By Mikella Van Dyke
In the game of Jenga, the blocks build on each other. In a similar way, the New Testament builds on the blocks of the Old Testament. Our understanding of scripture must be taken by studying the whole Bible. The Old Testament is foundational to our understanding of the New Testament. When we take a block out from the pile of blocks, especially a foundational block, the rest of the blocks will crumble. When we choose a verse that does not fit in our theological framework, we are manipulating God’s inspired Word. All of the blocks are profitable for teaching. (2 Timothy 3:16) Our understanding of the Holy Spirit begins with the first block, the very beginning “…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” (Gen 1:2 CSB)
This paper will attempt to examine the references of the Spirit in the Old Testament as a foundational block to which we undertake our study of the Spirit of God throughout the Bible. To begin, we cannot talk about the Holy Spirit without studying all of the members of the Godhead. The Bible depicts one God with three distinct persons. Therefore, before we move forward on our study of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, we must clarify that the Spirit is God, and God is the Spirit. To ask the question how is the Holy Spirit revealed in the Old Testament is to ask ourselves the question how is God revealed? As author Graham Cole says, “The line of thought that highlights the distinctiveness of the persons of the triune Godhead needs to be balanced by the Old and New Testaments’ accent on the oneness of God, lets the accent be pushed too far and distinctiveness becomes tritheism.”
In studying the Old Testament passages of the Holy Spirit we can begin to understand more fully the attributes of the person of the Spirit. Although the Spirit is the same in both the Old Testament and New Testament, we find our understanding builds throughout the Bible. We understand from the very beginning that the Spirit had a role in creation, although there is much debate about how this role played out. But, before we continue, let us look at the word used for spirit in the Old Testament, ruach. Ruach defined means, “…depending on the context, “wind,” “breath,” or “spirit.” …In the NT the Greek pneuma carries the same three basic connotations.” One interpretation of the reference of God’s creation and the spirit as breath is stated in the book He Who Gives Life, “Creation is by God’s word and God’s breath.”As we begin to study the references of the Spirit in the Old Testament we must also provide a word of caution. Studying all the references to the word ruach as the Spirit of God can also become problematic because this word can be interpreted in other ways such as a storm, breath, life, or vitality. Therefore, when referencing ruach in the Old Testament we must also take into consideration the entire Bible.
Now, as far as how much we know about the Holy Spirit in creation, Cole warns us that we must build on this foundation with humility. According to Turner, the work of the Spirit in the Old Testament can be summed up in two ways, “as the invisible activity of God in power, and as his presence in revelation and wisdom.” Turner points out that the Spirit was usually related to, “…God’s covenantal activities in and on behalf of Israel.” The Spirit typically helped the leaders of the Israelites act on God’s call. Often, it became known as “’the Spirit of prophecy”’ to those in Judaism. The Spirit was involved in God’s revelation to man. The Spirit helped guide God’s chosen leaders to direct God’s chosen people. What typically characterizes the Spirit of prophecy in the Old Testament? According to the author Rea, “Most often the Spirit makes His appearances in His equipping of individuals either for leadership or in delivering God’s prophetic messages.” In the instance of Israel, Joshua was said to be a man, “’a man in whom is the Spirit.” (Num. 27:18) Rea points out that there are several references for the Spirit being passed down. One where the Spirit is passed from Moses to Joshua and another where the Spirit is passed from Elijah to Elisha. (Deut. 34:9, and 2 Kings 2:9) There is one distinction that must be made in talking about the Spirit of God in the Old Testament versus the Spirit of God in the New Testament. The biggest difference between the Spirit before Pentecost and after Pentecost was that it was a sporadic empowering in the Old Testament and in the New Testament it is a continuous endowment. The Spirit does not leave a person once they accept Christ under the New Covenant. The book of Acts records the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost from the Jews to the Gentiles. All God’s people can now receive the Spirit upon the gift of salvation. The Holy Spirit indwells in each man not just temporarily but as a part of every Christian life. The New Testament builds from a temporary prophetic empowerment for a select few to a gift for EVERY believer. The gift of the Holy Spirit is still the same Spirit that we discussed about in the Old Testament who was there during the creation of the world, who is called the Hebrew word Ruach, and who is still equipping the saints today. The Spirit is still the breath of God. The invisible activity of his Spirit is still moving and breathing today the same as it did in the Old Testament.
1) Cole, Graham A. He who Gives Life: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007, 67
2) Rea, John. Charisma’s Bible Handbook on the Holy Spirit. Orlando, FL: Creation House, 1998, 32
3) Turner, Max. Holy Spirit and Spiritual Gifts: In the New Testament Church and Today