Role in Creation:
In the Old Testament the word for spirit is the same as the word wind and breath (רוּח) which occurs 378 times. From the very beginning the Spirit played a role in creation, “and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Gen 1:2). God’s Spirit not only assisted in the creation of the world, but also, arguably, took part in the creation of mankind, “the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen 2:7).
Role in Initiating God’s Plans:
One of the clearest roles in the Old Testament of the Spirit is his purpose to initiate the plans of God. There are certain activities that God specifically gifts or empowers his people to do that they would not be able to do on their own. The message often comes through angels and the power or gift often comes by the Spirit of God.
- God gifted some of the Hebrews to build his tabernacle by filling them with His Spirit (Exo 31:1-6).
- God gave Moses and the elders power from His Spirit (Numbers 11:16ff).
- God gave the judges of Israel his Spirit in order to do mighty things and to assist them when they repented from the evil ways and turned back to God (Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 14:6, 14:19, & 15:14).
- The Spirit was present in ordaining and empowering kings (Saul – 1 Sam 10, David – 1 Sam 16)
- The Spirit initiated prophesy: (Balaam – Num 24:2, Saul – 1 Sam 19, David – 2 Sam 23, etc)
- The Holy Spirit was associated with the coming of the messiah (Isa 11:2, 42:1, and 61:1)
- The Holy Spirit imparted prophetic gifts to the prophets (Joel 3:1-5).
Continuity with the New Testament:
As we will see in the next post, the role of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament has a lot of continuity with the Old Testament. What was the overarching purpose of these activities and the role of the Spirit? This is a point I can’t find anyone making but I thought I would toss it out there. The role of the Spirit in the Old Testament is to bring glory to God and bring unity to the people as those empowered by the Spirit played a role in unifying the people (the judges, kings, prophets, etc). In the New Testament the Spirit will again be a major player in the initiation of God’s plans, in imparting spiritual gifts, and is again connected with the messiah.
For an excellent treatment of the Holy Spirit in both testaments, a great bibliography, and the source of portions of this information see “Holy Spirit” by F.W. Horn in the Anchor Bible Dictionary.