The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament – Part 3

The indwelling of the Holy Spirit makes you a better person. The Spirit can make you stronger, make you wiser, make you fearless. The Spirit gives you the self-possession you need to fully obey God’s law. It can super-charge your creativity. Although you can derive this teaching from Romans 6-8, the role of the Spirit in equipping and empowering people also rings through the Hebrew Bible (a.k.a. Old Testament).

In this third installment in my series on the biblical theology of the Holy Spirit, I discuss the Spirit as Equipper. It’s a topic I also explore in my book Heaven’s Muscle.

The earliest biblical passages that speak of people being filled with God’s Spirit describe the effect of the Spirit as empowering them with the ability to perform a specific task.

For example, in Exodus YHWH tells the Israelites in the wilderness to construct the Tabernacle, their portable house of worship. Fascinatingly, the Lord makes the following comment about the project’s chief craftsman (Ex. 31 NIV):

See, I have chosen Bezalel…and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts… Also I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant…and all the other furnishings of the tent…and also the…sacred garments for Aaron the priest and the garments for his sons when they serve as priests.

This is the earliest passage on spiritual gifts. What is the side effect of Bezalel becoming Spirit-filled? He receives the gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and artistic skill. The Lord also distributes artistic gifts to other craft workers, clothing designers, and so on. Here’s another example.

Several times in the book of Judges, the Spirit of YHWH “comes upon” people. The immediate effect is that the beneficiaries become supernaturally courageous and powerful. From a close reading of the text, God’s Spirit appears to enable Othniel (Judges 3:10), Gideon (6:34), and Jephthah (11:29) to become victorious military leaders. Most notably, Samson is stirred by the Spirit of YHWH (13:25), which comes upon him in power (14:6, 19; 15:14), giving him superhuman strength.

The motif of the Spirit as Equipper and Giver of courage persists throughout the Hebrew Bible. Before David does battle with Goliath, the Spirit of YHWH comes upon him with power when Samuel anoints him (1 Sam. 16:13). It should come as no surprise to the reader, then, when David defeats Goliath. He’s got Spirit-power in him!

Do you ever have really great ideas? They might not have come from you! The Chronicler notes that the Spirit had put plans for the Jerusalem temple in David’s mind, and David passes these plans on to his son and successor, Solomon (1 Chron. 28:12). Many years after Solomon’s temple is destroyed, the Jews returned from the Babylonian/Persian captivity. To help them restore the system of temple worship, the Spirit empowers Zerubbabel to rebuild the fallen temple (Zech. 4:6-7).

Isaiah refers to the Spirit of YHWH as the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord (Is. 11:2). Speaking in a Messianic vein, the prophet says that YHWH will put his Spirit on his chosen one, so he can bring justice to the nations (Is. 42:1).

One of the captives in Babylon was the prophet Ezekiel. Through this prophet, God gave the Jewish exiles a message that hits on several of the Spirit-motifs I’m discussing in this series. One of Ezekiel’s key messages associates water imagery with spiritual cleansing and previews how the internalized Spirit will enable the returning exiles to be obedient to God:

For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness.
–Ez. 36:24-29

This passage is an intriguing preview of St. Paul’s description of the Christian conversion experience, which we’ll discuss when we get to the New Testament.

In sum, being filled with the Spirit causes people in the Hebrew Bible to become fearless and strong, to be talented in the arts, to be wise and knowledgeable, and to be capable of living lives pleasing to God. Often, this gift of the Spirit is bestowed so the bearer can perform a particular service to God or to live a particular calling. We should therefore expect to find that in the New Testament, in the early church, and among God’s people today, the Holy Spirit is a harbinger of personal fearlessness, leadership ability, good decision-making, artistic talent, and holy living. The Spirit equips you to fulfill your calling.

I hope this post has given you a feel for why being Spirit-filled is such an important theological concept for me. I always want to be better and stronger. I crave wisdom, I delight in creativity. And I’ve found that the people who are most in tune with the living voice of God are often the same people who most embody these qualities. My prayer for you is that God will fill you and equip you and supernaturally transform you into the best possible version of yourself!

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Bren Hughes
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