The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

“A common misconception in the world’s perception of Christianity is that the Holy Spirit is a kind of impersonal force or simply an active power of God rather than a true person, a member of the divine Trinity. But Jesus and the Apostles referred to the Holy Spirit as ‘He.’ Scripture shows us that the Holy Spirit has a will, knowledge, and affections – all the things that make up personhood are attributed to Him.”

“The activity of the Holy Spirit goes all the way back to creation: … ‘And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters’ [Genesis 1:2)]. Another word for hovering is brooding…. As a hen broods over her eggs in order to bring forth life, so the Spirit produced order and substance and light.”

The Spirit of Power

“When an earthquake occurs or a tornado sweeps through the Plains states, we see pictures of the devastation and feel overwhelmed by the power of nature. But those things are nothing compared to the transcendent power of the Lord of all nature. His power exceeds that of anything that happens on this planet. We see this power manifested in the Old Testament primarily by the Holy Spirit, who… is shown to be the Spirit of power.”

In the Old Testament, “those who were uniquely gifted were anointed by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God came upon Samson, for example, and he was empowered to do mighty feats. The same was true of Gideon and the prophets; the Holy Spirit came upon them and empowered them for ministry. The Holy Spirit also anointed the priests and the kings so that they could perform their work.”

“Just because people in the Old Testament were anointed by the Holy Spirit and empowered to do certain tasks did not mean they had been born of the Holy Spirit. They were not necessarily believers. We see the Holy Spirit come upon King Saul and later depart from him. We see the anointing of Balaam and of others who inadvertently gave prophecies under the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but those individuals were not necessarily believers. In the Old Testament, the anointing of the Holy Spirit was a special gift given mostly to believers, but not only to believers. And the anointing of the Spirit was not the same as the gift of rebirth.”

“The most gifted person in the Old Testament was Moses, who received empowerment to lead God’s people out of Egypt. But Moses foresaw a better day, when all of God’s people would be anointed by His Spirit.” At one point, Moses began to feel that the burden of leading the people was too heavy for him and he asked God to kill him (Num. 11:14-15). But God “provided help for him: ‘Then the Lord said to Moses, Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel…And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it alone.’ (vv.16-17).” When Joshua heard that others were prophesying, he told Moses to forbid them! But “Moses said, ‘Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!’ (Num 11:29).”

“In the Old Testament, the Spirit’s empowerment was given only to isolated individuals…. But Moses hoped that would change. That is exactly what happened at Pentecost in the New Testament (Acts 2).”

[Adapted from chapter 31, Everyone’s a Theologian by R.C. Sproul]