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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Holy Spirit: How He Works

Don Stewart :: How Did the Holy Spirit Work during the Old Testament Period?

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How Did the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of the Lord) Work during the Old Testament Period?

The Holy Spirit: How He Works – Question 5

The work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individual believers during the Old Testament era is a difficult subject. In fact, there are no direct statements in the Old Testament about the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the believer. Thus it is difficult to arrive at any conclusion on exactly how He worked. However there are clear and important teachings about the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. We can make the following observations.

The Usual Term in the Old Testament Is the Spirit of the Lord

In the Old Testament, it is rare to find the term “the Spirit” referring to the Holy Spirit. It is usually the “Spirit of the Lord” or the “Spirit of God.” In the New Testament the title “the Spirit” occurs more frequently.

The Spirit of the Lord Worked in Five Main Areas

As we study the Old Testament we find that the Spirit of the Lord worked in five main areas. They are as follows.

First, He was at work in the creation and sustaining of the universe. Second, He was at work in the history of redemption—particularly with the nation Israel. Third, we find the Spirit of the Lord at work in the lives of individuals. There was a fourth area in which the Spirit of God was to work—in the life of the Messiah. The fifth area is the promise of blessings in the kingdom of the Messiah.

The Spirit of the Lord Worked in Creating and Sustaining the Universe

Along with God the Father and God the Son, the Holy Spirit brought about the original creation. The second verse of Scripture says.

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 TNIV).

The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters of the formless and empty earth. Along with God the Father and God the Son, the Holy Spirit was involved in the creative process.

The Spirit of God also sustains the universe that He helped create. The psalmist wrote about the work of the Spirit.

You make the springs pour water into ravines, so streams gush down from the mountains. They provide water for all the animals, and the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds nest beside the streams and sing among the branches of the trees. You send rain on the mountains from your heavenly home, and you fill the earth with the fruit of your labor. You cause grass to grow for the cattle. You cause plants to grow for people to use. You allow them to produce food from the earth—wine to make them glad, olive oil as lotion for their skin, and bread to give them strength. The trees of the LORD are well cared for—the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. There the birds make their nests, and the storks make their homes in the firs. High in the mountains are pastures for the wild goats, and the rocks form a refuge for rock badgers... When you send your Spirit, new life is born to replenish all the living of the earth (Psalm 104:10-18, 30 NLT).

Therefore, the physical creation of the universe, as well as its sustaining, is attributed to the Spirit of God. The Bible says that He was active in the bringing forth of everything in the beginning as well as keeping it running. His work with creation has thus been continuous.

The Holy Spirit Had a Special Ministry toward the Nation Israel

The Holy Spirit had a ministry toward the nation Israel. For example, the Spirit of the Lord came upon the various people who judged Israel. In the Book of Judges we read of this. It says.

The Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he judged Israel. When he went out to war, the LORD gave Cushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand, so that he prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim (Judges 3:10 NASB).

The Spirit of the Lord had a unique ministry to the people of the nation of Israel.

The Holy Spirit Protected Israel

We find that the Holy Spirit protected the nation Israel from their enemies. The prophet Isaiah wrote.

But his people remembered what had happened during the time of Moses. Didn’t the Lord bring them and their leaders safely through the sea? Didn’t he give them his Holy Spirit? The glorious power of the Lord marched beside Moses. The Lord will be praised forever for dividing the sea. (Isaiah 63:11, 12 CEV).

It was the Lord who was the ultimate “Protector” of Israel.

The Holy Spirit kept the nation from being afraid. We read the following words from the prophet Haggai.

Does anyone remember how glorious this temple used to be? Now it looks like nothing. But cheer up! Because I, the Lord All-Powerful, will be here to help you with the work, just as I promised your ancestors when I brought them out of Egypt. Don’t worry. My Spirit is right here with you (Haggai 2:3-5 CEV).

The nation of Israel was protected by the Holy Spirit. He was with them every step of the way. Their survival was assured because He with this nation in a unique way.

The Spirit of God Blessed Israel

Isaiah the prophet wrote about the Spirit of the Lord blessing Israel. He compared it to pouring water on dry ground. We read.

But now listen, my servant Jacob, Israel, whom I have chosen. The LORD made you, formed you in the womb, and will help you. This is what the LORD says: Don’t be afraid, my servant Jacob, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. I will pour water on thirsty ground and rain on dry land. I will pour my Spirit on your offspring and my blessing on your descendants (Isaiah 44:1-3 God’s Word).

As water is what is necessary for dry ground, the Holy Spirit was what was necessary for the growth and success of Israel. Israel was mightily blessed by the Spirit of the Lord.

He Would Judge Them for Unbelief

On the other hand, God promised to judge Israel when they rebelled against Him. Again we read the words of the prophet Isaiah.

But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit. So He became their enemy [and] fought against them (Isaiah 63:10 HCSB).

There would be a price to pay for rebelling against the Holy Spirit. The Lord would judge the nation and its people. They would not be allowed to get away with sin.

The Spirit of the Lord Worked in the Lives of Individuals

According to the Old Testament, the Spirit of the Lord also worked in individual lives. We consider the following evidence.

Spiritual Growth Is the Work of the Holy Spirit

The only manner in which a believer can grow spiritually is by the work of the Spirit. We find that the Old Testament writers spoke of spiritual growth. The psalmist declared.

Oh, how I love your teachings! They are in my thoughts all day long. Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, because your commandments are always with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, because your written instructions are in my thoughts (Psalm 119:97-99 God’s Word).

The psalmist loved the teaching of the Lord. His words were what guided each and every area of the life of the psalmist.

The psalmist cried out to the Lord for help when things got difficult. He knew that the Lord would protect Him because he was obedient to the commands of the Lord. We read his words.

Your laws can be trusted! Protect me from cruel liars. They have almost killed me, but I have been faithful to your teachings. Show that you love me and let me live, so that I may obey all of your commands (Psalm 119:86-88 CEV).

Therefore, we find that these individuals grew spiritually as they trusted the Lord and His Word. They knew that they could rely on His promises. Thus, they grew spiritually.

The Spirit of the Lord Gave Special Ability to Certain Individuals

The Old Testament also records the Holy Spirit giving special ability to certain individuals. We read the following in the Book of Exodus.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts” (Exodus 31:1-3 NIV).

This man was given unique gifts from Spirit the Lord. Consequently, there was the acknowledgement of the existence of the Holy Spirit as well as His ability to specially gift those whom He had chosen.

Later in Exodus we again read of this special gift.

And Moses said to the children 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 and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship” (Exodus 35:30, 31 NKJV).

This man had the high and holy privilege of constructing the most sacred object which has ever been created; the Ark of the Covenant.

We are told that the Lord gave others special skills to do His work. Scripture has the following to say about this.

He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them master craftsmen and designers (Exodus 35:35 NIV).

The Holy Spirit is able to teach special skills to individuals to do the work of the ministry. In this case, He was intimately involved with people from the nation of Israel to construct holy vessels for service in the tabernacle or the “tent of meeting.”

Samson’s Physical Strength Came from the Spirit of the Lord

The Spirit of the Lord was also able to give certain people physical strength. Indeed, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit gave the judge Samson supernatural physical strength. We read of the this in the Book of Judges.

But the Lord’s Spirit took control of Samson, and with his bare hands he tore the lion apart, as though it had been a young goat. His parents didn’t know what he had done, and he didn’t tell them (Judges 14:6 CEV).

The amazing strength of Samson was due to the Spirit of God. This was not something which he developed on his own.

The Holy Spirit Protected David from Saul

In the Old Testament, we find that the Holy Spirit protected individuals from harm. When Saul was about to capture David, the Holy Spirit protected him. We read in Samuel.

So he [Saul] sent men to capture him. But when they saw a group of prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing there as their leader, the Spirit of God came upon Saul’s men and they also prophesied. Saul was told about it, and he sent more men, and they prophesied too. Saul sent men a third time, and they also prophesied (1 Samuel 19:20, 21 NIV).

Instead of capturing David, the troops started proclaiming God’s Word! This was a result of the protection of the Spirit of God.

The Spirit of the Lord Came upon Individuals

There are several passages where the Old Testament says that the Holy Spirit came “upon” believers. This is especially true of the prophets and the heroes of Israel.

The Spirit of the Lord Came upon Gideon

In the Book of Judges we read the following account.

The Lord’s Spirit took control of Gideon, and Gideon blew a signal on a trumpet to tell the men in the Abiezer clan to follow him (Judges 6:34 CEV).

In this case, the Spirit of the Lord came upon, or took control of, the judge Gideon. With the Spirit of the Lord controlling him, Gideon was able to rally the people.

The Spirit of the Lord Came upon Jephthah

The Spirit of the Lord also came upon the judge Jephthah. We read how the Spirit took control of him as he raised up an army. The Bible says.

Then the Lord’s Spirit took control of Jephthah, and Jephthah went through Gilead and Manasseh, raising an army. Finally, he arrived at Mizpah in Gilead, where (Judges 11:29 CEV).

Again, without the Spirit of the Lord guiding him, there would have been no army. People followed this judge because God’s Spirit was with him.

The Spirit of the Lord Came upon King Saul

The Spirit of God came upon King Saul to fight against the enemies of Israel.

When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger (1 Samuel 11:6 NIV).

While Saul was not God’s choice to be king over Israel, he was, at times, filled, or controlled, by the Spirit of the Lord.

The Spirit of the Lord Came upon David’s Mighty Men

The Spirit is said to have come upon one of David’s mighty men. We read of the is in the Book of Chronicles where is says the following.

Then the spirit came upon Amasai, chief of the Thirty, and he said, “We are yours, O David; and with you, O son of Jesse! Peace, peace to you, and peace to the one who helps you! For your God is the one who helps you.” Then David received them, and made them officers of his troops (1 Chronicles 12:18 NRSV).

Here we find the Spirit of God coming upon a group of individuals.

The Spirit of the Lord Came upon Zechariah

In Second Chronicles we read of the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of God, coming upon Zechariah. It says.

Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, “This is what God says: ‘Why do you disobey the LORD’s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the LORD, he has forsaken you” (2 Chronicles 24:20 NIV).

In this case, the Spirit of God spoke through God’s designated spokesmen.

Thus, the Spirit of the Lord came upon a number of individuals and equipped them for what was necessary to do His work.

The Spirit of the Lord Came upon Samson a Number of Times

We should not assume that the Spirit of the Lord would only come upon people once in their lifetime. Indeed, we read that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson a number of times. Scripture says

And the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol (Judges 13:25 NIV).

Here we have God’s Spirit coming upon Samson.

Later we read of the Spirit again coming upon this particular man.

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of their belongings and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he went up to his father’s house (Judges 14:19 NIV).

The supernatural power of Samson, in this instance, was due to the work of the Spirit of the Lord in his life. In another instance, Scripture says that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Samson. The Bible has the following to say.

As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands (Judges 15:14 NIV).

Samson’s strength was given by God the Holy Spirit and by Him alone.

Unhappily, Samson continued to sin against the Lord. Eventually the Holy Spirit left him. We read of this sad episode.

[Delilah] shouted, “Samson, the Philistines are attacking!” Samson woke up and thought, “I’ll break loose and escape, just as I always do.” He did not realize that the Lord had stopped helping him (Judges 16:20 CEV).

This is a sad commentary on what can happen when God’s Spirit is grieved. This man, whom had been given so much power by the Lord, did not realize that the Lord had stopped helping him. The Spirit of the Lord was no longer controlling him because Samson was disobedient to God’s commands.

The Spirit of God Came upon Individuals in a Mighty Way

The Old Testament also speaks of the Holy Spirit coming mightily upon people. We read about this in the Book of Samuel.

When Saul came to the hill, a group of prophets came to meet him, and God’s Spirit came over him. He prophesied with them (1 Samuel 10:10 God’s Word).

Here the Spirit of God took control of Saul in a special way.

We also find that the Spirit came mightily upon David. We read.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah (1 Samuel 16:13 NRSV).

David was a man who had a heart for the things of the Lord. Therefore, the Holy Spirit was with him from that day forward.

The Spirit Gave the Prophets Power to Predict Judgment

Scripture says that the prophets were given power to predict judgment. The prophet Ezekiel, through the power of the Spirit, predicted judgment against the leaders of Israel.

Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the gate of the house of the LORD that faces east. There at the entrance to the gate were twenty-five men, and I saw among them Jaazaniah son of Azzur and Pelatiah son of Benaiah, leaders of the people (Ezekiel 11:1 NIV).

The Spirit of God gave Ezekiel unique power to predict God’s judgment against people.

Indeed, we find that one of the men Ezekiel spoke against, a man named Pelatiah, died while Ezekiel was speaking. Scripture says.

Now it happened, while I was prophesying, that Pelatiah the son of Benaiah died. Then I fell on my face and cried with a loud voice, and said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Will You make a complete end of the remnant of Israel?” (Ezekiel 11:13 NKJV).

Thus, the prophets, speaking through God’s Spirit, had the ability to predict judgment upon the people when it was called for.

The Spirit Came upon People to Speak God’s Word

We also find that the Holy Spirit came upon certain individuals for the purpose of proclaiming God’s truth to the people.

The Spirit Came upon Seventy Elders

In the Book of Numbers, we are told that the Spirit of God came upon seventy elders. When he came upon them they spoke forth God’s Word.

And the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses. He took some of the Spirit that was upon Moses and put it upon the seventy leaders. They prophesied as the Spirit rested upon them, but that was the only time this happened. Two men, Eldad and Medad, were still in the camp when the Spirit rested upon them. They were listed among the leaders but had not gone out to the Tabernacle, so they prophesied there in the camp. A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!” Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ personal assistant since his youth, protested, “Moses, my master, make them stop!” But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his Spirit upon them all!” (Numbers 11:25-29 NLT).

In this instance, the Spirit of God came upon a large number of people allowing them to speak forth God’s truth. We also find that Moses, the leader of Israel, was not threatened with the thought that others besides himself were given the ability to speak forth God’s Word.

The Spirit Came upon David

Later in the history of Israel, the Bible records David testifying to the Holy Spirit giving him the words to say. We read.

The Spirit of the Lord has told me what to say (2 Samuel 23:2 CEV).

This is why the New Testament refers to David as a prophet. On the Day of Pentecost, Simon Peter had the following to say about King David.

Brothers, I can confidently speak to you about the patriarch David: he is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn an oath to him to seat one of his descendants on his throne (Acts 2:29-30 HCSB).

David was a prophet; a spokesman for the Lord. This came about by the power of the Holy Spirit working in his life.

The Spirit Came upon Zechariah

The Lord told the prophet Zechariah to give a message to Zerubbabel: it was by the Spirit of God, and by Him alone, that all battles are won. We read.

Then he replied, “This is the word the LORD spoke to Zerubbabel: You won’t {succeed} by might or by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of Armies (Zechariah 4:6 God’s Word).

Ultimately, God’s Spirit will win the battle! This was the message the prophet Zechariah was to give. It is a message that each of us should also appreciate.

The Spirit of God Was a Restraining Influence

We also find that the Spirit’s ministry to the world has existed from the beginning of time as a restraining influence. The Bible says.

Then the LORD said, “My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years” (Genesis 6:3 NRSV).

This is as true today as it was during the Old Testament period. The influence of the Holy Spirit has kept sin from running entirely rampant on the earth.

The Holy Spirit Convicted People of Sin

The Bible says that Holy Spirit convicted people of sin during the Old Testament period. Isaiah wrote.

Then the Lord’s people turned against him and made his Holy Spirit sad. So he became their enemy and attacked them (Isaiah 63:10 CEV).

The Holy Spirit showed the people their sin. Unhappily, they did not always respond to His work of showing them the shortcomings they had.

The Spirit of the Lord Will Have a Special Ministry with the Coming Messiah

There is another area that the Old Testament said the Spirit of God would work – with the coming of the Messiah. The predictions of the Spirit working in the life of the Messiah were not fulfilled during the Old Testament era.

The Bible says that there will be a special outpouring of the Spirit of God on the Messiah when He comes. Isaiah the prophet wrote.

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD (Isaiah 11:1, 2 NKJV).

This will take place at the coming of the Christ, or Messiah.

Isaiah the prophet also recorded the Lord saying.

Here is my servant! I have made him strong. He is my chosen one; I am pleased with him. I have given him my Spirit, and he will bring justice to the nations (Isaiah 42:1 CEV).

The Holy Spirit will work in a unique way when the Messiah comes. This was fulfilled when the Messiah did come to the world; Jesus of Nazareth.

The Outpouring of the Spirit Would Characterize the Messiah’s Kingdom

The future kingdom of the Messiah would be characterized by the outpouring of the Spirit on all the redeemed people of Israel. We read the following in the Book of the prophet Joel.

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. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days Joel 2:28, 29 NIV).

The New Testament ushers in the age of the Spirit. This fulfills the promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all humanity. The Lord will put the Spirit within the hearts of people and He will write His laws there. This was to be done in the days of the Messiah.

The Holy Spirit and the New Covenant

Some aspects of the Old Testament ministry would have only been temporary for a New Covenant was promised to the people. We read of this in Jeremiah.

“The day will come,” says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,” says the LORD (Jeremiah 31:31, 32 NLT).

The day would come when the Lord would do a new thing with His people.

Ezekiel wrote of the days when the Holy Spirit would cleanse the people from their sin. He recorded the Lord saying the following.

For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of 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 keep My judgments and do them (Ezekiel 36:24-27 NKJV).

They would be given a new heart to serve Him. We also read in Ezekiel where the Spirit of God would come upon all of Israel. Scripture says.

I will no longer hide My face from them, for I will pour out My Spirit on the house of Israel.” [This is] the declaration of the Lord GOD (Ezekiel 39:29 HCSB).

Therefore, the work of the Holy Spirit would extend beyond the Old Testament period.

Conclusion: The Holy Spirit Was at Work during the Old Testament Period

In sum, we find that the Holy Spirit was mightily working during the Old Testament period. Indeed, as the Scripture tells us, He worked in a number of different ways with many different people. Consequently, we should not have the idea that His work was somehow limited to the New Testament era.

Summary – Question 5
How Did the Holy Spirit (The Spirit of the Lord) Work during the Old Testament Period?

While the work of God the Holy Spirit is emphasized during the New Testament era we should not get the idea that He was somehow silent during the Old Testament period. Indeed, there are a number of things that we can learn about the ministry of the Holy Spirit during the Old Testament period.

To begin with, the usual term is the Spirit of the Lord, or the Spirit of God – not the Holy Spirit. However, it refers to the same personage.

As we study the Old Testament, we find that the Spirit of God worked in the creating and sustaining of the universe. He was the divine agent who accomplished this work. Consequently, He has been working from the very beginning.

We also find the Holy Spirit had a special ministry toward the nation Israel. He protected them from harm when their enemies attempted to destroy them. The Holy Spirit also blessed the nation when they were obedient to the commands of the Lord. However, we find that He also judged them when they sinned against Him.

Next, we discover that the Spirit of God came upon certain individuals in a number of unique ways. There are many illustrations of this. For example, Samson had the Spirit come upon him to give him a supernatural strength. The Holy Spirit also gave special ability to individuals whom He chose such as a man named Bezalel who was given the knowledge to skillfully build the Ark of the Covenant.

We also discover that the Holy Spirit convicted people of sin during the Old Testament era. He revealed to them their disobedience to the Lord. Therefore, His ministry of conviction of sin did not begin in the New Testament era.

The Old Testament also predicted that the coming Messiah would have a special outpouring of the Spirit. Indeed, when the Messiah arrived, it would be the “age of the Spirit.” This was fulfilled when Jesus Christ came on the scene. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, He performed the deeds which were predicted of the Messiah.

The outpouring of the Spirit of God would characterize the future kingdom of the Messiah. This, of course, remains to be fulfilled. It will take place when the Messiah, Jesus Christ, returns to the earth at His Second Coming.

Therefore, when we search the Old Testament we find that the Spirit of God had been at work in a number of special ways. Thus, we should not limit His ministry to our present age. Indeed, He has been at work from the very beginning.

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