The Holy Spirit In The Old Testament

The Holy Spirit is present and working significantly in the Old Testament, beginning in the creation account of Genesis 1.  While the deity and character of the Holy Spirit is obviously unchanged, the work of the Holy Spirit was distinct in the Old Testament (covenant) compared to His work after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, as described in the New Testament (covenant).

All salvation, whether those who were justified in the Old Testament or in the New Testament, is only possible by the Holy Spirit, because of the finished work of Christ and on the basis of faith — even though Old Testament saints did not have full revelation of the work of Christ. (See Romans 3:21-4:25).  In a sense, saints in the Old Testament were saved “on credit.” 1   The Holy Spirit is seen “striving with men” in Genesis 6:3, thus bringing sinners to conviction (a work described also in John 16:8).

The primary Old Testament word for the Holy Spirit is ruah, used approximately 388 times. The primary New Testament word for the Holy Spirit is Pneuma, used 378 times. Yet the New Testament is about one-fourth in length which means that the work of the Spirit is mentioned roughly four times more often. The New Testament gives greater emphasis to the holiness of the Spirit (94 times). Some Old Testament associations with the work of the Spirit like judgment, burning, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and supplications are not emphasized in the New Testament.  On the other hand, the New Testament uniquely speaks of the concepts of life, truth, adoption, power, faith, promise, and eternity in connection with the work of the Holy Spirit. 2

In the Old Testament, the Spirit’s most notable work was special empowerment for specific tasks or assignments. For example, the Spirit of the Lord “came upon” judges (Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 13:2 514:6 and 19, 15:14). The Spirit also came upon craftsmen chosen by God to work on the tabernacle or Temple (Exodus 31:3-6; 1 Chronicles 28:11, 12; 1 Kings 7:13, 14). Civil administrators also experienced Spirit empowerment. This included Moses and the 70 elders (Numbers 11:17), Joshua (Numbers 27:18), Saul (1 Samuel 11:6) and David  (1 Samuel 16:13). We know that the Holly Spirit departed from Saul (1 Samuel 18:10) and David feared a similar departure as we expressed in Psalm 51:11.

The Spirit also temporarily filled some Old Testament prophets for their assigned tasks (2 Chronicles 15:17, 20:1, 14-17.22, 23, 24:20; Numbers 24:2; 1 Chronicles 12:18). Some prophets appeared to be continuously empowered by the Holy Spirit such as Elijah, Elisha, Micah and Ezekiel. Other prophets were not specifically referred to as being empowered or filled with the Holy Spirit but we know that they were indeed “carried along by the Holy Spirit” to write the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:21).

In summary, the Old Testament demonstrates that the Holy Spirit was given selectively and even temporarily to indwell certain individuals.  A key verse to distinguish the difference of the new covenant work of the Spirit is found in Jesus statement to the disciples in John 14:17 , “even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” Jesus makes a paramount distinction. The disciples understood that the Holy Spirit had been with them, and the Old Testament saints. Now, because of the work of Christ He would be in them forever. (John 14:16)

So, because of the work of Christ, the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit indwells believers universally and permanently. The new covenant incorporates the unique realities of all believers being baptized into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13), indwelt (Romans 8:9) and permanently sealed by God through the Holy Spirit until the Day of Redemption (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 4:30).  Every believer (in contrast to only certain individuals in the Old Testament) is empowered by the Spirit for supernatural service through spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12: 4-11). These promises, and their permanency, provide us with great confidence in all the New Testament teaches about the inside-out work of the Holy Spirit to sanctify, transform, guide, illumine, empower, and use us for the glory of Christ.



1. See Robert Jeffress:

2. Leon J. Wood, The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976) 20 – 22