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The Holy Spirit #3: The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

"The Holy Spirit #3: The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament"

This article has to be seen in the context of the first two. So we need to do a little reviewing. The first article was entitled: "We Need What the Twelve Got." Its basic thrust was this: Before Pentecost, the disciples were a lot like you and me. After Pentecost, they were spiritual dynamos. And it all goes back to the Holy Spirit, who was poured out upon them there at Pentecost. In order for us to be what we ought to be, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit just like they were.

The second article was entitled: "Who is the Holy Spirit?" Its basic thrust was this: The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. (He is not an it.) Locational language used about the Holy Spirit in the Bible must be interpreted not as pointing to where the Holy Spirit is, but where He is showing Himself, where He is at work doing what He does. You cannot therefore separate the effect or work of God’s Spirit from the presence of His Spirit. They are the same thing. The Holy Spirit is the member of the Trinity who deals directly with the spirits of men, who brings the grace of God to bear in the lives of His people. He is the channel by which God’s grace flows into our lives. His special role is to help us to know the heart of God.

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (OT)

When you come to the subject of the Holy Spirit in the OT and NT, there are some difficulties here. Was the Holy Spirit doing the same thing in the OT as He is in the NT? And if so, then why is the language so different? Why are there NT verses that speak as if the Holy Spirit hadn’t even come in the OT?

When you first read the Bible you are struck by the contrast between the OT and the NT with regard to the Holy Spirit. Let’s start by putting the bare facts on the table before us. The activity of the Holy Spirit in the OT is spoken of in three main ways (and remember that this is in spite of the fact that the Trinitarian nature of God was not even revealed in the OT):

Inspiring prophecy - e.g. 2 Chronicles 24:20 "Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah...; and he stood above the people and said to them, ‘Thus God has said...’"

Strengthening those who represent God – Examples of this are Othniel, Jephthah, Samson, Gideon (all judges strengthened for a certain great work) and even Saul

Equipping with skill for a certain divinely commissioned task - Examples of this are Joshua -- to lead the Israelites after Moses, Saul to be king, David to be king, Bezalel and Oholiab to do the craftsmanship for the tabernacle (This might be considered so close to #2 as to list them together.)

Apart from these, the references about the Holy Spirit in the OT are primarily promises that He will be poured out at some point in the future. Here are some examples:

Isaiah 32:15 "...until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fertile field and the fertile field is considered as a forest."

Isaiah 44:2-3 "Thus says the LORD who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you, ‘Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; and you Jeshurun whom I have chosen. For I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring, and My blessing on your descendants."

Ezekiel 36:25-28 "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God."

Ezekiel 37:14 "I will put My Spirit within you, and you will come to life."

Ezekiel 39:29 "‘I will not hide My face from them any longer, for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,’ declares the Lord GOD."

Joel 2:28-29 "And it will come about after this that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. And even on the male and female servants I will pour out My Spirit in those days."

The Coming of the Spirit at Pentecost

The OT promises of the coming of the Holy Spirit imply that in the OT they didn’t have what the disciples got. In the NT, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost implies that He had not come in OT:

John 7:37-39 "‘If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, 'From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified."

Does this mean that now in the NT we have the Holy Spirit and the OT saints didn’t? That’s what this language seems to imply, at first. But when we look deeper, we realize that the different between the role of the Spirit in the OT and the NT is not a difference of essence but a difference of degree. This is extremely important to understand; perhaps an illustration will help. If I have two oranges and my friend Ben has a truck full of oranges and my friend Laurie has a horse shoe, the difference between what I have and what Ben has is a difference of degree, whereas the difference between what I have and what Laurie has is a difference of essence. A horse shoe is different in essence from an orange. There may be a great difference between what I have and what Ben has, but it is still a difference of degree. It’s not that the Holy Spirit wasn’t doing the same thing in the OT as He is in the NT, it’s just that overall He’s doing a lot more of it now than in the OT. The activity of the Holy Spirit in the OT and NT are essentially one.

The Law of God Written on Our Hearts

Let’s take the example of the law of God written on the hearts of His people. The NT is characterized as a time when God will write His law no longer just upon tablets of stone, but upon men’s hearts:

Jeremiah 31:31ff. "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

What is meant by this? Jeremiah means that at some point in the future God will make it so that His laws are not just a list of duties that are assigned to a bunch of grumbling people, but He will give His people such a deep affection for His laws in their hearts that it will be as if His laws are now written not upon the tablets of stone, but upon the hearts of His people. This is basically the same meaning as Ezekiel 36:27: "And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances." This is one of the tasks of the Holy Spirit in this age of the Spirit.

Now let me ask you: Does that mean that the Holy Spirit never did any of this before Pentecost? How can it be so? Psalm 119:11, 34, 36, 69, 111, 112 says, "Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You! Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law and keep it with all my heart. Incline my heart to Your testimonies and not to dishonest gain. With all my heart I will observe Your precepts. I have inherited Your testimonies forever, for they are the joy of my heart. I have inclined my heart to perform Your statutes forever, even to the end." Was the law of God not written upon this man’s heart? And if it was, then who else but the Holy Spirit wrote God’s law upon this man’s heart?

Is any one of us arrogant enough to say that he has the word of God written on his heart more than the author of Ps.119? I hope not. Then what is the meaning of the promise that an age would come in which the Holy Spirit would write the law of God upon the hearts of His people? Well, again, you see it is a matter of degree and not of essence. The NT era would have so much more of this affection-for-God’s-holy-law given to His people that it would be as if God was writing His law upon their very hearts.

Are NT Believers More Godly than OT Believers Were?

Does the language of the Holy Spirit in the OT mean that each of us in the NT has more of the Holy Spirit than each of them? No. Who among us would say that he has more of the Holy Spirit than Daniel or Elijah or Moses did? Are not these OT heroes more like Christ than I am? If so, how did they get that way? By the work of the Spirit. Then why is the language of pouring out and indwelling used? And why is this language not used of the work of the Holy Spirit in the OT believer? Is it because the Holy Spirit did not work in the same way back then or is it because the NT is characterized by that kind of work while the OT is not? If we understand the differences as differences of degree but not of essence, it all begins to make sense.

"Poured out" and "indwelling" are both terms designed to highlight the great fullness with which the NT church has been granted the grace of the Holy Spirit. True, the Holy Spirit is described as doing many things in the NT that were never mentioned in the OT. However, just because they aren’t explicitly mentioned doesn’t mean that He wasn’t doing them. What the Holy Spirit is doing now is what He’s been doing ever since the days of Adam and Eve. He has always been the Comforter of Gods’s people. He has always been the One who sanctifies the heart of a believer, and points it in the direction of God. He has always been the One that empowers the people of God to overcome sin and to do mighty deeds of love and courage. He has always been the one who cries out, "Abba, Father" in the hearts of His people. He has always been the One who causes men to be born again, giving them new life in Christ. But the fact is that in the NT age He is doing more of it.

And it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is more grace upon each individual, but more grace is poured out upon the people as a whole. In OT there were great men of the Spirit, but never did the people as a whole have much of the Spirit. Never were there more than a few at a time who were really serious about God. This is what is new in the NT. The prophecy of Joel quoted by Peter at Pentecost says "I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind" - This is what is so unique about the NT. It is no longer something that just happens to the great heroes of the faith within the small context of the nation of Israel. Now the Spirit is being sent to all different kinds of people in every corner of the earth. That doesn’t mean that just by being a member of this kingdom age you are going to be more godly than the saints of the OT. But it does mean that overall, this age is going to be marked by a higher degree of godliness than the past ages have been.

Power For a New Age

So what then is the big deal about the coming of the Holy Spirit? What do we have that they didn’t have in the OT? My friends, we live in a day where the generosity of God with regard to His Spirit is very high. We live in a time when the grace of God is brought to bear in the lives of believers to such a great extent that it is spoken of in the OT almost as if it was heaven on earth. We live in a time when there is a great unboundedness with regard to the portion of His Spirit that is given to men.

And yet so many times you can’t see it in the way we live. We still live as if there is no hope for us. We still live as if God isn’t very near. We still live as if the burden He has called us to carry is far more weighty than the help that He offers us through the Spirit.

How can we be satisfied with mediocre Christian lives in the face of what the Bible tells us about the Spirit? How can we feel overwhelmed by our own sin, as if no Helper has been sent? We can only be depressed if we close our eyes to the reality of the Holy Spirit. We live in the age of the Spirit!

God has ordained for this era to be an era characterized by the Spirit of Christ living in His people and living out the life of Christ through them. The big deal about the NT is that there’s more of the grace of God to be poured out upon His people. God has determined in the infinitely wise counsel of His will that the Holy Spirit would be given to His people in greater measure than in ages past.

Jesus says of John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11 "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

What does Jesus mean? How is the least in the kingdom greater than John? Once again, it cannot mean with regard to their righteousness or their reward, for that could simply not be true of the weakest NT member compared to Moses, Elijah, Daniel, etc. I think Jesus means that we are greater with regard to privilege: Matthew 13:16-17 "Blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. For truly I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it; and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it." John announced: "The King is coming." But we can say, "The King has come and has conquered!"

In other words, Jesus is saying: "How much I appreciate those faithful servants in the OT. But they have only a tiny bit of the blessing that you little ones have. They paved the way for Me to come, but you get to walk on that paved road."

God is not holding anything back from us. He has given it all. Everything we need and everything that is good for us has been given to us. We are the ones upon whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. We live in the day of the abundance of the Spirit. And our lives can reflect the radiance of His power and His love!

This is a message of hope. God has sent His own Holy Spirit into our hearts in order that we might be living testimonials of the grace of Jesus Christ. And this is one of the main reasons that His Spirit has been poured out in such great measure. God wants to show the world what a difference His Son makes. If Christ’s coming doesn’t make the world look any different than it did before, that’s going to look like Christ has no power. And so God is illuminating the world by means of lamps fueled by the oil of His Holy Spirit, so that the whole world will be lit up and glow with the glory of Christ. And my friends, we are those lamps. Amen?