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Doctrine of the Holy Spirit - The Work of the Spirit in the Old Testament Print E-mail
Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

I.  Introduction:

 We have seen thus far that the Spirit is divine and the Spirit is a person, namely the third person of the Trinity. Tonight we shift our focus from the person of the Spirit to the work of the Spirit. Over the next few weeks, Lord willing, I want us to walk through the Scriptures looking at passages that speak of the work of the Spirit. We will begin tonight by looking at the Old Testament. Of course, you may be thinking to yourself: ĎThe whole Old Testament, we will never get through all of that in one night!í And to be honest, you may be right. Yet, I should note that the Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is mentioned less in the Old Testament compared to the New (approximately 100 times in the Old and over 250 times in the New)1. Of course a hundred references is still a lot to consider. But what I want to try to do is look at a handful of passages that are representative of the whole. By doing this I believe we can arrive at some conclusions about the work of the Spirit in the Old Testament. Obviously if I skip a passage that you would like to look at just let me know.

II. Passages:

A. Exodus 31:1-5 The Lord fills Bezalel (and possibly Oholiab and others who were working with them) with the Spirit. The purpose of this filling was so that they could work on the construction of the Temple. Thus, the Spirit enabled them to carry out this task of building the Temple as the Lord had commanded. We see the same language used about them in 35:30-35.

B. Numbers 11 Before we look at some particular verses in this chapter, let me summarize what is going on. The people under Mosesí leadership had begun to grumble about the manna they were eating and cry out for meat. Moses come to the Lord and asks for help with the burdensome task of leading the people. The Lord answers in verses 16-17. Look at those with me. The Lord is going to take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them so that Moses does not have to bear the burden of leading the people alone. We see the fulfillment of this in verses 24-25. Look at those. Interestingly, the text tells us that the elders prophesied, but did not continue doing it. It seems that they did this to visibly demonstrate the Spiritís presence, but it was not necessary for them to do this continually. Then another problem arises. Two of the seventy elders, Eldad and Medad, stayed behind, not going to the tent of Meeting, and when the Spirit rested on themÖthey prophesied in the camp (v. 26). Joshua wants them to stop doing this for Mosesí sake, but listen to Mosesí response in verse 29. Moses longs for a time when all of the Lordís people would have the Spirit on them. Thus, it seems safe to conclude from this statement that the Spirit being given to a person was somewhat rare in the Old Testament.

C. Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 13:25, 14:6, 19 The Judges were the leaders in Israel until the people demanded a king. In each of these passages in the book of Judges we read that the Spirit was upon a particular judge (Othniel, Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson). Also, in each instance it seems that the Spirit was given to help them perform a particular task. These tasks, in general, involved leading the people of Israel. Thus, we see the Spirit being given to the judges of Israel, just as it was given to Moses (Numbers 11) and Joshua (34:9).

D. 1 Samuel 11:6, 16:13-14 Here we see that the Spirit was given to Saul as King of Israel. After Saulís sin against the Lord, the Spirit was taken from Saul and given to David, who replaced Saul as King.

E. Psalm 51:11 David is confessing his sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the killing of her husband Uriah in Psalm 51. He asks the Lord in verse 11 to take not your Holy Spirit from me. David may or may not be remembering what happened to Saul, but either way, the implication is that the Holy Spirit could be taken from David just as it was from Saul in 1 Samuel 16:14. I think that we see a clear distinction here between the work of the Spirit under the Old and New Covenants. A person could have the Spirit removed under the Old Covenant (as with Saul), while the indwelling of the Spirit is permanent for the believer under the New Covenant (see 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 and Ephesians 1:13-14). Of course this makes sense when you consider the longing of Moses and the foreseeing by the prophets of a coming pouring out of the Spirit on Godís people (see below).

F. Isaiah 11:1-2, 32:14-15, 61:1 A couple of things to note from these passages. First, Isaiah says that the Spirit shall rest upon the coming Messiah. He shall be anointed by the Spirit of the Lord according to 61:1. Of course, it is this passage that Jesus reads in the synagogue at Nazareth and responds: Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing (Luke 4:16-21). Jesusí life and ministry was anointed by the Spirit, just as Isaiah said it would be. Second, in chapter 32 Isaiah is describing the awful state of affairs in Israel. The situation will be dire until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high (32:15). Thus, Isaiah foresaw a day when the Spirit would be poured out upon Godís people.

G. Ezekiel 2:2, 3:24, 36:22-27 Once again we see a particular person, in this case the prophet Ezekiel, being filled with the Spirit for service. Other examples of prophets being filled with the Spirit include: Azariah (2 Chronicles 15:1-7), Jahaziel (2 Chronicles 20:13-17), Daniel (Daniel 4:8-9, 18, 5:11), and Micah (Micah 3:8). In chapter 36 we read of what the Lord is going to do under the New Covenant (as Jeremiah calls it, see Jeremiah 31:31ff). In the midst of that description we read: And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (v. 27). There is a promise that the Spirit will indwell believers under the New Covenant, which will lead to obedience and holy living. So once again we see this promise of the Spiritís indwelling of Godís people.

H. Joel 2:28-29 Another prophet speaks of the Spirit being poured out on all of Godís people in the future. It will not matter if they are male or female, young or old, servant or free, the Spirit will be given to all flesh. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 Peter points to this passage to explain what is taking place. Thus, Joel prophesies of a future outpouring of the Spirit which is then fulfilled in Acts 2.

III. Implications:

A. The Spiritís work in the Old Testament was selective, at times temporary, and usually task oriented. This is the conclusion that Bruce Ware draws and it seems to be a good summary for the most part. It does not seem that the Spirit was given to all of Godís people individually. Rather, this privilege was reserved for those under the New Covenant. However, this does not mean that the Spirit was not involved in the lives of believers in the Old Testament nor that He did not occasionally fill certain individuals for particular tasks. Now it must be noted, the above synthesis is an attempt to draw conclusions from the narrative that we have. We are not told explicitly that the Spiritís coming was task-oriented. And even though Dr. Ware lists four categories of people that experienced the Spirit in these ways (judges, prophets, craftsmen, and civil leaders), we are not explicitly told that these are the only people who ever experienced the coming of the Spirit under the Old Covenant. Thus, I do not think that we should be overly dogmatic about these conclusions, even though I do find them helpful.

B. These passages teach us that the Messiah will be Spirit anointed. Isaiah makes it clear that the coming Messiah will be anointed by the Spirit for ministry. When Jesus does come, we see that He fulfills this prophecy. It is this idea, the Spiritís anointing, that could explain the Spirit descending upon Christ at His baptism in the form of a dove. Isaiah had spoken of a Spirit anointed servant and Jesusí baptism experience could be pointing us to the fact that He was the fulfillment of Isaiahís words. Either way, the Old Testament clearly teaches us that the Messiah will be Spirit anointed.

C. These passages teach us that all of Godís people will be indwelt by the Spirit under the New Covenant. Again, we must be careful in what we say about the Old Testament saints and their relation to the Spirit, but the Scriptures, both Old and New, make it clear that all of those under the New Covenant will be indwelt by the Spirit. Moses and the prophets looked to this day with great longing and expectation. We often look to stories like the burning bush and think: ĎIf only God could speak to me like that.í Yet, we forget how privileged we are to have the very Spirit of God indwelling us. They looked to this day with longing and unfortunately we often take it for granted. Lord forgive us.

IV. Conclusion:

Hopefully these passages give us a better understanding of the Spiritís work in the Old Testament and what we should expect to see in the New (which is exactly what we do see). If nothing else I hope we see the glorious privilege of being indwelt by the Spirit. Likewise, as we realize this privilege, I pray that we would long to be filled with the Spirit and to never quench the Spirit. We still have much to consider along these lines, but my hope is that we are already moving in these directions. Amen.

Bruce Ware, Doctrine of the Person and Work of the Holy Spirit, which can be found here: http://www.biblicaltraining.org/bible-gateway-online/bible-Systematic-Theology-lay/bible-The-Holy-Spirit.html.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Monday, 16 February 2009 )

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