The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

The Holy Spirit is active during the Old Testament. At creation, we find that the Spirit of God is hovering above the waters. During the exodus from Egypt, the time of the first kings, and most notably during the ministry of the prophets, the Holy Spirit is active. But despite the wide ministry of the Holy Spirit during all of this period, what the Old Testament believers saw was just a small deposit of what was to come.

For example, in Numbers 11:17 we read that “God will take of the spirit that is on you [Moses] and put the spirit on them.” (The “them” are Israel’s elders.) God did exactly what he promised, and “when the spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again.” (11:25) The narrator goes on to tell us that two elders, Eldad and Medad, were not with the others. “Yet the spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp.” Moses, brushing aside Joshua’s concerns, exclaimed, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” (11:29)

This vignette from the Pentateuch illustrates perfectly the nature of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the Old Testament. 1) The event is exceptional: the Holy Spirit came on little more than a few hundred men in the thousands of years than encompass the Old Testament. 2) The event is transitory: the Holy Spirit came, then went.

And yet there was a hope (you might say a prophecy), that one day all of the Lord’s people would be prophets and the Lord would put His Spirit on them.
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Articles in this series:

  1. The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament <-- This article
  2. The Promised Holy Spirit – arrived!

Response to “To be continued?” #3

This is my third post in a response to Sam Waldron’s new book on cessationism called “To be continued?” (see part 1, part 2). The earlier posts dealt with my difficulties with Waldron’s basic premise, and particularly with his assertion that apostleship was a spiritual gift.

Waldron’s next section deals with prophets (over three chapters), and there are shorter sections on toungue-speakers and miracle-workers. I’ll deal with Waldron’s first chapter on Old Testament prophets here, and leave his thoughts on their continuation or cessation until a later time.

Old Testament Prophets

In dealing with the New Testament gift of prophecy, Waldron rightly emphasises that we must start with a proper understanding of prophecy in the Old Testament, and he suspects that most continuationists have a “superficial view of prophecy” (pp 48-9).

In defining Old Testament prophecy he looks to Exodus 4:10-17 and 7:1-2, and “together these passages teach us that a prophet was the mouth of spokesman of God”. He says from Deuteronomy 13:1-5 and 18:15-22 that there were two tests of a prophet. 1) whether “he led the people away from the revelation of the true God that had been given to them by Moses” (ie orthodoxy). 2) “if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken.” Waldron is clear that the latter two must be applied, though he seems to be less sure what we should do with the “signs and wonders” test from Deuteronomy 13. I found this particularly surprising given his insistence that New Testament miraculous gifts were signs affirming apostles, but I guess his difficulty stems from the fact that false prophets could pass this test.
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Articles in this series:

  1. Response to “To be continued?” #1
  2. Response to “To be continued?” #2
  3. Response to “To be continued?” #3 <-- This article