The Holy Spirit did not suddenly appear in a blaze of glory on Pentecost, baptizing believers and filling them for the grand task Jesus had given them. He has always been active among the people of God since he hovered over the face of the deep as God was creating the world. As Jesus is the “same yesterday, today, and forever,” the Spirit of God has a fixed character, not an evolving nature. He is the Third Person of the Trinity, God himself, he does not change.
Still, the Bible reveals the Spirit in bits, over time. We see a few hints as the Spirit works with Israel in the Old Testament and his work, though unaltered in character, grows in magnitude as Jesus appears, then as the church explodes onto the scene in Acts. The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. The essence of his work in Israel is the same as what it is today. But as the Scriptures unfold there is an unfolding of the revelation of the Holy Spirit’s person, character, and work.
There are four key roles for the Spirit in the Old Testament, the foundation for his work in the New Testament.
- He is the active presence of God among the people of Israel.
- He contends with the sinful hearts of human beings to bring them into alignment with God’s will.
- He “comes on” and fills the people of God to empower them for the tasks God has assigned them.
- And finally, the Spirit is active in the millennial work of God among Israel.
Lesson 1: The Spirit is God’s Active Presence on Earth
“And he walks with me and he talks with me; and he tells me I am his own.”
It is a nice song, but it is a bit of hyperbole. We do not walk with God and when we say we talk with God, it is a spiritual thing more than a physical conversation. There are only two times in the Bible when God walked and talked with folks. There was some sort of physical manifestation of God in the Garden of Eden until sin broke that fellowship and the first human pair were cast from Paradise. Then, for a few years, God walked among us in the form of a carpenter’s son from Nazareth. But during the rest of history, the God of glory cannot be seen or heard or touched. He exists in a spiritual realm from which we are separated.
But, our gracious God comes to us by his Spirit and grace. In a way that will likely remain mysterious until “faith becomes sight and the clouds be rolled back as a scroll” the Spirit of God is God’s active presence here on earth. He connects us to the divine and accomplishes God’s work here on earth. God ordained Christ enacted and the Spirit empowers. Even in oversimplification, there is truth.
The Spirit is Present in Creation:
In Genesis 1:2, the “Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters” as God began to speak earth into existence. It seems that the Father gave the orders and the Spirit did the work. What God decreed in Heaven the Spirit accomplished on earth. In Job 33:4, Elihu asserts that “the Spirit of God made me.” The Holy Spirit is the active agent of God in the creation of the world.
The word for Spirit is ruah – breath. In Psalm 104:30, it says, “When you send your breath,
they are created, and you renew the surface of the ground.” Translations differ on whether the correct translation there is “breath” or “Spirit.” But the Spirit is God’s breath of life. The implication is that God breathes life into creation and sustains this world through the Holy Spirit.
Psalm 139:7-10 takes this concept to a new level. Not only is the Spirit God’s active presence in creation, but he is the omnipresent God who is inescapable in anything God has made.
7 Where can I go to escape your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9 If I live at the eastern horizon
or settle at the western limits,
10 even there your hand will lead me;
your right hand will hold on to me.
From heaven to the grave, from the east to the west, the Spirit of God is everywhere. We speak of God’s omnipresence – he is everywhere. It is the Spirit of God who is God’s omnipresent Presence!
The Spirit is Present (in Power) among God’s People
As God’s Spirit is present in all of creation, his presence is set among his people in a special way. When Israel left Egypt the Spirit of God was among them in power – a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Isaiah 63:11 says that God “put his Holy Spirit among the flock.”
That presence is essential to all that God does. In Exodus 33:14, Moses receives a promise from God. And he replied, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” He responds in verse 15. “If your presence does not go, don’t make us go up from here.” While the Holy Spirit was not mentioned in the passage it is clear throughout both Old Testament and New that the active presence of God on earth is the Holy Spirit. Moses wanted to do nothing without the presence and power of the Spirit of the Living God at work through him.
The Spirit of God is God’s active presence here on earth, working in creation itself and among God’s people to accomplish the works of God. He work on earth what is ordered in heaven.
Lesson 2: The Spirit Contends with the Sinful Heart of Man
From the moment Adam and Eve bit into the fruit, a war was being waged. By Genesis 6, there was only one righteous man and God decided to reboot with the help of a Flood. After that, it did not take long for the sinful heart of mankind to begin to create false religions that attempted to build human towers to attempt to reach heaven instead of following God’s path.
Man Contends with God’s Spirit
Isaiah 63:10 describes Israel as rebelling against and grieving the Holy Spirit, despite all of God’s love, mercy, and grace. How good does God have to be to us for us to be faithful to him? Psalm 106:32-33, describing Israel’s history in terms of God’s faithfulness to sinful Israel, again accuses Israel of rebelling against the Spirit at the waters of Meribah. Numbers 20 describes how God’s people refused to trust God when they had a need. Instead, they criticized God’s work and grumbled against him. By turning to their own ways instead of obeying God, they brought grief to the Spirit.
The Spirit works in the lives of God’s people to conform us to God, to inspire obedience and righteousness. But in our sinfulness, we rebel against that work of the Spirit and fight against his inner work of grace. This grieves the Spirit and invokes the discipline of God.
The false prophets demonstrated the hubris to claim their own words as the words of God and believed, as in Micah 2:7, that the “Spirit of God won’t be angry.” These foolish prophets, according to Ezekiel 13:3, followed their own spirits instead of the Spirit of God.
There is something deep within the human spirit that resists God. Look at the history of Israel. From the moment God sent Moses to rescue them, how much better could God have been to them? How much more could he have done for them? And yet, their human hearts contended against the work of the Spirit to bring them to God.
The Spirit Contends with Man.
Though it sounds ominous to say that the Spirit contends with us, it is actually glorious. Praise God that his Holy Spirit fights against your nature, your inner desire to sin and to depart. God’s love fights for those who fight against him!
It is a terrible verse in many ways, but in reality, it is a great blessing. Genesis 6:3 says, “My Spirit will not remain with man forever.” The notes in the CSB indicate an alternate translation, one which most others prefer. My Spirit will not strive with man forever. My Spirit will not contend with man forever. This is a warning to Noah’s generation, but what does it say.
God is fighting for us! He contends for the hearts and souls of rebellious sinners by the Spirit he sent to be his presence here on earth. In 2 Chronicles 24:20 the Spirit of God grabs hold of Zechariah and confronts him with his disobedience. It is a forceful act, almost a violent one, but the root is grace. God is fighting for sinners, to draw them from the path of death to life.
As was pointed out in Genesis 6:3, there were times when the Spirit stopped contending and the judgment of God fell, but after that the work of God among his people began again and grace was restored. It is important to note that according to several passages, especially Joel, there will be a time of Israel’s victory when God’s contending with Israel through the Spirit will bear fruit and, as Romans says, “All Israel will be saved.”
Lesson 4: The Spirit will work to empower Israel’s millennial future
Two notes here.
- First, I skipped lesson 3, because that is about the Spirit “coming on” God’s people, and will require a post of its own. I could have just renumbered the lessons, but somehow the eschatalogical one seemed like it needed to be last.
- Second, I realize I’m delving into eschatology here and that is always quicksand. I’m just going to go with my views, realizing that some of you will diverge here. Don’t worry, your eschatology will get corrected when the trumpet sounds.
The millennium represents the victory of God, fulfillment of all his promises to Israel. The Spirit has contended with sinful and unfaithful Israel and it would seem that sin has won, conquering the chosen people of God. But in this future time, God renews and restores Israel, and it is by the power of the Spirit he does that.
Every prophet who spoke judgment on Israel or Judah ended his prophecy with a promise of restoration, promising a time of future glory when, according to Jeremiah 31:33, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” Though the Spirit is not mentioned here, this is consistently a spiritual work throughout God’s word. Though Peter claimed Pentecost to be in line with Joel 2:28-32, the outpouring described there is even more spectacular than the one that happened in the Upper Room, and awaits the great day of the restoration of Israel.
The renewal begins when the Spirit of God gathers Israel back to the land, as Isaiah 34: 16-17 states. God declares his intent clearly in Ezekiel 36:24-28.
‘For I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries, and will bring you into your own land. 25 I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances. 28 You will live in the land that I gave your fathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
He will gather them, cleanse them, give them new hearts and spirits, and give them his Spirit to dwell within. They will then dwell in the land as God intended when he gave the promises to Abraham.
Many of the prophecies of this millennial regathering, God’s plan to make the dry bones live, include the fact that the Spirit would play a major role. As the Spirit was present in the beginning, he will be present at the end.