God's Word For You is a free Bible Study site committed to bringing you studies firmly grounded in the Bible – the Word of God. Holding a reformed, conservative, evangelical perspective this site affirms that God has provided in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, a way of salvation in which we can live in his presence guilt free, acquitted and at peace.



© Rosemary Bardsley 2009


The Holy Spirit is very much present in the Old Testament era and the pre-Pentecost [pre Acts 2] era of the New Testament. To understand what changes in our relationship with the Spirit began at Pentecost, it is necessary to study the person, role and action of the Spirit in these pre-Pentecost eras.


When you study the scripture references in the sections of this study relating to the Old Testament you will find the following:

  • The Spirit is frequently termed ‘the Spirit of God’ [that is, the Spirit of Elohim]
  • The Spirit is frequently termed ‘the Spirit of the LORD’ [that is, the Spirit of Yahweh]
  • The Spirit is referred to as God’s ‘holy Spirit’ [Psalm 51:11; Isaiah 63:10,11]

You will also find a unity and identity between what the ‘Spirit’ does or says and what ‘God’ or ‘the LORD” does or says:

  • When God sends his Spirit to renew the earth, it is God renewing the earth
  • When God cleanses, it is by his Spirit that he cleanses
  • When God is patient with his people it is by his Spirit’s consistent verbal admonishment that he exercises this patience
  • When the Spirit of God speaks through the prophets, it is God himself speaking through the prophets
  • When the Spirit leads a man of God, it is God teaching that man
  • The presence of God with a man or a people, is the presence of the Holy Spirit with that man or that people

In addition, there are a number of verses in which, by means of the parallelism of Hebrew poetry, the deity of the Spirit is expressed:

‘ “Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD,

  “who carry out plans that are not mine,

forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit,

heaping sin upon sin … “ ‘ [Isaiah 30:1]


 ‘For it is his mouth that has given the order,

and his Spirit will gather them together’ [Isaiah 34:16]


 ‘…who has understood the mind [Hebrew = Spirit] of the Lord,

  or instructed him as his counsellor?’ [Isaiah 40:13].



We have already seen in Study 1 that the Holy Spirit is active in creation and providence.

Refresh your understanding of the Holy Spirit in creation and providence by checking out these verses:

Genesis 1:2



Job 26:13



Job 27:3



Job 33:4



Job 34:14,15



Psalm 104:30



Isaiah 40:7





We have also seen that the Holy Spirit is active in judgment, particularly in exposing sin and guilt. As we read the Old Testament we find that quite a significant proportion of references to the Holy Spirit have some connection with this judgment. We also find that many of the Spirit-inspired messages spoken through men are messages of judgment – both by exposing and identifying sin and by announcing the judgment that will inevitably come unless people repent. Along with this there is also an insistence on practical social justice. There is also reference to God’s ultimate justice which the Messiah, empowered by God’s Spirit, will establish.

What is the role of the Spirit in these verses referring to judgment and/or justice?

Genesis 6:3



Nehemiah 9:30



Isaiah 4:4



Isaiah 28:6



Isaiah 42:1



Isaiah 59:19



Micah 2:7



Micah 3:8



Zechariah 7:12





In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit empowered people in a range of activities and actions. Sometimes these men are known to be God-fearers, sometimes we are not told of their spiritual position, and at other times they are obviously not people of faith. We can safely conclude from this that empowerment by the Spirit did not automatically infer the presence of true faith. We can also safely state that where people empowered by the Spirit did believe in God those people were far from perfect. Empowerment by the Spirit of God did not infer the existence of understanding, faith or obedience.

Read the references below. From the surrounding context identify

  1. Was the person empowered by the Spirit a person of true faith in the living God?
  2. What was the ability given by the Spirit? Was it a skill? Was it ‘miraculous’?
  3. Was the equipping or empowerment one-off, or constant/sustained, or repeated one-offs?

Genesis 41:38

[see 45:5-9;50:20 for Joseph’s faith.]


Exodus 31:3; 35:31



Numbers 11:17,25-29



Judges 3:10







1Samuel 16:13



Zechariah 4:6





The Old Testament understands the Holy Spirit to be the source and communicator of messages from God, and the one who enables ordinary men to stand up and proclaim those messages. Sometimes this happens only once to a particular person; sometimes, as the case with most of the writing prophets, this was for a sustained period of time. [Note: in the Old Testament it is far more common for the prophets to describe their reception of God’s messages as ‘the word of the Lord came to me’ than to describe it in terms of the Spirit coming to them or empowering them or speaking through them. In this we see a close connection between the word and the Spirit.]

What is the role of the Spirit in communicating the Word of God and commissioning people to speak the Word of God? Note the different contexts and circumstances.

Numbers 24:2



Num 27:18-21

Deut 34:9


2Samuel 23:2

[+ v3 where ‘God’ parallels ‘Spirit’]


1Chron 12:18



2Chron 20:14-17



2Chron 24:20



Psalm 110:1 +

Mat. 22:43-44


Isaiah 48:16



Ezekiel 2:2-3

[2:2-3:11 for full story]


Ezekiel 3:24,27



Ezekiel 11:5ff



1Peter 1:10-11



2Peter 1:19-21



There is an additional group of references from Ezekiel that speak of the Spirit coming and taking Ezekiel to a different place, and giving him a message about that place or the people in that place. This is recorded in Ezekiel 3:12-15; 8:3ff; 11:1,24; 37:1; 43:5. Two references, 11:24 and 40:2, indicate that all of this was ‘in visions’, that is, by way of revelations given to his mind, not in physical reality. The messages given in this way focus on judgment and restoration.


The Old Testament understands the Holy Spirit to be the teacher and instructor of humans in both practical and spiritual matters.

What kinds of instruction are attributed to the Holy Spirit in these verses?

1Chronicles 28:12


Nehemiah 9:20



Job 32:8,18



Psalm 143:10





David, the Psalm writer, understood the presence of God with him as an individual and the presence of the Holy Spirit with him as an individual to be one and the same thing. This is evident in these two verses, where the parallel thoughts of Hebrew poetry make this identification clear:

Psalm 51:11 – ‘Do not cast me from your presence

or take your Holy Spirit from me.’

Psalm 139:7 – ‘Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?’


The Holy Spirit was involved in God’s historical covenant relationship with the people of Israel. This was not mentioned at the time in their early history and when the covenants were ratified, but it is mentioned in retrospect when the prophets reminded the people of that history and of those covenants. In the historical covenant context the presence of the Holy Spirit equates with the words of God, the power of God and the presence of God among them.

Isaiah 59:21 – ‘As for me, this is my covenant with them … My Spirit who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever.’

Isaiah 63:11- 14 – ‘… where is he who set his Holy Spirit among them, who sent his glorious arm of power to be at Moses” right hand … they were given rest by the Spirit of the Lord …’

Haggai 2:4,5 – ‘For I am with you, declares the Lord Almighty. This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear’



The Old Testament understands that when the promised Messiah comes there will be a very close association between the Messiah and the Spirit of the Lord.

Describe the association between the Messiah and the Spirit of the Lord taught in these verses.

Isaiah 11:1-2




Isaiah 42:1ff



Isaiah 61:1ff






The Old Testament prophets anticipated a day in which there would be an out-pouring of the Spirit of God. In some of the references below there is a two-level fulfilment – a micro short-term physical fulfilment in the restoration of the prosperity of the nation of Israel, and a macro long-term fulfilment as an essential aspect of the spiritual salvation brought about by the Messiah. 




Isaiah 32:15

‘… till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest.’


Physical prosperity in the Old Testament era, symbolic of spiritual blessedness in the New Testament era.

Isaiah 44:3

‘For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.’

Ezekiel 11:19

‘I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.’




God’s Spirit indwelling his people – indwelling, renewing, transforming.



Ezekiel 36:26,27

‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’

Ezekiel 37:14

‘I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’

Ezekiel 39:29

‘I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD.’

Seems to refer only to returning Israelite exiles.

Joel 2:28,29

‘And afterward,

I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and daughters will prophesy,

your old men will dream dreams,      

your young men will see visions.

Even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days.’

Note: on ‘all people’. Also on not in.

This seems to be speaking of empowerment, not indwelling. It has a clear focus on revelation. In addition, it speaks of the removal of discriminatory divisions [the Jew/Gentile division – ‘all people’; the young/old division, and the male/female division].

Zechariah 12:10

‘…and I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a Spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.’

May only refer to the human spirit or attitude, not to Holy Spirit.

If it refers to the Holy Spirit it seems only to relate to Israel. But this is then countered by reference to the crucifixion of Christ, as having occurred prior to this out-pouring. At the very least its reference to Israel is to Israel after the death of Christ.



There are a small number of occasions in the Old Testament in which the Spirit of God is reported to be responsible for or active in human actions or experiences that are far from ‘normal’, and quite distinct from the empowerment by the Spirit, and from the divine inspiration by the Spirit to speak and write the words of God, which we looked at earlier in this study.

K.1 The Spirit and Saul

When we read the reports of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon Saul we need to keep three facts in mind:

[1] There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that Saul was a man of true faith; in fact there is a lot to indicate that he was not. While he engaged in external religious ritual [offering sacrifices] he did not demonstrate an obedient heart.

[2] That the association between the Spirit and Saul was related to his role as king.

[3] That God, and therefore the Spirit of God, can and does use unbelievers in and for his purpose. This is quite evident in the Bible, and is specifically stated in Isaiah 45:1-7 in relation to God’s presence with and working through the pagan Cyrus.

When the Spirit of God ‘came with power’ upon Saul:

  • He joined a group of ‘prophets’ and prophesied with them; he was ‘changed into a different person’ [1Samuel 10:6,10]. This seems to refer to a trance-like state during which Saul and the other ‘prophets’ engaged in ecstatic speech. There is no indication that any predictive messages were involved.
  • He had a similar experience in 19:23-24, where he lay naked prophesying for a day and night.
  • He ‘burned with anger’ and rallied men from the whole of Israel to fight the Ammonites [11:6].


Each of these unusual experiences has a purpose in its context:

  • The first was part of the confirmation of Samuel’s word to Saul that he would be Israel’s king
  • The second prevented him from taking David captive
  • The third initiated his deliverance of Israel from the Ammonites.

This unexpected ecstatic prophetic behaviour also happened to several groups of soldiers sent by Saul to capture David [19:20-21].


Contemporary relevance:

There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that this type of experience should be viewed or sought as part of the normal relationship between God and man. The three contexts in which it occurred were specific to Saul and had no relevance whatever to the normal life of faith and obedience.

The experience reported in 19:23-24 appears to be the only Bible passage that has any similarity whatsoever to the experience contemporary Christianity labels as being ‘slain in the Spirit’, and even this similarity is extremely minimal and remote. The New Testament does not record or recommend any such experiences. Saul was not seeking either God or God’s glory, he was not on a spiritual quest – he was intent on capturing David, and God intervened in this strange manner to prevent the capture and/or murder of David.



There are a few references to the Spirit that cannot be slotted into any of the above categories:

[1] One clearly understands that the Spirit is a person, not a force or power

  • Isaiah 63:10 – ‘they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.’

[2] Two report human speculation about the action of the Spirit:

  • 1Kings 18:12 – ‘I don’t know where the Spirit of the Lord may carry you when I leave you’
  • 2Kings 2:16 – ‘perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley’.

[3] Several, in Daniel, spoken by pagan rulers, recognize divine enabling in Daniel, but misrepresent the God’s Spirit as ‘the spirit of the holy gods’ [Dan 4:8,9,18; 5:11 [12],14].



Leaving aside the unique operation of the Spirit of God in the incarnation and ministry of the Son of God, we find the Holy Spirit active in the following ways in the pre-Pentecost New Testament era:

[1] Zachariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied [Luke 1:67]. [Fill = pletho – Aorist tense]. The content of his ‘prophesying’ was explanatory and descriptive; it is predictive only in its reference to John’s future ministry and the immanent coming of the Messiah.

[2] Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit [Luke 1:41] [Fill = pletho – Aorist tense], who revealed to her that Mary’s unborn child was ‘the Lord’.

[3] John the Baptist - ‘he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from birth’ [Luke 1:15]. [Fill = pletho – Future tense].

[4] Simeon – ‘… the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ.’ [Luke 2:25-2]. 

[5] The disciples  - were instructed by Jesus not to worry about what to say if they were arrested and questioned because the Holy Spirit would speak through them [Matthew 10:20 & Mark 13:11] or teach them what to say [Luke 12:12]. While Mark and Luke clearly include both pre- and post-Pentecost believers, the context of the Matthew reference seems to divide exactly at this point – the verses before it [10:5-16] giving instructions specific to the first disciples on their first mission, and the verses after if [10:21-42] having more general application to all who would follow Christ.

[6] Regeneration – the Holy Spirit’s essential work of regeneration is identified and taught prior to the Pentecost events – for example, John 3:3-8; 6:63. This life giving work of the Spirit obviously does not wait till Pentecost. Already, even as Jesus was teaching, there were those who had received eternal life through the Word of Christ and the operation of the Spirit.



When we look at evidence above we realise that to a very large extent the Spirit of God in the Old Testament and pre-Pentecost New Testament years is identical in role and action, and in relationship with humans, as the Holy Spirit understood from the post-Pentecost perspective.

Action or attribute

From Genesis to Pentecost

From Pentecost on

Deity of the Spirit



Spirit is a person, not a force or power



Spirit involved in creation and providence



Spirit involved in judgment



Spirit empowers and equips



Spirit as teacher



Spirit involved in revelation and the Word of God



Spirit as the presence of God with people



Spirit a part of the covenant relationship



Spirit intimately with/on the Messiah

Yes [in prophetic anticipation]


Spirit involved in para-normal experiences



This should not surprise us because the Holy Spirit is, after all, God, and God is the same yesterday, today and forever. What he is in the Old Testament so he is in the New Testament and right through to the present.

But there is obviously something new and different in the relationship of the Spirit with believers after Pentecost. This new and different aspect was predicted in some of the verses in section J above, and also, more specifically, in the promises Jesus Christ gave to his disciples in John 14 – 16. This new and different relationship with the Spirit does not negate any of the aspects and attitudes of the Spirit common to the Old and New Testaments, but is additional to them, and to some degree includes and/or intensifies some of them.

This difference exists because with the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ God’s eternal plan of salvation is implemented – all that was previously hidden and mysterious, clothed in prophetic symbol, anticipated in prophetic ritual, and proclaimed but not understood in prophetic word – all of this is now in place. What was before hidden mystery is now open knowledge. What was before only physical symbol is now spiritual reality. The final aspect of this new spiritual reality ushered in by Jesus Christ, and mentioned in anticipation in John 7:39; John 14:17, is the indwelling Spirit of God.