
How did Samson regain his strength? He recommitted his life to the Lord and the Spirit of God empowered him once again.
There are probably not two characters in the Old Testament more dissimilar than Samson and Gideon but when we study their lives in depth we uncover many beautiful lessons on the patience and compassion of God and of His unremitting purpose to work through people by His Spirit to change this world. God can use any life — weak, defeated, undiscerning as was Gideon; immature and impulsive as was Samson. But yielded to the infilling presence of the Holy Spirit of the living God, that man or woman can be used of God to impact their generation.
The life of Deborah, another judge of ancient Israel, provides insight into the workings of God's Spirit. Deborah's story is recorded in Judges chapters 4 and 5 and we read in 4:4 that she was a prophetess. Though there is no specific reference to the way the Spirit of the Lord moved upon her, nevertheless it is obvious that the Spirit did act upon her life because no one can prophesy truthfully apart from the Spirit of the Lord. Deborah prophesied, provided leadership to the nation and her story is recorded alongside the other stories of mighty leaders. But her story is different in this respect — she was a woman and as far as we know, she never lifted a sword.
This provides us with a bias-shattering insight into the presence and activity of the Spirit in ancient Israel. One did not have to be a man or a military leader or a warrior to be used of the Spirit. One needed only to be called, chosen and yielded to the on-rushing, empowering Presence. This is something which the Church today would do well to recall.
When Samuel anointed Saul for service as the first king of Israel, he prophesied to Saul that “the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily” (I Samuel 10:6). So it was that “the Spirit of God came upon him mightily so that he prophesied among them” ( 10:10); and “the Spirit of God came upon Saul” (11:6).
Again we should note that with Saul, Samson, Gideon, the elders of Moses, the craftsmen who built the tabernacle, the Spirit of God anointed them, came upon them and gifted them, empowered them for service. The Spirit of God rested upon them for a particular service for a particular season but did not permanently indwell them.
However, when we look at the life of David we see a difference in the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit. In I Samuel 16:13 we read, “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.” According to one authority, a more literal translation would read, “And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day upward.” 5 David discovered that to be anointed by God is to be caught up in an ever rising experience in the Spirit of the Lord. This does not necessarily mean that David was continually indwelt by the Holy Spirit but he experienced the continued anointing of the Spirit, the consistent presence and activity of the Holy Spirit empowering and inspiring him.
When David was seeking forgiveness for his sin with Bathsheba he prayed, “Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11). David may not have recognized the Spirit in the distinctly personal sense that we do today, but he did recognize the personal activity of God’s Spirit in relationship with himself.
This is further revealed in the oracle which is recorded as David’s last words, “The Spirit (Ruach) of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue. The God of Israel said …” (2 Samuel 23:2). David is not referring to impersonal wind or even breath but to God Himself. He could not have rendered a theological formulation compatible with our own Trinitarian concept of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit but David experienced a personal encounter with the Spirit of the living God.
Just as the Holy Spirit had sought to work through men and women in the days of the judges, so He continued through the prophets. Whereas the judges were Spirit-empowered instruments of national deliverance, the prophets were Spirit-inspired instruments of divine revelation.
“The Spirit of God came on Azariah” (2 Chronicles 15:1) so that he could prophesy to Asa, the king of Judah. This led to reforms in the southern kingdom (see 2 Chron. 15:8-16).
In the midst of a national emergency, as three armies marched against Israel intending the destruction of the covenant people, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel” and he spoke words of encouragement (2 Chron. 20:14). He also provided Spirit-inspired strategy which enabled Israel to defeat its enemies.
In 2 Chronicles 24 we read about Zechariah, the son of a Godly priest and reform leader, Jehoiada. So we would assume that Zechariah also was a priest. But the Spirit of God inspired and empowered him to prophesy a strong rebuke to Judah during a time of unfaithfulness. The words, “Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah” (2 Chron. 24:20) might also be translated, “The Spirit of God clothed or covered Zechariah.” The result was that, “He stood above the people and said to them, ‘Thus God has said’” (2 Chron. 24:20). The Holy Spirit enabled the prophet to speak God’s word to the people.
Many years later, through another prophet named Zechariah, the Lord said, “They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 7:22). How did the Lord send His word to His people? By His Spirit through His prophets.
In 2 Chronicles 34 we read of the prophetess Huldah who spoke words of woe and destruction over the nation of Judah because of their great evil, having forsaken the Lord and worshipped idols. But she also spoke words of blessing over the righteous King Josiah. And though there is no mention of the Holy Spirit in her ministry, we know it was the Holy Spirit who stirred her, enabled her to prophesy for again, as the Apostle Peter said, “No prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21). We must also add that the ministry of Huldah reveals that even under the Old Covenant, the anointing and enablement of the Holy Spirit was not limited to men.
As a result of her ministry, reforms were instituted in her generation. This is still the desire of the Holy Spirit, to release justice, peace, truth. mercy, Godly change, in our generation through men and women yielded to the Holy Spirit.
Through the writings of the prophets we see the record of a God who was deeply involved in the lives of His people through the Holy Spirit. Through the prophet Haggai God said, “As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, My Spirit is abiding in your midst; do not fear!” (Haggai 2:5). The promise which the Lord made to Israel when they departed from Egypt was that His presence would go with them (see Ex 19:4-6 29:45,46 33:14). The same Spirit that was with Israel at the time of the exodus from Egypt, who sheltered them and provided for them spoke to them and made covenant with them, that same Spirit was with them centuries later as Haggai spoke. This is a clear statement of the unchanging nature and faithfulness of God’s Spirit.
Throughout the years of Old Testament history, there seems to be a maturing sense of the Person of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah reveals the Holy Spirit as the One who will anoint the Messiah for ministry when that day comes, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn” (Isa. 61:1,2).
Isaiah also said, “But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit” (Isaiah 63:10). We are still not dealing with the concept of a Triune God but as the centuries pass there is a growing sense of the distinctiveness of this Spirit. We are talking now about a Person who can be grieved.
In the writings of Ezekiel this development continues, “As He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me” (Ezekiel 2:2). The Hebrew cannot be translated “a spirit” or “a wind” but “the Spirit.” Further, notice the interaction in 2:2 between Ezekiel and the Spirit, “He spoke to me … entered me and set me on my feet … I heard Him speaking to me” (see also 3:12,14 8:3 11:1,5 36:27 43:5).
One authority comments on the obvious implications of Ezekiel’s interaction with the Spirit: “Such language once more shows that the prophet distinguishes between the Spirit of God and God Himself, and, since the Spirit thus does these things either to him or for him, personality for the Spirit is implied.” 6 We would add that Ezekiel ministered during the sixth century and in this we see a progression of revelation from the earliest days of the Spirit of God moving upon a life to this more mature sense of interaction with a divine Person.
Similarly, in Psalm 104:30 we read, “You send forth your Spirit (Ruach), they are created. And You renew the face of the ground.” It appears that the Psalmist is speaking of something more than merely the power of God. To quote one Old Testament scholar: “The verb ‘sendest forth’ is hardly applicable to merely a power or influence of God. On that basis, one would simply expect an expression such as, ‘Thou didst create and renew the face of the earth by thy power.’ A Spirit which could be sent forth must be distinct from the being by whom it is sent forth and if that Spirit in turn could create and renew, then an aspect of personality is implied.” 7
Regarding the prophets, we know that every prophet in the act of prophesying spoke under God’s anointing, as we have quoted from 2 Peter 1:21, “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” The verb “moved” is derived from the Greek root “phero” meaning ‘to move along by carrying’ and it has been suggested that the last part of the verse might be rendered “as they were borne along by the Holy Spirit.” 8
This same verb is used to describe Christ’s continual work of sustaining the universe: He “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). One might say that the Lord carries the universe toward the fulfilling of His purpose. This word is also used to describe the men who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus, “And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic, carried by four men” (Mark 2:3).
Bruce Yocum, in his excellent book on this subject, entitled Prophecy, sheds some light on this relationship between holy Presence and yielded vessel by reminding us that the “common term for a prophet in Hebrew, nabi, probably meant ‘one made to speak’”. 9 This brings to mind the words of Amos (Amos 3:8): “The lion has roared; who will not fear; the Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?”
So we may say of the prophets that they were sustained, carried along by the Spirit of the Lord to the fulfilling of His purpose, which was to express His revelation through them into their generation. Interestingly, whereas the judges, patriarchs, kings and most of the prophets experienced the presence or empowerment of the Holy Spirit only for the duration of the prophetic act or service, Micah seems to have sensed a more continuous empowerment. He said, “But as for me, I am filled with power — with the Spirit of the Lord. I am filled with justice and strength to boldly declare Israel's sin and rebellion” (Micah 3:8).
He does not say, “I am being filled” but “I am filled.” In using the perfect tense he indicates that the filling occurred at some point in his past and is still a present experience.10 While this does not necessarily refer to the permanent indwelling of the Spirit of God there does seem to be a sense of continuous inspiration.
The prophets are important in our study of the Holy Spirit because it is through them that God promised a future outpouring of the Spirit, an event which would have tremendous historical importance. During the days of the Old Covenant, the Spirit of the Lord was poured out on a limited number of people for a limited amount of time for particular works of service. However, through Isaiah the Lord promised that someday His Spirit would be poured out over all of His people, not just a few: “For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring and My blessing on your descendants” (Isa. 44:3).
This was a revolutionary prophecy. The Lord promised that a day was coming when He would pour out His Spirit not just on a select few men and women for a particular season of service but upon all of His people — “I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring.”
Through Joel the Lord again proclaimed this coming event: “It will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28,29).
“On all mankind” does not mean all people of the earth but all people who are living in covenant relationship with God. Through Joel the Lord promises that there is coming a day when all God’s people, not just a select few, would be empowered by the Holy Spirit for service to the Lord. This outpouring would break through any national boundaries — “all mankind” will be included. Age barriers will be cast aside — old and young will be equal participants. There would be no gender exclusion — sons and daughters would be included. And there would be no social /economic exclusion — menservants and maidservants would be able to come in and take their place in this mighty outpouring of God’s Spirit.
Even more revolutionary is the promise through Ezekiel that not only would the Lord pour out His Spirit on His people. His Spirit would dwell in His people: “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
“I will put My Spirit within you” said the Lord. But notice the condition for this indwelling of the Holy Spirit: there would be a cleansing, not an outward cleansing but inward, the result of a new heart. As a result of that cleansing the Holy Spirit will dwell in people. This inner cleansing would require a holy sacrifice, a perfect, unblemished Lamb by whose atoning work we would be washed, cleansed of sin.
What a revolutionary thought: someday the holy God would dwell in people cleansed of sin.
John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, proclaimed the coming Messiah as the One who would provide this cleansing work and baptize people in the Holy Spirit. When he saw Jesus, John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
John also said, “As for me, I baptize you with water; but One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to untie the thong of His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16).
In the fulness of time, God sent His Son Jesus who took upon Himself our sins and God’s judgmental wrath against sin, offering Himself as the perfect, holy Sacrifice. Those who turn from sin and trust in Jesus as the holy Lamb are cleansed of sin and are given a new heart to love and obey God. This allows Jesus to baptize us, immerse us, fill us with the Spirit of the living God. We will read more of this promise in the words of Jesus and we will trace the fulfilling of the promise in the birth of the church. This is the reality which we celebrate today — the Spirit of the living God dwells within His people.
Though we are living in a new era in the presence and ministry of the Holy Spirit, He has always been present and active, from the beginning act of creation. During the formation of the nation of Israel, we see the creation of “an inspired supernatural people and the Spirit is given to the leaders of the theocracy for the purpose of accomplishing their divinely appointed tasks.” 11
It was the Spirit of God who empowered the judges and deliverers, inspired the craftsmen and the early prophets. He anointed some kings for service and in later history, He is the One who called the prophets, revealed truth to them and anointed them to speak the truth with urgency.
At the center of Israel’s history we see the presence of God the Spirit. As one commentator reminds us, “Israel was the depository of the Divine truth, the instrument of Divine purpose for the world and the Spirit is the vehicle of the Divine revelation and the Agent of the Divine will.”12
In the narratives of Israelite history, in the writings and in the prophets, the Spirit of the Lord is not presented as mere spiritual influence flowing from some distant Deity. Rather, we meet and experience a God who was personally and directly involved in the affairs of His people through the presence and action of His Holy Spirit.
This is not to say that the Holy Spirit was understood by Old Testament saints as a distinct Being with whom they could enjoy communion, fellowship and relationship, at least not in the way that we understand the Holy Spirit today. But they did experience the Spirit as an expression of the presence of God among them and as the centuries passed, they understood something of the unique personhood of the Spirit.
Throughout the Old Testament we see a developing insight, a progressive revelation into the Person and work of God’s Spirit and we, from our New Testament vantage point, do see the Third Person of the Trinity present and active in the life and history of God’s people. We see the Holy Spirit at the birth of the universe, testifying through the patriarchs, rushing upon yielded vessels, anointing judges, artisans, kings and prophets as God testified, delivered, judged and guided His people.
1. Stanley M. Horton, What The Bible Says About The Holy Spirit (Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1976), p. 20
2. Horton, pp. 40-41,
3. Ibid., p. 41.
4. Ibid., p. 42.
5. Ibid., p. 46
6. Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1979), p. 86
7. Ibid., p. 86.
8. Ibid., p. 98.
9. Bruce Yocum, Prophecy (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Books, 1976), p. 33.
10. Wood, p. 89.
11. W.H. Griffith Thomas, The Holy Spirit of God (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eeerdmans Publishing Company), 1976, p. 13
12. Ibid., p. 13
1. In Judges 6:34, we read, “So the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon.” In Ezekiel 36:27 the Lord said, “I will put My Spirit within you.” How is your relationship with the Holy Spirit different from Gideon’s relationship?
2. In Exodus 31:1-6 we read how the Holy Spirit anointed artisans for the work of building and furnishing the tabernacle. Does the Holy Spirit still anoint creative people?