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The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

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_God the Son_ THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE OLD TESTAMENT Old Testament Perspectives: One cannot read far in Scripture without discovering the prominence of the Holy Spirit. The Bible begins: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the 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” (Genesis 1:1-2). From that point, we will find the Holy Spirit consistently present in all the major divisions of Old Testament literature. Sometimes the syntax and context of a particular Scripture make it difficult to determine whether the Spirit of God or the spirit of man is intended (Psalm 106:32-33). Even so, there are at least seventy-five unambiguous references to the Holy Spirit in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). The first book of the Hebrew Bible mentions the Spirit and, if we look at the arrangement of the books in the Hebrew Bible, we find that the last book continues to speak of the Holy Spirit (2 Chronicles 24:20). How does this emphasis on the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament compare with the prominence afforded the Spirit in the New Testament? Statistically speaking, the Holy Spirit is mentioned approximately 250 times in the New Testament. Even if one dismisses the frequent parallelisms found in the Gospels, the New Testament refers to the Holy Spirit about 150 more times than does the Old! In this contrast lies a truth we wish to develop in surveying the subject of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament as compared to the perspectives of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. The to pneuma to hagion (the Holy Spirit) of the New Testament is the ruah ’elohim (Spirit of God) of the Old Testament (Mark 13:11; Exodus 35:31). This needs to be kept in mind. When one casually refers to the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament, this is from a New Testament perspective. For the Hebrews, who never had a New Testament, the Hebrew Bible was never “old.” It is only through the New Testament text that one sees the fulfillment of Messianic prophecies in Jesus of Nazareth. Also, it is only through the further revelation of the New Testament that we come to the full glory, grandeur, and power of the Holy Spirit's Personhood, relationships, work, and gifts. Before the coming of the Messiah it was not revealed to the Hebrews that the Spirit of God was a Person to be distinguished from God the Father. This additional revelation is a part of the “newness” of the New Testament. The question is: “What concept of the Spirit of God did the Hebrews have as a result of their historical experiences of God and their scriptural accounts of these experiences?” Ruah may mean “breath, wind, spirit.” In Hebrew theological thinking this breath, or wind, was associated with the power of God. This power was manifested in many ways. First, ruah was related to God’s creative power: “the Spirit [wind] of God was moving over the surface of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). This theme is developed further in the Old Testament to show that all things of God’s creation were the result of the released energy of God’s creative Spirit (ruah) and Word (Psalm 33:6). In addition to the close relationship of God’s creative Spirit and Word in the creation accounts in Genesis, there are references to the role of the wind (ruah) in fulfilling God’s Word (dabar). As the Psalmist spoke of God’s created things, he said: “He commanded and they were created.” He spoke further of the “stormy wind, fulfilling His word” (Psalm 148:5b, 8b). It seems quite clear that the ancient Hebrews did not merely “see” the wind as a powerful “natural” force. They saw the strength of the ruah (Spirit, wind, breath) as the expressed power of God: “He makes the clouds His chariot; He walks on the wings of the wind; He makes the winds [spirits] His messenger . . . Thou dost send forth Thy Spirit [breath, wind], they are created; and Thou dost renew the face of the ground” (Psalm 104:3b, 30). The Spirit of God was not only believed to be His creative power; the Spirit was God’s life- giving power as well. The Spirit was the source of all life. As related in the Genesis account of creation, “Then the Lord God formed man of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis. 2:7). Although the “breath” in this text is from neshamah, not ruah, the import is the same. Breath from God is equivalent to life from God. In Job’s response to Bildad the Shuhite he affirmed the veracity of his speech in typically synonymous Hebrew parallelism, “For as long as life [neshamah = breath] is in me, and the breath [ruah = spirit] of God is in my nostrils.” (Job 27:3). In Elihu’s address to Job, he said, “The Spirit [ruah] of God has made me, and the breath [neshamah] of the Almighty [Shaddai] gives me life” (Job 33:4). The Hebrews perceived the Spirit of God to be the creative and life- giving power of God. The Spirit’s cosmic work as God’s creative power in the universe and His life- giving power in all creatures were evidences of God's presence in the world. However, specific demonstrations of the presence of God via His Spirit among His people were seen often in their leaders. Since their leaders consisted primarily of elders, judges, prophets, priests, and kings, we are not surprised to find their credentials for leadership included their possession of the Spirit. The following examples illustrate this theme in the Old Testament. Moses was one of God’s great leaders. However, even great leaders have their times of discouragement. Leading God’s people in the Sinai desert had its trying moments. The people were often ungrateful for God's provisions such as manna and angry because they were not provided for in the way they thought they should be. They wanted meat. Moses could not solve the problem. God could. He told Moses he needed more leaders. He instructed Moses to summon seventy of the elders to the tabernacle. There God told Moses: “. . . I will take of the spirit who is upon you, and will put [Him] upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you . . . 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 . . . Afterward, Moses said, ‘Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His spirit upon them!’” (Numbers 11:17b, 25b, 29b) This historical episode verifies that Israel’s elders and prophets needed the Holy Spirit to equip them for their work. This is quite clear. Note, however, the hermeneutic route leading to this truth. The KJV translators gave no indication that these verses referred to the Holy Spirit, even though those who received the Spirit prophesied. The translators did not capitalize the word “spirit” here, although they did when they believed ruah (spirit) referred to the Holy Spirit. They also called spirit “it” in Numbers, chapter 11, another indication that they did not see “spirit” in this chapter as God’s Holy Spirit. The NASB translators made an advance here. They capitalized ruah (Spirit) to indicate God’s Holy Spirit. They changed the KJV (inserted) neuter pronoun it by inserting the masculine Him. They also translated the Hebrew asher (that, which, who, etc.) as “who,” making it agree with the inserted pronoun Him. Thus the rendering: “I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them.” The NIV makes another advance with the rendering: “I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them” (Numbers 11:17b). It seems clear that the NIV gives the clearest and most accurate translation of this passage. The translation of asher is left impersonal (“that” instead of “who”), and “the Spirit,” although itself an insertion, retains the impersonal view of the Spirit in harmony with the Hebrew concept of that age, instead of personalizing with the objective pronoun Him. Here the Spirit of God is understood and perceived as the expressed power of God. In this case, the power was associated with prophesying. One also finds the Spirit is related to the roles of priests, judges, and kings in the Old Testament. During the reign of Joash (Jehoash) in Judah (ca. 835-796 B.C.), this king was under the protection and influence of Jehoiada, the priest, as long as Jehoiada lived. Together they collected funds and brought in craftsmen to repair the temple of God in Jerusalem. However, after Jehoiada's death, the leaders of Judah turned away from God: “Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, Thus God has said, ‘Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He has also forsaken you’” (2 Chronicles 24:20). This pronouncement cost Zechariah his life, and Joash was murdered because of this bloodshed. This example shows the role of a priest in the affairs of the kingdom as he expressed, by the power of God’s Spirit, God’s displeasure with the wickedness of a kingly rule in rebellion against His will. Most of the events recorded in the Book of Judges show a terrible time of upheaval, turmoil, internal strife, invasions, and rampant wickedness. God raised up judges to deliver the people from their various predicaments (Judges 2:16-18). Most of these judges were actually military leaders who had the formidable task of saving God’s people from themselves and others. It does not surprise us to find that these men were often empowered by God’s Spirit. It was said of Othniel: “And the Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel” (Judges 3:10). Likewise, concerning Gideon, “so the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon . . .” (Judges 6:34a). Also, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah and Samson, two mighty men of strength and courage (Judges 11:29; 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14). The turbulent era of the judges was followed by monarchial rule in Israel. Saul, son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, was chosen by God to be king over His people. This choosing (anointing) was carried out by Samuel, a transitional leader between the time of the Judges and Kings (1 Samuel 9:1-3; 10:1). After his anointing, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Saul mightily and he prophesied among a group of prophets (1 Samuel 10:9-13). However, due to Saul’s disloyalty, God instructed Samuel to anoint his successor (1 Samuel 16:1). David, the son of Jesse, of the tribe of Judah (Matthew 1:3-6), was chosen to be king after Saul (1 Samuel 16:12). When David was anointed, “the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13b). All of these examples from the leaders of God’s people consisting of prophets, elders, priests, judges, and kings are examples of power being demonstrated with obvious results. Prophets and elders prophesied for the Lord. A priest was emboldened to stand and speak against wickedness, even at the cost of his life. The Spirit of the Lord came “mightily” upon kings. All of these occurrences of the Spirit’s presence were manifested in ways that were immediately observable to others, except for David, of whom it was said: “. . . the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.” Perhaps the writer was thinking of David’s forthcoming mighty deeds, such as the killing of Goliath (1 Samuel 17:31-35). The Spirit also came upon Saul “mightily.” However, after his rebellion, “the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him” (1 Samuel 16:14). The Hebrews came to see that the Spirit of God was not “merely” God’s power being made evident. The Spirit of God was also recognized as the presence of God among them. For example: “Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence?” (Psalm 139:7). These sentiments expressed in typical Hebrew poetic parallelism show the writer’s conviction that God’s presence and Spirit are synonymous. This verse reveals “he is by no means seeking such flight. Rather he is glorying in God’s omnipresence.” God’s Spirit, presence, and power became virtual synonyms in the Hebrew mind. This perception is seen in King David’s agonizing cry: “Do not cast me away from Thy presence, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11). The synonymous parallelism of this verse means that the thought of the first line is repeated in the second line. If David were removed from God’s presence, it would mean God had removed His Spirit from him. This idea was also applicable at the national level. Isaiah 63 is a good example. Homage is paid to God for His “great goodness toward the house of Israel” (v. 7). He is acknowledged as their Savior and redeemer (vv. 8-9). However, they grieved His Holy Spirit when they rebelled, “Therefore, He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them” (v. 10). They were made to remember the One Who had put His Holy Spirit in their midst, Whose very Spirit had given them rest (vv. 11, 14). A certain shift in emphasis took place in the Old Testament with reference to the Holy Spirit. Early on, one finds the Spirit perceived as the creative and life-giving power of God. Then, the Spirit was pictured as the very presence of God. This power, or presence, enabled leaders such as judges and kings to overcome enemy forces. Among prophets, the Spirit’s presence was often demonstrated ecstatically. Then, near the end of David’s life, his “last words” include: “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). Here David goes beyond the concept of Spirit as God's creative power, source of life, and empowerment of His leaders. Here he affirms “The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spoke to me . . .” (2 Samuel 23:3). In poetic fashion, David equates “The Spirit of the Lord spoke” with “The God of Israel said.” In this passage there is an advancement in thinking with reference to the Spirit. The Spirit had been pictured as God’s creative power with God’s creative word. Also, the Spirit was acknowledged to be God’s life-giving power. With respect to the leaders of God’s people, their reception of His Spirit was a necessary credential for leadership. However, in David’s “last words” he goes further in saying that the God of Israel spoke “to me”; thus God’s Spirit spoke “by me.” Now, God's king is empowered by God’s Spirit to speak God’s word – instructively. This illustrates a shift in emphasis. Generally speaking, in early times there was often a dramatic phenomenon testifying to the presence of the Spirit, such as the ecstatic states of those prophesying (Numbers 17:25-27; 1 Samuel 6:5-6, 10-11; 19:20-21, 23-24). Later, as a rule, the Spirit’s presence was emphasized more by the content of what the Spirit said than the experience of being Spirit-possessed. The exceptions to this overall trend in Old Testament history serve to illustrate the trend without disrupting it. By the time of the later (writing) prophets, one finds the emphasis continuing to shift to a more intimate relationship between God’s Spirit and God’s people. In this later period a prophet could say, “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8). In addition to the power/might, we find here expression of justice and information (to declare) within the scope of the Spirit’s work. Finally, we note the grand work of the Holy Spirit in foretelling the coming and nature of the Christian age. It is the Spirit that tied the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament together as God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:14-17). It is the Spirit that projected the Messianic hope of Israel into a universal hope for all nations. It is the Spirit that was promised to God's people under the new, everlasting covenant. There follows a detailed study of the Personhood, characteristics, and attributes of the Holy Spirit as seen in the New Testament. It will soon be obvious why the Christian era often has been called the age of the Spirit. Originally posted at: http://www.studyjesus.com/God_the_Spirit/04_Holy_Spirit- OT.htm

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1 Sarah R = "There's a great website called "Hebrew 4 Christians" that has an article on the use of "spirit of God" in the Old Testament. Check it out here:http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Names_of_G-d/Spirit_of_God/spirit_of_god.html"
2 Sarah R = " Anyone who has done translation from one language to another knows that you can not translate word by word and have it make sense. Bible translators have had different takes on how to make the original languages make sense to us in our language, therefore the different translations available. The addition of a pronoun into the Hebrew sentence does not change the meaning of the sentence but rather helps to clarify the meaning. It is like if I were to translate the previous sentence into Spanish, I would add a reflective pronoun so that it would make sense in Spanish and be more natural. To see what Numbers 11:17 looks like with a direct translation from the Hebrew, check out http://biblehub.com/interlinear/numbers/11-17.htm . Just remember to read it backwards, as Hebrew is read right to left."