The activities of the Holy Spirit did not start on the Pentecost Day. Right in the beginning, he hovered over the formless void of creation (Gen 1:2), and was involved in the Creation (Gen. 1:26; Job 33:4). The Holy Spirit, though most times, called the Spirit of God, also featured actively during the exodus from Egypt, the time of the kings, and most notably during the ministry of the prophets. However, the operations of the Holy Spirit prior to the Pentecost Day (of the year of the Lord’s Ascension) were different and served as prelude to the Pentecost event, thus:
The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was for a selected few. He came only on selected leaders of the people, such as the 70 elders (Num. 11:24-27), Othniel (Judges 3:10), Gideon (6:34), Jephthah (11:29), and others. Each time the spirit came; the recipient(s) would immediately go on to complete a mighty act requiring power or wisdom, or to speak a prophetic word.
The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was also transitory. Those who received him did not have him permanently. However, the Old Testament developed the hope of permanence and universality of the Holy Spirit. Even Moses, at his time, desired that the Lord would put his Spirit upon all his people (Num. 11:29). Isaiah spoke of the Spirit resting on Messiah (11:2). God confirmed: “I will put my Spirit on him” (42:1, cf. 61:1), and later “My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth…” (59:21).
With regard to universality, Ezekiel declared that under the new covenant, God’s people would have a new spirit (11:19, 36:26). This new Spirit was soon shown to actually be God’s Spirit (36:27) who would bring holiness, and even life itself (37:14). Again, God promised that he would pour out his Spirit on the house of Israel (39:29). This cry/hope was taken up by Joel (2:28-9), who added more details. The outpouring of the Spirit of God would produce prophecy, and would impact both young and old, and even male and female.
But the anticipated new phenomenon/operation of the Holy Spirit was never realised in the Old Testament. In fact, the Old Testament ended with a cessation of the Holy Spirit/prophecy (Zech. 13:3-6). The four hundred years of the inter-testamental period came to be characterised by one thing above all others: the complete absence of the Spirit.
Lessons For The Church
• The Holy Spirit is not a “new” spirit. He is neither the spirit of our age nor of the “Pentecostal Movement” of our time. He has been there in the Old Testament, and even from the beginning.
• Since the Holy Spirit is involved in our creation, he knows us inside out. Therefore, he alone can be our best help. We should learn to rely on him.
• The fact that the Holy Spirit came only on those whom God wanted to use (elders, leaders, prophets, etc.) in the Old Testament indicate that the eventual release of the Holy Spirit to all Christians means that we are a special people for Divine use. The Holy Spirit is for ministry.
• The present permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit should enable us to operate on a higher realm than the Old Testament people and as well be dedicated for life to the service of God.
The Ven. Dr Princewill Onyinyechukwu Ireoba is the Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.