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The Old Testament Ministry Of The Holy Spirit

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The Old Testament Ministry of the Holy Spirit


The term, "Holy Spirit," seldom occurs in the Old Testament. Actually it is found only three times; once in Psalm 51:5, and twice in Isaiah 63:10-14. The most frequently used terms or expressions for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament are:

Ð'* the Spirit of the Lord

Ð'* My Spirit

Ð'* the Spirit

Ð'* the Spirit of God

Ð'* the spirit of Ð'... (Judgment, fire, justice, etc.)

Ð'* your Spirit

In nearly all of these cases, the reference to the Holy Spirit is clear, although there are some instances where the Holy Spirit and the human "spirit" seem almost to merge, so that the Holy Spirit is referred to as the "Spirit of Elijah" (cf. 2 Kings 2:9-15). This is also the case with the "Spirit" which was on Moses, which also came upon the seventy elders who were to help him (Numbers 11:17-29). If there were any doubt in our minds as to whether or not the "Spirit" of the Old Testament were the same person as the "Holy Spirit" in the New, all we need to do is to read the inspired New Testament references to the Holy Spirit's work in the Old Testament, both by our Lord (cf. Matthew 22:43; Mark 12:36), and by the apostles and others (cf. Acts 1:16; 4:25; 7:51; Hebrews 3:7; 2 Peter 1:21).

Regardless of the infrequency of the precise term, "Holy Spirit," the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament times is much more prominent than man Christians might suppose, apart from a consideration of the many texts referring to Him. The Spirit of God is almost immediately introduced in the Book of Genesis (1:2), and He becomes a frequent focus in the writings of the prophets. The Holy Spirit had a significant role in the creation of the world (Genesis 1:2) and in striving with sinful men (Genesis 6:3). He inspired men who revealed God to men, either in word, or in work. He instructed and guided men, especially the nation Israel. The Spirit of God instructed and guided not only the nation Israel as a whole, but men individually (e.g. David, 1 Samuel 16:13-14; Psalm 143:10). He enabled and empowered men to do that which was humanly impossible (e.g., the judges of Israel). He manifested not only the power of God through men (Isaiah 63:10-14) but the presence of God among men (Psalm 51:11; 139:7; Haggai 2:4-5). It seems as well that the Holy Spirit was the instrument through whom the glory of God was manifested (cf. Haggai 2:3-9).

The Holy Spirit therefore appears to be the agency through which God most often worked. God used men to reveal His will and His word (e.g. the prophets), but these men were inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit so that the words they spoke were clearly the "Word of the Lord." When men spoke in the Spirit, they spoke for God. When men disobeyed the Word of God, they were regarded as having not only resisted God, but His Spirit as well (Nehemiah 9:20, 30; Psalm 106:33; Isaiah 30:1-2; 63:10-14; Zechariah 7:11-12; cf. Acts 7:51).

It is noteworthy, I believe, to see that the Spirit's coming upon men was the sovereign choice of God, rather than God's response to the initiative of men. Generally speaking, men did not expect the Spirit of God to come upon them, nor did they do anything to prompt it. It happened. God took the initiative, and men responded accordingly. There is clearly no "pattern" for those who would wish to find some method or formula for obtaining the Spirit's power. Men did not dispose of God or of His Spirit; rather God disposed of men, using His Spirit to do so.

The Spirit's coming upon men in the Old Testament is not always the same. In some instances, the Spirit's descent upon men seems to have been permanent, perhaps signaled by some unusual manifestation. The seventy elders of Israel, for example, manifested the Spirit's coming upon them initially but not again, in an unusual way. In the case of Saul, the Spirit that was given was also taken from him when the kingdom was taken away. Samson is one on whom the Spirit came only at certain times. Thus, we cannot find a rigid pattern for the way in which the Spirit came upon men.

The Spirit's coming upon men was, as a rule, not the result of their great spirituality nor did it necessarily result in spirituality. That is to say, when the Spirit came upon men, they possessed supernatural ability (or power). That power or ability was not unlimited but generally was limited to certain tasks, abilities, or functions. That power did not necessarily make the recipient more spiritual. Samson, for example, was "overcome" by the Holy Spirit, but his life was a moral disaster. He was a man, not dominated by the Holy SpiritÐ'--he was not a spiritual manÐ'--but a man dominated by his own flesh, or more pointedly, he was dominated by foreign women. Saul was not a greatly spiritual man before the coming of the Spirit upon him nor was he so afterwards. Balaam was a man who is perplexing, because we are not even certain that he was a true believer in God, even though he could not but speak for God when the Spirit of God came upon Him. Thus we could say that men possessed by or filled with God's Spirit did that which they would not and could not ordinarily do. The control of the Spirit assured that God's work would be done through men but not because of man's abilities or inclinations.

This is dramatically illustrated in the life of Saul, the king of Israel and later on the enemy of David. Although Saul was a physical giant, he was far from self-confident or assertive (cf. 1 Samuel 10:20-24). When the Spirit came upon Saul initially, it was to endue him with power in order to reign as Israel's king. Due to Saul's sin, the kingdom was taken away from him and so was the Spirit. In place of the Holy Spirit came an "evil spirit from the Lord" (1 Samuel 16:14). In 1 Samuel 19 (18-24) we read of a most interesting "filling" of the Holy Spirit. Saul knew that his kingdom had been taken away and that David would replace him. He sought to capture David and to kill him. When he sent a party of men to apprehend David, these men were overcome by the Spirit so that they prophesied, rather than to carry out their duty of arresting David. (I cannot help but wonder whether these men prophesied about the coming kingdom of David, the one God had appointed and Saul had anointed.) Two other arresting parties were dispatched to arrest David, and the same thing happened to them. Finally,



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