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2. Putting Pentecost in Perspective (Part 1) The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (Acts 2:1-13)


The “coming” of the Holy Spirit is very much like the account of the birth of our Lord in Luke. It is a key event depicted at the beginning of the Book of Acts which sets the stage for what follows. If the ministry of Jesus in the Book of Luke is the outflow of His birth (His incarnation), then the ministry of our Lord through the church in the Book of Acts is the outflow of the descent of the Spirit in Acts 2. What a marvelous passage we have come to.

And yet, sadly enough, we have come to one of the great battlegrounds of evangelical Christians. When one begins to talk about “the Holy Spirit” and “Pentecost,” almost any group will begin to polarize into “pro-charismatic” and “anti-charismatic” segments. As we approach Pentecost in our study, let us be mindful of our predispositions. Let us seek, as much as possible, to let the text shape our thinking on Pentecost rather than to allow our thinking to “reshape” or distort the text. And let us rely on the Holy Spirit, who alone can teach us the true meaning of our text. Let us also seek to preserve the “unity of the Spirit” as we consider this passage. Too many of us come to this text to prove something rather than to learn something. Let us seek to be learners.

As I have approached this passage, I have been puzzled by something which our Lord said, not once, but twice. When He instructed His disciples to wait for the Holy Spirit, He spoke of the Spirit as “the promise of the Father” (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4). It is clear that Jesus spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit on several occasions (cf. Luke 11:13; 12:12; John 7:37-39; 14-16; 20:22). Why then did Jesus not tell the disciples to wait for the Spirit He promised? I believe the reason is because our Lord wished the disciples to see the coming of the Holy Spirit to have been that which was promised long before He came. If the Holy Spirit was promised by the Father, then the Holy Spirit was promised by the Old Testament. Our Lord could only reiterate a promise already made, a promise made by the Father. Indeed, in the Gospel of John, Jesus emphasized that it would be the Father who would send the Spirit to them (cf. John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:23-28).

It is my conviction that an accurate understanding of Pentecost is essential to our understanding of the Book of Acts. Thus, the exposition of this short passage will be protracted into several lessons. My desire is to first look to the Scriptures to shape our perspective of Pentecost, as depicted here. Second, it is my hope that Pentecost, rightly understood, would shape our own perspective of the role of the Holy Spirit in the church, in our day and time, and in our own personal walk with the Lord.

This lesson will be devoted to a study of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. If the Holy Spirit’s coming was a matter of the Father’s promise, then that promise should be clearly indicated in the Old Testament. We will look in this lesson at the ways in which the Holy Spirit worked in and through men, and then we shall look at the prophecies of the Old Testament related to the Holy Spirit and His coming, which commenced at Pentecost. The next lesson will focus on the Holy Spirit in the Gospels, in the life of our Lord Jesus and in others. We will also look at those promises of the Holy Spirit which we find in the Gospels. Then, and only then, we shall turn our attention to the text at hand and to the description and explanation of it which is recorded. We will further look at Pentecost in relationship to the three other “Pentecosts” which are found later in Acts 8, 10, and 19. Finally, we will attempt to view Pentecost from the vantage point of the Epistles.

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

Some Christians seem to think that the Holy Spirit was a stranger to the Old Testament and to the Old Testament saint. In reality, the Spirit of God is much more quickly evident than the second person of the Trinity, the Son of God. A look at a concordance will quickly indicate this. The Holy Spirit first occurs in the second verse of the Bible, Genesis 1:2, actively involved in the creation of the earth. Shortly thereafter in Genesis 6, the Holy Spirit is said to be involved with creation and specifically with men, in striving with them due to their sin. In the closing books of the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is frequently mentioned, that last clear reference being found in Malachi 2:15.

Let us consider a number of the passages in which the Holy Spirit is mentioned. Let us look to the ways in which the Spirit worked in the days of old, and let us (later on) compare these with the work of the Spirit in the New Testament times, as well as in our own. I believe we will see a great deal of continuity.4

The Holy Spirit as the Source of Life

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2).

The spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life (Job 33:4).

When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth (Psalm 104:30).

The Holy Spirit is described as creative, life-giving, and life-sustaining. Is it any wonder that in the New Testament He would be similarly described (cf. John 3:5-8; 6:63; 2 Corinthians 3:6)?

The Holy Spirit Strives with Men

Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years” (Genesis 6:3).

The Holy Spirit as a Teacher and Guide

You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst (Nehemiah 9:20; cf. also 9:30).

But it is the Spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding (Job 32:8).

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground (Psalm 143:10).

The Holy Spirit as the Manifestation of God’s Presence

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me (Psalm 51:11).

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (Psalm 139:7).

But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear’ (Haggai 2:4-5).

The Holy Spirit’s Special Relationship with Israel

You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst (Nehemiah 9:20).

For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you handed them over to the neighboring peoples (Nehemiah 9:30).

By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord, and trouble came to Moses because of them; for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips (Psalm 106:32-33).

“Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine, Forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin; who go down to Egypt without consulting me; who look for help to Pharaoh’s protection, to Egypt’s shade for refuge” (Isaiah 30:1-2).

Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them. Then his people recalled the days of old, the days of Moses and his people—where is he who brought them through the sea, with the shepherd of his flock? Where is he who set his Holy Spirit among them, who sent his glorious arm of power to be at Moses’ right hand, who divided the waters before them, to gain for himself everlasting renown, who led them through the depths? Like a horse in open country, they did not stumble; like cattle that go down to the plain, they were given rest by the Spirit of the Lord. This is how you guided your people to make for yourself a glorious name (Isaiah 63:10-14).

“But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry (Zechariah 7:11-12).

The Holy Spirit Filled and Empowered Men in the Old Testament

A. Craftsmen, Artists, Designers, Builders:

Bezalel (and others, involved with tabernacle furnishings):

And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts (Exodus 31:3).

Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic craftsmanship. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as craftsmen, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them master craftsmen and designers. So Bezalel, Oholiab and every skilled person to whom the LORD has given skill and ability to know how to carry out all the work of constructing the sanctuary are to do the work just as the LORD has commanded” (Exodus 35:30–36:1).

David (design of the temple):

He gave him the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind for the courts of the temple of the Lord and all the surrounding rooms, for the treasuries of the temple of God and for the treasuries for the dedicated things (1 Chronicles 28:12).

B. Administrators and Leaders (including kings):


So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” (Genesis 41:38).

Moses and the 70 Elders who help him:

17 “I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.” … 25 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again. 26 However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the Tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. 29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:17, 25-29).


So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay your hand on him (Numbers 27:18).

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses (Deuteronomy 34:9).


The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you” (1 Samuel 10:6-7).5

When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying (1 Samuel 10:10).

When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger (1 Samuel 11:6).

Saul and his men—preventing them from doing harm to David, God’s anointed:

When David had fled and made his escape, he went to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. Then he and Samuel went to Naioth and stayed there. 19 Word came to Saul: “David is in Naioth at Ramah”; 20 so he sent men to capture him. But when they saw a group of prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing there as their leader, the Spirit of God came upon Saul’s men and they also prophesied. 21 Saul was told about it, and he sent more men, and they prophesied too. Saul sent men a third time, and they also prophesied. 22 Finally, he himself left for Ramah and went to the great cistern at Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” “Over in Naioth at Ramah,” they said. 23 So Saul went to Naioth at Ramah. But the Spirit of God came even upon him, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth. 24 He stripped off his robes and also prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay that way all that day and night. This is why people say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Samuel 19:18-24).


13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah. 14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him (1 Samuel 16:13-14).

“The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue (2 Samuel 23:2; cf. also Acts 1:16; 4:25).

C. The Judges of Israel:


The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him (Judges 3:10).


Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him (Judges 6:34).


Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites (Judges 11:29).


And the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol (Judges 13:25).

6 The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done… 19 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of their belongings and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he went up to his father’s house (Judges 14:6, 19).

As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands (Judges 15:14).

D. The Prophets:


When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him (Numbers 24:2).

Elijah and Elisha:

I don’t know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you. If I go and tell Ahab and he doesn’t find you, he will kill me. Yet I your servant have worshiped the Lord since my youth (1 Kings 18:12).

9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your Spirit,” Elisha replied.… 13 He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. “Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over. 15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The Spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him (2 Kings 2:9, 13-15).

But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants? (2 Kings 5:26).


“Come near me and listen to this: “From the first announcement I have not spoken in secret; at the time it happens I am there.” And now the Sovereign LORD has sent me, with his Spirit. This is what the LORD says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go” (Isaiah 48:16-17).


He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day” (Ezekiel 2:1-3; cf. also 3:12, 14, 24; 11:1, 5, 24; 13:3; 43:5).


8 Finally, Daniel came into my presence and I told him the dream. (He is called Belteshazzar, after the name of my god, and the spirit of the holy gods is in him.) 9 I said, “Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you, and no mystery is too difficult for you. Here is my dream; interpret it for me (Daniel 4:8-9).

“This is the dream that I, King Nebuchadnezzar, had. Now, Belteshazzar, tell me what it means, for none of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you” (Daniel 4:18).

There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father—your father the king, I say—appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. 14 I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom (Daniel 5:11).


“Do not prophesy,” their prophets say. “Do not prophesy about these things: disgrace will not overtake us.” Should it be said, O house of Jacob: “Is the Spirit of the Lord angry?

Does he do such things?” (Micah 2:6-7)

“But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8).

E. Others, Who Spoke to Men for God:


Then the Spirit came upon Amasai, chief of the Thirty, and he said: “We are yours, O David! We are with you, O son of Jesse! Success, success to you, and success to those who help you, for your God will help you.” So David received them and made them leaders of his raiding bands (1 Chronicles 12:18).


The Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded (2 Chronicles 15:1).


Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly (2 Chronicles 20:14).


Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, “This is what God says: ‘Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you’” (2 Chronicles 24:20).

The Holy Spirit in Prophecies Concerning Israel’s Future


The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire. Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over all the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain (Isaiah 4:4-6).

5 In that day the Lord Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people. 6 He will be a spirit of justice to him who sits in judgment, a source of strength to those who turn back the battle at the gate. 7 And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions. 8 All the tables are covered with vomit and there is not a spot without filth (Isaiah 28:5-8).

12 Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields, for the fruitful vines 13 and for the land of my people, a land overgrown with thorns and briers—yes, mourn for all houses of merriment and for this city of revelry. 14 The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks, 15 till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest. 16 Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field. 17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. 18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. 19 Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, 20 how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free (Isaiah 32:12-20).

1 “But now listen, O Jacob, my servant, Israel, whom I have chosen. 2 This is what the Lord says—he who made you, who formed you in the womb, and who will help you: Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. 3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants. 4 They will spring up like grass in a meadow, like poplar trees by flowing streams. 5 One will say, ‘I belong to the Lord’; another will call himself by the name of Jacob; still another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and will take the name Israel (Isaiah 44:1-5).

20 “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the Lord. 21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord. “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever,” says the Lord (Isaiah 59:20-21).


“They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose hearts are devoted to their vile images and detestable idols, I will bring down on their own heads what they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 11:18-21).

“Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live! (Ezekiel 18:30-32).

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. 23 I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. 24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. 30 I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. 32 I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign Lord. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, O house of Israel! (Ezekiel 36:22-32).

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” … Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord’” (Ezekiel 37:1-3a,11-14).

I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 39:29).


28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. 32 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the survivors whom the Lord calls (Joel 2:28-32).


3 ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? 4 But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 5 ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’ 6 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. 8 ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. 9 ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (Haggai 2:3-9).


6 So he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. 7 “What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!’” 8 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 9 “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you (Zechariah 4:6-9).

I looked up again—and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze! The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled—all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?” The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.” When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth. Then he called to me, “Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north” (Zechariah 6:1-8).

10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. 11 On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great, like the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves: the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives, 13 the clan of the house of Levi and their wives, the clan of Shimei and their wives, 14 and all the rest of the clans and their wives (Zechariah 12:10-14).

1 “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity. 2 “On that day, I will banish the names of the idols from the land, and they will be remembered no more,” declares the Lord Almighty. “I will remove both the prophets and the spirit of impurity from the land. 3 And if anyone still prophesies, his father and mother, to whom he was born, will say to him, ‘You must die, because you have told lies in the Lord’s name.’ When he prophesies, his own parents will stab him. 4 “On that day every prophet will be ashamed of his prophetic vision. He will not put on a prophet’s garment of hair in order to deceive. 5 He will say, ‘I am not a prophet. I am a farmer; the land has been my livelihood since my youth.’ 6 If someone asks him, ‘What are these wounds on your body?’ he will answer, ‘The wounds I was given at the house of my friends.’ 7 “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the Lord Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. 8 In the whole land,” declares the Lord, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. 9 This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God’” (Zechariah 13:1-9).

The Holy Spirit will Empower Messiah


1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist (Isaiah 11:1-5).

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations (Isaiah 42:1).

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor (Isaiah 61:1-3).

Listed above are those references in which the Spirit of God is clearly identified as such. There could also be many other texts in which the ministry of the Spirit is clearly implied or referred to, but using other terms than that of the Spirit of God. From these references, however, let us attempt to draw some conclusions about the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Next, we will attempt to draw together some general conclusions as to the future ministry of the Spirit, as predicted by the Old Testament prophets. This will serve as a foundation for our next study of the ministry of the Holy Spirit as depicted in the Gospels.

The Old Testament Ministry of the Holy Spirit

The Old Testament Ministry of the Holy Spirit

The first thing we should note is that the term, “Holy Spirit,” seldom occurs in the Old Testament. Actually it is found only three times; once in Psalm 51:11, and twice in Isaiah 63:10-14. The most frequently used terms or expressions for the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament are:

  • the Spirit of the Lord
  • my Spirit
  • the Spirit
  • the Spirit of God
  • the spirit of … (Judgment, fire, justice, etc.)
  • your Spirit

In nearly all of these cases, the reference to the Holy Spirit is clear, although there are some instances where the Holy Spirit and the human “spirit” seem almost to merge, so that the Holy Spirit is referred to as the “Spirit of Elijah” (cf. 2 Kings 2:9-15). This is also the case with the “Spirit” which was on Moses, which also came upon the seventy elders who were to help him (Numbers 11:17-29). If there were any doubt in our minds as to whether or not the “Spirit” of the Old Testament were the same person as the “Holy Spirit” in the New, all we need to do is to read the inspired New Testament references to the Holy Spirit’s work in the Old Testament, both by our Lord (cf. Matthew 22:43; Mark 12:36), and by the apostles and others (cf. Acts 1:16; 4:25; 7:51; Hebrews 3:7; 2 Peter 1:21).

Regardless of the infrequency of the precise term, “Holy Spirit,” the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament times is much more prominent than one would suppose, apart from a consideration of the many texts referring to Him. The Spirit of God is almost immediately introduced in the Book of Genesis (1:2), and He becomes a frequent focus in the writings of the prophets. The Holy Spirit had a significant role in the creation of the world (Genesis 1:2) and in striving with sinful men (Genesis 6:3). He inspired men who revealed God to men, either in word, or in work. He instructed and guided men, especially the nation Israel. The Spirit of God instructed and guided not only the nation Israel as a whole, but men individually (e.g. David, 1 Samuel 16:13-14; Psalm 143:10). He enabled and empowered men to do that which was humanly impossible (e.g., the judges of Israel). He manifested not only the power of God through men (Isaiah 63:10-14) but the presence of God among men (Psalm 51:11; 139:7; Haggai 2:4-5). It seems as well that the Holy Spirit was the instrument through whom the glory of God was manifested (cf. Haggai 2:3-9).

The Holy Spirit therefore appears to be the agency through which God most often worked. God used men to reveal His will and His word (e.g. the prophets), but these men were inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit so that the words they spoke were clearly the “Word of the Lord.” When men spoke in the Spirit, they spoke for God. When men disobeyed the Word of God, they were regarded as having not only resisted God, but His Spirit as well (Nehemiah 9:20, 30; Psalm 106:33; Isaiah 30:1-2; 63:10-14; Zechariah 7:11-12; cf. Acts 7:51).

It is noteworthy, I believe, to see that the Spirit’s coming upon men was the sovereign choice of God, rather than God’s response to the initiative of men. Generally speaking, men did not expect the Spirit of God to come upon them, nor did they do anything to prompt it. It happened. God took the initiative, and men responded accordingly. There is clearly no “pattern” for those who would wish to find some method or formula for obtaining the Spirit’s power. Men did not dispose of God or of His Spirit; rather God disposed of men, using His Spirit to do so.

The Spirit’s coming upon men in the Old Testament is not always the same. In some instances, the Spirit’s descent upon men seems to have been permanent, perhaps signaled by some unusual manifestation. The seventy elders of Israel, for example, manifested the Spirit’s coming upon them initially but not again, in an unusual way. In the case of Saul, the Spirit that was given was also taken from him when the kingdom was taken away. Samson is one on whom the Spirit came only at certain times. Thus, we cannot find a rigid pattern for the way in which the Spirit came upon men.

The Spirit’s coming upon men was, as a rule, not the result of their great spirituality nor did it necessarily result in spirituality. That is to say, when the Spirit came upon men, they possessed supernatural ability (or power). That power or ability was not unlimited but generally was limited to certain tasks, abilities, or functions. That power did not necessarily make the recipient more spiritual. Samson, for example, was “overcome” by the Holy Spirit, but his life was a moral disaster. He was a man, not dominated by the Holy Spirit—he was not a spiritual man—but a man dominated by his own flesh, or more pointedly, he was dominated by foreign women. Saul was not a greatly spiritual man before the coming of the Spirit upon him nor was he so afterwards. Balaam was a man who is perplexing, because we are not even certain that he was a true believer in God, even though he could not but speak for God when the Spirit of God came upon Him. Thus we could say that men possessed by or filled with God’s Spirit did that which they would not and could not ordinarily do. The control of the Spirit assured that God’s work would be done through men but not because of man’s abilities or inclinations.

This is dramatically illustrated in the life of Saul, the king of Israel and later on the enemy of David. Although Saul was a physical giant, he was far from self-confident or assertive (cf. 1 Samuel 10:20-24). When the Spirit came upon Saul initially, it was to endue him with power in order to reign as Israel’s king. Due to Saul’s sin, the kingdom was taken away from him and so was the Spirit. In place of the Holy Spirit came an “evil spirit from the Lord” (1 Samuel 16:14). In 1 Samuel 19 (18-24) we read of a most interesting “filling” of the Holy Spirit. Saul knew that his kingdom had been taken away and that David would replace him. He sought to capture David and to kill him. When he sent a party of men to apprehend David, these men were overcome by the Spirit so that they prophesied, rather than to carry out their duty of arresting David. (I cannot help but wonder whether these men prophesied about the coming kingdom of David, the one God had appointed and Saul had anointed.) Two other arresting parties were dispatched to arrest David, and the same thing happened to them. Finally, Saul went himself, only to experience the same overwhelming power of God’s Spirit. How different it was this time, as opposed to his previous “filling.” Then, it was evidence that God was with him and that God’s power enabled him to carry out his task as the king of Israel. But in this second instance, Saul was virtually immobilized and also made to look the fool, which he was. The Spirit was upon Saul, but not in the way anyone would wish. The Spirit simply overcame Saul so as to keep him from carrying out his evil intent.

I infer several additional factors related to the passages at which we have looked. The first is that the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (like the New) was necessitated by the nature of God and the nature of man. God is infinitely above men, so that man would never think God’s thoughts apart from a divine work of God in man (which is what the Spirit did and what He continues to do). Beyond this, men would not be able to accomplish God’s purposes, even if we comprehended them and were committed to achieving them. God’s work is a divine work and thus the need for divine power. Even men of faith have a limited grasp of God’s ways, and they also have limited power. Thus, the ministry of the Spirit was necessitated by the greatness of God and by the ignorance and impotence of men. The Holy Spirit was God’s way of assuring that His will was accomplished in the world, through men.

Related to this, I believe, is the element of representation. One of the common threads or themes I see in these Old Testament passages is that God “filled” (you may use a different term if you prefer) men with His Spirit when men would represent Him in some way, by word or work, and thus they would have to be empowered by His Spirit so as to accurately reflect and represent Him. When prophets spoke or wrote under the influence and control of the Holy Spirit, they could rightly say, “Thus saith the Lord.” When leaders like Moses and David led, the Spirit’s control and power over them enabled them to lead as though God were leading men through them (which He was).

This applies to the craftsmen, like Bezalel and Oholiab. It may seem strange to say this, but I am convinced it is true. The best representation of God that man can create is but an idol. The golden calf of Aaron was intended to represent the God of Israel who led them out of Egypt (Exodus 32:4), but it was only an idol, a distorted representation of God. When the tabernacle, and later on the temple, were built, those items of furniture and symbolic representation could only reflect God if God Himself created them. Thus, His Spirit gave Bezalel and Oholiab the skill to create those things which would accurately represent God. Even though these men appear to have been the finest craftsmen of their time, their natural abilities were inadequate. So too when David designed the temple, God worked through him with His Spirit so that the temple would reflect the God of heaven and not the distorted conceptions of God which men had.

One of the Holy Spirit’s tasks was to accomplish divine communication from God to men, such as the empowering of the prophets. Another task was an illuminating and teaching ministry which enabled men to understand that which God had revealed in the Scriptures. David, in the psalms, seems to be especially sensitive to this ministry. Thus, when he prays that God would “open his eyes” to behold wondrous things from God’s law (Psalm 119:18), I believe he was praying for the teaching and illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit.

When the people of Israel willfully turned their backs on God and rebelled against His Word, they grieved His Holy Spirit. As a result, as I understand it, the Spirit ceased to illumine them to the meaning of the law, except through the prophets, from time to time. Men ceased to read God’s law in terms of its “spirit” (conveyed by the Spirit), but rather in terms only of its “letter.” It is no wonder that the kinds of interpretation we see the religious leaders holding in the Gospels was the order of the day. The Savior’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount was not the overturning of the Law (which He came to fulfill, not to put away), but the interpretation of the Law as God had always intended it—in terms of its spirit, and not just of its letter (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6). Unbelief and disobedience led to a perversion of the written Word of God, because the teaching of the Spirit ceased when He was grieved.

When I consider the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, I am taken aback by the prominence of the third person of the Trinity. While the Spirit of God may not be clearly distinguished from God, so that the doctrine of the Trinity was crystal clear, He is described as being God, and as the agency which God used to accomplish His purposes in the world. The frequency of the references to the Holy Spirit is much greater than I expected and the extent of His ministry much broader. The similarities of His ministry between the Old Testament economy and that of the New Testament times are great. It will be our task to determine at a later time just how the ministry of the Spirit in the New Testament was distinct or different from that which He had in the Old. For now, let us move on to a consideration of the characteristics of those prophecies pertaining to a future work of the Spirit, as found in the Old Testament.

The Future Ministry of the Holy Spirit

The ongoing work of the Holy Spirit throughout the Old Testament provides us with a great deal of information as to what the ministry of the Holy Spirit might be in the future. If God is consistent, which He is, then He can be expected not only to remain the same but to work in similar ways. Thus, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament times and beyond could be expected to be similar to that which we have seen as characteristic of His Old Testament ministry. But we are not left to our own estimation as to what His future role might be. The Old Testament prophets had much to say about the future of the nation Israel. A significant role in Israel’s future was to be played by the Holy Spirit. Thus, there is a great deal of prophetic emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in the days to come for the nation Israel, as well as for men and women of every nation. I will seek to summarize some of the characteristics of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in Israel’s future, as it is depicted by the prophets themselves in the texts cited above.

The first thing which becomes clear as one reads the prophets concerning Israel’s future hope is that the Holy Spirit would play a vital role in the “new age” which was yet to come for the people of God. Thus, many of the prophecies concerning Israel’s future hope contained promises pertaining to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The work of the Spirit as described by the prophets does not seem to be utterly new and different from that which the Spirit had been doing throughout the Old Testament times, but an expansion of that ministry.

The role of the Holy Spirit in the fulfillment of Israel’s future hope has at least three major areas of involvement, each of which has its own facets. The Holy Spirit’s ministry involves: (1) the nation Israel; (2) the Messiah; and (3) the nations. It should be remembered that in each of these areas a number of elements are described and foretold, but these were not understood by the Israelites as a whole or even by their prophets (cf. 1 Peter 1:10-12). It is really only in light of the fulfillment of these prophecies that we can see the wisdom of God in precisely carrying out what we cannot even understand. Let us look briefly at each of these three areas.

The Holy Spirit and the Nation Israel

The prophets made it clear that the coming kingdom which God had promised and for which they looked by faith (cf. Hebrews 11) was one that would be inaugurated by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (cf. Isaiah 32;12-20; 44:1-5; 59:20-21; Ezekiel 36:22-32; 37:11-14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-32, etc.). Among the ministries which the Holy Spirit would perform were the following (I will put them in the order in which I understand them to have been fulfilled, or in which they will be fulfilled, although the Old Testament saints were not aware of this order at the time):

First, the Holy Spirit would deal with Israel’s rebellion and sin. The first aspect of the Spirit’s ministry had to do with judgment, not salvation. Thus, Joel (chapter 2) and Zechariah (12:10–13:9) speak of the Spirit’s ministry of bringing Israel to repentance by causing them to understand that they had rejected and crucified God’s Messiah. It is because of this that, “They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son” (Zechariah 12:10).

Second, Israel will be cleansed of her sin. This is closely related to the first aspect of the Spirit’s ministry. Before cleansing can be achieved, repentance is necessary, which is the first step. The prophets spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit in close proximity with the cleansing of Israel. Ezekiel 36:25 and Zechariah 13:1 speak very clearly of this cleansing of Israel, although no one knew exactly how this would be accomplished.

Third, the Holy Spirit would renew Israel by giving them a new spirit, a new heart. Ezekiel is the prophet who spoke most of this matter of a “new heart” (cf. Ezekiel 11:18-21; 18:30-32; 36:22-32). The problem with Israel was not the law which they had been given, but their hearts. God promised, through His Spirit, to give His people a new heart, a heart which would dispose His people to love and to keep His laws, and thus to pave the way for the pouring out of His blessings on His people (cf. especially Ezekiel 36:26-32). The new covenant of which God spoke did not set aside the standards of the old, but rather granted men forgiveness of sins, and the enablement to live in accordance with God’s standards, not to earn their salvation but to live it out in a way that honored God.

Fourth, the Holy Spirit’s ministry was very closely linked with a resurrection of the dead, so that God’s promises to Israel might be fulfilled. Ezekiel 37 is a most fascinating text, for it not only speaks of God putting His Spirit in His people so that they would live (verse 14), but this is said immediately after the promise that the “dead bones” of the “whole house of Israel” would be raised. That this was referring to a literal resurrection is clear from the fact that God promised to open their graves and bring His people up from them. Thus, the ministry of the Spirit in Israel’s future is closely linked with the resurrection of dead Israelites.

The Holy Spirit and Israel’s Messiah

Mysteriously intertwined with the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the achieving of Israel’s hope was the ministry of Israel’s Messiah. That which the Messiah did was said to be accomplished in the power of the Spirit. Notice these three aspects of the future ministry of Messiah and how the ministry of the Spirit is associated with them.

First, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to Messiah would empower His life and ministry. Isaiah 61 is especially clear on this matter, because this is the text which our Lord Himself cited at the outset of His public ministry and which He said was fulfilled in the hearing of His audience (cf. Luke 4:14-21). The Lord’s public ministry commenced with His baptism by John, and with His being endued with power from on high by the Holy Spirit, who descended visibly upon Him.

Second, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to Messiah would accomplish the atonement for the sin of the world and thus inaugurate the new covenant, on which the kingdom of God was based. The ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to this is not as clear in the Old Testament, but it is hinted at in texts such as Isaiah 42:1 and 52:13–53:12. The wisdom which Messiah is said to manifest (52:13) is that which comes, as I understand it, from the Spirit (cf. 40:13; 11:1-5). The writer to the Hebrews clearly links the atoning sacrifice of our Lord with the ministry of the Holy Spirit when he wrote,

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14)

Third, the Holy Spirit will grant the Messiah the wisdom and power necessary to judge the world, to overthrow the wicked, and to reign in justice and righteousness. Isaiah 11:1-5 speaks of the “Spirit of the Lord” who will rest on Messiah, who will be a “Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, and power.” This wisdom and power is that by which Messiah will reign in righteousness and peace.

The Holy Spirit’s Ministry
and the Salvation of the Gentiles

There remains yet one final facet of the Holy Spirit’s ministry with respect to the hope of Israel, and that is the salvation which the Holy Spirit will bring not only to Israelites, but to people of every tongue and nation and tribe. When Jesus first presented Himself to Israel as their Messiah, as recorded in Luke 4, He was quick to point out to these Jews that the blessings He came, in the Spirit, to bring to them, He came to bring to the Gentiles as well. This was most unacceptable to these Jews, as Luke’s account makes very clear, but it was a part of the purpose of God announced long before by the prophets, who spoke of the Spirit of God coming upon people of all nations, and not just the Jews. Of those texts which speak of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Gentiles, Joel 2 (cf. “all people,” verse 28), Haggai 2 (cf. “all nations,” verse 7), and Isaiah 66:18-24 make it clear that God’s salvation and His Spirit will be poured out on the Gentiles, as well as on the Jews.


We have only begun to scratch the surface of these Old Testament texts, but it is enough too see that the ministry of the Holy Spirit in Israel’s history, and the promises of the prophets of Israel pertaining to His future ministry, provide us with a firm foundation for approaching Pentecost in Acts 2, which Peter will explain to the Jewish spectators as a fulfillment of the promise of the Old Testament prophets, and which Jesus spoke of as the “promise of the Father.” Before we proceed to Pentecost, however, we must first consider the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. This will be the subject of our next lesson.

4 Allow me to make a suggestion for your personal study of the Holy Spirit in both the Old and New Testaments. Look up all the references to the Holy Spirit, and then seek to categorize in each the work which He is said to perform. Mark a chart with two columns, the left being for those categories of work which are described in the Old Testament; the right being those categories described in the New. See if there is not a great similarity between the two columns.

5 There is an interesting reversal here. Here, God bestowed the Spirit on Saul but commanded him to wait for seven days, until He instructed him as to what to do. After His resurrection, our Lord told the disciples what they were to do (e.g. the Great Commission), but instructed them to wait for the Holy Spirit to empower them. I conclude, therefore, that there are times when we have the “plan,” but must wait for the “power,” and there are other times when we might have the “power,” but we must wait for the “plan.”

Related Topics: History, Pneumatology (The Holy Spirit)

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