Holy Spirit Part 3: Role in the Old Testament

Role in Creation:

In the Old Testament the word for spirit is the same as the word wind and breath (רוּח) which occurs 378 times. From the very beginning the Spirit played a role in creation, “and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Gen 1:2). God’s Spirit not only assisted in the creation of the world, but also, arguably, took part in the creation of mankind, “the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen 2:7).

Role in Initiating God’s Plans:

One of the clearest roles in the Old Testament of the Spirit is his purpose to initiate the plans of God. There are certain activities that God specifically gifts or empowers his people to do that they would not be able to do on their own. The message often comes through angels and the power or gift often comes by the Spirit of God.

  • God gifted some of the Hebrews to build his tabernacle by filling them with His Spirit (Exo 31:1-6).
  • God gave Moses and the elders power from His Spirit (Numbers 11:16ff).
  • God gave the judges of Israel his Spirit in order to do mighty things and to assist them when they repented from the evil ways and turned back to God (Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 14:6, 14:19, & 15:14).
  • The Spirit was present in ordaining and empowering kings (Saul – 1 Sam 10, David – 1 Sam 16)
  • The Spirit initiated prophesy: (Balaam – Num 24:2, Saul – 1 Sam 19, David – 2 Sam 23, etc)
  • The Holy Spirit was associated with the coming of the messiah (Isa 11:2, 42:1, and 61:1)
  • The Holy Spirit imparted prophetic gifts to the prophets (Joel 3:1-5).

Continuity with the New Testament:
As we will see in the next post, the role of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament has a lot of continuity with the Old Testament. What was the overarching purpose of these activities and the role of the Spirit? This is a point I can’t find anyone making but I thought I would toss it out there. The role of the Spirit in the Old Testament is to bring glory to God and bring unity to the people as those empowered by the Spirit played a role in unifying the people (the judges, kings, prophets, etc). In the New Testament the Spirit will again be a major player in the initiation of God’s plans, in imparting spiritual gifts, and is again connected with the messiah.

For an excellent treatment of the Holy Spirit in both testaments, a great bibliography, and the source of portions of this information see “Holy Spirit” by F.W. Horn in the Anchor Bible Dictionary.

Holy Spirit Part 2: Giving God Glory

Part of our misunderstanding of the Spirit has come from a reaction to and a push for glory for self. The first way this has happened is that we have seen others try to bring glory to themselves through a display of the Spirit’s power and it has turned us off. That is what I referred to as “doctrinal whiplash” in the first post. The second way bringing glory to self develops a misunderstanding of the Spirit is related to my second point in the first post – a lock box Christianity where we feel we have everything nailed down. This is a very prideful move that brings glory to self through the declaration that we have it all right and that status quo is a spiritual ideal.

The Spirit does not exist to keep the status quo. The Spirit exists for two primary reasons. The first has to do with Christ – to bring glory to Him (as Frank pointed out in John 16). The second has to do with us – to act as our counselor/comforter (John 14:26). When we revel and glory in our own spiritual maturity we quench the Spirit because we leave little room for him to accomplish these two primary objectives. We quench His bringing glory to Christ because through pride we are trying to bring glory to self instead of Christ and we find we no longer need a counselor or a comforter because we have God all figured out.

When God’s love is taken for granted, we paint Him into a corner and rob Him of the opportunity to love us in a NEW AND SURPRISING way, and faith begins to shrivel and shrink. When I become so spiritually advanced that Abba is old hat, then the Father has been had, Jesus has been tamed, the Spirit has been corralled, and the Pentecostal fire has been extinguished. Evangelical faith is the antithesis of lukewarmness: It always means a profound dissatisfaction with our present state. – Brennan Manning, Ragamuffin Gospel, 167

Maybe we have missed out on understanding our need for the Spirit because we have been too satisfied with status quo spirituality. Don’t challenge me, don’t take me any place new, just leave me alone and let me hold on tight to this little lock box I like to keep God in. Fear paralyzes and grips. It poisons and stagnates the soul. The freedom of the Gospel of Christ liberates us to take God at His Word. It enables us to dream bigger than lock boxes and humbles us so completely that we begin to understand that our need for the Spirit is even bigger than we could have ever imagined.

Holy Spirit Part 1: Why We Don’t Discuss It

1. Doctrinal Whiplash

In the Church of Christ we tend to have what I think of as “doctrinal whiplash.” The Baptists talk about witnessing so we don’t like that term any more. The Pentecostals emphasize the Holy Spirit so we shy away from it. And so on. That can be very detrimental to our own understanding of scripture and even our relationship with God. I believe that is one reason we have said little concerning the work of the Holy Spirit.

2. Lock box Mentality

I think another reason we don’t talk about the Holy Spirit as much in Churches of Christ is because we have been very logical thinkers and like our understanding of things to be locked down with little room for any differences. The Holy Spirit doesn’t play by our rules. The Spirit is not something you can memorize or gain control over. In essence, the Holy Spirit is more of a wild card and I think that has frightened many to the point of just leaving the Spirit out entirely. We are much more comfortable with scripture because we know what is there, we can study it, and think we can just about master it and get it locked down. In essence, to gain control of it rather than letting it gain control of us. We can’t lock the Spirit down and so we have left the Spirit out. Thank goodness the Spirit hasn’t left us out for doing so!

3. Forming Opinions Before Approaching the Text:

A third reason we don’t discuss the Spirit is paradoxical. We pride ourselves on how seriously we take scripture but when it comes to the Holy Spirit many have just ignored what is there. Or almost as bad, many have decided what they think about the Holy Spirit by what was mentioned in reason one. They look to other groups and don’t like what they see so they form an opinion that the Holy Spirit can’t have much to do with us today. They form their opinion before approaching scripture rather than letting scripture form their opinion.

So let’s face the music and have a little discussion on the Holy Spirit!