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.

Here today, gone tomorrow

The historical books continue these themes. We read of the Spirit of the Lord coming up on selected leaders of God’s people, such as Othniel (Judges 3:10), Gideon (6:34), Jephthah (11:29), and others. Each time the spirit came, it came on just one man who immediately went on to complete a mighty act requiring power or wisdom, or to speak a prophetic word. Occasionally the spirit would come on the same individual on more than one occasion. Samson had such an experience on at least three occasions (Judges 14:6, 14:19, 15:14), as did Saul (1 Samuel 10:10, 11:6, 19:23).

In the Psalms, the Holy Spirit is just fleetingly described. But we learn that the Spirit is synonymous with the presence of God (51:11, 139:7), and His work involves re-creation (104:30) and guidance (143:10).

It’s not until we get to the major prophets that we start to discover more. Isaiah speaks of the Spirit resting on Messiah (11:2). God confirms “I will put my Spirit on him” (42:1, cf. 61:1), and later “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth…” (59:21). The Spirit also linked to the end of judgement and the beginning of blessing, as Isaiah prophesies of judgement which will continue “till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high” (32:15, cf. 44:3). All this is a far cry from what’s gone before. Just look at the terrifically powerful verbs Isaiah uses. The Spirit who came and went from a handful of Israel’s leaders will rest on Messiah, and be poured out on God’s people.

Ezekiel tells us that under the new covenant God’s people will have a new spirit (11:19, 36:26). We soon find out this is actually God’s Spirit (36:27) who will bring holiness, and even life itself (37:14). Again God promises that “I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel” (39:29).

This cry is taken up by Joel (2:28-9) who adds more detail. This pouring out will produce prophecy, and will impact young and old, and even both male and female. Again, this is a long way from what has been experienced until then – tiny drops of the Spirit’s blessing impacting men (no women are explictly said to have experienced the Spirit in the Old Testament), and only elders and leaders.

Clearly, God is going to do something big. But not yet. We must not rush into the New Testament without reminding ourselves that there is a four hundred year gap between Malachi and Matthew. Four hundred years characterised by one thing above all others: the complete absence of the Spirit. In the words of the Jewish Midrash “With the death of the last prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the holy spirit departed from Israel”.

Articles in this series:

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


  1. Bag-Of-Hammers says

    Around the world, THe Holy Spirit has come in the form of totem animals. just as it did with Jesus and the Dove. The Holy Spirit is, and comes through to us through the Chakras, which is taught in ancient far eastern phylosophy. It comes unto you when you become enlightened to the phylosophy that there is a spirit that travels at well past the speed of light, making the entire universe infinately small, where everything is all in one place at all times. The Holy Spirit is the media we call Heaven. You also need to understand the phylosophy that you can die and come back to life spiritually. I think the reason for Israel missing out on the HS is because they teach that God is too jealous to listen to sources of wisdom of spirituality, like far easter phylosophy, and simply speaking openly about the spirit got you stoned to death.

    • Oh my, ms/mr Bag-of-Hammers – Just so we are clear here – whatever you are talking about, it is not describing the Holy Spirit that the article above was talking about. Nor is it remotely biblical from either an OT or NT perspective; it does not echoe the Jewish prophets and/or patriarchs, Christ’s or His apostles’ teachings, nor the church fathers and reputable theologians of history in any part of the Christian church, and it certainly has no place in the Church of Jesus, or the Christian Faith. Seriously, my friend, may I suggest that you take a course on Sytematic Theology at a reputable Seminary or Christian university and you will see what I mean. The topic you’d want to study is called Pneumatology.

      • I Am The Rider says

        You are far too much OT. If you think it was God speaking to Moses through the HS while Moses assembled his band of thugs to stone to death an innocent man for picking up sticks on Moses’s sabbath, you are loony. Moses murders, and commits genocide wile framing God for it all. When the Jews wanted Jesus dead, they needed sanctioning, and they didn’t have to look far, as Moses targets anyone who even resembles Jesus, as healing or picking grain on the sabbath, and walking the streets teaching of God in any way outside of Moses’s crazy ways is punishable BY DEATH! Moses killed Jesus, and he is responsible for Islam and every other regime led by a “Prophet of God”, and you want to go around teaching that it was God qand the Holy Spirit who had those innocent people murdered. The Holy Spirit will introduce you to the truth about Jesus and God in Heaven and AWAY from the evil, psychotic “God” of the OT. I am the Rider of Revelations as I throw the false, lying Prophet into the lake of fire, and I suggest you do the same for your own sanity, and for the love of God. Listen the the Holy Spirit as it will tell you of a God who loves you eternally, EXACTLY as the Buddha does.

  2. I Am The Rider says

    I Am the Rider is bag-of-hammers btw.

  3. I Am The Rider says

    I would reccomend reading the Tebetan Book Of The Dead. The wisdom of the Buddha was such that he knew that to help someone going through a spiritual(or otherwise) rebirth, it take guidance and compassion. Christians absorb the deity of Christ, taking him into their hearts while on the cross, and they have Christ as their source of guidance and compassion through the very same death-to-life in-betweens. If you take Moses to influence, you undoubtedly deem all far eastern phylosophy as paganistic works of Satan, which is one of the worst lies you could ever tell. The Jews need break the chains of their “covenant” with Moses and his God. It keeps them imprisoned, and it got Jesus killed.

  4. I AM Rider,

    The OT Law was based on a theocratic legalistic system. Moses only did what he knew to do based on the Law. To fully understand this, you need to have a grasp on the different dispensation periods throughout history. We are under Grace today, which is not legalistic, but spiritual. If you recall in the OT, God struck down Aron’s sons for doing things in the Tabernacle that were not sanctioned by God. That is simply the way things were in that age. If you notice, God spoke directly to chosen people in the OT and the Spirit was upon his chosen, but not in them as it is in God’s Saints in this age. God Bless you and may you continue to discover the riches of his glory through study and prayer.

  5. I Am The Rider says

    Moses was a control freak with abandonment issues. He was like an insecure lover, making all kinds of rediculous rules and regulations to keep the Jews loving him and his God, and NOONE else. Moses’s influence can still be seen today from people that deem all other religions as evil Paganistic works of Satan, through those that hate all homosexuals, and through Islam. Muhammad is the original terrorist. He is the reason for Islam, and all other cults led by a “Prophet of God”. Moses is the false prophet to whom the world needs to throw away. He has brought into this world untold evils.

  6. Thank you for your post. It looks pretty obvious that other commentors to this post have more than a lot to learn.

  7. Is there a difference between the spirit of God and the holy spirit.?

  8. Stephen John says

    Spirit of God and Holy Spirit. Only to get something going here. Spirit of God is everywhere, it is all that is in the Spirit that exists. All is OF the Spirit but the Spirit of God, the Kingdom of God, is not in all people’s. The Holy Spirit is a function of the Spirit of God explicitly for humans. What is not mentioned is Christ within you as well. The Spirit of God is inside some of you, the Holy Spirit is imparted as written, ” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit”. Ezekiel 37:9 Then he said to me, : Ezekielt: “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ The Holy Spirit is received by God’s Actions despite what people say such as, “Do this (like get water Baptized) and you will receive it”. That leads to false assumptions and people saying they have the Spirit just because they DID something. God is interested in our hearts, not our heads , that places us above Him. The Spirit of Christ is the intermediary between the Holy Spirit and the Father…all three function as ONE in prayer, thus We worship In Spirit and in Truth in Jesus’s NAME, that is, his Being-ness, that is, Who He is having been Glorified Twice now. Understanding, Jesus always has been of Spirit before he was ever in the flesh from the beginning. There is discussion if perhaps that was not Jesus talking to “adam and eve'[ in the Garden of Eden. It depends on how one views that story though, as some take it much more literally and others more symbolically of the human condition and evolution of consciousness, choice, doubt, shame, guilt, etc.

  9. Stephen John says

    , Jesus always has been of Spirit before he was ever in the flesh from the beginning. There is discussion if perhaps that was not Jesus talking to “adam and eve'[ in the Garden of Eden. It depends on how one views that story though, as some take it much more literally and others more symbolically of the human condition and evolution of consciousness, choice, doubt, shame, guilt, etc. …and also consider that the disciples received the Holy Spirit THROUGH Jesus’s actions after the crucifixion. It is important that it happened in this order, as the Spirit was not imparted to mankind in general until after his ascension, but this event is before the ascension while he was again present to them and then up to over 500 later on. ,

    John 20:22, ” In the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were gathered together with the doors locked because of their fear of the Jews. Then Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 20 Having said this, He showed them His hands and His side. So the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22 After saying this, He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.
    23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Noting that that last phrase applied to who were his disciples (students of discipline), they are now commissioned as Apostles. They have received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is what made a Christian Apostle in the early days. In contrast, Mohammed never had the indwelling of the Holy Spirit nor has any one BEFORE that time because it was not known to man nor imparted to mankind until he ascended and imparted it to the world on the Day of Pentecost, which was a symbollic day in Jewish Tradition. And to this day, it is through God the Father and Jesus one rescieves the Holy Spirit. Believe not in who Jesus IS and always has been, receive not Holy Spirit or ‘Be Born from Above and Receive the “Knowledge of GOd” as well” We cannot have the Knowledge of God without the Spirit, that only makes sense. Clarifying that does not mean we are god in any form. What that means is as God Reveals things to us In Spirit, we can Know them as they become a part of who we are, shedding the old and becoming the new man. ..being restored by the renewing of the mind. None of this potentiality existed until the Ascent of Jesus. IN comparison, the other world religions as man was still evolving to God’s Point in time began 500 years or more earlier, like Judaism. and other than for traditional purposes which is wonderful, do not contain the most Beautiful and Joyful Reality that is now in place for those who desire it. As such, there are some Believers today in Islam, the Hindu world (e.g.) that are forced into underground so to speak communion since Society has yet to accept this in general. The old phrase, “It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks” is appropriate..or, Change, the one thing people like the least even if it’s good for them. Pray Ye to receive the Holy Spirit with the Right Heart, for you will not receive it without full submission in Desire to Fulfill God’s Purpose. The Spirit will not be imparted if one intends deep inside to manipulate that purpose to their will. That is why there is so many false teachers out there today. It does not make them necessarily bad (all the time), because we are still yet human and sinners to the day we die, that is to say Separated Innately from the Source. S.I.N by virtue of our flesh exteriro born into a sinful world, being born again from Above.

  10. Stephen John says

    One more quicky. It is important to understand that in Genesis, there are TWO parallel stories. One of the Spirit and one of the flesh. That is the worlds. We live in the world of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil where Pride, prejudice, fear, doubt, guilt, and dis-ease are rampant, plainly put “evil” in the sense that it is not God’s Perfect Love. Obviously. Look around. The Tree of Life is a rerpresntation of Jesus. For there was a sword that rotated around the “Tree”. And Jesus said, “I come with a sword”. Not to inflict violence, but to circumcise the heart. The Jewish Tradition acted it out in the flesh, but God is concerned with our hearts. It does not make them wrong or bad because God’s Time was being fulfilled, not ours. They were the final stepping stone into a New Generation. Sadly, New Age exploits the old with the new going back to the beginning..mixing weeds, and tares, with the Wheat…God’s Harvest crop. We cannot tell by appearances or words because wheat and tares look identical until harvest time, and underground their roots are intermingled. That is why Jesus said do not pull up the tares now, because some of the wheat might get uprooted with it. This can imply two things. Either as an individual basis, or as society as a whole. In the end, God’s Time..when all have heard the Gospel and chosen to accept it or reject it only He and the Angels of God now will know the difference. Mohammed says, “They have no knowledge”. Unfortunately, the knowledge he had is the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and not knowledge of God, The Tree of Life. Any thing in the sciences or related to them is of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. That is why when confronted Jesus said, “Why do you call me Good?”. Jesus was not good, he was Righteous, Fully Righteous, speaking only what He heard from God directly. Directly from God, not an angel.