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The Person of the Holy Spirit Part 3 The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

Article contributed by www.walvoord.com

(Continued from the July-September Number, 1940)

{Editor’s note: Footnotes in the original printed edition were numbered 11-23, but in this electronic edition are numbered 1-13 respectively.}

IV. The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Inspiration of the Old Testament Scriptures

Of the many ministries of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, few are of more immediate concern to Christians than the work of the inspiration of Old Testament Scriptures. While the peculiar doctrines of Christianity to a large extent are based on New Testament revelation, it is clear to even a casual observer that the New Testament is based on the Old Testament, and one without the other does not constitute a complete or satisfying revelation. The doctrine of inspiration, having to do with the formation of the Scriptures, does not differ to a great extent in the two Testaments.

The doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures has been the historic position of most Protestant churches, as their creeds bear abundant testimony. Whatever the degrees of unbelief latent in either the clergy or the laity, and whatever disagreements there may be between denominational groups on other doctrines, Protestant churches have officially held the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures. This has been subject to extended discussion and argument, however, as various views of inspiration have been proffered. A complete discussion of the doctrine of inspiration cannot be undertaken here.1

The importance of the inspiration of the Scriptures, while tacitly denied by some in modern times, is easily sustained. It is a matter of tremendous import whether the Scriptures are a supernaturally produced Word of God, or whether they are a collection of the works of men, containing the errors one must expect in any human work. As Boettner writes: “That the question of inspiration is of vital importance for the Christian Church is easily seen. If she has a definite and authoritative body of Scripture to which she can go, it is a comparatively easy task to formulate her doctrines. All she has to do is to search out the teachings of Scripture and embody them in her creed. But if the Scriptures are not authoritative, if they are to be corrected and edited and some parts are to be openly rejected, the Church has a much more serious problem, and there can be no end of conflicting opinions concerning either the purpose of the Church or the system of doctrine which she is to set forth.”2

It is not the purpose of the present discussion to attempt the display of the arguments supporting the inspiration of the Scriptures. The arguments from sources external to the Scriptures will not be considered at all, and the Biblical evidences discussed only as they illustrate the work of the Holy Spirit. What the Bible says on the subject is far more conclusive and plain to the eye of faith than all the high-flown arguments of unbelievers. As Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer has written, “That doctrine of Inspiration, which the church has held in all her generations, abides; not because its defenders are able to shout louder than their opponents, nor by virtue of any human defence, but because of the fact that it is embedded within the Divine Oracles themselves. Since it is so embedded in the Oracles of God, no saint or apostle could do otherwise than to believe the word God has spoken.”3

1. The Meaning of Inspiration.

The technical meaning of inspiration is quite apart from its common usage in reference to non-Biblical concepts. As B. B. Warfield points out, “The word ‘inspire’ and its derivatives seem to have come into Middle Eng. from the Fr., and have been employed from the first (early in the 14th cent.) in a considerable number of significations, physical and metaphorical, secular and religious.”4 We still speak of being inspired by a beautiful sunset, or of hearing an inspiring sermon. Such common usages, however, are not parallel to inspiration in a doctrinal sense. Even in ordinary speech, we conceive of inspiration as something that constitutes an influence from without. As Warfield says, “Underlying all their use, however, is the constant implication of an influence from without, producing in its object movements and effects beyond its native, or at least its ordinary powers.”5

Turning to the Scriptures, we observe a paucity of reference to the word inspiration as far as the term itself is concerned. In Job 32:8, Elihu is quoted, “But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” This can hardly be referred to the inspiration of Scripture, however, as it is doubtful if any of the Bible, in its present form at least, was in existence at that time. The only other reference is found in 2 Timothy 3:16, where the Authorized Version gives this translation, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Even here, in the American revision, the translation is changed to read, “Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.” The revised translation, while attempting to solve the problem created by the absence of the copula, not at all unusual in the Greek, has greatly weakened the passage, and that, unjustly. The noun inspiration would disappear entirely from the English Bible if this translation were allowed, and a misleading impression is created that some Scripture is not inspired.

The difficulty lies chiefly in the word inspiration itself. The Greek, θεόπνευστος, really does not mean inspiring at all. As Warfield notes, “The Gr term has, however, nothing to say of inspiring or of inspiration: it speaks only of a ‘spiring’ or ‘spiration.’ What it says of Scripture is, not that it is ‘breathed into by God’ or is the product of the Divine ‘inbreathing’ into its human authors, but that it is breathed out by God, ‘God-breathed,’ the product of the creative breath of God. In a word, what is declared by this fundamental passage is simply that the Scriptures are a Divine product, without any indication of how God has operated in producing them.”6

From 2 Timothy 3:16, we may conclude that inspiration is the work of God by which or through which the Scriptures are given. After stating the fact of inspiration, however, the same verse draws a most interesting and significant conclusion. Because the Scriptures are inspired, they are, therefore, profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. In other words, inspiration guarantees accuracy, and gives divine authority to the record. It is hardly necessary here to review the abundant testimony of the Scriptures to this very fact. Christ Himself frequently quoted the Old Testament as the Word of God. The writers claimed inspiration for their own works. The content of Scriptures is such that its prophecies must have been the product of divine revelation and their accurate recording the work of inspiration. The witness to inspiration is all the more conclusive because the Scriptures never attempt to prove inspiration; they merely state it and assume it, in the same manner as the Scriptures assume the existence of God.

A matter of further observation is that the Scriptures are not only divine, but also human. The words used were those within the vocabulary of the writers. Their own emotions, human knowledge, experiences, and hopes entered into the Scriptures which they wrote, without compromising in the least their inspiration. Without doubt, some portions of Scripture are dictated, as the Scriptures themselves indicate, but most of the Scriptures do not have this characteristic. Regardless of the degree of human or divine influence in the Scriptures, the resultant is equally inspired and equally suited to God’s purpose. The examination of the work of the Holy Spirit in inspiration will sustain these evidences for the dual authorship, divine and human, of the Scriptures. fact of the inspiration of their writings is more assumed than proved. Occasional reference is found to their own consciousness of the work of the Holy Spirit in inspiration. David bears witness to the inspiration of his works, “The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue. The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me” (2 Sam 23:2-3). Isaiah records the words of the Lord, bearing a similar import, “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” (Isa 59:21). Jeremiah bears witness of the word of the Lord to him, “Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth” (Jer 1:9). Their writings when produced were immediately accepted as the Word of God by those truly worshiping the Lord. The absence of any formal argument to prove the inspiration of their writings indicates that none was deemed necessary. The character of the Scriptures was sufficient evidence both for the writers and the readers.

(2) Terminology of the Prophets. In many of the books of the Old Testament, recurrent phrases occur which can be explained only by the doctrine of inspiration. The expression, “Thus saith the LORD,” or its equivalent is found in hundreds of instances. The writer claims in many cases to be directly quoting God, and in others he is the authoritative spokesman. In both cases, supernatural revelation and the inspiration of the writings are claimed.

(3) Titles of the Scriptures. With very frequent reference, the writings of the Old Testament are designated as the Word of the Lord, Thy Word, My Word, Words of His mouth, Words of the Holy One, His Word. The explicit references of this sort are found over a hundred times in the Old Testament. There can be no doubt that they refer to the Old Testament in its entirety or in its parts as the very Word of God. In some cases, the reference is to direct quotation of what God Himself has said, but in others it is the word of His prophets speaking for God (Ps 107:11; 119:11; Prov 30:5). These titles of Scripture found in every part of the Old Testament give the stamp of divine inspiration to every book.

(4) The Testimony of Christ. One of the clearest indications of the work of the Holy Spirit in the inspiration of the Old Testament comes from the lips of Christ Himself. Most of the Old Testament references to the work of God in inspiration do not mention the Holy Spirit specifically, though we have already noted a few instances (2 Sam 23:2-3; Isa 59:21). In quoting from the Old Testament, however, Christ is explicit in assigning the work of inspiration to the Holy Spirit. This is important not only in revealing which Person of the Trinity undertook this work, but it also constitutes a most conclusive testimony to the doctrine of the inspiration of the Old Testament. An attack on the Old Testament becomes an attack on the word of Christ Himself.

In connection with the encounter of Christ with the Pharisees, Christ asked, “What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord?” (Matt 22:42-43). Translated literally, Christ said, “How then doth David in the Spirit call him Lord?” In quoting Psalm 110:1 which is written by David, Christ affirms that David wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, finding in this fact the explanation of David’s wisdom in calling his own Son, “Lord.” In the account in Mark, which is undoubtedly the same instance, Christ in presenting the question concerning David’s son said, “For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Mark 12:36). In this instance, again, Christ bears witness to the work of the Holy Spirit in the inspiration of this Psalm, and explains its authority by the fact that David spoke by the Holy Spirit.

(5) The Testimony of the Apostles. The testimony of the apostles is more abundant and equally explicit as that of Christ. Peter, speaking of the fulfillment of Psalm 41:9, says, “Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus.” In quoting the second Psalm, God is said to have spoken by the mouth of David (Acts 4:24-25). Paul quotes Isaiah 6:9-10, saying, “Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers” (Acts 28:25). Similar references are found in Hebrews 3:7; 10:15-16, and elsewhere in the New Testament. All bear witness to the inspiration of the Old Testament by the Holy Spirit, and at the same time the human authorship is sustained.

(6) The Analogy from Oral Revelation. In the discussion of oral revelation, reference was made to 2 Peter 1:20-21 which bears eloquent testimony to the supernatural work of God that is the origin of all prophecy: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” It is a clear statement that all prophecy is possible only by a work of the Holy Spirit. It is, however, not at all necessary to limit the application of this passage to oral revelation. Some portions of the prophetic Word were not delivered orally, but were first revealed in written form (cf. Daniel). In these instances, it is the written record which speaks, and the writers were borne along by the Holy Spirit in their work even as 2 Peter indicates. If all oral prophecy proceeds from a work of the Holy Spirit, and all written prophecy has the same source, it is reasonable to extend by analogy the work of the Spirit to all the Old Testament, prophetic in the wide sense of being a message from God. The work of the Holy Spirit is thus extended not only to the aspect of revelation but also to the inspiration of the written Word.

The Scriptures are clear, then, both as to the fact of inspiration and as to the agent of inspiration, the Holy Spirit. The proofs are abundant for both. As Prof. James B. Green says, “The Law and the Prophets, the teaching of Jesus and the preaching of Paul; these are declared to be the Word of God. It has been estimated that the Bible in various ways asserts its own inspiration some three thousand times. How often does the Bible have to say a thing before men will believe it?”8

3. The Extent of Inspiration.

An examination into the records of the Old Testament will reveal literature of all types: history, poetry, drama, sermons, love stories, and insight into the innermost devotional thoughts of the writers. It is a matter of great significance that inspiration extends to all of these kinds of literature, without regard as to form or style, without concern as to the origin or the knowledge embodied in writing. The question naturally presents itself concerning the relation of inspiration to various portions of Scripture.

Every attempt to fathom the supernatural is doomed to a measure of failure. Man has no criterion by which to judge that which transcends our experience. Without trying to explain inspiration, an examination of its application may be undertaken. At least seven types of operation may be observed in the work of inspiration.

(1) The Unknown Past. Scripture occasionally speaks with authority concerning the past in such detail and upon such themes as would be unknown to man. In the early chapters of Genesis, for instance, Moses portrays events occurring before the creation of man, therefore beyond all possible bounds of tradition. In Isaiah and Ezekiel, reference is made to events in heaven outside the sphere of man’s knowledge and prior to his creation. It is clear that these narratives demand both a revelation concerning the facts and the work of the Holy Spirit in inspiration to guarantee their accurate statement. Some have advanced the idea in relation to the accounts of creation that these are similar in many details to pagan accounts of creation. It is possible that revelation was given prior to the writing of Scripture on the subject of creation, and that men had added to and altered this revelation in the formation of non-scriptural accounts of creation. The existence of other records of creation and points of similarity of these with the Scriptures in no wise affects the inspiration of Genesis. Whether Moses used documents or not has no bearing on the writing of the Scriptures. Whether documents were used, whether there was knowledge of pagan ideas of creation, or whether tradition had contributed some truth on the subject, the work of inspiration was necessary in any event to distinguish truth from error and to incorporate in the record all that was true and to omit all that was false. Without doubt, the primary source of information was direct revelation, and the documents if any and such traditional accounts as may have been known by Moses were quite incidental.

(2) History. A large portion of the Old Testament conforms to the pattern of history. In such sections, the writer is speaking about events known to many and concerning which other documents not inspired may have been written. In many cases, the writer is dealing with contemporary events in which the element of revelation is practically absent. How may inspiration be said to operate in such Scripture? As in all Scripture, inspiration is not concerned with the source of the facts but only with their accurate statement. In the record of history, the Holy Spirit guided the writers in the selection of events to be noted, the proper statement of the history of these events, and the omission of all that should not be included. The result is an infallibly accurate account of what happened with the emphasis on the events important to the mind of God.

(3) Law. Certain portions of the Old Testament consist in laws governing various phases of individual and national life. This kind of Scripture is found chiefly in the Pentateuch, where the law is revealed in three major divisions: the commandments, governing the moral life of the people; the ordinances, governing the religious life of the people; and the judgments, dealing with the social life of the people. In some cases, the law consisted in commandments given by means of dictation, the laws retaining in every particular the character of being spoken by God. In other cases, Moses charges the people as God’s prophet and gives commandments which can hardly be construed to have been committed to him by way of dictation; yet the commandments have equal force with other commandments. Inspiration operates in the writing of all law in the Scriptures to the end that the laws perfectly express the mind of God for the people to whom they are given; the laws are kept from error and include all that God desires to command at that time; the laws are authoritative and are a proper basis for all matters to which they pertain.

(4) Dictation. As previously intimated, some portions of God’s Word consist in direct quotation of God’s commands and revelation. How does inspiration operate under these circumstances? Inspiration guarantees that commands and revelation received from God are properly recorded in the exact way in which God wills. On His part, God speaks in the language of the one writing, using his vocabulary and speaking His message in such a way that naturally or supernaturally the writer can receive and record the message from God. In such portions, the writer’s pecularities are probably noticed least. Dictation, however, should not be regarded as more authoritative than other portions of Scripture. Inspiration extends freely and equally to all portions of Scripture, even in the faithful record of human sin and the repetition of human speech which may be untruth. Inspiration adds to the account the stamp of an infallible record, justifying the reader in accepting the Scriptures in all confidence.

(5) Devotional Literature. One of the intricate problems of inspiration is to relate its operation to the writing of the devotional literature of the Old Testament, of which the Psalms are the major portion. Does inspiration merely guarantee an accurate picture of what the writers felt and thought, or does it do more than this? In the case of the recording of human speech, inspiration does not necessarily vouch for the truth of what is said. For instance, in the record of the temptation, Satan is recorded to have said, “Ye shall not surely die” (Gen 3:4). Inspiration guarantees the accuracy of this quotation of the words of Satan, but does not make these words true. In the case of the Psalmists, then, who were men subject to sin and mistake, whose experiences and thoughts were not necessarily accurate, does inspiration do more than merely give a faithful record?

The answer to the problem is found in the Psalms themselves. An examination of their content will reveal that God not only caused an inspired record of their thoughts to be written, but worked in their thoughts and their experiences with the result that they revealed God, portrayed the true worship of the heart, the hearing ear of God to prayer, the joy of the Spirit, the burden of sin, and even prophesied of future events. Thus David, in his own experience realizing the preservation of God, speaks of the goodness of God, his praise transcending the bounds of his own experience to that of Christ’s, the greater David. He exults, “Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Ps 16:9-10). Much that David said would apply to himself. David could say that his heart was glad, that his flesh rested in hope. David knew that his soul would not remain forever in hell. But when David said that his body would not see corruption, he was clearly beyond his own experience and was revealing that of Christ. Peter states this fact in his sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:25-31), and points out the difference between David and Christ.

Inspiration can, therefore, be said to result in more than a record of devotional thoughts. While the process is inscrutable, inspiration so wrought that an accurate record was made of the thoughts of the writers, these thoughts being prepared by the providence of God. All that the writers experienced was not incorporated in Scripture. Inspiration was selective. As Warfield so well describes: “Or consider how a psalmist would be prepared to put into moving verse a piece of normative religious experience: how he would be born with just the right quality of religious sensibility, of parents through whom he should receive just the right hereditary bent, and from whom he should get precisely the right religious example and training, in circumstances of life in which his religious tendencies should be developed precisely on right lines; how he would be brought through just the right experiences to quicken in him the precise emotions he would be called upon to express, and finally would be placed in precisely the exigencies which would call out their expression.”9 While providential preparation should not be confused with inspiration, it can be seen that with providential preparation, inspiration of the devotional literature of the Old Testament takes on the nature of the recording of revelation, not revelation by the voice of God, but revelation by the workings of God in the human heart.

(6) The Contemporary Prophetic Message. Much that is recorded as a message from a prophet concerned the immediate needs of his own generation. To them he would bring God’s messages of warning; he would exhort; he would direct their armies; he would choose their leaders; in the manifold needs of the people for the wisdom of God, the prophet would be God’s instrument of revelation. In this aspect of prophetic ministry, the Scripture doubtless records only a small portion. The record is given for the sake of its historic importance and to constitute a living example to later generations. How is inspiration related to this aspect of Scripture?

As in the case of other types of Scripture, inspiration is first of all selective. In the writing of the Scripture, the writer is guided to include and exclude according to the mind of God. Inspiration assures that the record is an accurate one, giving the message of the prophet the character of infallibility. This was true even in the case of the few ungodly men who gave voice to prophecy and were guided in it by God. The work of inspiration in this particular type of Scripture is similar to that operative in recording history in the larger sense, in the writing of history, guiding in the selection and statement of the history, and in the case of prophecy, guiding in the selection and statement of the message and deeds of God through His prophets. Scripture, it can be concluded that in the main inspiration bears the same characteristics in all kinds of Old Testament Scripture. In it all the Spirit guided, excluding the false, including all that the mind of God directed, giving to revelation accurate statement, to history purposeful selection and authentic facts, to providentially guided experience its intimate record of God dealing with the hearts of His servants, to prophecy, whether a contemporary message or predictive, the unfailing accuracy that made it the proper standard for faith to apprehend. The work of inspiration was not accomplished by an impersonal force, by a law of nature, or by providence alone; but the immanent Holy Spirit, working in the hearts and affairs of men, not only revealed the truth of God, but caused the Old Testament to be written, the most amazing document ever to see the light of day, bearing in its pages the unmistakable evidences that the hands which inscribed them were guided by the unwavering, infinitely wise, unfailing Holy Spirit.

V. The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Miracles of the Old Testament

A survey of the Old Testament reveals an abundance of miracles of all descriptions accomplished by the power of God. As in the New Testament, no occasion is found where miracles are subject to explanation, their power being explained by the immediate agency of God. Two of the three great periods of miraculous works are found in the Old Testament: the period of Moses, and the period of Elisha and Elijah. The third belongs to the lifetime of Christ and the apostles. The question arises whether the miracles of the Old Testament are to be ascribed to the Godhead without personal distinctions, or whether the Scriptures give sufficient testimony to attribute miracles in the Old Testament to the ministry of a distinct Person.

The supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit in creation and preservation has been already considered. An extended ministry to man himself is also revealed in the Old Testament. In the accomplishment of great wonders in the natural world, however, can the Holy Spirit be assigned the divine agency? If an answer can be found to this question, it will be based on two lines of evidence: first, the inference from the work of the Holy Spirit in other particulars; second, the work of the Holy Spirit in accomplishing miracles on behalf of Christ.

1. Inference from the Other Works of the Holy Spirit.

A clear reference to miracles as being generally accomplished by the work of the Holy Spirit is not found in the Old Testament. The power which effects miracles is usually said to be Jehovah, without distinction as to the Persons of the Godhead. The work of miracles seems to be the prerogative of each Person of the Trinity severally as well as the work of the one God. Specific reference, however, is found to some ministries of the Holy Spirit which would lead us to believe that the Third Person was the agent of miracles in many instances. From the work of the Holy Spirit in creation and providence, it is clear that He is engaged in a vital work in the material world. The immanence of the Holy Spirit is more prominent than the immanence of the other Persons, though the attribute, of course, is equal in all three Persons. His work in men both in prophetic ministry and enablement for all service indicates His intimate relation to events. From these general arguments, it may be inferred that it would be in harmony with all we know for the Holy Spirit to effect miracles.

Owen, at least, comes to this conclusion, even though the specific arguments are less definite than we might wish: “The third sort of the immediate extraordinary operations of the Holy Ghost are miracles; such as were frequently wrought under the Old Testament, by Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, and others; those by Moses exceeding, if the Jews mistake not, all the rest. Now these were all the immediate effects of the Divine power of the Holy Ghost; for by miracles we mean such effects as are really beyond and above the power of natural causes, however applied.”10

An examination of men who were filled with the Holy Spirit under the Old Testament economy will reveal many miraculous works accomplished by them. As will be discussed later, Samson, for instance, did the humanly impossible through the power of the Holy Spirit. Obadiah expressed the fear that the Holy Spirit would catch Elijah away when he would try to find him (1 Kgs 18:12). Ezekiel was caught up by the Holy Spirit (3:12ff). These operations of the Holy Spirit connote a work very similar to the work of God in effecting miracles.

2. Inference from the Miracles Wrought in the New Testament.

The Gospel records reveal an extended ministry by Christ in the form of miracles. These were the prophesied emblems to be displayed when the Messiah came. In two instances, the miracles of Christ are attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 12:28, Christ states that He casts out demons by the Holy Spirit, and in Luke 4:14-18, the work of Christ in healing the sick is said to result from His anointing by the Holy Spirit. If Christ in the flesh wrought miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit, even though His human nature was joined to the divine nature of the Second Person of the Trinity, how much more would it be necessary for men who are subject to sin to be dependent on the same Holy Spirit to effect their miracles! The fact that the Holy Spirit accomplished miracles on the behalf of Christ is a strong argument for assuming that a similar ministry was given to men in the Old Testament whom God had appointed His prophets.

While revelation on the agency of miracles in the Old Testament lacks the definite proof afforded in other phases of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, it may be safely assumed that the Holy Spirit as the Third Person was the divine agency in miraculous works in the Old Testament, without excluding the possibility that the other Persons of the Trinity had a similar ministry.

VI. The Work of the Holy Spirit in Ministry to Man in the Old Testament

It is fundamental to an understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament to realize that His ministry extends in one way or another to every creature. To some, of course, are given the more general ministries of providence and creation, but the larger work of the Holy Spirit in fallen man has been frequently overlooked. While seldom noted in works on the Holy Spirit, the work of the Holy Spirit in man in the Old Testament is on a large scale and of equal importance to His work in the New Testament, though it is of different character, as will be seen.

Kuyper has summarized the general characteristics of the work of the Holy Spirit in two important propositions: “First, The work of the Holy Spirit is not confined to the elect and does not begin with their regeneration; but it touches every creature, animate and inanimate, and begins its operations in the elect at the very moment of their origin. Second, The proper work of the Holy Spirit in every creature consists in the quickening and sustaining of life with reference to his being and talents, and, in its highest sense, with reference to eternal life, which is his salvation.”11

The general nature of the work of the Holy Spirit as Kuyper states it has abundant illustration in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. Consideration has already been given to the work of the Spirit in creation, revelation, inspiration, and miracles. All of these are illustrations of the general proposition that the work of the Holy Spirit ”touches every creature.” The further consideration of the work of the Holy Spirit in man gives many explicit examples of this ministry which enables one to realize that behind all the history of the Old Testament is the unseen Holy Spirit, touching every phase of the life of man. The works of the Holy Spirit in man are subject to analysis, at least five aspects being revealed.

1. The Sovereign Indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

In the dispensation of grace the Holy Spirit undertakes to indwell every Christian from the moment of regeneration. It is one of the testimonies to God’s grace that the Holy Spirit thus makes the bodies of saved men His holy temple. Throughout the entire Old Testament period up to the day of Pentecost, no such universal indwelling of the Holy Spirit is observed. While it was not in the program of God for this feature of the ministry of the Holy Spirit to become universal among believers prior to the age of grace, nevertheless God in His sovereign will and according to His own purposes selected individuals in the Old Testament to whom was given the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit.

The first reference to this doctrine is found in Genesis 41:38, where Pharoah asks the question concerning Joseph, “Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?” While, of course, it may be held that Pharoah was mistaken, and Joseph was not indwelt by the Holy Spirit, in view of what Joseph had already accomplished and the later revelation of the doctrine of indwelling in the Old Testament, it may be concluded that Pharoah unwittingly gave voice to the first specific instance of a great doctrine, and the Scriptures include his testimony.

Further references to this same operation of the Spirit are not difficult to find. The tailors who made the garments for the priests are said to have been “filled with the spirit of wisdom” (Exod 28:3). Of Bezaleel and Aholiab, fine craftsmen who helped build the tabernacle, it is said, “I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in all understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship” (Exod 31:3; cf. 35:30-35). The seventy elders who assisted Moses were indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Num 11:17, 25). Joshua is described as “a man in whom is the spirit” (Num 27:18). In the times of the Judges, some of the leaders raised up to deliver Israel were filled with the Spirit: Othniel (Judg 3:10), Gideon (Judg 6:34), Jephthah (Judg 11:29), and Samson (Judg 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14). A. B. Simpson would add Deborah to the list, an illustration of a woman leader no doubt indwelt by the Holy Spirit (cf. Judg 4:4ff).12 The Holy Spirit indwelt both Saul and David (1 Sam 10:9-10; 16:13). The prophet Daniel was indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Dan 4:8; 5:11-14; 6:3). No doubt all the prophets were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, though this was not necessarily essential to their ministry. From these specific instances and inferences which may be fairly drawn in other cases, the fact that the Holy Spirit indwelt some saints in the Old Testament can be conclusively established.

Several features of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament are quite distinctive from the same ministry in the age of grace. It will be noted, first, that the coming of the Spirit to indwell individuals has no apparent relation to spiritual qualities. No record is found of regeneration in these cases as necessarily antecedent to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Saul, it is true, received another heart (1 Sam 10:9), but this is not the normal experience judging by other instances. A second important factor quite distinct from indwelling as known in the New Testament Church is that indwelling usually is associated with a special call to service, and it had in view enablement for a specific task. This will be discussed later. Indwelling rather than a universal privilege was a sovereign gift. Only a few were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and these were known for their distinctive gift, were sought out as leaders and prophets, and were usually marked men.

A third important distinction found in the Old Testament doctrine of indwelling was that it was in many cases temporary. While the New Testament saint need never fear loss of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, however He may be hindered in His ministry by sin, the Old Testament saint knew the presence of the Spirit was a special privilege which could be withdrawn at will even as it was given. Thus, of Saul, it is revealed that the Holy Spirit left him (1 Sam 16:14), and David prayed earnestly after his sin, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy Spirit from me” (Ps 51:11). No Christian need ever pray the prayer of David, but under the Old Testament order, there was great danger of losing the presence of the Spirit. For this reason, the presence of the indwelling Spirit in the Old Testament must be regarded as sovereign, a rare rather than a usual gift, and usually associated with some specific task for which enablement was necessary.

2. The Work of the Holy Spirit in Restraining Sin.

From the very nature of the Holy Spirit, one could anticipate that He would be engaged in a ministry designed to restrain sin, not only in the life of the saint, but also in the life of the unsaved. A study of the various ministries of the Holy Spirit will reveal that many of them tended to restrain from sin. However comparatively few direct references to this ministry are found.

In connection with the antediluvian civilization, God 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” (Gen 6:3). The pronouncement that the work of striving with man would cease is sufficient evidence that this ministry had been given to the world prior to the flood. The Holy Spirit undertook to restrain the power of Satan and the display of sin of the human heart.

From the New Testament, we gather that the work of the Holy Spirit in restraining men from sin continues throughout the dispensation of grace. According to 2 Thessalonians 2:7, the Holy Spirit restrains from sin, “For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work: only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way” (American Standard Version). Isaiah 59:19 indicates that it is the customary work of the Holy Spirit to lift up a standard against sin now and in the millennium, if we may accept the translation of the Authorized Version.

While the work of the Holy Spirit in restraining sin is sustained by relatively few explicit references, a survey of His other ministries reveals several which heive a direct bearing on restraint of sin. His work in oral revelation, revealing the will of God and warning against judgment, tended to restrain sin. A similar effect resulted from the inspiration of the written Word. Further confirmation of the doctrine is found in reference to the Third Person as the Holy Spirit (Ps 51:11; Isa 63:10, 11) and as the Good Spirit (Neh 9:20; Ps 143:10), the titles not only speaking of His Person, but of His work. In the Isaiah passage, particularly, it is noted that the judgment came because they had rebelled against the Holy Spirit. This rebellion was not only a rejection of His Person, but a rejection of His restraint and striving with them. From these several indications, then, it may be concluded that the Holy Spirit had a most vital relationship to the moral character of men in the Old Testament, a ministry which resulted in the restraint of sin, comparable to that observed in a general way throughout every dispensation. It may be noted that there is prediction of a great future work of the Holy Spirit in the Millennium in which the Holy Spirit effects a great restraint of sin and inspires holy character (Isa 32:15ff; 44:3-5; Ezek 36:26ff; Zech 12:10).

3. The Work of the Holy Spirit in Illumination and Enablement for Service.

The most frequent mention of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is in connection with enablement for various kinds of service, including illumination and bestowal of wisdom. A wide variety of this type of ministry can be observed. While the extent of this enablement is in sharp contrast to the abundant grace evident in the life of the Christian, it was suited for the Old Testament period and in harmony with the covenant relation of God and Israel.

First to be noted in the Scripture is the work of the Holy Spirit in giving wisdom for leadership and administration. Illustrations are frequently found throughout the Old Testament, beginning with Joseph, who was recognized by Pharoah as possessing more than human attainments (Gen 41:38-40). Joshua possessed a work of the Holy Spirit in enabling him (Num 27:18), and in the times of the Judges, Othniel (Judg 3:10), Gideon (Judg 6:34), and Jephthah (Judg 11:29) were given enablement for their tasks. The bestowal of the Holy Spirit upon Saul (1 Sam 10:10), and upon David (1 Sam 16:13) was in anticipation of their future work as kings over Israel. It will be noted that enablement was objective. Rather than a universal enablement available to all who were yielded to the Holy Spirit, the enablement granted was sovereign, paralleling to some degree the sovereign bestowal of spiritual gifts in the New Testament period.

A second aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit in enablement is found in imparting special skill in various arts. The cases of the tailors for the priestly garments (Exod 28:3), and the workmen of the tabernacle (Exod 31:3; cf. 35:30-35) have already been noted in another connection. The few instances which are given specific mention probably are only illustrations of a far more widespread ministry by the Holy Spirit. It is possible that such instances as the mention of Hiram of Tyre (1 Kgs 7:14) as one “filled with wisdom and understanding and cunning to work all works in brass,” may be taken to indicate a work of the Holy Spirit in enablement, as E. Y. Mullins holds.13 The thought of spiritual enablement in such cases does not exclude the idea of natural ability, but indicates both an act of providence in the bestowal of the natural ability latent in the individual and a special quickening to accomplish the task. While the natural is not excluded, the resultant is clearly supernatural and impossible without the enablement of the Holy Spirit.

A third aspect of the work of the Holy Spirit in this connection is found in occasional instances where physical strength is bestowed on certain individuals in such measure as to exceed the possible strength of the human body. The outstanding illustration, of course, is Samson, who during his life gave frequent illustrations of superhuman feats when the power of the Holy Spirit was upon him (Judg 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14). Because of persistent sin, his power was lost for a time, only to be regained in the final act of his life. Without doubt many of the feats of the Old Testament heroes were accomplished in the power of the Holy Spirit, though explicit reference is lacking.

The most important work of the Holy Spirit on behalf of man has already been discussed at length in the consideration of the work of the Holy Spirit in oral revelation and in prophecy, to which, possibly, can be added the work of inspiration of the Scriptures. In all these important fields of ministry, the powers of the human mind were exceeded by far in the enablement given by the Holy Spirit. The supernatural revelation, the prophetic gift, the spiritual wisdom displayed in the interpretation of dreams, the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit in the writing of the Scriptures are each severally most vital undertakings by the Holy Spirit. As in the other ministries of the Holy Spirit, these also were sovereign in their bestowal, by no means being available to all who sought them. While there are some indications of a universal ministry of the Holy Spirit (cf. Neh 9:20), and the invitation of Proverbs 1:23 to pour out the Holy Spirit on those who turn to God seems general, a close study of the Old Testament will reveal that these ministries were never universal, the benefits accruing from their operation being known only through the prophets and those who were chosen of God. Reserved for the New Testament are the peculiar benefits of grace in the universal indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the possibility of all spiritual fruit.

The work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is an important sphere of doctrine, not because it forms the pattern of His present undertaking, but because it reveals the need for His ministry in every age, and serves to indicate some of the principles which abide amidst all the dispensational distinctions revealed in the Scripture. In contrast, the age of grace shines with all the more brilliant luster, the exceeding abundance of all the ministries of the Spirit to all saints constituting a display of the grace of God such as the world has never seen before. As we contemplate the noble lives of so many of the Old Testament saints in spite of their more limited privilege, what a challenge arises to the Christian basking in all the fullness of spiritual privilege to yield himself utterly to the control of the Holy Spirit that in his life may be found all the full-orbed fruit of the Spirit!

Dallas, Texas

(To be continued in the January-March Number, 1941)

* * * * *

To know forgiveness of sins, and peace with God through faith in the Lord Jesus is very blessed. Most gracious it is of God to bring any soul to rest in the all-prevailing efficacy of that blood which was shed for sinners; but it is only the first lesson of the Cross of Christ-the beginning of the knowledge of the grace of God. The Scriptures present to the spiritual eye other lessons of most important truth in connection with the death of Christ, of a deeply practical kind. Those who have grown in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, find a remedy in the Cross for every soul-disease-a cordial for all soul-trouble-a continual admonition to walk in the Spirit, and enough to warrant their having the largest expectations from the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.-Selected.


This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library CD and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.


1 For a more extended treatment of the doctrine of inspiration, see Bibliotheca Sacra, October-December, 1937, pp. 389-409, and January-March, 1938, pp. 7-21.

2 The Inspiration of the Scriptures, p. 10.

3 Bibliotheca Sacra, October-December, 1937, p. 393.

4 The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, s.v., Inspiration, p. 1473.

5 Loc. cit.

6 Op. cit., p. 1474.

8 Studies in the Holy Spirit, p. 49. Quoted by permission of the publishers, Fleming H. Revell Company.

9 Op. cit., p. 1481.

10 A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit, p. 79.

11 The Work of the Holy Spirit, p. 46.

12 The Holy Spirit or Power From on High, Vol. I, pp. 148-150.

13 The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, s.v., Holy Spirit, p. 1407.