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The Old Testament does not give the same prominence to the Holy Spirit as does the New Testament. This is doubtless true because the Old Testament deals largely with material things, while the New Testament is primarily and essentially dealing with the spiritual nature and actions of man. It is, however, referred to in more than half of the books of the Old Testament, while in sixteen of them there is no specific mention of the Spirit. It is, however, mentioned specifically eighty-eight times in the Old Testament. It is generally spoken of as the Spirit of God. The New Testament refers to these passages in such a way as to identify the Holy Spirit of the New with the Spirit of God of the Old. In Luke 4:18 Jesus says:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed,
This is directly connected with the “Spirit of the Lord Jehovah” in Isaiah 61:1-2.
In the second chapter of Acts, we have a direct connection with Joel 2. These are two of many such connections that bind together and identify the Spirit of the Lord of the Old Testament with the Holy Spirit of the New. In both Testaments we find God working by his Spirit. The Old Testament gives three lines of work performed by the Spirit:
1. HIS RELATION TO THE MATERIAL UNIVERSE.
(1) In Gen. 1:2 we are told: “The earth was without form and empty; and darkness was over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” The word “moving” carries the sense of “hovering” or “to hang in the air” or “to be suspended above.” The previous condition of the world was “without form and empty,” or a “formless waste.” In some way, the Spirit of God fashioned this formless waste into the multiplicity of contrasts that followed. It bound together those elements that were homogeneous, and separated the heterogeneous and so prepared the way for the dividing the light from the darkness that followed. The mode of the operation we do not know, but the fact of the operation is clearly revealed.
(2) “By his wind the heavens were made fair” (Job 26:13). Or “By his breath the heavens were made clear,” literally “beautiful.” That is, he set the constellations in their order. He gives one illustration when he says: “his hand has pierced the fleeing serpent.” Max Anders and Steve Lawson say, “This is a reference to God’s dispelling of the clouds. They move away in what appears to be a snakelike form.” – Anders, Max; Lawson, Steven. Holman Old Testament Commentary Volume 10 – Job . B&H Publishing.
(3) God’s Spirit made me man; ’twas the Almighty’s breath that gave me life. This higher life that was given to man by an inbreathing of the Spirit distinguishes man (homo) from all other animal species.
2. THE RELATION OF THE SPIRIT TO CREATED MAN.
(1) Gen. 6:3. God tells Noah: “My Spirit shall not remain with man forever, for he also is flesh; therefore his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” Here the work of the Spirit passes from the form of omnipotence to one of pleading or striving. The Spirit no more impresses his will upon the material universe but expresses (rolls it out) to a rational creature. By the preaching of the faithful Noah, the Spirit plead with the antediluvians to do right and escape the destruction that was coming upon a corrupt and wicked world. From this time onward the Spirit comes on men in various ways, qualifying them with supernatural power for the performance of special duties. (See Num. 11:25; Judg. 3:10; 1 Sam. 18:10; 10:11.)
(2) But we find no case of the Spirit falling on man to cleanse him from sin, or to confer upon him a special blessing. Later on, in the prophets, the Spirit becomes a revealing and inspiring Spirit. (See Isa. 61:1; Ezek. 2:2; Zech. 7:12; 4:6.) As a result of this revealing power, we have the great facts of the New Testament set forth in detail. The life, nature, character, and mission of the world’s Redeemer stand forth in beauty and symmetry.
3. THE RELATION OF THE SPIRIT TO THE INDIVIDUAL MAN.
The idea of holiness is not usually associated with the Spirit in the Old Testament. The term “Holy Spirit” occurs but three times in it. David prays (Ps. 51:11): “Take not thy holy Spirit from me.” Isaiah says (63:10): “They rebelled and grieved his holy Spirit;” and again (63:11) he asks: “Where is he that put his holy Spirit in the midst of them?” It is, however, called “good Spirit” twice (Neh. 9:20; Ps. 143:10).
It is mainly in reference to Messianic days that we find this ethical and personal relation to the Spirit of God.
These three relations of the Spirit are in perfect harmony with God’s law of progressive development in the world. We find him at first working upon a chaotic material universe; second, upon society, and, third, upon the individual character.
The work of the Spirit upon the material universe makes it a fit dwelling-place for man. His work upon society makes man fit to dwell in the universe, and his work upon the individual character makes man fit for a righteous and holy fellowship with similar characters.
By Z. T. Sweeney Updated By Edward D. Andrews