The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
9/2/2019 1:45:34 AM
Gen 41:25-27, 37-40; Ex 31:1-6; Nu 11:15-17, 25-30; Acts 2:1-11
Sept 1, 2019
Rev. David Williams
Megan is starting grade 1 this week. Already, she’s a pretty good reader, thanks in part to work Amy is doing with her using a book “How to Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Lessons.” I often overhear them doing their lessons together. The cool thing is that this book not only teaches how to reach, by why things work they way they do. Amy is also learning as she’s teaching Megan! Amy is learning about why K and C sometimes make the same sound, that different sounds a breathy and others vibrate. Amy obviously knows how to read, but now she’s learning why we read the way we do, why our language works the way it does! Megan is learning how to read, Amy is learning why reading works as it does.
We often learn “what” before we learn “how” or “why”. As we grow and mature, we gain greater understanding of what we knew before. We grow in depth of knowledge. This is true of us as individuals. It is also true of groups or societies. It is even true of God’s people.
We see this in Scripture. Over time, God reveals more and more about himself to his people. It is called “progressive revelation.” What Abraham knew about God was less than what Moses knew about God. What Moses knew was less than what David knew, etc. What the people of the Old Testament (OT) knew was less than what the Apostles knew. “Progressive Revelation” is the idea that God reveals more and more of himself to his people over time. The books of the Bible written later often reflect a greater understanding of God than books written earlier. Thus we can interpret OT passages through the lens of NT revelation.
We experience this as God teaches us more and more as individuals. God’s people, as a whole, experience this as God reveals more about himself to us. Although the Bible is complete, even our understanding of what it says progresses, or continues to grow. During the English Reformation, this was called the doctrine of “increasing light” meaning we gain more insight into what was already there, but the Jehovah’s Witnesses have taken over that term to mean something different.
God’s revelation of the Holy Spirit progresses through Scripture, beginning in Genesis. We saw the Spirit of God hovering over the deep and His involvement in breathing life into humanity as examples of the work of the Spirit in the OT, even though it was not then understood that the Spirit was a distinct member of the Trinity.
Today we are going to take a look at how God’s people experienced the Spirit in the Old Testament, how the Spirit filled people before the coming of Christ.
We have a lot of passages we’re going to read today, and I’m also going to talk about a number of others that we won’t look up together! The Bible is not a textbook, it does not have a section, “The Holy Spirit” that explains everything. So we have to do some detective work, looking at various passages that speak of the Spirit and then use them to form a picture. Instead of reading all these passages at the beginning, and then referring back to them, we are going to work through them one at a time.
Turn with me please to Genesis 41.
What it Says
Our first text is taken from the story of Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, sold into slavery by jealous brothers. We pick up the story at the point of Joseph explaining Pharaoh's dreams about the coming seven years of plentiful harvests followed by seven years of famine, or of poor harvests. Joseph tells Pharaoh that during the 7 good years, they need to store as much grain as possible to survive the years of famine. Pharaoh agrees with the plan and appoints Joseph, then a prisoner in jail, to oversee the work!
Notice how Pharaoh, a pagan, describes Joseph in v. 38: one in whom is the spirit of God? (or of the gods given Pharaoh’s theological background) The Spirit was within Joseph to provide wisdom. Joseph had a special gift of interpreting the meaning of dreams. That was his specialty. It was how he came to the Pharaoh’s attention. That was the gift of the Spirit within Joseph.
Take note, too, who witnessed this gift- the pagan Pharaoh and all his court! Gifts of the Spirit are often given to people to bear witness to God’s power and presence. This is seen throughout the Old and New Testaments both. It is the power of the Spirit, doing miraculous things, that serves as a witness to the truthfulness of what the gift bearers say. The gifts of the Spirit, especially spectacular gifts like this one, serve to get people’s attention, to make them take notice that God is at work and his representative is present.
That was the immediate purpose of the gift of interpreting dreams, but what was the larger purpose of this gift? In the Old Testament, the Spirit often came upon individuals for the purpose of saving God’s people. Later on, we’re going to look at a number of examples of this in the book of Judges. For now, consider that it was during the 7 years of famine that Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to look for food. They were eventually reunited with Joseph and the whole family was saved! God’s Spirit was in Joseph in a special way for the greater purpose of saving God’s people, the descendants of Abraham.
Now let’s turn to Exodus 31…
The Holy Spirit gave gifts of craftsmanship for the building of the Tabernacle. Like many other examples, Bezalel and Oholiab were “filled with the Spirit of God.” Their gifts, though, were not spectacular like prophesy, speaking in tongues, healing or interpreting dreams. Their gifts were gifts of artistic skill, craftsmanship and also the skill to teach others (Gen 35:34).
Three things about this passage. First, it is unlikely that Bezalel and Oholiab had never lifted a hammer before in their lives. There’s no reason to believe they were all thumbs until the Spirit filled them! Rather, the Spirit amplified, used and redirected natural talent, skill and experience they already had.
The Holy Spirit is just as concerned with secular activities as with religious ones. Today, an unfortunately side effect of the Charismatic movement is that we tend to think of spiritual gifts, or the Spirit working in people, to focus on religious activities and experiences. But here, the first man named in the OT as being “filled with the Spirit” is filled in order to do a construction job! Bezalel wasn’t filled with the Spirit to prophesy, to speak in tongues, to heal people or other religious activities. He, Oholiab and the other craftsmen were filled with the Spirit to build the Tabernacle, the house of the Lord. Their gifts were secular gifts, even if in this case they were used for building a religious building.
What gifts have you been given? Don’t despise secular gifting, gifts for seemingly mundane work. Instead, use them to glorify God! Even filled with the Holy Spirit, the craftsmen still had to work according to God’s commands. This is crucial for us to notice. Being filled with the Spirit doesn’t mean you can do what you want! The craftsmen still had to follow God’s word closely to construct the Tabernacle. Gifts must go with obedience! We will see an example later of a gifted, spirit-filled man who was not obedient and things did not go well for him!
A main emphasis of this series has been “testing the spirits” as to whether or not they conform to the word of God. The presence of the Spirit should not manifest in disobedience to God’s word. It is an abuse of the Spirit to think His presence gives you free rein to do what you want in the name of being “spiritual”.
Now turn to Numbers 11:16-17, 25-30. The Spirit came upon known leaders, empowering them to help Moses lead the people. Here again we see the Spirit amplifying, using and redirecting talents, or skills that were already present. These men were already leaders among the people before the Spirit came upon them! The power of the Spirit was given to them to lead better, possibly in a more pastoral way or with more of the spiritual side of leading Israel than they had before done.
That they prophesied was probably something like speaking in tongues without a translator. It was an “ecstatic utterance” of some sort. This only happened once, at the beginning, as a visible sign of the Spirit’s activity. Without it, people would not know about their new authority.
Moses’ wish was for all of God’s people to have the Spirit be put upon them. This is very important for our purposes today. Not everybody in Israel experienced the presence of the Spirit in the way that Moses and the 70 leaders did. A thousand years later, the prophet Joel spoke forth the word of God (the usual meaning of “prophesying”) and said, ““And afterward, 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. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (2:28-29)
Moses’ wish was fulfilled at Pentecost! Turn now to Acts 2:1-11. Peter, in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, later in Acts 2, refers to Joel’s prophecy. There is a conceptual connection between prophesying and speaking in tongues. To prophesy literally means to speak forth the word of God. There were numerous prophets in the OT who did this. However, there are also a handful of examples, like our Numbers passage, in which people speak in tongues and it is an ecstatic speech that it unintelligible to the listeners. This was also called “prophesying.” So here in Acts 2, we see people speaking in tongues, which Moses would have called “prophesying” and it would be a fulfilment of Moses’ wish for all God’s people to have the Spirit come upon them!
Now, there are a few more examples I want to consider from the OT. The first is Balaam, also in Numbers, later in Numbers 24. Balaam is the pagan prophet hired by Israel’s enemy king, Balak, to curse Israel. Balaam is the one whose donkey speaks to him when an angel is blocking the road! Numbers 24:1-3 says, “Now, when Balaam saw that it pleased the Lord to bless Israel, he did not resort to sorcery as at other times (interesting!) but turned his face toward the desert. When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon and he uttered his oracle…”
Like Balaam, the Spirit of God may come upon non-believers to serve God’s purposes. Balaam was a pagan prophet and an enemy of Israel. Later, he taught their enemies how to use their women to seduce Israelite men into idolatry. Balaam was no righteous man! But the Spirit of God came upon him and he spoke for God, literally prophesying and telling the future!
Gifts of the Spirit, the Spirit coming upon someone, is different from salvation or new life in Christ. So spectacular displays of the Spirit’s power are not enough for us to conclude a person is saved or that we should trust what they have to say in all circumstances! Another example, from the NT, is Judas. When Jesus sent out the 12 disciples, Judas went with them on their missionary journey. He healed people too, through the power of the Spirit! But he was not saved. So even if a person has the Spirit upon them, we still need to test what they say against Scripture.
Now, consider some other, positive examples. The Spirit of God came upon the judges to save Israel from their enemies. For example, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war…” “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him…” or Jephthah: “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah…. He advanced against the Ammonites.”
Samson is another example. 4 times the Spirit worked on him. The Spirit “stirred” in him as a boy, came upon him in power as a man to tear a lion apart with his bare hands! The Spirit came upon him in power to kill 30 men of Ashkelon and finally, to fight the Philistines. [Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14]
I think from the examples in Judges, we can conclude there is a spiritual gift of warfare! But in each case, God used a person, filled with the Spirit, to bring salvation to Israel. Samson is an example of the Spirit coming upon someone who is incredibly backslidden! The Spirit did not come to Samson because Samson was godly. God uses broken tools! Samson is not an example to be followed, but rather an example that God’s Spirit will use whomever he chooses to accomplish his purposes.
The Spirit of God also came upon both King Saul and King David. [1 Sam 10:10; 16:14] In this case, the Spirit was a spirit of kingship. The Spirit empowered them to be kings of Israel. The Spirit gave Saul courage to become king (he had been afraid) and came upon David in power. The spirit of kingship was removed from Saul and given to David because of Saul’s disobedience.
So why does all this matter? Why do we need to look at the OT to learn about the Spirit when the NT says so much more? First, we need to realize that the Spirit is not new on the scene. The Spirit didn’t start working in the world at Pentecost The Spirit was active in the lives of people as far back as Joseph. Sometimes that activity was to save God’s people. Sometimes it was for a different specific purpose. But the Spirit has been coming upon and dwelling in people for thousands of years.
The Spirit has been active in the lives of some of God’s people since the days of Joseph. (I think the Spirit was probably active even in Noah and Abraham, but we don’t have textual evidence for it.) As we’ve seen, the Spirit moves in or fills people for special purposes such as leadership with Moses, military leadership like with the judges, kingship like Saul and David. In addition, the Spirit gives gifts for other special purposes like craftsmanship for building the Tabernacle. 1 Peter 2:11 says that the Spirit was in the prophets of old who spoke about the coming Messiah. So what’s changed from then until now?
Before Pentecost, filling with the Spirit was exceptional. After Pentecost, it is the norm for God’s people. We may not all be called to be leaders, we may not be given the gift of warfare, but we all experience the indwelling of the Spirit when we come to repentance and put our faith in Christ. (Moses’ wish!) That indwelling also comes with spiritual gifts that God uses to accomplish his purposes. We are all part of the body of Christ, with different, but complimentary roles to serve together to show the world the love of Jesus. But most of all, the coming of the Spirit brings new life- we are born again!
Now the Spirit of God fills all his people, bringing new life in Christ. This is actually a Baptist distinctive- being a Christian means not just ascribing to a creed, trying to be a good person or attending church. Baptist believe that “church membership” or being a Christian includes evidence of the new life in Christ that the Spirit brings, beyond just spiritual gifts (Balaam etc.)
We have the privilege of welcoming the Spirit of God into us, to dwell within us, transforming us to be like Jesus, something rare for God’s people in the OT.
So seek the indwelling of the Spirit. Ask the Spirit to fill you! But don’t just be expecting fancy or spectacular manifestations of the Spirit. Your gift may be a quiet one. The point is that the gifts of the Spirit are not the important part, but rather the power of the Spirit to bring you new life, to change your heart to be like Jesus. Saul’s heart was not transformed. Samson’s heart was not transformed. (Not commenting on their salvation!) Balaam wasn’t even converted! If you have come to Christ, you have the Spirit within you. The Spirit came to bring you new birth. Now, as you mature, you’re learning why and how. Seek that new life the Spirit brings. Seek to grow in the Spirit. The Spirit isn’t something new, but your access to Him is! Amen.
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