Friday, April 18, 2014

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

The work of the Spirit of God in relation to man in the Old Testament was not exactly the same as He works in and through men and woman today. Pentecost (Acts 2) marks the beginning of certain distinctive differences. While the Holy Spirit was very active in the lives of the Old Testament saints, at Pentecost He came to permanently unite the body of Christ on earth with Christ the Head in Heaven. There at Pentecost the Holy Spirit took up residence in believers indwelling them, never to leave or depart from them. Let’s look at this more in detail.

First, we need to understand the Nature of the Spirit’s Work in the Old Testament. Bible scholars call this Selective Indwelling, indicating that the indwelling of the Spirit of God was not necessarily universally experienced by all God’s people then. There are three words used that help us see this.

We often read that the Spirit of God was in an individual like Joseph, Joshua, and Daniel (Gen. 41:38, Num. 27:18, Dan. 4:8, 5:11-14, 6:3). This word in, in the Hebrew is beth, it is the same in all these verses. These men lived in such a way that the Spirit of God was able to habitually work through them display the character and work of God.

The second word that helps us understand this Selective Indwelling is that we read that the Spirit came upon many in the Old Testament. This Hebrew word is al, and this was experienced by many throughout the Old Testament (Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 13:25, 1 Sam. 10:9-10, 16:13). All of these individuals enjoyed the power of Spirit temporarily coming upon them to empower them for a specific task for God.

The third expression used in the Old Testament, is that the Spirit is said to have filled some. This is recorded of Bezaleel in relation to his special filling for service leading those working on the Tabernacle (Ex. 31:3, 35:31).

What can we learn from these three words? Simply that in the Old Testament when the Spirit indwelt someone it was selective in one He indwelt and how long He indwelt them. I think we get some help with this in John 14. There the Lord Jesus shows us the contrast of what was in the Old Testament and what will be after the day of Pentecost, “And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Jn. 14:16-18). 

These words from the Lord show us that the working of the Spirit in the Old Testament was not abnormal, although it might have been limited. The word “dwells with you” does not indicate an abnormal work of the Spirit. But we can also see the contrast between “dwells with you” and “will be in you.” While we have seen that the Spirit of God was seen as being in certain individuals, here the Lord was speaking the His disciples as a group, promising them of something to come, which would be on going and permanent.

It is important to see some of the other functions of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. He restrained sin (Gen. 6:3). His very names and titles must have had an effect on restraining sin (Neh. 9:20 Ps. 51:11). He also enabled men for service (Ex. 31:3, Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 14:6, 1 Sam. 16:13). 1 Peter 1:11 tells us that the Spirit gave the Old Testament prophets discernment and wisdom.

The work of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament was selective and limited. Limited, not in ability, but in at least three significant ways:

First, it was limited in it Extent. We have already seen that not all the people enjoyed the power of the Spirit in the Old Testament, not even in the chosen nation of Israel. The Spirit’s power was not universally known among the people. The fact that the New Covenant promised for Israel a greater ministry of the Spirit indicates that His ministry was limited under the Old Covenant (Is. 59:21, Ezk. 39:29).

Secondly, the Spirit’s ministry was limited in its Duration. In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit could be withdrawn from men. Samson was empowered by the Spirit from Judges 13:25 until the LORD withdrew the Spirit from him (Judges 16:20). In 1 Samuel 10:10 we read that “the Spirit of God came upon Saul” but later we read of the Spirit of the Lord departed from him (1 Sam. 16:14). David pleaded with God not to take away the Holy Spirit from him (Ps. 51:11). This type of prayer is never seen in the New Testament. In fact the Lord Jesus promised in John 14:16 that the Holy Spirit would with us forever!

Thirdly, the Spirit ministry was limited in its Effect. Israel, as a nation benefited from the Spirit’s ministry, but no ministry of the Spirit was guaranteed universally to all individuals. It was a general ministry to the nation (Neh. 9:20, Is. 63:10-11, 14) which other nations did not enjoy, but indwelling of all individuals within the nation of Israel was not part of that ministry. In Acts 1:5 the Lord indicated that the baptism of the Holy Spirit was future. This shows that Israel was not baptized into the body Christ as some teach. Also, the Lord Jesus declared that the Spirit overflowing life was yet future in John 7:37-39.

Today the Ministry of the Spirit of God is to produces the life of Christ in and through us. It is helpful to see how many specific ways the Spirit of God works today this side of Pentecost. Some of these He did once, never to be repeated again and others He does in an on-going work in us. There are no doubt many more, but here are a few.

He convicts us of sin (Jn. 16:8) as an unbeliever and as a believer. As believers we can grieve and quench the Spirit (Eph. 4:30, 1 Thess. 5:19). 

He baptizes us into the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). This is a one-time thing.

He indwells us (Rom. 8:9, 11). This means that He takes up residence in us and it is a one-time thing.

He seals the Believer (Eph. 1:13, 4:32). This He does when we believe in Christ and is a one-time thing.

He teaches and reminds us (Jn. 14:26). This is an on-going, day by day ministry.

He guides the believer every day through the Word (Jn. 16:13).

He illuminates our minds through what He teaches us and how he guides us each day (1 Cor. 2:9-13).

He always points us to Christ (Jn. 15:26).

He always glorifies Christ (Jn. 16:13-14).

He comforts us and helps us daily (Jn.14:16, 26).

He empowers us to be a witness for Christ (Jn. 15:26-27).

He bears fruit through us (Gal. 5:22).

He equips us with Spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:7, 11).

He desires to lead (Gal. 5:16, 18, 25).

He fills us (Eph. 5:18) meaning that He controls us when we allow Him to.

He anoints us for service (1 Jn. 2:20).

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