Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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The Holy Spirit

in the Old Testament

Old Testament

by Dennis Pollock

We so often speak of the Holy Spirit as arriving on the scene on the Day of Pentecost, in that dramatic outpouring that gave birth to the church and brought 3,000 souls into God’s family at once. This special day, recorded in the second chapter of Acts, did indeed mark a new dispensation of the Holy Spirit’s work among men and women. But it certainly did not mark the entrance of the Holy Spirit into this world. Long before Jesus appeared, King David spoke of this mysterious Third Person of the Trinity, marveling at His omnipresence: 

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me; your right hand will hold me fast (Psalm 139:7-10). 

In the book of Job, Elihu declares that all of humanity is sustained and upheld by the Holy Spirit: 

If it were (God’s) intention and He withdrew His Spirit and breath, all mankind would perish together and man would return to the dust (Job 34:14-15). 

To truly understand the ways and Person of the Holy Spirit we must look for Him throughout the entire Bible. While the New Testament clearly reveals an increased measure of His working among God’s people, there is no shortage of references to God’s Spirit in the Old Testament. I am convinced that one of the most beneficial studies any Christian can do is to read the entire Bible through in a year’s time, marking every reference to the Holy Spirit throughout the Scriptures. Keep a notebook beside your Bible and write down every reference plus the thoughts and insights God gives you as you meditate on His Spirit. It can and probably will be a life-changing year! 

Old Testament Fillings 

When it comes to the filling of the Spirit, wrong impressions abound in the church today. Great numbers of Christians make the Spirit’s filling equivalent with the new birth, and you often hear misguided believers state that when they were saved they received all they needed; this was their filling with the Spirit and they need nothing else. Another error is to assume that the Spirit’s filling is exclusively a New Testament experience – that the first believers on earth to be filled with the Spirit were the 120 believers in the upper room at Pentecost.  

In the first couple of chapters of the book of Acts we find three terms that all refer to the same experience. In Acts 1:5, Jesus promises His disciples, “for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” Three verses later He promises them, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses…” But when the event finally occurs, we read, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…” Each of these expressions, baptized in the Spirit, the Spirit coming upon, and being filled with the Spirit, are referring to the same experience. 

When we search the Old Testament we do not find any references to God’s people being “baptized in the Spirit.” We find a few references to the filling of the Spirit, but we find numerous occasions of people having the Spirit to “come upon” them. It is vital that we see this. Jesus was not promising a new experience, something God’s people had never known before. He was promising that the same anointing and filling of the Spirit that the judges and prophets had known in the Old Testament would be experienced by His followers in this new dispensation – for the purpose of proclaiming Him. 

Days of Moses 

One of the more unusual Old Testament Spirit-filled characters was a man by the unlikely name of Bezalel (who would give their baby boy such a name?). Bezalel was hand-picked by God to be the master craftsman in charge of the design of the articles and artifacts of the tabernacle built in the days of Moses. God told Moses: 

See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of workmanship (Exodus 31:2-5). 

craftsmanHere we have the first Biblical use of the idea of being filled with the Spirit. Bezalel was not a preacher! I have to emphasize this because there is a great misconception among many Christians that the “anointing” (the Spirit’s filling) is primarily a preacher thing. When our pastor’s sermon pleases us we tell him, “Oh, pastor that sermon was so anointed!”  

There definitely is such a thing as a preaching anointing. Jesus referred to it when He announced His ministry at Nazareth, saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preachthe gospel to the poor…” When I was a young pastor I began to literally feel the presence of the Holy Spirit come upon me when I preached in my little church in Louisiana, Missouri. It was thrilling, but it was also frustrating because some days that anointing would be very strong, some days weak, and some days apparently non-existent. When the anointing was strong, preaching was an absolute joy. Once in my youthful enthusiasm, I actually paused in the middle of a sermon and said, “It’s fun to preach with the anointing!” One of our ladies responded, “It’s fun to listen to.” At times that preaching anointing would linger past the church service, and I would just enjoy the Spirit’s presence well into the afternoon. 

The anointing to preach, however, is not the only reason for the filling of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s power is not just for preaching; it is for living and for fulfilling God’s calling on our lives – whatever that calling happens to be. In Bezalel’s case, he was an anointed craftsman. As he worked with gold, silver, and bronze, and as he carved wood and set jewels in place, the Spiritwould inspire and guide him, taking him far beyond his human capabilities. The results were spectacular, and brought honor and glory to God through the beauty and artistry that went into the Tabernacle and its various articles of worship. 

Moses Himself was a Spirit-filled man. Once, when Moses was feeling weary and burned out, God promised Him some Spirit-filled helpers, telling Moses: 

Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone (Numbers 11:16-17). 

Notice the term “upon.” Somehow the anointing of the Spirit is frequently spoken of as that which comes “upon” a man or a woman, much like the putting on of an overcoat. In fact in a couple of cases the term “clothed” is used in referring to the Spirit: 

  1. Then the Spirit came upon (Hebrew: literally "clothed") Amasai… (1 Chronicles 12:18).
  2. "And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49).


Some modern preachers have suggested that to be filled with the Spirit means to be under the Spirit’s control, which means that He will make you nice and sweet and godly. Clearly one aspect of the Spirit’s work in our lives is to do just that, but when we read of being clothed with the Spirit, it is more than us simply becoming nice people. The Spirit’s anointing is to empower us to fulfill God’s calling by God’ power. When Peter got up to preach in Acts, we read, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…” This does not mean Peter was filled with the Spirit, rose up, and became a nice guy. It clearly declares the anointed apostle rose up in the power of the Holy Spirit and preached the gospel with a fluency and force that went beyond human ability. 

The Judges 

Space does not permit me to give all of the Old Testament believers who knew the filling of the Spirit. Allow me to give just a few more. One of the Old Testament books which includes several such cases is the book of Judges. These men lived before Israel had kings. They led the Israelites, not by virtue of a kingly genealogy, but by the Holy Spirit’s empowering: 

  1. When the children of Israel cried out to the Lord, the Lord raised up a deliverer for the children of Israel, who delivered them: Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel (Judges 3:9-10).
  2. But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; then he blew the trumpet, and the Abiezrites gathered behind him (Judges 6:34).
  3. Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon (Judges 11:29).
  4. When he (Samson) came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting against him. Then the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him; and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds broke loose from his hands. He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached out his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it (Judges 15:14-15).


Again and again we read these wonderful words, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him.” Suddenly leadership qualities emerge, will and resolve are immeasurably strengthened, and talents and gifts are taken to a whole new level. It is amazing what can be accomplished when the Spirit gets involved! 

What’s the Difference? 

Since the Holy Spirit’s filling is clearly not exclusively a New Testament experience, some may wonder, is there any difference between His work in the Old vs. New Testament days. There is a big difference. Under the Old Covenant certain Israelites were filled with the Spirit according to God’s sovereign plan. They were not asking for the Spirit and most probably knew very little about the Holy Spirit. Without pleading any promise or expecting any such thing, the Spirit of God suddenly came upon them, equipping them for God’s sovereign purposes. And while such things did happen, those filled with the Spirit made up a very exclusive club indeed. The average Israelite knew nothing of the Spirit and experienced little or nothing of Him. 

This is why Peter’s proclamation of Joel’s prophecy on the Day of Pentecost is so wonderful: 

And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old menshall dream dreams. and on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy (Acts 2:16,17). 

We are given the Spirit not for the purpose of battling Philistines or ripping lions apart. Our task is far greater – “You shall be My witnesses.” The company of those filled with the Spirit is no longer an exclusive club reserved for kings, warriors, and prophets. Men, women, boys, and girls can all know the Spirit’s power. Jesus has promised us that rivers of living waters will flow out of all those who believe on Him. “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).

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