You Have An Unction
The Holy Spirit’s Work In Past Ages
Dr. David Clifford is currently engaged in international Bible lecturing and teaching, and now makes his home in Florida. This article is his fifth of thirteen studies on the Holy Spirit.
It was Dr. B. B. Warfield who said, “The Spirit of God is seen acting as a Person and He is presented to us as a Person throughout the Old Testament. In no passage is He conceived otherwise than personally, as a free, wise, intelligent Person, and everywhere the Holy Spirit is identified with God.”
The Holy Spirit is in all ages the same in His essential mode of being. It is true that He has undertaken different activities in different ages, but He has been actually resident in the world since its creation, in all the past ages as in the present.
The Old Testament does not fail to present Him to its readers in His vital Person and features of His work, but it will be readily admitted that much added doctrine concerning the third Person of the Trinity is not expressed fully until we turn to the New Testament.
In the opening sentences of the Bible, without building up the fact, and without announcement, introduction or preparation, the Holy Spirit’s Person and power are at once assumed.
There are three ministrations of the Holy Spirit seen in the Old Testament.
1. The Work Of The Holy Spirit In Relation To The Universe
The first idea is seen right at the commencement of the Word of God in Genesis 1:2. “The Spirit of God was moving upon the surface of the waters.” By His own volition the Spirit began to glide over the dark waters of the earth and commenced moving and working and changing things according to the divine pattern. Throughout the Old Testament there is abundant testimony to the Spirit’s work in creating all things and sustaining all things. In fact, this is the active power of God working as an almighty person.
Following the judgments that overcame the earth because of man’s sin, it was the Holy Spirit who graciously renewed the face of the earth (see Psa. 104:30). His divine work of creation is also seen above the earth and in the heavens according to Job 26:13 (KJV): “By His Spirit He hath garnished the heavens.” It was the Holy Spirit Himself who came to sinful men of old, convicted them as He does today, and strove with them to walk in God’s ways, for the Lord God said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 6:3).
Matthew Henry said, “God’s Spirit is not only the fountain of life, He is the spring of motion.” The working of His power in the universe is irresistable, as He is sovereign. The cosmic chaos would forever have remained had not the Spirit begun to move.
2. The Work Of The Spirit In Relation To Things Governmental
Not only do we refer to things governed by men through the Spirit’s power but also to the divine government of all things, seeing the Spirit of God in all His authority, not only directing but creating spiritual realities. “The Spirit of the Lord came upon …” is a phrase which is repeated again and again in the Scriptures, and it concerned the many who discharged government and rule as they acted from God and for Him. The prophets of the Old Testament were empowered especially by the Holy Spirit coming upon them (a fact which is asserted in the New Testament in 2 Pet. 1:21), and all these prophets, through whom He spoke, were recognized by all who were in authority in the nation to be from God and anointed by His Spirit (cf. Zech. 4:6; Hag. 2:5). Tabernacle builders, prophets, priests, and kings were thus anointed for their respective tasks by the Spirit of God coming upon them.
Other examples of this procedure will be seen in Numbers 24:2 regarding Balaam, and in 1 Samuel 11:6 regarding King Saul. In Old Testament times we find that special provisions were made for Israel’s guidance in the pillar of cloud and fire, and also by the Urim and Thummim stones in the breastplate of the high priest. Sometimes signs were given in individual cases such as in the case of Gideon’s fleece. There were, however, those who evidently anticipated the fuller light to be given in the New Testament days and lived lives differing very little from those now lived by Spirit-filled children of God. Enoch, Noah, Job, Abraham and his servant, too (Gen. 26) are beautiful examples of lives guided by the Spirit of God in the very dawn of history.
It was within the chosen nation of Israel, however, that the Holy Spirit especially worked, protecting, instructing and leading, and all to the end that the will of God should be realized. Note here how the Spirit is the Sovereign One using material of His own design, and sometimes quite apart from the natural gifts the instrument might possess. The approach from without is emphasized in the fact that the Spirit of God came upon them directly: “I have put my Spirit upon Him” (Isa. 42:1); “The Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him” (Judg. 14:6). It seemed sometimes that the Holy Spirit clothed Himself with a man to the end that it was the Spirit working almost apart from the man He covered or enshrouded. We shall see, however, that the New Testament teaching in regard to His special ministry is both deeper, fuller and more specific.
The sevenfold fullness and representations of the Spirit as seen in Revelation 1 is first introduced in Isaiah 11:1-4. This speaks, of course, not of seven spirits but of the completeness of the One Eternal Spirit. Later on in the same prophecy (42:1-3), God’s servant sees the first and second advent of the Messiah, and the Holy Spirit is seen there to be playing the same part in the one as the other.
III. The Work Of The Spirit In Relation To Individuals In The Old Testament.
The Spirit is said to indwell only a few of the Old Testament saints, but we often read that He came upon them. Perhaps this is the reason that our Lord’s teaching concerning the new birth of the Spirit, and concerning His sovereignty, came as quite a surprise to Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews and apparently very well acquainted with the Old Testament.
When the Holy Spirit came upon individuals such as Othniel, Samson and Azariah (see Judg. 3:10; 13:25; 2 Chron. 15:1), He was often soon to leave them again. The same is true when He came upon those who did not belong to God’s people. It was simply that God in His sovereignty would use them to fullfil His own designs, and then depart when the mission was accomplished. It was during that period of the past ages that David prayed, “Do not take thy Holy Spirit from me” (Psa. 51:11), thus showing that he knew quite well that it was possible for the Spirit to remove Himself from a person whom He had at one time anointed by His coming upon him.