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Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

It is necessary for the Christian to study the Old Testament, for the work of Jesus in the New Testament depends upon the revelation of God in the Old Testament. This week, therefore, we will begin our study of the Holy Spirit by examining him in the Old Testament. Before we can begin, we need to examine the doctrine of the Trinity - and deal with the idea of three persons with one essence.

Many Christians have trouble with the concept of the Trinity. Indeed, so much so, the common accusation of the Moslem world (and Jewish) is that we believe not in one God, but in three. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is One." "There is no God but God,...."

Perhaps a model - borrowed from Dorothy Sayers - will make this clearer. Let me begin with an incident from American Civil War. During that conflict, Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe for the first time. It happened in a receiving line at a White House reception. Her name was announced, and Lincoln said, "Oh ho! You're the little lady who started all this trouble!" The reference, of course, was to her book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. But what do we mean, "her book?"

There are actually three possible meanings of the phrase, "her book." We could mean by it the conception she had in her mind. Writing a book (or a Sunday School lesson) starts with a conception. The conception contains all the ideas that any other form of the book will have; it contains them most purely (for sinners, for no translation from mind to paper can be perfect in a sinful world). But locked in her head it would not have had any effect.

We can also mean by "her book" the physical incarnation of that idea in her head. For example, one might say, "I have a first edition, autographed Uncle Tom's Cabin." And unless the printer gets the words right, and the type is readable, the book will again have no effect. But the paper and ink itself is not the book - entirely.

What Lincoln was referring to was the third meaning. Not the idea in her head, not even the printed page, but rather the effect that the book had on Americans. Stowe's ideas, transplanted to the American mind, wrought abolition.

This concept - Father idea, Son incarnation and Spirit effect - are the model we will be using for the Trinity. As Augustine said, we cannot speak of God except by metaphor. Our metaphor will be that the Spirit is God living in us. When God is "in" someone - whatever that means - that is the Holy Spirit at work.

With that preliminary, let us examine the Old Testament.


Creation and Creativity

The Spirit of God is present from the very start of the Old Testament, and it is fitting that we start with the first recorded work of the Spirit: creation.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. ‑‑ Genesis 1:2 (NIV)

Not just creation, creativity as well. Indeed, placed in man, we see artistic creativity as the province of the Spirit:

and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts‑‑ ‑‑ Exodus 31:3 (NIV)

He gave him the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind for the courts of the temple of the LORD and all the surrounding rooms, for the treasuries of the temple of God and for the treasuries for the dedicated things. ‑‑ 1 Chronicles 28:12

Source of Life

It fascinates me that the Spirit is said to be the source of life. Not just spiritual life; physical life as well. The comparison is best seen in Ezekiel, in the valley of the dry bones:

Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.'" ‑‑ Ezekiel 37:9 (NIV)

I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.'" ‑‑ Ezekiel 37:14 (NIV)

Job echoes this thought; the Spirit is the life giver:

But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding. ‑‑ Job 32:8 (NIV)

The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. ‑‑ Job 33:4 (NIV)

Note Job's argument: it is not just life, but reasoning life - the life of understanding, the thing that really separates us from the animals.

Omnipresent Person

The Spirit is omnipresent, says the Psalmist:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? ‑‑ Psalms 139:7 (NIV)

But we must not think that the Spirit is "the Force" from Star Wars - a vague, pervading gas throughout the universe. The Spirit is a person; indeed, the evidence of this is that the Spirit can be grieved - offended, if you will:

Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them. ‑‑ Isaiah 63:10 (NIV)

(This, by the way, is one of only three times in the Old Testament the phrase "Holy Spirit" is found. The others are the next verse, verse 11 and Psalm 51:11)


The "Name" Theory

There is a theory about the Old Testament that holds that the three primary names given to God - Elohim (or El), Adonai, and Yahweh - refer to the pre-Incarnation roles of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I do not particularly see the force of this argument - and certainly the ancient Jews never saw it clearly. But it is possible to view these names as precursors. If you accept this (and many do, including our senior pastor), then you discover that the Spirit has a pronounced role: prophetic curses. In particular, long sections of curses are particularly attributed to Yahweh: Numbers 14:27-45 and Deuteronomy 28:15-68. The thrust of this is that the Spirit will come upon a foreign people, empower them to bring down curses upon the nation of Israel, and do so because of the rebellion of the House of Israel. The lesson for the church is clear.

The Spirit in Christ

The indwelling of the Spirit in the Messiah to come is a prime example of the Spirit in prophecy:

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him‑‑ the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD‑‑ ‑‑ Isaiah 11:2 (NIV)

"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. ‑‑ Isaiah 42:1 (NIV)

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, ‑‑ Isaiah 61:1 (NIV)

Most interesting is this passage, which connects the Spirit with the Crucifixion:

"And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. ‑‑ Zechariah 12:10 (NIV)

Note that this connects the pouring out of the Spirit with the Crucifixion! Indeed, the outpouring of the Spirit is a frequent aspect of prophecy:

For I will pour 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. ‑‑ Isaiah 44:3 (NIV)

"As for me, this is my covenant with them," says the LORD. "My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever," says the LORD. ‑‑ Isaiah 59:21 (NIV)

'And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. ‑‑ Joel 2:28 (NIV)

Here we have most clearly the role the Spirit is to play in New Testament times. That, however, is reserved for the next lessons.


The Principle

One sovereign principle is applied to the Spirit in the Old Testament: He falls upon whom he will (never use "it" to describe the Spirit. He is a person, not a thing.) The principle is most explicitlly proclaimed in the Gospel of John - but during the time when the Old Covenant is still in force:

John 3:8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

David recognizes this most clearly. He is one of the many on whom the Spirit came during the Old Testament - and one who was greatly afraid of the Spirit departing. Here is how he put it, after his adultery with Bathsheba:

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. ‑‑ Psalms 51:11 (NIV)


Examples of those on whom the Spirit came in the Old Testament are numerous, and we can but list them here:

  • Balaam (Num 24:2)

  • Othniel (Judges 3:10)

  • Gideon (Judges 6:34)

  • Jephthah (Judges 11:29)

  • Sampson (Judges 14:6, and several others)

  • David (I Samuel 16:13)

  • Jahaziel (II Chronicles 20:14-15)

  • and in the New Testament, but under the New Covenant, we have

  • Mary (Matthew 1:18)

  • Zechariah (Luke 1:67)

One of the most interesting is Saul.

Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. ‑‑ 1 Samuel 16:14 (NIV)

Note the point: when the Holy Spirit departs, an evil one comes in. This principle will be amplified at length in the New Testament.

The Purpose of the Spirit

The Spirit does not come on someone without a purpose. It is not a random event; rather, it is entirely in the will of God. Besides the numerous special interventions, there is one purpose shown in the Old Testament which will rise to the top in the New Testament:

But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin. ‑‑ Micah 3:8 (NIV)

There you have the Old Testament statement of the Spirit's purpose in our time: to convict the world of sin.

The Power of the Spirit

There is one thing that remains: the Spirit is God in man. Therefore, whatever is to be done by God through men is done at the urging and prompting - and empowerment - of the Holy Spirit. Zerubbabel was in a tight spot, wanting to rebuild Jerusalem's temple but afraid of the cities around, when God appeared to Zechariah:

So he said to me, "This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: 'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty. ‑‑ Zechariah 4:6 (NIV)

Whatever man will do for God will be done "by my Spirit" - says the LORD Almighty. The Spirit is the secret of power and accomplishment in the Christian's life. And next week, we shall see how this is revealed to us in the New Testament.

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