The Spirit in the Old Testament

The New Covenant Scriptures take over these Scriptures in the Old Covenant. But we have a better covenant and we have more anointing and power and abiding presence than the Old Covenant believers did.

Let’s look at the work of the Spirit in chronological order, from beginning to end in biblical history.

1.. He is the Creator.

The Spirit brooded over the waters when God made the heavens and the earth. Often the Hebrew word ru’ach can be translated as “wind,” but readers of the New Covenant, which fulfills the Old Covenant Scriptures, see the Spirit working here (Gen. 1:2).

2.. He gave life to God’s creatures.

This verse comes in the context of all creatures: “When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. (Ps. 104:30)

3.. He reacted to human evil.

Just before God sent the flood, he inspected humanity and said his Spirit would not always contend or strive with people. There was a limit, so people were restricted in how long they lived. (Gen. 6:3)

4.. He guided God’s people in the wilderness.

Moses guided the people out of the desert, and this passage in Isaiah says that God set his Holy Spirit among them and were given rest by the Spirit of the Lord. (Is. 63:11-13)

5.. He instructed God’s people in the wilderness.

Nehemiah says that as God led the children of Israel out of the wilderness, God instructed them by his Spirit. (Neh. 9:20)

6.. He inspired artistic skills and craftsmanship in certain individuals.

While the ancient Hebrews were in the wilderness and were instructed how to build the portable tabernacle, God put his Spirit in craftsmen and artists to enable them to make the beautiful things for the tabernacle. Since this encourages artists today, it is quoted in full:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, to help him. (Ex. 31:2-6, NIV)

Artists and craftsmen should pray for God’s Spirit to gift them in their endeavors.

7.. He empowered Israel’s judges.

The Spirit of the Lord empowered and came upon Gideon (Judg. 6:34).

The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah (Judg. 11:29).

The Spirit of God stirred young Samson (Judg. 13:25).

The Spirit of the Lord came upon the man Samson, who had taken a Nazarite vow (Judg. 14:6; Judg. 14:9; Judg. 15:14).

The Spirit of the Lord came upon the young David, when Samuel anointed him (1 Sam. 16:13).

All of these examples point to temporary empowerments. The Spirit did not seem to live in them permanently, but maybe he did, and the texts do not elaborate.

8.. He led God’s people in the right way.

The king of Israel, David, prays that God would instruct and guide him to do God’s will. The Spirit is asked to set him on level ground. (Ps. 143:10)

9.. David prays that God would not take his Spirit from him.

David lived in the Old Covenant, and he prayed that God would not take his Holy Spirit from him (Ps. 51:11). Of course, in the New Covenant, God never takes his Holy Spirit from those whom the Spirit has caused to be born again (John 3:3; Tit. 3:5). Even when believers sin repeatedly and break fellowship with God, he is still wooing them back with his Spirit.

10.. He admonished God’s people throughout Israel’s history in the Promised land, when the prophets emerged.

Nehemiah was reviewing in his prayer, while the Israelites in his day were confessing their sins, the time in history of God’s dealing with his Old Covenant people. All the time they were rebelling, God’s Spirit was warning (admonishing) them (Neh. 9:30). God handed them over to the nations so they would be deported. Now, at last they were returning. Judgment had been lifted.

11.. He empowered returning Jews to rebuild the temple.

People were questioning the rebuilding of Solomon’s temple. God encouraged the prophet Zechariah, promising that the governor of Judea, Zerubbabel, would finish rebuilding it in his lifetime, which would have been quite a feat. Here is the promise that God’s Spirit would enable this accomplishment: “So he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: “‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’” says the Lord Almighty.” (Zech. 4:6)

That verse is very famous. Please claim it as yours, when you seem to have an impossible task before you.

12.. He lived among God’s people from Egypt to the rebuilding of the second temple.

Haggai the prophet encouraged Joshua the high priest, saying that from the very beginning the Spirit of God lived among his people (Hag. 2:5).

13.. He inspired prophets.

Moses prayed that some of the power of the Spirit that was on him would be transferred to the seventy elders, so they could help him (Num. 11:29). It is a great image of how God can transfer ministry to some people in the New Covenant. If you have a desire to minister, just hang out with leaders. Their ministry might go over to you, like Elisha did to Elijah, and the twelve did to Jesus.

Micah the prophet proclaimed that he was filled with God’s Spirit to proclaim righteousness, as distinct from prophets who spoke out of their own minds and soul power (Mic. 3:8).

In Zechariah the prophet’s time, he recounted an earlier generation of prophets. Even though God sent his Spirit to earlier prophets, the people hardened their hearts like flint. But this did not deter the prophets’ ministry (Zec. 7:12).

Peter the apostle affirmed that the Spirit inspired the prophets of the Old Covenant (2 Pet. 1:21)

14.. The Spirit inspired the Psalmists.

David spoke his last words, and here are some important ones: “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). It is not hard to transfer this belief to the other Psalmists.

Peter affirms that the Spirit inspired the Psalmist-King, David (Acts 1:16).

The author of the epistle to the Hebrews says the Holy Spirit inspired Psalm 95 (Heb. 3:7-11).

15.. Old Testament prophets predicted the Spirit on the Messiah and New Covenant believers.

Isaiah predicts that the Spirit will rest on the Messiah, and give him wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and reverential fear of the Lord, so those virtues will flow out of him. They did (and still do, in his resurrected, exalted status). (Is. 11:1-3)

Israel’s land will be renewed and replenished, but only by the Spirit of the Lord (Is. 32:15).

And again the Spirit will rest on the Messiah, and he will not have to shout or cry to get people to follow him—no outlandish displays (Is. 42:1).

The Spirit will renew the land, and God will pour out his Spirit on the people’s descendants (Is. 44:3). By Gentiles being grafted into the tree (Jewish nation), we are included in this promise (Rom. 11:17-24)

Isaiah prophesied that the Spirit would descend on the Messiah, and Jesus quoted it (Luke 4:18-19). Isaiah originally said: “The Spirit of the sovereign LORD is upon me. He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Is. 63:1-2). The verse goes on to promise vengeance from God on Israel’s sins, but when Jesus quoted it, he did not include it, but stopped before then. This stopping point indicates God was not going to take vengeance on the new people he was forming—Messianic Jews and Gentiles.

God through the prophet Ezekiel promised that God would restore the fortunes and blessings of his people Israel, when he brings them back to the land. He will pour his Spirit on them (Ezek. 39:29).

Joel uttered a great prophecy, which Peter applied to us on the day of Pentecost:

28 I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28-29).

These gifts apply to us, since the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost is for the numerous generations after these original disciples (Acts 2:39)

How does this post draw me closer to God through Christ?

We can have those above ministries and activities of the Spirit, but in fuller measure. The Spirit lives in us permanently, but the Spirit seems to have come and go in the lives of the Old Covenant believers. No doubt, however, some of the godly prophets, like Isaiah, felt God’s presence and enjoyed the Spirit often. Some theologians believe they were regenerated or born again. I don’t know, but it seems they did experience the Spirit on some level.

But Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4) set us apart from their limited experience with the Spirit. It is possible to get to know the Spirit more deeply. Yes, the Spirit testifies about the Messiah, Jesus, but the Spirit will guide us into all truth. You can hear his voice. You can hear him whisper, “The Father loves you.” “You are going in the right direction.” “You are going in the wrong direction.” “You are doing fine.” “Keep it up.” “Stay the path.”

Have you quieted your mind down to hear him? Have you surrendered your desires to his, so he can give you his? He knows best. He knows what will fulfill you. It is a great place to be. Then you can hear his gentle voice.


Do I Really Know God? He Is Spirit

The Spirit in the Old Testament

The Spirit’s Deity and Divine Attributes

The Personhood of the Spirit

Titles of the Holy Spirit

Images of the Holy Spirit

The Spirit in the Life of Christ

The Spirit in the Church and Believers


Works Cited


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