The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

Hey, all! So in a discussion on another topic involving the Holy Spirit, I was thinking about the Holy Spirit’s activity in the Old Testament and how we think of his involvement under the New Covenant. I have always understood that the indwelling of the Spirit is crucial for obedience to and walking in the Lord’s ways, though we still won’t do it perfectly. So…if the Spirit was not indwelling until after Jesus’ resurrection, then how were people like Noah and Abraham able to walk in faith without that indwelling? I know the Old Testament mentions the Holy Spirit coming upon people in power–but I have always understood that he was not indwelling any person in Old Testament times.

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It is true that the Holy Spirit in the New Testament indwells all believers permanently. This is an “advance” that God gives us on an even greater inheritance awaiting us - an inheritance made possible through the death and resurrection of our Elder Brother with Whom we are joint-heirs, Jesus Christ.

Before Christ’s death, burial and resurrection opened this inheritance up to us, the “earnest of our inheritance” was not freely given to all Old Testament believers. In their cases, the Spirit came upon certain of them at times for specific acts of service and generally departed from them when the service was done.

As for how long the Spirit might remain upon them, this was completely open ended. The last Old Testament prophet was John the Baptist, and the Spirit anointed him from his mother’s womb - and apparently throughout most, if not all, of his life.

One could imagine men like Elijah and Jeremiah being similarly anointed by the Spirit for years on end.
Or the Old Testament characters you have named as well as the others mentioned in Hebrews 11.

But none of this was as a guaranteed inheritance that Christ had purchased for them with His blood - that would not be given to the Old Testament believers until Hebrews 9:15. Even those upon whom He might come for years never had any guarantee that his empowering would continue another moment - Psalm 51:11.

The Bible says of Sampson, more times than of any other person, that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. Considering his frequent failures, one could readily argue that the reason was because the Spirit left him more than any other person!

I hope this helps.


Hi, @jlyons. Thank you for responding. I agree with all of what you have said and have taught these things at the church alongside our main Bible teacher, so, to say the least, I am very familiar with it all :slight_smile: I suppose like John the Baptist, the people I mentioned could have been anointed, and that’s how they were able to walk faithfully before the the indwelling of the Spirit was given in the New Testament. I think I’ve always understood anointing to be for a specific event or act of power or position of power, and perhaps that is where my disconnect is here.

Thinking and working through this further (I am researching as we speak and trying to flesh out my thoughts here) it’s interesting that when Luke talks about John the Baptist and the Lord’s hand on his life in Luke 1:15, the word he uses in the phrase “…he will be filled with the Holy Spirit…” (pimplemi) literally translates “to fill” or “to make full” or “complete” ( If I am correct, this is different from the Greek word for “anoint” (Gk. chrisma, aleipho, and chrio) and that very same word (pimplemi) is used in Acts 4:31 for what the disciples experienced for Pentecost. If we believe that the filling of the Spirit is not the same thing as regeneration or being born of the Spirit, for I believe it is different, then how did the Old Testament saints such as John the Baptist have faith to begin with? That is my question. Faith is a fruit of regeneration of the spirit not of an anointing–as I understand it. How can a dead spirit have faith? Without regeneration of the spirit, an individual cannot have faith. I am reading some commentaries on precept austin in the word studies categories under “Study tools,” and apparently the use and meanings of the Greek and Hebrew terms for anointing vary, some of them having a wider range of meaning. I don’t agree with everything that Piper teaches, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t at least sometimes make good points. Here is an article I’m reading:

And, though again, I am not sure I am in total agreement with what gotquestions says in this article (namely that being “filled” with the Spirit is the same thing as being indwelt by the Spirit), they bring up interesting points about the Old Testament saints that speak to my question I have posted in this thread.

@RichChatfield, this may very well tie in with our conversation about John 20:22 in the previous thread and shed more light on its meaning. If there really is such a thing as a baptism of the Spirit (an initial filling with the Holy Spirit) that is separate and different from the indwelling of the Spirit through faith in Christ, then maybe there was a receiving of the Spirit in some sense in that verse you brought up.

I’d be grateful for more input to help me sort this…if that’s possible :slight_smile:.

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@psalm151ls (sorry this is so long)
“this may very well tie in with our conversation about John 20:22 in the previous thread and shed more light on its meaning. If there really is such a thing as a baptism of the Spirit (an initial filling with the Holy Spirit) that is separate and different from the indwelling of the Spirit through faith in Christ, then maybe there was a receiving of the Spirit in some sense in that verse you brought up.”

In Acts 1:4&5 Jesus said…

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Because He said this, we “know” that what happened in Acts 2 at Pentecost was called by Jesus as the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”.

So I would say what happened in John 20:22 was regeneration/rebirth or the indwelling of the Spirit, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit was the anointing. I say this because Peter describes what was happening in Acts 2:15-21 as the Holy Spirit being “Poured Out on all people” (verse 17&18 below)

15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

For me, Acts 2:32&33 hold the key
32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.

It was Jesus according to verse 33 who received the promised Holy Spirit “AFTER” He was exalted. It was Jesus who poured out the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost. But to whom did He pour the Holy Spirit out upon? Only those who He had given the Holy Spirit to when He breathed upon them.

In the OT the Holy Spirit was poured out upon people, just like when Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit came down and rested upon Him. Consequently that also marks the beginning of Jesus performing signs and wonder and healings. This is exactly what happened at Pentecost, in verses 3&4 the flame separated and it rested upon each of them, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, or anointed with the Holy Spirit and began to perform signs and wonders just like the prophets did in the OT when the Holy Spirit of God came upon them.

For me, I believe the indwelling of the Spirit happened in John 20:22, because it was “before” Jesus had ascended and been exalted. Which means the Father hadn’t given to Jesus the Holy Spirit to pour out onto people, but what Jesus did have authority to do before he was exalted, was He did have power over death and life because He arose from death. And so He had authority to give regenerative life of the Holy Spirit. He breathed upon the disciples and said, receive the Holy Spirit". I believe they did receive the Holy Spirit and they were spiritually born. What happened at Pentecost was that Jesus Poured out His Holy Spirit to anoint the disciples and to bear witness by the Holy Spirit with signs and wonders that God had in fact given His Holy Spirit. Pentecost was the outward testimony of the inward truth that happened in John 20:22. And like the OT where the Spirit was only poured out with power upon Priest, Kings and Prophets… when we are born again we co-heirs as kings, we are suppose to prophesy according to Acts 2:17&18 and Peter clearly defines us as Royal Priesthood in 1 Peter 2:9.

I contend that “in the sense of performing signs, wonders, miracles and prophesying”, the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost is much the same as the pouring out of the Spirit that happened in the OT, the difference being that in the OT only special people were chosen, where as in the NT anyone who repents of their sins and is baptized into new life with Jesus will then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And so the (typical) order would be to repent and be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (regenerated born again) and then we will receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit. I say typical order because there are a number of conversions in Acts which show the order of events are reversed (Acts 10 as one example & Acts 9 17-19 as another).

As I have said, we do this in one step today so we do not typically see a separation in this process but back then due the timing of Christ ascension and due to some people just not hearing or having knowledge about the Holy Spirit, we see these events occurring sometimes separately and even in reverse order at times. We then see how God sent the disciples to correct those situations to ensure everyone was baptized in all three names of the Godhood in obedience to Jesus’ command in Matthew 28.

If you look at verse 41 it says that about 3,000 were added to their number…noticed it didn’t say flames came down and rested upon them as well, it says they accepted Peter’s message and were baptized… We have to assume that because they were obeying the Lord’s command, these 3,000 were baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Just more of my thoughts on this subject…

God bless. :slight_smile:

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@psalm151ls I’ve also wondered about the difference between the OT and NT believers experience of the Spirit. The things that I notice are:

  • OT believers had a sense of God’s presence in their life and repentance from the heart was key to maintaining that presence (Psalms 51).
  • Even Simeon, who was not a king, priest, or prophet, experienced the presence and guidance of God’s Spirit before Pentecost. Anna as well.
  • The main difference between the OT and NT is the nature of God’s covenant. In the OT, God’s Spirit was with Israel. In the NT, the Spirit was poured out upon the Gentiles. In the OT, no sacrifice truly covered sins and the Holy of Holies was inaccessible by most people. But in the NT, we can all access the Holy of Holies—the Heavenly one—through Jesus’ sacrifice. In the OT, people did have God’s presence, but in the NT we walk in the power of the resurrected life Jesus opened up to us.

So I would say the main differences between the OT and NT are related to the New Covenant and that difference can be summarized in a few words: scope, access, and power. The Gospel is for the whole world. Believers can go directly to the throne room through Christ. And we walk in the power of the risen Christ.

I’m certain this topic could be explored much more deeply, but those are the thoughts that come to me. What do you think?

Exodus 33:15 - Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”

Psalms 51:7-12 - Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Luke 2:25-28 - At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there.

Hebrews 10:15-17 - 15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”

17 Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”

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I would say to look at Exodus 30:22-33 where it talks about the anointing oil… and in doing so, I would say you could see the Old testament in the context of this… in that the Holy Spirit is our anointing and this is why Oil is representative of the Holy Spirit. When you read the above passage, it becomes clear that everything that the oil touched became holy and consecrated unto God.

Now in the Old testament there were only 3 people who were ever to be anointed with this sacred oil…
and Prophets

Jesus was/is all three

(As a side note: There is a 4th type of person anointed with oil but it doesn’t specifically say it is this sacred oil, the 4th type of person is the leper found in Lev 14:26-29)

I don’t know if that is helpful, but it helped me in considering the role of the Holy Spirit in the OT.

God bless

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As for anointing v indwelling, I John 2:27 says that the anointing which ye have received of him abideth (dwelleth) in you, so I think it’s fair to equate the two as perhaps conveying different nuances to the same experience. The difference between OT and NT being the guaranteed permanence.

As for anointing (or indwelling) v filling, in the NT it would be true that every believer is indwelt, but not every believer is filled with, or controlled by the Holy Spirit. I checked out the Piper link you included, and I agree with you, mixed concerns, but largely good.

I think equating fulness with spiritual joy is a good start, but the passage he’s using in Ephesians 5:18ff doesn’t end there. As Warren Wiersbe points out, it goes on to list the evidences of spiritual fulness as joy, thankfulness and living for others – running straight through to Ephesians 6:9.

Interestingly, the parallel passage in Colossians 3:16ff lists the exact same characteristics almost verbatim as evidences of being filled with the word of God – leading to the reasonable summation that being filled with the Spirit is being controlled by the Word.

I think if you were going to encapsulate what Spirit fulness is in a single word, I would vote for love over joy. Because if you compare the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 with the description of love in I Corinthians 13, you’ll see they’re describing the same thing.

Charity suffereth long, and the fruit of the Spirit is longsuffering.
Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, and the fruit of the Spirit is meekness.
Charity is not easily provoked, and the fruit of the Spirit is peace.
Charity rejoiceth in the truth, and the fruit of the Spirit is joy.
Charity beareth all things, and the fruit of the Spirit is temperance.
Charity believeth all things, and the fruit if the Spirit is faith.
Charity is kind, and the fruit of the Spirit is gentleness and goodness.

To love is to be filled with the Spirit, and vice versa. I Peter 1:22 says, ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren.

To the degree that you love, you are filled with the Spirit.

And since love was the spirit behind all the law and the prophets, since it’s the greatest commandment on which all the others hang, then it’s perfectly consistent with that summation from the passages in Ephesians and Colossians – to be filled with the Spirit is to be controlled by the word, and love is the spirit behind every letter of the word.

As for faith v regeneration, it is true that what is often called “saving faith” is only found in…well, the “saved” (obviously). But the Bible uses the word faith with many qualifiers (little faith, weak faith, wavering faith, etc.) which suggest levels of faith growing in a sinner or a seeker being drawn to Christ.

I hope I have not overlooked anything you were asking about, but if I have, please let me know – and I hope these thoughts are helpful to you.


maybe faith is second to God’s sovereign instigation

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@jlyons, @RichChatfield, @Shiva, @SeanO, @Rethink, WOW! Thank you all so much for the thoughtful responses and looking at and working through some of this with me! You all have given me a lot to think over–I was not sure if I was just chasing my tail with this question or if it really was worth further investigation. I definitely think it will be worth it to, while taking all your thoughts and input into consideration, do a deeper study on the activity of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament versus the New Testament. When I was first writing my response to @jlyons and was looking up the word “anoint” in both the Greek and the Hebrew, I found-unexpectedly-that there is quite a lot to study with that. There is a broad range of meanings that term, especially in the Greek, possesses apparently. And the Greek is very, very specific; in some cases, there are five Greek words to one English word, all with different nuances and the meaning of a statement changing a bit with the use of each–so when a particular Greek word is used over another for a word like anoint, I think it’s important to consider the “why.” (I realized this study was going to take me a lot longer than an hour or two that evening…which is why that response may seem a little bizarre and incomplete). I found that one Greek word for anoint- “chrisma”- has been used in the NT to refer to regeneration, at least according to I would have to look the verse up again, because I was getting tired at that point and cannot remember which one it was. Since @jlyons was talking about the anointing in the OT possibly being the source of enablement for people to walk in faith (Noah, Abraham, etc), I wanted to check and see if it lines up with the Bible’s use of the term to say that anointing can enable walking in faithfulness, along with enabling one to do a job or work for God.

Again, I really appreciate all of your input, and each of you have brought things to this discussion that has helped my thinking and study along. Thank you!