In previous parts of this study it was observed that the Hebrew word for “Spirit” includes the idea of “wind” or “breath”. Spirit refers to that which is invisible and inside a living person which makes them alive. All living persons have a spirit, and God himself has a Spirit. We have also observed the things God’s Spirit is described as doing in the Old Testament, including creation, sustaining life, and re-creation. Sometimes God’s Spirit is said to fill special individuals in a unique and personal way. This is a way of attributing the words and actions of those individuals to God who speaks and works through them. When people were filled with God’s Spirit, their words could rightly be attributed to God’s own mind.
Before turning to the New Testament, it will be important to note what the inspired prophets said concerning the Spirit. After years of rebellion, the prophets warned that Israel was facing exile as a consequence of their sins. But the prophets also preached hope. Something better was coming. A future ruler was coming who would set things right. A new age was coming, an age when sins would be forgiven and the exile would be over. What was old and broken in the world would be made new. The world would be set right.
The important thing to note is that all of this would be accomplished by God’s Spirit.
The Prophesies of Isaiah
Isaiah prophesies of a future king who will have the Spirit of the Lord resting upon him.
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,Isaiah 11:1-2
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
There would be a future king from the line of David (Jesse was David’s father). Four different times Isaiah says that he will have the Spirit of the Lord upon him, permeating him in all that he does. His wisdom and understanding will come from the Lord’s Spirit. His counsel and might will come from the Lord’s Spirit. His knowledge will and fear of the LORD will come from the Lord’s Spirit. Practically everything about this future king can be attributed to the Lord’s Spirit. His attributes, his thinking, and his mindset will all be God’s own attributes, thinking, and mindset. This includes his just judgments (11:3), his care for the poor (11:4a), his supremacy over his enemies (11:4b), and his righteousness and faithfulness (11:5). The result of his kingship will be a peace that is so perfect it can be compared to a wolf lying down with a lamb, or a child playing in a vipers’ den without fear (11:6-9). In that day, “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (11:9).
Is Isaiah prophesying about the church? Is he talking about heaven? Or perhaps something else? At this point in the Bible, that isn’t yet clear. What we can clearly see is that Isaiah foresaw a very different and much better era coming in the future, and this future era was going to come about because of a Messiah who would be filled with God’s Spirit.
Another prophesy about the Spirit can be found in Isaiah 32.
For the palace is forsaken,Isaiah 32:13-18
the populous city is deserted;
the hill and the watchtower
will become dens forever,
a joy of wild donkeys,
a pasture of flocks;
until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high,
and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field,
and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
And the effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.
My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.
Found in a section that has Messianic implications (cf. 32:1), Isaiah looked forward to a day when the world is going to be dramatically changed. This future age will be characterized by justice, righteousness, and peace, and will involve “pouring out” of the Spirit in a new way.
Another prophecy about the Spirit is recorded in Isaiah 44.
For I will pour water on the thirsty land,Isaiah 44:3-5
and streams of water on the dry ground;
I will pour out my Spirit upon your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
like willows by flowing streams.
This one will say, “I am the LORD’s,”
and another will call on the name of Jacob,
and another will write on his hand, “The LORD’s,”
and name himself by the name of Israel.
Here Isaiah describes a “pouring out” of His Spirit upon Israel’s descendants. Note how the promise of the Spirit is connected with the figure of water given to satisfy thirst. Later on, Jesus will describe the Spirit using similar imagery (Jn. 7:37-39). The key thing to notice throughout all of Isaiah’s prophesies is that the world was going to change, and this change would be brought about by God’s Spirit.
The Prophesies of Ezekiel
If the world is going to change, it will be necessary that people are changed as well. According to the prophesies of Ezekiel, rebellious Israel would be transformed by God’s Spirit.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.Ezekiel 36:26-27
Ezekiel recognized that Israel needed to be fixed from the inside. The only way this would occur would be for God to give them a new heart and a new Spirit, which will enable them to walk in God’s statutes and keep his rules. This is very similar to how David prayed about the Holy Spirit in Psalm 51.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,Psalm 51:10-12
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
In Ezekiel 37, following the vision of the valley of dry bones, Ezekiel once again speaks of God’s Spirit being put into his people. If Israel was as dead as dry bones, the only way they would be made alive again would be if God’s Ruakh/Spirit/Breath gave them new life.
I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land.Ezekiel 37:14
Another prophecy that relates to the promise of the Spirit is found in Ezekiel 39, which looks beyond the time of captivity to the restoration of Israel.
And I will not hide my face from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD.Ezekiel 39:29
Like Isaiah, Ezekiel foresaw a new age coming which would be brought about by God’s Spirit.
The Prophecy of Zechariah
And I will pout out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him as one weeps over a firstborn.Zechariah 12:10
It is not entirely clear whether Zechariah refers to the future pouring out of the Holy Spirit, or if he speaks of a generic attitude of grace and pleas for mercy that will eventually characterize his people. What is clear is that Zechariah spoke of a future day when God would pour out a spirit, and the attitudes of God’s people would change. Note the connection between “spirit” and how we think. Again, this makes sense when we understand how the Hebrew word for “spirit” was used in the Old Testament (Part 1). When we turn our study to the New Testament, it will be important to remember this connection between “spirit” and “attitude” or “thinking.”
The Prophecy of Joel
And it shall come to pass afterward,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophecy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit.
And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon the blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.Joel 2:28-32
Similar to the other prophets, Joel looked forward to a day when the world would be dramatically different. This future day would be brought about by God’s Spirit. One element of this prophecy of particular interest is that is speaks of God’s Spirit being poured out on “all flesh.” This includes sons and daughters, young and old, and male and female servants (including Gentiles???).
In part 3 of this study we observed that throughout the Old Testament, God’s Spirit was occasionally said to be with a few special individuals (such as judges, kings, and prophets) in a special and unique way. Whenever people were said to have God’s Spirit, it meant that they had God’s mind, God’s thoughts, God’s wisdom, God’s words, or God’s strength. It means that their words or successes are attributed to God working through them as opposed to that person speaking or acting on their own wisdom. Here Joel speaks of a day when God’s Spirit will no longer be reserved for just a few special individuals, but will in some way be poured out on “all flesh.”
The Spirit in the Old Testament
This concludes the Old Testament portion of this study of the Holy Spirit. The specific meaning of these prophesies may not be entirely clear at this point. But what we can observe is that the Old Testament prophets anticipated that a new age was coming, and this coming age would be characterized by the work and influence of God’s Spirit being poured upon his people. The Spirit would be necessary to enable the people of God to keep his will.
This naturally raises questions. What exactly do these prophesies mean in the New Testament and for today? How exactly is God’s Spirit poured out on his people, and how does God’s Spirit work in the lives of Christians today? We will attempt to study these questions as we move into the New Testament portion of our study. The challenge will be to observe exactly what the New Testament says concerning the Spirit without reading any preconceived ideas into those passages.
- Spirit, like wind or breath, is that invisible substance that makes things move and/or live
- God’s Spirit is closely related to God’s mind, God’s thoughts, and God’s words
- God’s Spirit is responsible for creating the world, and breathing life into all living beings
- Sometimes God’s Spirit is said to come upon special individuals: Bezalel, Gideon, Samson, Saul, David, etc. When this happens, God speaks or acts through that person, so that their words and actions can be attributed to God rather than to the individuals speaking or acting on their own
- When God’s Spirit fills a prophet, their words are God’s own words (See 2 Samuel 23:2; Micah 3:8)
- Just as God’s Spirit created the world, so the prophets spoke of future renewal of all things. This new creation would be brought about by God’s Spirit
- The Messianic King would be filled with God’s Spirit (Isaiah 11)
- God’s new covenant people would be transformed by God’s Spirit. This transformation would be so complete that it is visualized as a resurrection of dry bones (Ezekiel 36-37)
- God’s Spirit would one day be poured out on “all flesh” (Joel 2)