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The Role of the Holy Spirit (Part I)

We're working through Systematic Theology III, and specifically, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

Last time we talked about the personality (or personhood) of the HS.

Today we are going to explore the role of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.

The Language used to speak of the Spirit:

First, it can be difficult to identify the Holy Spirit in the OT.

He appears in the shadows. His work is felt, but mildly referenced.

We must remember that it was the early state of progressive revelation. As a result, we do not see the fullness of His ministry in the OT because that was not the concern of the OT authors (or, therefore, obviously God).

“Spirit of God.”

The term “Holy Spirit” is rarely used in the OT.

The Hebrew scarcely uses adjectives (e.g., “Holy Spirit), but frequently puts together two nouns (e.g., Spirit-God -- which means, “Spirit of God”).

This phrase is picked up in Acts 2:16-21, giving clear indication that the NT author’s understood the OT phrase to be an identifying reference to the Holy Spirit.

The point is that the phrase, “Spirit of God,” is synonymous with “Holy Spirit” in the NT.

“Spirit” with no modifier (“ruach”).

Isa. 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.”

Joel 2:28“And it will come about after this That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind.”

“Breath” (“ruach”-- same word we just saw translated as “Spirit”).

Ezekiel 37:5 - "Thus says the Lord God to these bones, 'Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.’”

Now, the whole context of the chapter is in reference to the Spirit.

The “Spirit of YHWH” is overtly mentioned in 37:1, which makes all of the subsequent references to “ruach” an identifying mark of the Holy Spirit.

So when 37:5 speaks of causing breath (ruach) to enter these bones, it is a reference to the Holy Spirit giving life.

The Spirit was at work in the creation of all that exists:

Gen. 1:2The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.”

Here, the Spirit is protecting and making ready the unformed chaos for the Father to mold and create a hospitable world.

Additionally, the Spirit is the member of the Trinity that brings forth life.

Just as He is the One who regenerates to bring forth spiritual life (e.g., John 3), He is also the member of the Trinity which brings forth life in physical creation. This is part of His economic function.

Just as the Spirit is the One Who raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 8:11), so it will be the Spirit Who will raise the dead in Christ.

Trees grow leaves, birds fly, squirrels crack nuts, and humans blink their eyes, because the Spirit brings order, life, and animation. Again, this is one of the Spirit's economic functions.

Having said that, Gen. 1:2 also shows the Spirit brings order, life, and animation at the Word of the Father. The Spirit was merely moving over the formless, chaotic waters. He would not bring life until the Father commanded it.

Not only does the Spirit bring forth life, but He also preserves and protects.

Deut. 32:10-11 He found him in a desert land, And in the howling waste of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the pupil of His eye. Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, That hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them, He carried them on His pinions.”

He is described as hovering over them like an eagle does her young.

He is protecting and preserving them-- and again, it is a work attributed to the Spirit.

Isa. 63:7-14 “I shall make mention of the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, According to all that the LORD has granted us, And the great goodness toward the house of Israel, Which He has granted them according to His compassion And according to the abundance of His lovingkindnesses. For He said, "Surely, they are My people, Sons who will not deal falsely." So He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the angel of His presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, And He lifted them and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled And grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them. Then His people remembered the days of old, of Moses. Where is He who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of His flock? Where is He who put His Holy Spirit in the midst of them, Who caused His glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, Who divided the waters before them to make for Himself an everlasting name, Who led them through the depths? Like the horse in the wilderness, they did not stumble; As the cattle which go down into the valley, The Spirit of the LORD gave them rest. So You led Your people, To make for Yourself a glorious name.”

Here, the Spirit is the One prompting the people for the Exodus, but then He protects them during the Exodus as well.

He was involved in the giving of prophecy and Scripture:

Old Testament affirmation:

Ezek. 2:2 “And as He spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet; and I heard Him speaking to me.”

1 Sam. 10:6"Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man.”

1 Sam. 10:10“When they came to the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them.”

New Testament affirmation:

Acts 1:16Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas.”

Acts 4:25Who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, 'Why did the Gentiles rage, And the peoples devise futile things?”

2 Pet. 1:21 For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

2 Tim. 3:15All Scripture is inspired by God.” (Theopneustos — “God-breathed”).

The Holy Spirit was involved in conveying necessary skills and tasks:

- Constructing and furnishing the tabernacle -

Exod. 31:1-5 "And I have filled him with the Spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship.”

- Administration -

Gen. 41:38 Then Pharaoh said to his servants, "Can we find a man like this, in whom is a divine spirit?"

Num. 11:25“Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And it came about that when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.”

*Note: Here we see the ministry of the Spirit is not necessarily for the rest of a person’s life. It may just be for a short time to accomplish a specific task or purpose of God.

Deut. 34:9“Now Joshua the son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; and the sons of Israel listened to him and did as the LORD had commanded Moses.”

*Note: Here’s an example of the Spirit’s work being felt, but not explicitly stated.

- Leadership and mighty acts (specifically, to make war during the time of the Judges) -

Judges 3:10And 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 6:34So the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon; and he blew a trumpet, and the Abiezrites were called together to follow him.”

Judges 14:19 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily, and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty of them and took their spoil, and gave the changes of clothes to those who told the riddle.”

- Endowment of the early Kings -

1 Sam. 16:13“Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward.”

Psalm 51:11“Do not cast me away from Thy presence, And do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me.”

The Spirit’s saving work prior to Christ:

General Statement: The work of the HS was essentially limited to a select group of leaders.

Qualifying Statement: This does not mean the HS was inactive in the lives of the ordinary, common people of Israel.

A good, biblical pneumatology informs us that it is the Spirit Who gives life so that men and women desire to walk with the Lord and obey His commands.

We know from the full testimony of Scripture that men are by nature dead in their sins and actively hostile to God (original sin). So a full biblical understanding of the role of the Spirit tells us the Spirit had to in some way interact with common individuals in the Old Testament.

Having said that, the identifiable work of the Holy Spirit in the OT material was specifically limited to: (1) Judges (2) Kings (3) Prophets.

Judges: The Holy Spirit stirred up the Judges to deliver Israel from its oppressors (The Judge Cycle). Israel would rebel, they would be conquered, they would languish in obscurity and salvery for decades -- the Holy Spirit of God would stir up a military liberator (judge) to free Israel from its oppressors.

Kings: The Holy Spirit came upon kings, equipping them to rule the people of Israel.

So the Spirit would come upon kings for a season.

The Spirit could then withdraw His presence in cases of heinous sin. This gets into the idea of “anointing.” Anointing would symbolize that God’s presence was with a king in a unique way.

1 Sam. 16:13-14 “Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah. Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him.”

This is also what’s behind David’s cry in Ps. 51:11. This is not talking about loss of salvation. Rather, he knew he had greatly sinned with Bathsheba, but did not want to be removed from kingship.

Prophets: The Holy Spirit spoke by the mouths of the prophets.

2 Pet. 1:19-21And so we have the prophetic word that is more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

The Old Testament has a theme of great expectation:

There is a theme of anticipation that courses through the OT. There is anticipation of a fresh, new, unprecedented outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the future. This is nothing less than the New Covenant -- something which is inextricably linked with the Holy Spirit.

3 Key passages:

Jer. 31:31-34 "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."

This is Jeremiah’s prophecy regarding the stoppage of the Old Covenant and the anticipation of the New Covenant.

In the future there will be a time when God no longer relates to His people in the same way, but in a new way (typified by God writing His law on His people’s hearts).

Ezek. 36:25-27 "Then 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.”

Here, the sprinkling of water and cleansing the people is a vivid portrayal of what is to come. The Holy Spirit is intimately connected with the ripping out of the old heart and putting in a new heart (v. 26).

Joel 2:28-31 “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. "And I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, Blood, fire, and columns of smoke. "The sun will be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. "And it will come about that whoever calls on the name of the LORD Will be delivered; For on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem There will be those who escape, As the LORD has said, Even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.”

No longer will the Holy Spirit be reserved for a select group of people in Israel.

Rather, we see a vivid interaction of the Spirit among the young, old, male, female, slave, and free-- and so, all the barriers will be broken down.

Again, Joel describes a new, fresh, unprecedented outpouring of the Holy spirit that will come on all peoples to do mighty works for the Lord.

Again, this is the great expectation that courses throughout the whole of the OT, and it’s inextricably linked with the saving work of the Holy Spirit.

It is a new covenant (new relationship). This New Covenant will be typified by the presence of the Spirit in a unique way.


So that’s a very basic survey of the Holy Spirit in the OT. There is so much more that could be said, but this is sufficient. Next time we’ll begin to talk about the role of the HS in the NT.

As we do that, we’ll try and draw more out from the OT, but this is a pretty good foundation, as we keep laying some of the ground work.

The Holy Spirit comes more into focus once we get to the NT, and so we will spend a good amount of time there.

The doctrine of the spirit is rather straightforward in the epistles, but it is often made confusing in the Gospels, and especially, the book of Acts.

As Jesus shows up, the Spirit comes onto the scene as well, because wherever Jesus is, so is the presence of the Spirit. This work of the Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus is then thrust upon the disciples in a unique way in the book of Acts.

Jesus was the cornerstone of the church.

The Apostles laid the foundation of the Church, as their work was cued from the cornerstone of Jesus. They had a very unique role, and so the Spirit empowered them in a unique way (a way that was different than even Jesus).

Once the cornerstone was established (i.e., Jesus), the Apostles did that unique work of laying the foundation of the Church. Now that the foundation has been laid, the church is being built upon that foundation. The Spirit is now working in a different way than it did with Jesus and the Apostles, because the church isn’t the cornerstone, nor is it the foundation, but rather it is something that is being built upon the foundation that has already been laid by the Apostles.

This is where it can get confusing and people make it complex, but it is rather straightforward. As long as we keep everything in its proper chronology, and keep ourselves situated in terms of the sequence of events and historical situation, understanding the role of the Spirit, is refreshingly simplified.

So that’s what we plan to get into next time, Lord-willing.


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