The Spirit in the Old Testament: Creation, Power, Judgment, and Salvation

As we dive into an exhaustive study of the Holy Spirit as seen in the pages of the Old Testament, I will continue to organize the material in a topical fashion, to provide a logical flow of thought. This opens up the risk of accidentally omitting a verse or two, which I have tried to carefully guard against in compiling my study and my notes. As mentioned before, it also creates the risk of providing our study with a personal bias. With those disclaimers top of mind, let us begin together.

The Spirit Was Involved in Creation

The third person of the Godhead appears first in the second verse of Scripture, active in organizing the creation.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

(Genesis 1:2)

As we noted earlier, Job mentioned the splendor of the Spirit’s work in creation of the stars and in giving life to man.

By his spirit he hath garnished the heavens; his hand hath formed the crooked serpent.

(Job 26:13)

The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.

(Job 33:4)

In Psalm 104 the Psalmist speaks of the Spirit’s role in creating the innumerable creatures of the sea, both small and great.

O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.
There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.
These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.
That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.
Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.
The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever: the LORD shall rejoice in his works.

Psalms 104:24-31

The Spirit Is All-Powerful

The Holy Spirit is deity, just as the Father and the Son are deity. As such, He shares the attributes of God, being eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent. The Old Testament Scriptures develop a couple of these attributes specifically for the Spirit.

In Psalm 139 we find David contemplating the omnipresence of God. Specifically, in verses 7-8 he mentions the Spirit. He asks where he could go to hide from the Spirit of God. The answer is clear. There is no place in all of existence that one could hide from the Spirit. This demonstrates both His omnipresence and His omniscience.

Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.

Psalms 139:7-8

In Isaiah 40 the prophet asks who could give instructions to the Spirit of the LORD. He goes on further to ask who could give Him any advice or counsel; or who could teach Him something that He does not already know. Again, the answer is clear. There never has, nor shall there ever be any being that knows or understands more than the Spirit. Later we will see this principle reiterated in the New Testament.

Who hath directed the Spirit of the LORD, or being his counsellor hath taught him?  With whom took he counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment, and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding?

Isaiah 40:13-14

The Spirit Is Involved in Judgment AND Salvation

In the opening chapters of Isaiah the messianic prophet reproves the nation of Judah for their sins, and declares that there is a day coming in which the wicked among them will be judged or their wickedness, but the righteous will be spared (Isaiah 3:9-11). It is within that same context that we find mention of the Spirit. Here two names are applied: the spirit of judgment, and the spirit of burning. Both names refer to the justice of God and the fierceness of His wrath against sin. Both names also attribute these righteous judgments to the Spirit. So, we see Him involved in keeping God’s people pure by judging the wicked and removing them from the land.

And it shall come to pass, that he that is left in Zion, and he that remaineth in Jerusalem, shall be called holy, even every one that is written among the living in Jerusalem: When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof by the spirit of judgment, and by the spirit of burning.

Isaiah 4:3-4

In Isaiah chapter 40 the prophet is given a message of comfort. That message was that after the captivity in Babylon, the Jews would be delivered once again by God and brought back home. Intertwined with this message is the promise of the coming Savior, and of the prophet that would run before Him, John the Baptist. In verses 6-8 he is told to preach the power of God and the powerlessness of man. No man has the strength to withstand God or to confound His purposes. Those who would, wither and fade away. It is in this connection that the Spirit is mentioned. The flower of man fades because the Spirit blows upon it like a hot summer wind on the Dandelions. In contrast to the fleeting nature of man, who is unable to withstand the Spirit of God, the word of God, revealed by that same Spirit will stand forever.

The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the LORD bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. (8)  The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.

Isaiah 40:6-8

In Isaiah chapter 59 the prophet laments the sin and wickedness that is so prevalent. He notes that there is nobody to deliver man from this problem, and those who try to do right become a target for the wicked (Isaiah 59:15). In response to this condition, God would send a savior to conquer sin, uphold the right, and stand up to the wrong. We see the Spirit mentioned twice in this context. Isaiah 59:19 says that the Spirit would lift up a standard against the enemy. That standard would be the clarion call of the Gospel and its call to holiness. Then in Isaiah 59:21 there is mention of a covenant with the redeemer. Here is a promise that the Spirit of the Lord would be upon Him. As we turn to the New Testament, we will indeed find that the Holy Spirit was involved in the work of Jesus Christ. In connection with this is the idea that the words that the Savior would speak, and then the message of His followers would come from God through the Spirit. So, here we see the Spirit involved in Salvation in the ultimate sense by His work with our Savior.

According to their deeds, accordingly he will repay, fury to his adversaries, recompence to his enemies; to the islands he will repay recompence.  So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him. And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD.  As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the LORD; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the LORD, from henceforth and for ever.

Isaiah 59:18-21

Finally, In Isaiah 63 the prophet calls to remembrance God’s mercy and deliverance from days of old. He speaks about God’s mercy and loving-kindness, and His promise to be a savior to Israel. He calls to mind the deliverance from Egyptian bondage, the crossing of the Red Sea, and God’s patience in the wilderness. Within this context, we see all three persons of the Godhead mentioned. “The lovingkindness of the LORD … according to all that the LORD hath bestowed on us…” (Isaiah 63:7) gives is a direct reference to the Father. “The Angel of His presence saved them” (Isaiah 63:9). This is the second person of the Godhead who would be incarnated as Jesus Christ. “But they rebelled, and vexed his holy spirit…” (Isaiah 63:10). Here we find the third person of the Godhead. We see that He was there and involved in Israel’s deliverance and that He was grieved by the wicked rebellion and idolatry of the Israelites in the very shadow of the cloud that led them.

Then in verse eleven, there is a mention of the wisdom given to the seventy elders at Mount Sinai. We will cover this event with more depth in the next section of our study. Nevertheless, here is a mention of the Spirit in this capacity, and within the context, it is tied to the salvation of Israel from Egypt.

I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, and the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses. For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them.  Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him?  That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name?  That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble?  As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD caused him to rest: so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name.

Isaiah 63:7-14

So we see Spirit working in the Creation, adorning the Heavens with stars, filling the sea with life, and imbuing man with a soul. We see His eternal wisdom and power as being fully God: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent. And then we see His work in judgment and salvation. He was there with Israel in the wilderness, His patience being tried by their stiff-necked rebellion. He provided wisdom to the elders to help judge the people. He brought judgment against Judah for their sins, and then in delivering them from captivity stood against the enemies of God and of righteousness. Finally, we see Him involved in the coming ministry of Jesus Christ, bringing salvation and a message of peace and righteousness once and for all.

About Justin Hopkins

Justin is a Texas native, a coffee lover, and a Christian. He is the lucky husband of an amazing wife, and father to three growing boys.

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