What was the role of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament?

Tough Questions with RC Sproul

What was the role of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament?
role of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was not principally
from the role of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. While there
are some
differences, there’s an essential unity between the two

The Holy Spirit was active in many ways in Old Testament
times. First and
foremost was the Trinity’s part of the work of creation. In
the act of
creation itself, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit were all
involved. The
Spirit brooded over the water and brought order and structure
out of the yet
unordered universe that we find in the opening chapters of
Genesis. People
were regenerated in the Old Testament just as they are
regenerated in the New
Testament, and one cannot be regenerated except
through the influence of God
the Holy Spirit. David needed the regenerating
power of God just as much as
the apostle Paul needed it in the New

We also know that the Spirit was very active charismatically;
that is, by
gifting certain people in the Old Testament and equipping them
for specific
tasks. For example, the king of Israel was anointed with oil,
symbolizing his
being anointed by the Holy Spirit to be empowered to carry
out his vocation in
a godly way. The same was true of priests. The prophets
of Israel, who were
agents of revelation, were inspired by God the Holy
Spirit and equipped to be
the messengers of God to the people and to give us
sacred Scripture in the
same basic manner that the apostles in the New
Testament were so endowed and
superintended by the Holy Spirit. So we see
that the Spirit was
active—regenerating, sanctifying, preserving, interceding
for—doing all of
those things in the Old Testament that he does in the New

What’s the difference? In the Old Testament book of Numbers,
when Moses was
complaining because the burden of leading all the people had
become so weighty
it was about to crush him, he pled for relief from God. God
told him to gather
seventy of the elders of Israel in order to take from the
Spirit that was upon
Moses and distribute it to the seventy so they could
help him lead the people
of Israel. That’s exactly what the text said
happened. God then gave this
charismatic empowering, this special gift, to
seventy other people, not just
Moses, so that they could all participate in
ministry. That was not
regeneration or sanctification, it was an empowering
for ministry given only
to select individuals. Moses’ prayer was, “Oh, that
all the Lord’s people were
prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit
upon them!” (Num. 11:29). What
Moses prayed for became a prophecy in the pen
of the prophet Joel, who said
that in the latter days that’s exactly what
would happen. And on the Day of
Pentecost it did happen. The apostle Peter
said that it was about this that
Joel was writing, that now the Spirit to
empower the church for ministry is
given to everybody, not just to the

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