The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

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“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.”

This Scripture from Acts 2 is assumed by many Christians to be the pivotal appearance of the Holy Spirit to man. Indeed it is dramatic but Pastor Billy Graham* cites many examples of the Holy Spirit’s appearance in the Old Testament. I was not so aware that the Holy Spirit played such a large role in the Old Testament. But Graham writes that we need to understand all aspects of the Holy Spirit, “especially when we think of this present age and the work of God in it.”

Graham freely admits that the work of God the Father is mostly emphasized in the Old Testament. The work of God the Son is mostly emphasized in the Gospels. From the day of Pentecost on, the emphasis is much more on the Holy Spirit. But when we read the “Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters” in Genesis we see the Holy Spirit. In Job 33:4 we read “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Psalms 104:30 reveals “Thou [God] dost send forth Thy Spirit, they are created; and Thou dost renew the face of the ground.” David is referring to the Spirit’s role in the creation of life.

So much of the Old Testament is about the blessings, the curses, the delivery and the punishment of the nation of Israel. In my reading of the Old Testament, the salvation of Israel is most often attributed to the Spirit of God. It is probably not an earth-shaking conception that the same sick behaviors, the same decay of morality and the erosion of civilized life we see in the Old Testament has not changed. The Holy Spirit was fighting this evil in the Old Testament, from Jesus’ birth to Pentecost and the Spirit is still fighting this evil today [post Pentecost].

Graham cites Othniel, Gideon, Jepthah and Samson as examples of men in the book of Judges who were special. The Holy Spirit came upon them. It takes a close reading of the Old Testament to pick out instances but in 2 Chronicles 24:20 “the Spirit of God came on Zechariah.” “The Spirit rested on them [men]” in Numbers 11:25. In Exodus, it says “I have filled him with the Spirit of God.”

David was anointed with oil and “The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” [1 Samuel 16:13]. Graham writes about the Spirit being given to chosen men and also withdrawn when the chosen ones disobeyed. Saul lost the Spirit, Samson lost the Spirit and David prayed in Psalms 51 “Do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me.”

Graham is clear in stating that it is not easy or even advisable to separate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Certainly the order of the Bible seems to encourage separation. Incorrectly many Christians assume that all the references to the Holy Spirit must be in the New Testament, maybe even post Acts 2, but that is just not the case.

Billy Graham is quoted as regretting not reading the Bible more: “I would spend more time studying the Bible and meditating on its truth, not only for sermon preparation but to apply its message to my life” but his reading has yielded great support that the Holy Spirit permeates God’s Great Book. I wonder if he is being too self-critical.

He summarizes his argument for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament with the following words “We have seen that the Holy Spirit was at work before the world began. Then He renewed and fed His creation. He was active throughout the Old Testament, both in the world of nature and among His people, guiding and delivering them through the judges, prophets, kings and others. And He told of a coming day when the Anointed One would come” [19].

The dramatic appearance of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 does get our attention and rightfully so, but The Holy Spirit was always there in the world, creating, empowering and correcting man. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control as we see in Galatians but the Spirit was hard at work before Acts 2.

You see the Holy Spirit has always been hard at work; alongside our Father.

*from Graham’s book The Holy Spirit


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