God the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament


Let’s have a look at the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. We can see that the Holy Spirit is there from the beginning.

In the first verses of Genesis, we see the Holy Spirit at work in creation. In fact, the Father Son, and Holy Spirit are all there if you can understand what’s taking place in Genesis chapter 1:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

Genesis 1.1-3

The Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. So, God Father, Son, Holy Spirit were all there at creation.

The Bible tells us later on in Genesis 1 that God made human beings as a spiritual beings in the image of God.

26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 

Genesis 1.26

Notice there that the words there were in the plural form. Why doesn’t it say ‘let me make man in my image’, it says let us make man in our image. This is one of the early indications right there, in Genesis chapter 1, that God is a tri-unity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I should have also mentioned that the word for God in Hebrew ‘Elohim’ is a masculine plural word which is used in the phrase In the beginning God (Elohim – plural) created (singular) the heavens and the earth.

So, God said let us make man in our image, that also tells us that human beings are distinct from animals.

I don’t believe in evolution. I don’t believe in ‘microbes to man’ evolution.

I believe that God created us as distinct creatures and special creatures, and that God made human beings with a Spiritual dimension, able to relate to God. That’s what it means to be made in the image of God.

Therefore, we have something which is different in humans, between humans and the rest of the animal creation.

Humans are distinctly able to commune with God. And in Genesis 2 verse 7 it says:

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Genesis 2.7

So, human beings have a body, a soul, and a spirit. (We have a little diagram).

We have human beings who are made with a tri-partite nature of body, soul, and spirit and you can see there, the spirit in the centre, which is to control the soul, the emotions, the mind – the intellect -, and the body.

When they’re all working together in harmony under God, you have harmony in the body, in the soul, and in the spirit. And God made us with that spirit part of us to be filled with His Holy Spirit.

Of course, the problem came in after the fall of man, when sin caused the separation between God and man. And, instead of having the Holy Spirit there, in the centre, you have the spirit of man or, even the spirit of evil. An evil Spirit which will cause dysfunction in the soul, in the mind, in the emotions and the will, and will cause a process to come into the body which will lead to sickness, to decay, and ultimately to death.

So as the Holy Spirit part comes out, so then the wrong spirit comes in, and you have disorder in the human Spirit which is the problem of humanity from the beginning.

Still, humans have a spiritual dimension and even after the fall, there is still something within human beings which is seeking after God.

It’s interesting to note that no one has ever discovered an atheistic tribe. People may have distorted ideas of God, but everyone has some idea that there is a God, and some idea to search for God.

There’s something within us which reminds us that there is a God who we need to seek after.

I said, because as human beings we have a spiritual part of us, within us, there’s always going to be a search for God. Even atheists have something within them in this regard which leads them, when they get in trouble, to often cry out ‘Oh God’.

So why did they say it ‘Oh God’? Because somehow there is something inside people which tells us there is a God and that we need to seek after Him.

Ecclesiastes says:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3.11

God has put eternity into their hearts. There’s something within us which tells us there is a God and we need to seek Him.

We can’t find out the work of God by our own strength, but we can through what He reveals to us.

Ecclesiastes also tells us of the difference between humans and animals. It says:

20 All go to one place: all are from the dust, and all return to dust. 21 Who knows the spirit of the sons of men, which goes upward, and the spirit of the animal, which goes down to the earth?

Ecclesiastes 3.20-21

It’s telling us that there is something different between humans and animals, there is something within humans which is a spiritual nature and that, when we die, our physical body may go down to the dust of the earth, but our spirit will return to God.

We have that barrier which is caused through sin coming into the world, through Adam and Eve submitting to temptation, breaking God’s only Commandment ‘not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil’. After that, they come to know evil as well as good.

As they come to know evil, they are under the power of the evil one who is Satan.

And God promises a solution to this problem when he speaks to the serpent, to Satan, and says in Genesis 3:

And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”

Genesis 3.15

In other words, One is going to come who’s going to break this power of Satan, who will be the seed of a woman – be born of a woman, who will break the power of the evil one, who will crush his head but who will also be bruised in the process.

The first messianic prophecy of many which would come. Particularly, in the book of Isaiah where we read about the ‘suffering servant’ who will be wounded for our iniquities, whose chastisement for our peace will be upon Him, by His stripes we are healed. And He’ll be bruised in our place. He would take the punishment for our sins which happened when Jesus died on the cross in order that we might be redeemed.

So, that is the promise of God but, in the meantime, God is going to be working by the Holy Spirit to prepare for this event to take place.

The Holy Spirit is going to be striving through the Old Testament with the sinfulness of humanity.

When we come to the time of the flood, the Bible tells us of great wickedness coming on the earth and of judgment coming too. And with the instructions to Noah to build the ark and in Genesis 3, the Lord says:

And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”

Genesis 6.3

God is going to be restraining evil, but there’s a time coming when God is going to bring judgment because of man’s sin. Whether the 120 years here means He’s going to restrict their lives to 120 years or there’s going to be the flood coming 120 years later, this is subject to debate, but what it really means is that, there comes a point when the Spirit of God is no longer going to restrain, but he’s going to allow judgment to come upon the earth.

It tells us that the work of the Holy Spirit is to restrain, to come to strive with man against evil, and to convict of sin and righteousness, and judgment as Jesus spoke.

When we look in the Old Testament at the work of the Holy Spirit, we see that the It moved upon individuals, came upon them and raised up those who would lead the people, and would also give the Word of God, either in written form or in prophetic form. The holy Spirit also set aside Israel as his Holy Nation to receive His Commandments.

And we see in the Old Testament that the Spirit of God would come upon people, particularly to anoint them for the purpose of ministry and of leading them.

Also, there are times when the Holy Spirit would leave these people. And this actually points to one of the differences between the work of the Holy Spirit before the cross, before Pentecost, and after.

In the Book of Numbers we read about Moses who clearly was raised up by God and equipped by the Holy Spirit to lead the people, and to give them the Word.

In Numbers chapter 11 there’s an interesting scripture which speaks about the work of the Holy Spirit in that occasion. Numbers 11 verse 16 reads:

16 So the Lord said to Moses: “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17 Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone.

Numbers 11.16-17

The Spirit has been put upon Moses to lead the people. God is saying ‘I’m going to take some of the Spirit which is upon you and give it now to the 70 elders of Israel‘.

And in verse 24 we read what happened:

24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord, and he gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tabernacle. 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they never did so again.

Numbers 11.24-25

There’s a variant reading of this scripture which says that they did continue prophesying, therefore, there are two possibilities. But the Spirit came upon them, something visible happened, the Holy Spirit came upon them. There is an interesting little detail too. It says:

26 But two men had remained in the camp: the name of one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them. Now they were among those listed, but who had not gone out to the tabernacle; yet they prophesied in the camp. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, and said, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 So Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, one of his choice men, answered and said, “Moses my lord, forbid them!” 29 Then Moses said to him, “Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” 30 And Moses returned to the camp, he and the elders of Israel.

Numbers 11.26-30

What you get from that story is that something happened which was visible: the Holy Spirit came upon the prophets and they prophesied, they spoke out inspirationally the Word of God. It doesn’t say that they spoke with tongues but it does say that they prophesied.

So, something happened which was visible and which came upon them at that time. And it was noticed by those around them, and Moses says: would that all God’s people were prophets. So, clearly, not all people were prophets. But there are selected people who receive the Holy Spirit.

And we see right through the Old Testament that there are certain people who are raised up, who receive the Spirit and are equipped for certain tasks which are given to them.

One of them was Bezalel who created the Tabernacle and the holy garments for the priests.

In Exodus 31 it says:

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, 4 to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, 

Exodus 31.1-4

That was a man who was equipped by the Holy Spirit to create the Tabernacle, to create the Holy garments.

Again, it tells us about the presence of the Holy Spirit with God’s people as they went through the wilderness and as God gave them these different manifestations of His power, and of His presence.

We see also the scriptures speak about Israel’s rebellion against the Lord which is seen as a rebellion against the Holy Spirit, against the person of God in the Holy Spirit. And the implication is that if you rebel against the Holy Spirit, then you’ll have defeat. If you receive the Holy Spirit, and you walk in the ways of the Holy Spirit then, you’ll receive the victory.

There are a number of passages in the later scriptures which speak about this. One of them Psalm 106 where it says:

32 They angered Him also at the waters of strife, So that it went ill with Moses on account of them;

33 Because they rebelled against His Spirit, So that he spoke rashly with his lips.

Psalm 106.32-33

and in Isaiah chapter 63:

8 For He said, “Surely they are My people, Children who will not lie.” So He became their Saviour. 9 In all their affliction He was afflicted, And the Angel of His Presence saved them; In His love and in His pity He redeemed them; And He bore them and carried them All the days of old. 10 But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; So He turned Himself against them as an enemy, And He fought against them. 11 Then he remembered the days of old, Moses and his people, saying: “Where is He who brought them up out of the sea With the shepherd of His flock? Where is He who put His Holy Spirit within them, 12 Who led them by the right hand of Moses, With His glorious arm, Dividing the water before them To make for Himself an everlasting name, 13 Who led them through the deep, As a horse in the wilderness, That they might not stumble?” 14 As a beast goes down into the valley, And the Spirit of the Lord causes him to rest, So You lead Your people, To make Yourself a glorious name.

Isaiah 63.8-14

We see here a direct reference to the Holy Spirit. Notice that it also speaks about the Holy Spirit who can be grieved. They grieved His Holy Spirit. You can only grieve a person so, it speaks again about the personality of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit as the one who is leading the people through the wilderness, and the Holy Spirit who is there with them, in person as they go out of Egypt on their way to the Promised Land.

You see throughout the Old Testament there are other indications of the Holy Spirit coming upon certain people for tasks, to work for the Lord.

We see this in the story of Saul and David and there’s some interesting references in the account of Saul being chosen as the king. When he goes to Samuel and Samuel finds him looking for his donkeys and Samuel reveals to him that he is going to be the king of Israel. And Samuel gives Saul a number of signs, including one which is the Holy Spirit coming upon him: the Spirit will come upon him and he will be prophesying, receiving supernatural communication from the Lord.

It also says that, as a result of this, Saul is going to be turned into another man, he is going to have some kind of a spiritual rebirth.

1 Samuel chapter 10 tells us this. This is Samuel speaking to Saul, he says:

5 … And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying. 6 Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.

1 Samuel 10.6

So, the Spirit of the Lord was going to come upon Saul and he was going to be turned into another man. The manifestation of this would be that he would be prophesying; something would come out of his mouth which would be a prophetic word from the Lord.

And in 1 Samuel 10 verse 10 this happens. It says:

10 When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.

1 Samuel 10.10

So, Saul had this encounter with the Holy Spirit and It came upon him.

We read also that the Holy Spirit departed from Saul because of his disobedience to the Lord.

1 Samuel 16 verse 14 says:

14 But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him.

1 Samuel 16.14

As the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, It came upon David to anoint him to be king. 1 Samuel 16 verse 13, says:

13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah.

1 Samuel 16.13

When David was anointed as a young man by Samuel, the Spirit of the Lord came upon him to equip him to later become the King of Israel. And so you see the Spirit of the Lord coming to anoint him for tasks.

In the story of David, we see also his sin. His sin with Bathsheba after he became king. And interestingly, if you read his psalm of repentance in Psalm 51, the thing which he prays for is that the Holy Spirit would not be taken from him:

9 Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Psalm 51.9-11

Notice there he says do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Therefore, he had some understanding of the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life and his prayer was that the Holy Spirit would not be taken from him as a result of his sin.

Because David confessed his sin and believed on the Lord, the Holy Spirit was not taken from him.

And so we have the these accounts in the Hebrew scriptures of people who were empowered by the Holy Spirit, and who encountered the Person of the Holy Spirit who dwelt within them.

And you can tell which writings are given by God by their content. They will always have some reference to God giving this word thus says the Lord, the prophet speaks. When you look at the other writings like Maccabees and Ecclesiasticus, they may be good, there’s nothing wrong with reading them, but they’re not actually inspired scripture.

And if you understand the nature of inspiration, you can see that there is a difference between good writings which are perfectly okay to read, and inspired scripture which is given by God, it’s given by the inspiration of God and this is what we see in the Old Testament.

And supremely, the Old Testament prophets actually prophesied the coming of the Messiah, the Messiah to be fulfilled in Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah, who would come, who would be anointed by the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah chapter 11 verses 1 to 2:

There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11.1-2

In Isaiah 61 verses 1 to 2:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the broken hearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,

Isaiah 61.1-2

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. And those were the words, of course, which Jesus Himself quoted when He went into the synagogue in Nazareth and was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and read these words, and said these words apply to me. I’m the one he’s talking about, I’m the one who is the Messiah, who’s come anointed by the Holy Spirit to preach the Gospel the Good News to the people.

And so we have the prophecy of the Messiah. The Messiah would come in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring the message of God, the Good News, the Gospel, in order that we might receive Salvation. And as a result of this, the Holy Spirit is going to be poured out upon the people.

Isaiah 32 says:

14 Because the palaces will be forsaken, The bustling city will be deserted. The forts and towers will become lairs forever, A joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks— 15 Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, And the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, And the fruitful field is counted as a forest.

Isaiah 32.14-15

So, you have in the in the prophetic scriptures, a prophecy of the coming of an experience which is going to be the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the people of God who believe in the Messiah Yeshua.

We have a number of them of course. The famous one which is quoted by Peter in the Book of Acts chapter 2 and is applied to what happened on the day of Pentecost in Joel chapter 2 verse 30 says:

28 “And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. 29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

Joel 2.28-29

A prophecy in the Old Testament about an outpouring of the Holy Spirit quoted by Peter in the Book of Acts and applied to what happened on the day of Pentecost.

It’s interesting, if you look at the prophecy of Joel in context, it’s actually applied to the Day of the Lord. A day which, in fact, in Joel chapter 2, speaks first of a Northern army invading Israel and being turned back, before all nations are gathered to Jerusalem for the last battle.

This is similar to what you read in Ezekiel chapter 38 and 39. The Northern army coming against Israel, then an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The prophecy of Joel actually has an end-time eschatological significance in it. And it goes on to say:

30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. 31 The sun shall be turned into darkness, And the moon into blood, Before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. 32 And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, As the Lord has said, Among the remnant whom the Lord calls.

Joel 2.30-32

If you observe it very carefully, when Peter quotes Joel in the Book of Acts, he doesn’t say this is the actual, final fulfilment of this prophecy. He says ‘this is the kind of thing Joel was speaking about’ so he says ‘what Joel was speaking about you’re seeing taking place now on the day of Pentecost‘.

The prophecy did have a partial fulfilment in what took place on the day of Pentecost, but it also has a future fulfilment that’s going to take place before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord.

When you look at the prophecies in the Old Testament concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, many of them have an end-time eschatological significance.

So, they’re looking forward to something taking place following the return of the Jews to Israel and the Holy Spirit being poured out upon them in preparation for the Second Coming of the Messiah.

That doesn’t mean that we can’t apply them to the what’s happened to us through faith in Jesus, but we need to see that that there is a prophecy of something yet to come concerning the Holy Spirit working among God’s people.

In the book of Ezekiel the chapter 36, which speaks about the return of the Jews from the nations to the land of Israel, it says:

24 For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. 28 Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. 

Ezekiel 36.24-28

And we have another interesting prophecy concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Zechariah chapter 12 which again has an end-time application of the nations coming against Jerusalem to battle. And, as they come against Jerusalem to battle, in verse 10 it says:

And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.

Zechariah 12.10

Who’s the one who has been pierced? And who is the only son? It has to be Jesus the Messiah.

This reminds us of one of the works of the Holy Spirit that Jesus spoke about which is that the Holy Spirit is going to bear witness to Jesus. So the Holy Spirit will always point us to Jesus the Messiah.

As the Holy Spirit is poured out upon the people here, they’re going to look upon the one who’s been pierced, who’s died for our sins, has risen from the dead, and gives us eternal life as we believe in Him.

And in chapter 13 verse 1 it says:

In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness.

Zechariah 13.1

The work of the Holy Spirit is to cleanse us from sin and to put within us the Law of God that we might walk in His ways.

Finally, one verse from Isaiah 32 that says:

14 Because the palaces will be forsaken, The bustling city will be deserted. The forts and towers will become lairs forever, A joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks— 15 Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, And the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, And the fruitful field is counted as a forest. 16 Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, And righteousness remain in the fruitful field.

Isaiah 32.14-16

Promising there that the Holy Spirit is being poured out upon the people and dwelling within them.

Just to sum up what it says here, in the Old Testament, concerning the Messiah and the work of the Holy Spirit:

Old Testament / Tenach

  • Holy Spirit at work through people God had raised up to lead His people and to speak for Him.
  • Holy Spirit inspired prophets, both spoken and written.
  • Holy Spirit comes upon people for service to the Lord. It can also leave them. (See Saul)
  • More is promised concerning Holy Spirit. Tied up with Messiah.
  • Messiah to be anointed by Holy Spirit. To give the Spirit to those who come to Him.
  • Prophecy of end time outpouring of Holy Spirit before Day of the Lord.

The Old Testament says that the Holy Spirit is at work in the people. God has raised up His Spirit to lead His people.

So, what do we make of this? How does it apply to us?

Now, as I said, the Old Testament doesn’t give us the complete picture because to get the complete picture we have to come to the New Testament and to the coming of Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah.

We see there that Jesus is the fulfilment of these prophecies and that Jesus, when He came, told us that He wants us to be born of the Spirit. The famous passage in John chapter 3 which, perhaps, we’ll look at in a little more detail next time, is where He says to Nicodemus:

5 … “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

John 3.5-8

There’s a promise of Jesus that those who believe in Him will be born of the Spirit, will receive the Holy Spirit to come and dwell within them, in their lives.

And He says: You must be born again. Unless you’re born again you cannot see the kingdom of God.

You can be seeking for God as I spoke earlier about people who are seeking for God and looking for God, but they won’t find Him until they find Him through faith in Jesus, until they’re born of the Holy Spirit. And unless a person is born again, they cannot see the Kingdom of God

Jesus tells us that we need to have this born-again experience, which means the Holy Spirit coming into our lives.