Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

The work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is one that perhaps need more attention. Because the Spirit is often associated with the greater blessings of the new covenant, it is often assumed that the Spirit did not operate on believers, or at least most of them, in the old covenant. But this raises some difficulties. How could people believe and have faith without the Spirit? Aren't we dead until He regenerates us to new life? Isn't He by definition given to all believers? How could any Old Testament saint have been circumcised in the heart without the Spirit operating within? 

Also a problem is that David speaks of being regenerated and sanctified by the Spirit in Psalm 51:10-12. 
"Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit."
Some say that this was a kingly anointing of the Spirit that David was speaking about, but David seems to be talking of a clean heart, God's presence, and salvation, not his kingship. Also, the Psalms were not merely David's private devotional. They were (and are) meant to be sung by the people of God. All Israel (i.e. all the church) was to identify with this kind of repentance and longing for the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 143:9-10 also speaks of the Spirit's work in the life of individual believers:
"Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord!
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!"
Additionally, Isaiah 63:10-14 recounts the Spirit's work in the redemption of Israel under Moses. 

I do believe that the New Testament brought about a significantly greater indwelling of the Spirit (Ezek. 36:25-27, Joel 2:32, Deut. 30:6, Acts 2, etc...) and that this is the root of many of the discontinuities between the testaments. With a greater abundance of the Spirit, we should be more mature than we were in the Old Testament. We were children then, we should be grown up now (Gal. 4:1-7), not needing the shadows and elementary principles of the old covenant. 

John 14:16-17 should probably be mentioned: 
"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you."
Jesus here teaches that the Spirit is not someone totally new, but someone that the disciples already had in a way. In fact, the reason why the disciples could receive the Helper was because (unlike the world) they were already in relationship with Him because He dwelt with them.

The greater outpouring is not only in strength, but also in inspiration (of the New Testament), expansion (to the Gentiles), and gifts.

On the topic of gifts, perhaps we can make it a little easier by making this distinction: the Spirit regenerates/sanctifies people (John 3:1-8) and He gives them gifts for the edification of the body (1 Cor. 12). In the Old Testament, all believers were renewed and sanctified by the Spirit, but not all were given gifts, which seemed to have been more restricted to special offices and tasks (e.g. Ex. 31:30-35). Some, like Saul, seem to even have been given the gift without the saving renewal. The highest anointing of the Spirit was given to Jesus for His role as the Messiah (Messiah and Christ mean "anointed one"). Now with the NT outpouring of the Spirit, Joel prophesied that a distinctive character of it would be that it would be on all kinds of flesh: sons, daughters, young, old, slave, free (Acts 2:16-21). In other words, all believers are given special gifts for the edification of the body (1 Cor. 12). There are still special (and important) gifts of leadership (Eph. 4:1-16), but even these are for the empowering of the body (so they can use their gifts better).

This is obviously an important and difficult topic, and it can be explored much more. I'm still learning and hope to continue to grow in knowledge. This is my best shot at the topic for now. Whatever the case may be, we should rejoice that God has given us His Spirit and saved us into a loving relationship with the triune God. Praise the Holy Spirit! We would be dead men without Him. 


P.S. I couldn't help but notice the interesting connection in Ezekiel 36:25-27 between "I will sprinkle clean water on you" in verse 25 and "I will put my Spirit within you" in verse 27. Perhaps this has something to say about the mode and meaning of baptism? Also, when Deuteronomy 30 prophesies the new covenant, it says that God will "circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring." It seems like the children of believers are included under the new covenant as they were under the old.  

1 comment:

Hannah's Reading Room said...

This is great! Thank you so much for writing this. I think I asked this exact question, with the Psalm 51 reference, on Facebook just a couple of days ago. I got a lot of great answers from different people and this was like a combination and completion of those answers. Thank you much!