First Mennonite Church
July 14, 2019
The Spirit of God in the Old Testament
Text: Genesis 1:1-5; John 14:15-17
Today and in the next couple of Sundays, I would like for us to reflect on the third person of the Trinity, as we refer to the Triune God, the Holy Spirit. I know it is a topic I have not engaged with directly. However, in light of what Jesus said the Advocate will do after his departure, it is of great importance for us to know what the Spirit of the God wants to do in us and on our behalf. I am sure, therefore, that for us who truly desire to live the fullness of God’s potential, as followers of Christ and who want to be formed into the likeness of Christ through the knowledge of the word of God, it is imperative for us to know what the Bible says about God’s Spirit. It is my hope and prayer that this short series will help increase our understanding of what Jesus said when he spoke about the purpose of the coming of the Spirit as our Advocate, Counselor, Helper, and Comforter. I believe that failing to seriously take the importance of God’s Spirit in our lives is not only a great hindrance to our spiritual growth, but even more so to our living victoriously in Christ.
Presence of the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of God in the Old Testament.
In about half of the 39 books of the Old Testament mention of the Spirit of God is not found. It does not appear, for instance, in Leviticus, Joshua, Ruth, Ezra, Jeremiah, and some other minor prophetic books like Hosea. It does appear in the first book of the Bible and at the very opening of it. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:1-2). In the creation story, the Spirit of God is described as “moving over,” “hoovering over,” or, “brooding over” the waters of the void and deep dark primeval place. This should make us realize that the Spirit of God is not spoken about as merged in the elements that would become creation. Therefore, although the Spirit of God was present in the primeval watery and dark world, it was completely separate from it. That is important to remember because sometimes we hear people speak about presence of God in nature or that the Spirit of God is in the rocks, ancient trees, or gushing streams. Any form of worship of nature is pantheism or cosmotheistism; that is, the belief that God is merged in the natural world. That is not what we find in Genesis, nor elsewhere in the Bible. In fact, the Psalms describe the elements of nature as worshipping God or giving testimony to the creative power of God. In Psalm 19, verse one: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Also in Psalm 96: 11-13,
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord . . . .
The creation story in Genesis presents the Spirit of God, not only separate from creation, but more importantly as an active participant in the creation of everything. It is interesting to see that the presence of God’s Spirit hoovering over the formless, dark, and empty place anticipated the wondrous intervention and masterful work of creation of God. As a word for us, let us allow the Spirit of God move in us and he will do a marvelous thing out of us. Let the Spirit of God move freely in his church and he will transform us into a people that reflects the power, creativity, and will of God.
Again with respect of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament, we see that although it is present, it is not as pervasive as it in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, there is not much details about who it is; yet, every time there is reference to the Spirit of God, it is understood to be God directly operating and intervening. In Genesis one, verse two, the Spirit of God hoovers over the chaos and formless world in anticipation of God’s creative process to begin. The presence of the Spirit of God moving over the place where God was about to bring order, beauty, newness seems to demonstrate what would become the working model of God in all future interventions recorded in the Bible. Every time God was about to intervene significantly in the life of an individual or on behalf of the people of Israel, he did it through his Spirit.
There are some similarities in the purpose of God’s Spirit intervention in the Old Testament with those in the New Testament. God’s Spirit gave special gifts in order to achieve God’s demands from his people.
In Exodus 26, when God commanded the construction of the Tabernacle with all its special ornaments, figures, and all its consecrated utensil, the needed for specialized craftsmen was a major issue. The Israelite experience had been of making bricks in Egypt, not working with gold, silver, textiles, or wood which were the materials the Tabernacle would be built with. But in chapter 32, God tells Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. In chapter 37, we read of Bezalel’s creative work for the dwelling place of the Lord among the Israelites.
That same idea of the Spirit of God enabling the church to do what God demands is also found in the writings of Paul. In Romans 12, Paul writes:
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your[a] faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Also in 1Corinthians 12 we read:
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. . . . 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Although God gave special gifts through his Spirit, he gave to only a few among Israel. But Paul says God gave special gifts to each one within the church for the purpose of building the body of Christ, the church (Romans 12:6; 1Corithians 12:7).
Another important activity of the Spirit of God, we find in the Old Testament, is to guide toward morality. In Genesis six we are told about an explosion of the population and also of wickedness. In six, verse three, we read:
3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.” It seems as if God had been trying to halt the ever increasing wickedness among the inhabitants of that world through his Spirit, but God then determined to give them up to the wickedness of their heart. This idea can be found also in Paul’s writing to the Romans, where God gave up on those who persisted in the error of their heart (Romans 1:24, 26, 28).
Jesus also spoke about the Spirit of God role in dealing with sin and morality. In John 16:7-11 we read:
7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate[a] will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
In the Old Testament we also find God’s Spirit enabling people to provide leadership. In Numbers chapter 11, God instructed Moses to select seventy of Israel’s elders in whom God would pour out his Spirit in order to help Moses with the task of leading and judging the Israelites.
In the book of Judges the Spirit of God came upon those God chose to deliver Israel from its oppressors (14).
We also find God’s Spirit enabling people to provide leadership in the New Testament. The Spirit of God came upon the Twelve and other men and women (Lydia, Priscila, Euodia, Syntyche) to provide leadership to the church.
Let me close with one more testimony from the Old Testament about the Spirit of God. In 1Samuel chapter 16, we read the story of Samuel anointing David to be God’s chosen king over Israel. In verse 13, we read: Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Thus we are not surprised to see how David grew in grace before the people of Israel and how he succeeded in every endeavor, even in escaping from the hands of Saul when he tried to kill David. The Spirit of the Lord was with David from that they forward we are told. And David was aware that God’s Spirit was with him, therefore when he sinned against God, in his confession to God, David plead with God:
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me. (Psalm 51:11)
In John, 14, 16 and 17, Jesus says of the Holy Spirit, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Jesus could not stay forever with his disciples, but the Spirit of God would remain forever. The Spirit would abide with them and in them. This is the promise of the Lord for us today. The Spirit of the Lord is with us and in us.
Let us allow the Spirit of God to hoover over us and to prepare us for God’s power to bring order, beauty, and newness into our lives. Let us allow the Spirit of God to guide us towards what pleases God, as Paul wrote: Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Thinking on these things is possible when the Spirit of God dwells in us.
Let us allow the Spirit of God to take control over our lives, for we are the temple of the Spirit of God. Amen!