The Holy Spirit In The Old Testament


We have seen that ever since New Testament times, the theme of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, has suffered more neglect than any other Bible subject, and only in relatively modern times has the world of Christendom become really aware of the Spirit’s existence, with the unfortunate consequence that a great many unscriptural doctrines about the Holy Spirit have been put into circulation.

We have also seen that the Holy Spirit, is in no way inferior to God, or the Word of God, but has the nature of God, capable of all the emotions and revealing all the characteristics of intelligence. He guides and has a will and so is able to direct, forbid, speak, choose, and demonstrate all the characteristics of a rational, reasoning person.

He is an emotional being, capable of loving and capable, also, of being grieved and even sinned against. And we have seen that we are living, today, in the period of His ministry, about which we shall be saying more very shortly.

All of this is revealed in the New Testament and we must never forget that all that we know about Him, or can come to know about Him, is found in the New Testament Scriptures, the writing of He Himself is inspired, so that we may rightly say that the New Testament is a sort of autobiography of the Holy Spirit.

In Genesis 1:2, we see that the ‘Spirit of God’ was also involved in creation. The Hebrew word for ‘Spirit’ is often translated as ‘wind’ or ‘breath’ in the Old Testament. The same word is found in Psalm 33:6, where we again catch a glimpse of the Spirit’s work in creation, ‘By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath (Spirit) of His mouth.’

The next verse of this psalm continues, ‘He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deep in storehouses’. Psalm 33:7

Certainly, this should remind us of how ‘the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters’ in Genesis 1:2.

If we look closer at the word ‘hovering,’ we find that it conveys the idea of a bird sitting in a nest, hovering and brooding over her eggs, caring for the new lives. The same word is used to describe how ‘an eagle stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young’ in Deuteronomy 32:11.

What a beautiful picture of God preparing to bring life into the world through His Spirit! God designed all of creation for life, our life.

‘By His Spirit (God) adorned the heavens.’ Job 26:13 and they were designed with us in mind. Isaiah 45:18.

On this fascinating topic, we should also note that Scripture describes a similar ‘hovering’ of the Holy Spirit in one of the greatest miracles of all time, the miraculous conception of Jesus Christ. ‘And the angel answered and said to Mary, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you’. Luke 1:35

Just as God worked through Jesus and the Holy Spirit to bring life into the dark, formless world at creation, so also He now offers eternal life to any who repents and believes through the Spirit in the name of Jesus Christ. John 3:5 / John 6:63.

Of course, as we shall see, the Old Testament Scriptures, too, were written under His inspiration, and we shall be looking at what we may learn from the Old Testament, concerning the activity of the Spirit of God, in Old Testament times, that is from Genesis and its account of creation, through to the work of the last prophet of the Old Testament, Malachi.

I hope you may have noticed that I said, ‘the Spirit of God in Old Testament times’. That is because, in the Old Testament, He is not designated or identified as ‘The Holy Spirit’, but is described as ‘the Spirit’, or ‘the Spirit of God’. Yes! You can, indeed, find the phrase, ‘holy Spirit’ in the Old Testament in three places. But you will notice that the word ‘holy’ does not begin with a capital letter. Nor can you find the term, ‘THE Holy Spirit’. The word, ‘holy’, begins with a small ‘h’, because the word is used in an adjectival sense and not as a title, or designation.

The first person who is said to have used the term was David. Psalm 51:11, David pleads with God, ‘take not your holy Spirit from me’.

This was his ‘psalm of repentance’ after his sin with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. David knew what happened to King Saul, he knew that Saul had been disowned by God and he was afraid that God might also abandon him because of his terrible sin. The Scriptures tell us that ‘the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul’, 1 Samuel 16:14 and the prophet Samuel never again went to see him.

Remember at this time David was the King, the Lord’s Anointed One. He was the man on whose young head had been poured the anointing oil which had been the symbol in its gentle flow and sweet perfume, of his setting apart for high office in the service of God. And now, he is very much afraid that this special privilege and symbol of God’s presence had been forfeited, might be taken back, lost!

‘Take not your holy Spirit from me’.

The other two occasions when the expression ‘holy Spirit’ is used are found in the book of the prophet Isaiah, Isaiah 63:10-11.

‘Yet they rebelled and grieved his holy Spirit.’ ‘Where is he who set his holy Spirit among them.’

This is a very significant statement because it reveals an important truth, namely that in Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit took hold of men to use them for specific tasks. He didn’t indwell them; He didn’t come to ‘live in’ them as in the New Testament times with Christians.

And, what is truly remarkable, is that the Spirit of God took hold of men for special purposes, without reference to their character. Sometimes they were good men. Sometimes they were not so good! But He took them and used them to accomplish His purposes. This is one of the amazing differences between the people of God of Old Testament times and the people of God today, that is, the church.

Paul told the Corinthian Christians in 1 Corinthians 3:16, ‘Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?’ so, the Holy Spirit indwells the church as the temple of God. But again, he tells them, in similar terms in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

I repeat, then, that in Old Testament times the Spirit of God is never said to fill, or dwell in the nation, the people of God, but only used particular people, at particular times, for particular purposes.