Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

These are my lecture notes for one of the lectures I'll be doing tomorrow in class:

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

The Term “Holy Spirit” in the Old Testament

The term “Holy Spirit” actually occurs only three times in the Hebrew Bible. The expression itself is literally “your (God’s) Spirit of holiness” but the Hebrew language often creates adjectival expressions by means of what is known as the construct genitive relationship between words (i.e., the construction “the…of…”; so the “Spirit of holiness” = “the Holy Spirit”). In these three instances, therefore, the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) renders this expression with the same combination of Greek words that the New Testament uses for what we translate as “Holy Spirit” in the English versions.

Psalm 51:11
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Isaiah 63:10-11
10 Yet they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit. So he turned and became their enemy and he himself fought against them.  11 Then his people recalled the days of old, the days of Moses and his people—where is he who brought them through the sea, with the shepherd of his flock? Where is He who set His Holy Spirit among them, 12 who sent his glorious arm of power to be at Moses’ right hand, who divided the waters before them, to gain for Himself everlasting renown, 13 who led them through the depths? Like a horse in open country, they did not stumble; 14 like cattle that go down to the plain, they were given rest by the Spirit of the LORD [Yahweh]. This is how you guided your people to make for yourself a glorious name.

(In the OT, the HS is interchangeable with “the Spirit of God” which occurs about 94 times.)

Ruach: Wind, Breath, and the Spirit of God and of People

Almost 40% of the time ruach appears, it refers to the literal movement of air in: (1) natural weather (2) “air breathing” animate beings, mankind and animal or (3) even metaphorically for God’s “breath” as expressed through the “wind” of nature.  Hebrew ruach is often used for elements of the human “spirit” in scripture (ca. 120 times).  

Breath, Spirit, and the Person of the Spirit of God

“Spirit” can stand for the human essence (Psalm 31:5; cf. Luke 23:46).   This bridges over into the concept of the Spirit of God standing for Yahweh’s essence as well.  (See Genesis 41:38, Numbers 27:18, Isaiah 63:11-14.)

Wind, Spirit, and the Nature of the Spirit of God

A defining passage occurs early in Scripture: Genesis 1:2 [NET Bible, with additions]:

Now the earth [ha-eretz] was without shape and empty [tohu wa-botu], and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God [ruach-elohim] was moving [over the surface of the water.  

The NRSV translates “a wind from God swept over…” Cf. Genesis 8:1b, Exodus 14:21-22, 15:8; Isaiah 40:7, 59:19.   However the ruach of God is typically personalized (Genesis 6:3, etc.).  Genesis 1:2 probably combines impersonal (wind) and personal elements (Spirit).  See also Ezekiel 36-37.  NT images also combine personal and impersonal elements (ex., John 3). 

Water, Spirit, and Transformation by the Spirit of God

The Spirit is like cleansing water: Ezekiel 36:22-38
·         Ezekiel 36 is the basis for John 3 and Jesus’ teaching on the Spirit.
·         Cleansing with water connects to the OT mikveh and the NT practice of baptism.  
·         Both (Ezekiel and John) in turn become the basis for the NT teaching of the baptism in the HS.
·         Cleansing connects with other cleansing expectations of the Spirit (Haggai 2:5, Zechariah 4:6)

Endowments with the Spirit

·         In the OT, the Spirit gives a special endowment of power and presence to specific individuals (Joshua, Numbers 27:18; David, 1 Samuel 16:12-13 and Saul, 1 Samuel 10:10; cf. 1 Samuel 16:14).  (Also see throughout Judges.) 
      These endowments are related to power or ability (Exodus 31:2-5) as opposed to holiness; they are highly selective and temporary. 

The Messianic Age and the Spirit
       There is a strong association between the last days, coming of the Messiah and the outpouring of the Spirit (Joel 2:28-32; Ezekiel 36-37, 39:29)
       Even as far back as Moses’ time, there was an understanding that they lived in a time in which the Spirit’s activity was rare and unusual, but that a time of widespread Spirit-blessing (Numbers 11:16-17; 24-30)

·         After the time of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, there was a widespread belief that in some sense, the Spirit had departed from Israel

Summary and Conclusion

There are some things that are completely new about the work of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament compared to the Old Testament. But much of what is there in the New Testament already has its roots sunk deep into the soil of the Old Testament.

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