The Holy Spirit of God: The Place Occupied in the Old Testament

The first mention of the Spirit in the Old Testament scriptures is in relation to creation – “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2) . “By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth (Spirit)” (Psalm 33:6). “By His Spirit He hath garnished the heavens” (Job 26:13). It was the Spirit who garnished, adorned or made beautiful and glorious the heavens to show forth the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). In Genesis 2:7 we read, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul”, but in Job 33:4 we learn that it is the Spirit who forms man and imparts life to him: “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.” The expressions ‘the Spirit of God’ and ‘the breath of the Almighty’ refer to the same Person, the first being literal and the second metaphorical. Not only is creation attributed to the Spirit of God, but also the daily replenishing and annual renovation of the earth as indicated in the context of Psa 104:30.

In the Old Testament we can trace the operations of the Spirit of God in ordinary matters such as government and rule, courage, power, physical strength and skill in workmanship. We trace Him in extraordinary matters such as prophecy and the inspiration of the writing of the Scriptures. Although the above are mainly in relation to the Old Testament saints, there are exceptions as we will see.

Government or Rule

The first indication of the Spirit’s enabling in administration is seen in the case of Joseph (Gen 41:39-40). However, this becomes clearer in Numbers 11 when the 70 elders were to bear the burden of rule with Moses, “I will take of the Spirit which is upon thee, and I will put it upon them” (V 17). The Spirit of God which was upon Moses rested upon them (V 25), imparting the same ability to rule wisely, righteously and impartially. So that the people might know that they were called to bear the burden with Moses and had received the ability to do so, God gave a visible sign, “they prophesied, and did not cease (add)” (V 25). The same indication is given when a new form of government was brought in with Saul (1 Sam 10:9-11). The expression, “another heart,” is synonymous with the Spirit of God coming upon him to impart the ability to rule. We have the same thought in regard to Joshua (Num 27:18-19; Deut 34:9) and in the period of the Judges, “And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel” (Jud 3:10). Although the statement in Judges 3:10 is in relation to Othniel, we feel it was also true in relation to all the Judges, for we read that the LORD raised them up judges (Jud 2:16, 18). The fact that God called Cyrus the Persian King “My anointed” (Isa 45:1) would indicate that the Spirit of God came upon him to enable him to carry out the purposes of God, which were judgment upon Babylon, the return of the remnant of Israel from Babylon to the land, the building of Jerusalem and the building of the temple (Ezra 1; Isa 44:28). Being called “My anointed” did not mean that he belonged to the people of God, for God says, “though thou hast not known me” (Isa 45:4), and he is described as a ravenous bird (Isa 46:11). God can and does use the ungodly to carry out His pleasure, and the Spirit of God can come upon unbelievers to enable them to fulfil His purposes (see Num 24:2).

Courage, Power and Physical Strength

The Spirit of God endowed moral virtues upon different people to accomplish the things which were in keeping with His own mind and will. We read concerning Gideon and Jephthah that “the Spirit of the Lord” came upon them enabling them to deliver Israel from their enemies (Jud 6:34; 11:29). The Spirit clothed them with courage and power in the battle to gain the victory over their enemies and to give them the ability to rule (judge) Israel. To Samson, who was a Nazarite from his mother’s womb (Jud 13:5; 16:17), the Spirit gave physical strength, of which the growing of his hair was a sign and pledge. His supernatural strength was not in his Nazariteship or in his hair itself but was through the power of the Spirit of God: “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him ” (Jud 14:19; 15:14). When that sign and pledge (his long hair) was violated he lost that strength, for the Lord had departed from him (Jud 16:19-20).

Skill in Workmanship

The Spirit of God imparted wisdom, understanding and knowledge to Bezaleel and Aholiab to work in all manner of workmanship relative to the building and beautifying of the tabernacle (Exod 31:1-5; 35:31-35). The Spirit of God heightened the natural faculties of their minds to be able to understand the details given and gave to them the wisdom and skill to devise curious works (Exod 35:32). Thus the Spirit gave to them and others all that was necessary to enable them to build the tabernacle and all the vessels, according to the pattern given to Moses (Exod 31:6; 35:35; 39:32).

Prophecy and Inspiration

The gift of prophecy and its exercise was the effect of the operation of the Holy Spirit. “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet 1:21). The Spirit prepared them to receive the revelation, then He enhanced their minds to retain what was revealed to them and enabled them to accurately convey the revelation to others. The Spirit also controlled their tongues in the declaration of the truth imparted, as in the case of David (Acts 1:16). When we read that God spake by the prophets, or the word of God came to them, it was always through the operation of the Holy Spirit (2 Sam 23:2 with Heb 3:7; 4:7). In fact, when the prophets spoke what was conveyed to them, it is stated that God was speaking. “As He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets” (Luke 1:70). In the writing of the holy Scriptures, the Spirit not only revealed the mind of God to men, He also guided their intellects and their hands in the writing down of that revelation. He brought before them the very words (and letters) which would convey accurately the word of God (Matt 5:18, see also Zech 7:12). We also note that the Spirit controlled their tongues to convey those words to others who wrote them down (Jer 36:4, 18). The Spirit enabled them to retain and write down every detail (l Chronicles 28:19).

We note that the Spirit of God always came upon men for some specific task. As well as those incidents quoted, we can see this in relation to David as God’s anointed king (ISamuel 16:13) and in the conveying of a message of encouragement or a message of warning to the people (2 Chron 20:14); in the owning of allegiance to David (1 Chron 12:18). It was the Spirit who instructed or guided Israel in the wilderness (Neh 9:20, see Psa 143:10) and all that was accomplished for God by the saints in the Old Testament, was through the power of the Spirit (Mic 3:8; Zech 4:6). The same is true today. Through the Spirit we, as believers, are instructed, and it is only in the power of the gracious Spirit of God that we can live for God and serve Him faithfully. There is, however, one distinguishing feature today, which is the indwelling of the Spirit. Whereas in the Old Testament, the Spirit generally came upon saints, today the Spirit has taken up permanent residence in the saints (John 14:16; 1 Cor 6:19). It is true that on occasions we read of the Spirit in some of the Old Testament saints (Ezek 2:1; 1 Pet 1:10-12), but the thought on those occasions is not that of residency but of the Spirit operating in them. Today the Spirit indwells the children of God, and that indwelling is a proof that we are Christ’s (Rom 8:9) and that we are the sons of God (Gal 4:6). That the Spirit of God did not take up permanent residency in the Old Testament saints is clear from the prayer of David, “Take not thy holy spirit from me” (Psa 51:11). That prayer would be out of place for a believer today.