From Chaos To Creation; Patriarchs to Prophets
Do we really believe that God sends His Holy Spirit to those who believe His Son Jesus?
Are we spooked by the “Holy Ghost” moniker of the King James Version?
Or just frightened by the idea that a Person of the Trinity might somehow be living inside us? It’s important, because the promise of His presence in our lives as believers seems clear and almost guaranteed; almost a “given.”
He may be the least spoken-of personality in the Trinity (or is He?), but He is real from the first page of Genesis to the last page of Revelation. But let’s take some of His appearances in order, and see what we can learn from them:
Genesis 1:2 | “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.”
He was at one place, at one time, near the earth God had created. Did He have a role in it, as well as the Father and the Son (through whom it was made)? Is it a role of giving order to chaos, proximity, closeness, concern (one translation renders “hovering” as “brooding”)?
Genesis 6:3 | Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
It could have gone better with the mankind experiment. Mankind had progressed from simple disobedience to deceit to murder in one generation, and things hadn’t gotten any better. How was God’s Spirit contending with man? Within his heart, even at that point? Could He have been that element of good spoken of in Romans 1 that makes man see God in creation, rendering himself without excuse for his actions?
Exodus 31:2,3 | “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts … “
Bezalel was the master designer of the tabernacle built by Moses and the people. God was the architect and gave the plans; Bezalel filled in the details. Did the Spirit work inextricably with those gifts of skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts? Were those early “gifts of the Spirit” given to glorify God through the temple at which His people would worship? If not enumerated among the New Testament gifts, might they have still been among them? Might they still be among us? Why the term “filled (him) with”?
Numbers 11:25 | Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him [Moses] and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again.
Could the Spirit be “divvied up”? Yet one? Was He given so fully to Moses that some of Him had to be taken from Moses to be given to the elders? Does prophecy immediately result from the Spirit resting on someone? What kind of prophecy was it: future-telling, warning-giving, grace-sharing? Why didn’t they prophesy again later? Was it because they only had some of the Spirit taken from Moses? And why the term “rested on”? Is it different from “filled with”?
Judges 6:34 | Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumptet, summoning the Abiezirites to follow him. | Judges 11:29 | Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced agains the Ammonites.
Two judges become mighty in battle, and just before it, the Spirit “comes upon” them. Why “comes upon”? Is that different from the other ways in which the Spirit accompanies people?
Judges 13:25 | …and the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him [Samson] while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.
Another judge, Samson, is “stirred” by the Spirit. Yet another term. Why? Is the connection growing more tenuous with men? Are they growing farther away from God’s intentions? If so … is it as because the Spirit’s accompaniment is changing? Or is His distance the result of theirs?
I Samuel 10:10 | When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him [Saul]; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying.
The Spirit “comes upon” Saul and he prophesies (as did the elders upon whom He “rested”). It seemed contrary to Saul’s timid character; people joked about it later (“Is Saul also among the prophets?”). Does the Spirit give boldness of character as well as prophecy?
I Samuel 16:13,14 | So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him [David] in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah. Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.
This is a real puzzle. God giving an evil spirit? Or is this just a case of “Lord” referring to Baal-zebub and we don’t catch the difference by usage/context like the original readers might have. Still, the Spirit “departs” from Saul – apparently never to return. David would have been aware of this when he wrote Psalm 51 (see below), wouldn’t he?
II Samuel 23:2 | “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me [David]; his word was on my tongue.”
This would seem very self-confident if it weren’t true (Jesus confirmed that the Spirit spoke through David). Does the Spirit cause people to speak only the truth, no matter how it sounds? Is it His presence that compels and/or inspires them to do so?
Psalm 51:11 | “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” | 106:33 | “…for they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips.” | 139:7 | “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?”
Is God’s presence synonymous with the Spirit? There’s a lot of repetitive parallelism in Jewish poetry of this time. David is pleading here; he has sinned and sinned badly: taken another man’s wife and had him murdered by neglect in battle. The other two Psalms imply that it was against the Spirit that the Israelites sinned; that there is no place to hide from Him. Can He be given, the gift rescinded, yet not be escapable? How is that possible?
II Kings 2:16 | “… Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him [Elijah] up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.” “No,” Elisha replied, “do not send them.”
Elisah knows that his mentor has been lifted to heaven in a chariot – but the servants think it’s possible that the Spirit just took him for a ride. Would the Spirit transport someone over a distance for some reason? Did He do so with Philip after he left the eunuch’s chariot in Acts?
Nehemiah 9:20 | “You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst.” | 30 | “For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets.”
Nehemiah, the wall re-builder of Jerusalem, praises God for His providence, and says the Spirit was given to instruct and admonish. Still true in the New Testament? Today?
Isaiah 11:2 | “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him … the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the Lord.” | 44:3b | “I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.” | 61:1a | “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”
And Isaiah the prophet speaks of One on whom the Spirit will rest, crediting Him with giving gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, power and knowledge. But it’s not restricted to this One; He will be poured out on the Lord’s offspring (singular) and descendants (plural). He will be on the One anointed to preach good news to the poor. New Testament readers, does this sound familiar? There’s another new description: “poured out.” Is that different from “rested on” and “filled with” and “given to” and “stirred by” …?
Joel 2:28 | “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.”
Joel, another prophet, confirms the vision of God’s plan to “pour out” His Spirit “on all people.” Does He really mean “all”? Or just “all kinds”? Young, old, men, women? And isn’t that a break from tradition … not just old men, but also young women! Peter, on Pentecost, will tell a crowd hundreds of years later that the day Joel predicted has arrived. Does the “pouring out” continue?
I’m assuming in all of these that the phrasing “Holy Spirit,” “Spirit of God,” “His Spirit” and so on all refer to one and the same Spirit. Am I right in doing so? The New Testament speaks of only one (but I’m getting ahead of myself).
Whew! So many questions. So little brainpower. That’s all I can handle right now. Give me a while, and we’ll get together again and ponder some more in Part II.