What role did the Holy Spirit have in the Old Testament?

The first appearance of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was in a creating role: "The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:2). This also included the creation of humans: "The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life" (Job 33:4).

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was uniquely involved in the lives of men and women, as He "contended" with evil men (Genesis 6:3).

Nehemiah 9:20 reveals the Spirit's Old Testament role in teaching: "You gave your good Spirit to instruct them" (see also verse 30). The Holy Spirit also teaches in Job 32:8 and Psalm 143:10.

The Old Testament also reveals that the Holy Spirit was a manifestation of God's presence. When David confessed his sin, he pleaded with God: "Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me" (Psalm 51:11). Other passages also highlight this role (Psalm 139:7; Haggai 2:4-5).

The Holy Spirit also empowered individuals in the Old Testament in order to accomplish a divine plan. Samson's mighty deeds were performed when "the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily" (Judges 14:6 NASB; see also 15:4). Other examples abound, including the Spirit's work in Joseph (Genesis 31:8), Moses and the 70 elders of Israel (Numbers 11:17), Gideon (Judges 6:34), David (1 Chronicles 28:12), and many others. When the task was accomplished, the Holy Spirit would leave the person. This is in contrast to the Holy Spirit's current role of indwelling believers and abiding with them "forever" (John 14:16).

A final important role regarding the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is His relationship to the Messiah. Isaiah 42:1 prophesied, "Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations." Long before the coming of Jesus Christ, the prophets spoke of the Messiah as One who would have the Spirit upon Him. When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, "the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove," clearly revealing Jesus as the Messiah (Luke 3:22).

The Holy Spirit may function in different roles at different times, yet, as the third Person of the Trinity, His nature is always the same. The same Spirit involved in the creation of the universe lives within those who follow Christ today. Christians enjoy the daily benefit of a personal relationship with God through the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit who strengthened Samson and caused David to dance now empowers us and fills us with joy. "'Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the LORD of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6).

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