The Spirit in The Old Testament: Revealing God’s Will

While the religious world is full of confusion and disagreement concerning the role of the Holy Spirit, there is one aspect of His work that is almost universally agreed upon: He has revealed God’s Will. Of course, there is no shortage of differing ideas about when and how He has done that, and whether He is still actively doing that today. Nevertheless, the fact that He has done this in the past, largely through prophets and through the Scriptures is a point of firm agreement. Based on that, it should not come as a great surprise that the lion’s share of what the Old Testament has to say about the Spirit relates to His work of revelation.

The Spirit Revealed God’s Will Directly

The Hebrew writer begins by speaking about the contrast between how God revealed truth in the Old Testament with how it is now revealed through Christ. He speaks of how in the past God spoke in different ways through the prophets. Sometimes He spoke in a still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-13). Sometimes He spoke through a burning bush (Exodus 3:2). Sometimes He spoke in dreams (Genesis 28:11-16).

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

Hebrews 1:1-2

Perhaps it is a bit much to separate this section out from the one that follows here. It seems that when the Spirit spoke directly, He was speaking to prophets, who then spoke “unto the fathers.” There are only three passages which specifically mention the Spirit making a revelation directly to a person, and in each of these instances it can be argued that the person to which that revelation was made was a prophet who then preached it to others.

The first of these falls into the preflood world.

And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.

Genesis 6:3

The word that the King James translates as “strive” can also be translated as “plead” or “contend.” We see it used in that sense in Proverbs:

Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.

Proverbs 31:9

So, here God is saying that the Spirit has been pleading with man to do righteously, but there is coming a day (in one hundred twenty years) when that pleading will end and the door to the Ark will be closed. He does not say how the Spirit was pleading with man in the days before the flood. We do know that this was certainly done through the preaching of Noah (2 Peter 2:5). Were other means used to reach the world with God’s message of coming judgment and repentance? Possibly, but we don’t know. If not, then Noah and his preaching certainly gives us a high benchmark for carrying out the great commission today!

Later we see Joseph imprisoned in Egypt and interpreting dreams. After the butler was restored to his office and (finally) remembered Joseph when Pharaoh was seeking an interpretation for his dreams the Hebrew slave is called to the royal court. After Joseph interpreted the dream for Pharaoh and gave his advice, we are given the ruler’s reaction. While we need to bear in mind that his comments are uninspired and even come from a pagan background, we can also acknowledge that there is truth in them and that Joseph himself and the inspired writers let the comment sit without correction.

And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art:

Genesis 41:38-39

Here the Spirit is credited with Joseph’s knowledge. It seems that in one way or another the Spirit had showed Joseph the meaning of Pharaoh’s dreams. No further elaboration is given as to how this was done. Regardless, here we see the Spirit revealing directly to Joseph the interpretation of the dreams. In this instance that was significant because it placed Joseph in a position where he could be used by God to preserve the seed of Israel and move toward the fulfillment of the promises given to Abraham (Genesis 15:12-16).

Finally, in Nehemiah chapter nine we find an inspired prayer of confession led by Nehemiah. As he recounts Israel’s history that has brought them to their current state, he recalls the forty years in the wilderness and the events at Mount Sinai.

Yea, when they had made them a molten calf, and said, This is thy God that brought thee up out of Egypt, and had wrought great provocations; Yet thou in thy manifold mercies forsookest them not in the wilderness: the pillar of the cloud departed not from them by day, to lead them in the way; neither the pillar of fire by night, to shew them light, and the way wherein they should go. Thou gavest also thy good spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst.

Nehemiah 9:18-20

As God showed His patience and longsuffering with the rebellious tribes of Israel, He also taught them how they ought to live and honor Him. Nehemiah says that this was accomplished by the Spirit, who instructed them. Again, we are not told specifically how this was accomplished, but only that it was the Spirit which did so. The wisdom given to the seventy elders certainly comes to mind (Numbers 11:14-17).

The Spirit Revealed God’s Will Through the Prophets

The pages of the Old Testament are filled with prophets. That becomes especially clear when one considers that the books of the Old Testament were all written by prophets. There are a few passages in the Old Testament where we can find explicit statements that the Spirit was involved in their work.

Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue.

2 Samuel 23:1-2

David is identified as a prophet by the Apostle Peter (Acts 2:30). David’s last prophesies give us a little bit of insight into the process by which the Spirit spoke through the prophets. When David spoke as a prophet, it was the Spirit who provided the words. He says that the words of the Spirit were on his tongue. This agrees with the concept of verbal-plenary inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern of the porch, and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof, and of the upper chambers thereof, and of the inner parlours thereof, and of the place of the mercy seat, And the pattern of all that he had by the spirit, of the courts of the house of the LORD, and of all the chambers round about, of the treasuries of the house of God, and of the treasuries of the dedicated things: Also for the courses of the priests and the Levites, and for all the work of the service of the house of the LORD, and for all the vessels of service in the house of the LORD.

1 Chronicles 28:11-13

As David set about the prepare for the construction of the Temple at Jerusalem, he not only prepared supplies and workers for Solomon’s use, but he also laid out very detailed plans both for the construction and also for the organization of the priesthood and the work and worship that would take place at the temple after the structure had been erected. The Chronicler tells us that all of these detailed patterns were given to David by the Spirit.

One interesting side not here. A common argument for the use of musical instruments in worship is that the Jews used them in worship at the temple. So, if they can do it, then so can we. This passage tells us that everything they did in worship, including the use of instruments was a part of the pattern that was given by the Spirit. It was vital for them to follow that pattern in order to be pleasing to God (Exodus 25:40; Hebrews 8:5). In the same way, we must follow the pattern revealed in the New Testament. Since our pattern doesn’t include animal sacrifice, the burning of incense, or the use of musical instruments, we should not do those things. David told Solomon to stick to the pattern that the Spirit gave, and we must also stick to the pattern that we have today.

In 2 Chronicles 20 the Moabites and Ammonites had formed a coalition and were about to attack Judah under the reign of Jehoshaphat. This good king shows his colors when his first response is to pray and call the people to prayer.

And all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. Then upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, came the Spirit of the LORD in the midst of the congregation; And he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the LORD unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s.

2 Chronicles 20:13-15

On this occasion the Spirit uses two of the priests as prophets. Through these men the Spirit delivers a message of encouragement and of victory. The Lord had heard the prayers of the people, and He would fight the battle for them. As was typical of God’s interaction with His people, and just as the Hebrew writer described, the Spirit spoke through prophets to deliver God’s Word.

Two kings and a very wicked queen later Joash is placed on the throne at the tender age of seven by Jehoiada the priest. By this time Jehoiada had lived through quite a bit, having begun his service as priest under Solomon’s reign! As long as this godly man lived to guide Joash the young king followed the path of righteousness. However, after his death, Joash was quickly swayed by the wishes of the people to restore idol worship and other evil practices. In response, God sent His prophets to plead with Judah to return to Him, but the people would not listen.

Now after the death of Jehoiada came the princes of Judah, and made obeisance to the king. Then the king hearkened unto them. And they left the house of the LORD God of their fathers, and served groves and idols: and wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their trespass. Yet he sent prophets to them, to bring them again unto the LORD; and they testified against them: but they would not give ear. And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, he hath also forsaken you. And they conspired against him, and stoned him with stones at the commandment of the king in the court of the house of the LORD.

2 Chronicles 24:17-21

The last attempt to redeem that generation came when the Spirit spoke through Zechariah the priest and prophet. This message was also rejected, and Zechariah was martyred for speaking what the Spirit had revealed. Jesus would later refer to the righteousness of this prophet (Luke 11:49-51).

The Spirit was even working to reveal God’s Will through the prophets during the darkest time of Israel’s history: the time of the judges.

Yet many years didst thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by thy spirit in thy prophets: yet would they not give ear: therefore gavest thou them into the hand of the people of the lands.

Nehemiah 9:30

There are a few of the judges that are specifically called prophets, like Deborah (Judges 4:4) and Samuel (1 Samuel 3:20). There may very well have been other prophets speaking during that time which are not specifically mentioned in Scripture. Either way, each of these prophets was inspired by the Holy Spirit. This was true, not just of the prophets during the time of the judges, but of all of God’s prophets of all times during the Old Testament age. This makes the true prophets of God stand in sharp contrast to false prophets who spoke in the name of pagan gods and false prophets who claimed to speak in the name of God, but were not sent by Him.

Thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him. Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them. Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded: yea, they shall all cover their lips; for there is no answer of God. But truly I am full of power by the spirit of the LORD, and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin.

Micah 3:5-8

During Micah’s day there was no shortage of false prophets who told those who were in power what they wanted to hear. They endorsed their wickedness and oppression of the poor. They preached that God would bring peace and blessings to them and to the land when God had said no such things. Indeed, the Law of Moses had warned of exactly the opposite (Exodus 22:21-24). In contrast to these prophets and those that followed them, Micah says that he was strengthened by the Holy Spirit. This strength gave him the fortitude he needed to stand up against wicked men in high places and preach against their sins and warn of the coming judgment.

Ezekiel was also inspired by the Holy Spirit when he prophesied and when he wrote. It is significant to note that he connects God speaking to him with the Spirit, and that the words that he preached and wrote were those that God had spoken.

And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me. And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day.

Ezekiel 2:1-3

Again, Zechariah notes that the words spoken by the prophets of God were given to them by the Holy Spirit.

But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the LORD of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the LORD of hosts.

Zechariah 7:11-12

It would seem that the Spirit’s involvement in the inspiration of God’s prophets was something that made them stand out among others who claimed to be prophets. Even a pagan like Nebuchadnezzar was able to recognize the inspiration of the Spirit at work even though his speech betrays a gross misunderstanding of the nature of the one true God as contrasted with that of the pantheon of false gods that he worshipped.

Then came in the magicians, the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers: and I told the dream before them; but they did not make known unto me the interpretation thereof. But at the last Daniel came in before me, whose name was Belteshazzar, according to the name of my god, and in whom is the spirit of the holy gods: and before him I told the dream, saying, O Belteshazzar, master of the magicians, because I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in thee, and no secret troubleth thee, tell me the visions of my dream that I have seen, and the interpretation thereof.

Daniel 4:7-9

The Spirit Revealed God’s Will Through Prophets That Were Persuaded

Of all the prophets who prophesied there are a couple of occasions that truly stand out as different than the rest. These are prophets of God who were reluctant, to put it mildly. When we think of reluctant prophets, Jonah should make the list. Spending a little time inside of a fish changed his actions, but not his attitude. While he ended up doing the work that God sent him to do, his book closes with him pouting on a hill outside of Nineveh because he was upset that the Assyrians responded to his preaching and were spared. Yet, since his book makes no specific mention of the Spirit we will be looking elsewhere to see this type of persuasion at work as it relates to the third person of the Godhead. The first prophet on our list is Balaam.

And when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he went not, as at other times, to seek for enchantments, but he set his face toward the wilderness. And Balaam lifted up his eyes, and he saw Israel abiding in his tents according to their tribes; and the spirit of God came upon him. And he took up his parable, and said, Balaam the son of Beor hath said, and the man whose eyes are open hath said:

Numbers 24:1-3

Balaam had wanted to please king Balak all along. He even went so far as to name a price (Numbers 22:18) and jumping to the gun to go when God had told him not to. When it became clear to Balaam that the blessing that Balak wanted wasn’t going to be given by God, he decided just to make something up on his own. This account is short, with Balaam doing a complete about-face in just three short verses. In verse one Balaam was doing his own thing. In verse two the Spirit “came upon him.” What exactly the Spirit did or said, we are not told. What we do know is that the Spirit doesn’t override the free will of any prophets (1 Corinthians 14:32). Whatever happened, in the next verse we see Balaam “take up his parable.” This wording carries the idea that Balaam accepted the prophecy that the Spirit gave him, and then he went ahead and obediently spoke that prophecy instead of whatever he had been planning to make up.

Even after this, Balaam found a way to cash in, teaching Balak that if Israel sinned they would lose the blessing and protection of God (Numbers 24:14-25:1, Revelation 2:14). Nevertheless, It seems that the Spirit persuaded Balaam to prophesy that which God had commanded.

The other occasion that we see this type of thing in the Old Testament surrounds King Saul. Saul had been chosen by God to become king of Israel, yet he was a bit shy, and perhaps reluctant to rise to the challenge. As Samuel anointed him, he gave Saul a bit of encouragement, including a few signs that were proof that Samuel really was speaking for God. Samuel said that Saul would be given a new heart. This does not demand some miraculous change or overruling of Saul’s natural personality. Much more simply, the life-changing events that are being brought down on Saul would cause him to rise to the occasion.

And the Spirit of the LORD will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man. And let it be, when these signs are come unto thee, that thou do as occasion serve thee; for God is with thee. And thou shalt go down before me to Gilgal; and, behold, I will come down unto thee, to offer burnt offerings, and to sacrifice sacrifices of peace offerings: seven days shalt thou tarry, till I come to thee, and shew thee what thou shalt do. And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart: and all those signs came to pass that day. And when they came thither to the hill, behold, a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them. And it came to pass, when all that knew him beforetime saw that, behold, he prophesied among the prophets, then the people said one to another, What is this that is come unto the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets? And one of the same place answered and said, But who is their father? Therefore it became a proverb, Is Saul also among the prophets? And when he had made an end of prophesying, he came to the high place.

1 Samuel 10:6-13

Later in Saul’s reign as he had been rejected by God and David was chosen to succeed him as king we see a spirit of selfish ambition and rebellion take hold. In the midst of that, we see a few occasions where clearer heads prevail, and Saul recognizes his own foolishness. This happened when David proved that he could have killed Saul, but did not, but instead took a piece of Saul’s robe (1 Samuel 24:15-18), and again on another similar occasion when David spared Saul’s life while the king slept (1 Samuel 26:21-25). Another similar occasion involves the Spirit enabling Saul to prophesy.

So David fled, and escaped, and came to Samuel to Ramah, and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and dwelt in Naioth. And it was told Saul, saying, Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah. And Saul sent messengers to take David: and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as appointed over them, the Spirit of God was upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. And when it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they prophesied likewise. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they prophesied also. Then went he also to Ramah, and came to a great well that is in Sechu: and he asked and said, Where are Samuel and David? And one said, Behold, they be at Naioth in Ramah. And he went thither to Naioth in Ramah: and the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on, and prophesied, until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Wherefore they say, Is Saul also among the prophets?

1 Samuel 19:18-24

Just as with the other moments of clarity, we see Saul seeking to kill David in order to ensure his own dynasty even though God had made it clear that David would be the next king. When Saul’s messenger came to Samuel and the other prophets, who were prophesying at the time we see a change of heart and mind among them. We are not told what Samuel and the prophets were preaching, but only that they were prophesying. Whatever it was, these messengers changed from obedient loyalty to their king, to obedient loyalty to their God. With that persuasion, the Holy Spirit enabled them to prophesy among Samuel and the other prophets. Finally, Saul himself came down to find and kill David. When he came to Samuel and the prophets (which now included several of his messengers) he also humbled himself before the Lord and began to prophesy. This was not an overriding of Saul’s free will, but rather a change of heart. Sadly, like Balaam, this change did not seem to last very long.

From beginning to end, the pages of the Old Testament show the Spirit revealing God’s Will “at sundry times and in divers manners” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Overwhelmingly this was accomplished through the inspiration of prophets. While the prophets remained in control of their own free will and their faculties, The Spirit and the truth that He revealed was always compelling, though sometimes rejected and ignored by the hearers. What the Spirit revealed was always clear and meaningful communication, and it was always consistent with what He had revealed in Scripture.

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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