The Spirit and the Old Testament Saints

Did the person of the Holy Spirit indwell OT saints? If so, how? On the surface, it might seem so. However, a closer look at the OT passages reveals otherwise. All three occurrences of the phrase “Holy Spirit” in the OT (Psalms 51:11; Isaiah 63:10, 11) refer to God’s Holy Spirit. The Isaiah passages relate to the Shekinah Glory being in the midst of Israel.

Let us look at David’s plea, the remaining OT occurrence. After committing adultery with Bathsheba, murdering her husband Uriah, and being confronted by Nathan, David prayed:

Do not banish me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalms 51:11).

Undoubtedly, Psalm 51 is a Spirit motivated prayer to God. After confronted with the Word of God by the prophet Nathan, the Holy Spirit obviously convicted David’s conscience. He realized his own depravity from conception and his sin against God (verses 3-6).

1. David pleads for divine mercy, 1
2. David pleads for complete removal and cleansing of his sin, 2, 7, 9
3. David pleads for a pure heart created by God, 10
4. David pleads for a renewal of a steadfast spirit within him, 10
5. David pleads for the Holy Spirit not to be taken from him, 11
6. David pleads for the restoration of the joy of God’s salvation, 12
7. David pleads for the granting of a willing spirit to sustain him, 12

All the elements of a NT conversion are present in the confrontation of David with his sin and his prayer. Does this mean that David is saved the same as NT saints? Is David’s experience a foreshadowing of new birth from Pentecost A.D. 33? The first half of Psalm 51 moves out of the OT law into the realm of NT grace. In the rest of Psalm 51, however, David reiterated the terms of salvation under the Old Covenant. The transformation of the Corinthian believers, who were the work of Christ and the Spirit, is an example of salvation under the New Covenant.

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, recognized and read by everyone, since it is plain that you are Christ’s letter, produced by us, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God; not on stone tablets but on tablets that are hearts of flesh (2 Corinthians 3:2-3)

Therefore, we must presume that David’s plea appears to be for God not to leave him as He did with Samson (Judges 16:20) or Saul (1 Samuel 16:14). David’s plea, “Do not take your Holy Spirit from me,” cannot refer to loss of regeneration since regeneration does not occur in the OT saint; rather, it denotes the loss of the empowering or filling or ministry of the Spirit. Note how the Hebrew
parallelism equates the Holy Spirit with the presence of God in Psalm 139:7:

Where can I go to escape Your Spirit?

Where can I flee from Your presence?

Many English translations do not capitalize “spirit.” Hence, David’s desire might be for God’s spirit to continue to strive with him and work with him as the King of Israel; nothing more than God’s presence not being taken from him. Yet, the Spirit obviously interacted with David from the time he was anointed to be king of Israel.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward (1 Samuel 16:13 KJV).

Here “came” in Hebrew is xlu (tsalach), from a primary root denotes “to rush” or “break forth” with the idea to advance, prosper, make progress, succeed, or be profitable. Therefore, it does not appear that the Spirit of the LORD was upon David continuously or indwelt him in the NT sense of indwelling.

At first glance, it appears also that Joshua might have been indwelt by God’s Spirit, So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, {Or Spirit} and lay your hand on him” (Numbers 27:18 NIV).

The Lord then appointed Joshua to this office as a man “who had spirit.” xwr (spirit) does not mean “insight and wisdom” (Knobel), but the higher power inspired by God into the soul, which quickens the moral and religious life, and determines its development; in this case, therefore, it was the spiritual endowment requisite for the office he was called to fill (K &D 215).

It also appears that Saul might have been indwelt by God’s Spirit.

The Spirit of the LORD will control you, you will prophesy with them, and you will be transformed into a different person (1 Samuel 10:6).

“Transformed” (Kph haphak) can be translated “changed,” “converted,” or “turned.”

Shalt be turned into another man, i.e. thou shalt be suddenly endowed and acted with another spirit, filled with skill of Divine things, with courage, and wisdom, and magnanimity, and other qualifications befitting thy dignity (Matthew Poole’s Commentary of the Bible).

This transformation is not to be regarded as regeneration in the Christian sense, but as a change resembling regeneration, equipping Saul for his kingship and inspiring his prophesying.

In the OT, God’s Spirit or spirit interacted with men at times to fit them for special service.

1. For governing nations (Numbers 27:15-2)
2. For military leadership (Judges 3:10; 6:34-36)
3. For extraordinary feats of physical strength (Judges 14:5-6; 15:14-15)
4. For artistic workmanship (Exodus 31:4-5)
5. For literary and musical expression (2 Samuel 23:1-2)
6. For moral and spiritual courage (2 Chronicles 24:20-22)
7. For prophetic ministry (Numbers 24:2)

These spiritual abilities were for special service, they were not permanent, and they were not given to all OT saints. These spiritual abilities were not always related to moral and spiritual character as observed in the lives of Balaam, Samson and Saul. The Spirit of God moved men like Amasai to reassure David in a time of jeopardy (1 Chronicles 12:1-18). He came upon Azariah to call the people back to God during a time of apostasy (2 Chronicles 15:1-7). He moved Jahaziel to deliver a message of hope and reassurance when the Moabites and the Ammonites were a threat to Jehosphaphat and his people (2 Chronicles 20:1-17).

An argument is made that people in the OT times were commanded to obtain a new heart and a new spirit.

Throw off all the transgressions you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. Why should you die, house of Israel? (Ezekiel 18:31).

Therefore, Nicodemus should have understood being born of the Spirit (John 3:5) from the New Covenant passages in the OT. Hence, these passages suggest the OT believer was regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit was powerful in the OT; however, there was no redemptive work by the Holy Spirit in the OT. The outpourings of the Spirit were limited to tasks to be completed.

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