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Scholarly Confirmation that the OT Testifies
To the Spirit’s Divine Personhood

Sam Shamoun

The following is taken from the Holman Old Testament Commentary: Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Max Anders & Stephen Miller (general editors), Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN 2004, pp. 188-191. This comes specifically from the section dealing with Zechariah. It provides extensive Old Testament data proving that even the Hebrew Bible depicts the Holy Spirit as a fully divine Person, and therefore God in essence.

D. The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament (4:6)

Few subjects are as misunderstood by the average Christian and as hotly debated by scholars as the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament era. In Zechariah 4:6 we are introduced to the Holy Spirit for the first time in the book. The Hebrew word rendered “Spirit” is ruach, and it occurs over 380 times in the Old Testament. According to Leon Wood, the range of meaning for ruach is as follows: (1) wind, 101 times; (2) breath, 18 times; (3) odor, 13 times; (4) space, 6 times; (5) human spirit, 84 times; (6) God’s Spirit, 97 times; (7) life principle, 11 times; (8) emotional response, 28 times; (9) angels, 4 times; (10) evil spirits, 18 times; and (11) life force in an animal, 1 time (Wood, The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998, pp. 16-17).  

In Zechariah ruach clearly speaks of the Holy Spirit in 4:6; 6:8; and 7:12. “A spirit of grace and supplication” (12:10) may refer to an attitude of repentance but most likely speaks of God’s Spirit conveying grace, leading to the people’s crying out to God for mercy. Elsewhere in Zechariah, ruach refers to angels (6:5), the spirit of man (12:1), and a disposition (13:2).

The Holy Spirit is mentioned from earliest times in the Bible (cp. Gen. 1:2; 6:3). He is directly referred to in twenty-three of the thirty-nine Old Testament books, and his work is implied in others.

The Person of the Holy Spirit. From the Spirit’s name we know that he is a spirit and that he is holy. David was the first to call him the “Holy Spirit” (Ps. 51:11). In the Old Testament the deity of the Holy Spirit is evident. He is specifically called the “Spirit of God” (Gen. 1:2; Exod. 31:3; Num. 24:2; 1 Sam. 10:10; Ps. 106:33), and characteristics of deity are attributed to him – ability to create (Job 33:4; Ps. 104:30), omniscience (Isa. 40:13), power (Judg. 14:6, 19; Isa. 11:2; Zech. 4:6), and omnipresence (Ps. 139:7).

Some scholars have denied that Old Testament saints understood the Holy Spirit to be a person, yet there is abundant evidence to the contrary. A study of the Old Testament reveals that the Spirit exhibits traits of personality. He has emotions. In Isaiah 63:10 we read that Israel “grieved his [God’s] Holy Spirit.” Impersonal forces or powers are not grieved – only persons. He has a mind. Isaiah speaks of the Spirit’s “wisdom,” “understanding,” and “knowledge” (Isa. 11:2). Nehemiah says that God gave his “good Spirit to instruct them” (Ne. 9:20), and the Spirit told Ezekiel what to say (Ezek. 11:5). The distinctive personality of the Spirit is readily apparent in Isaiah 48:16: “And now Sovereign LORD has sent me, with [or “and”] his Spirit.”

The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. In Old Testament times, the Holy Spirit was extremely active. The Spirit was involved in the creation of the universe (Gen. 1:2) and continues his role in the creation of life (Job 33:4; Ps. 104:30). In Genesis 6:3 we discover that the Spirit convicts unbelievers of sin.

The Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures. In 2 Samuel 23:2 David said, “The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.” Zechariah prophesied, “They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry” (Zech. 7:12). In Nehemiah 9:30 we read, “By your Spirit you admonished them through your prophets.” 

Modern believers may be surprised to learn that the Spirit was quite active in the lives of individual Old Testament saints. We find that the Holy Spirit imparts wisdom (Neh. 9:20; Isa. 11:2); guides (1 Kgs. 18:12; Isa. 30:1); inspires prayer (Zech. 12:10); and empowers (Zech. 4:6).

In the Old Testament the empowering work of the Spirit is especially prominent and deserves further comment.  

The Spirit came upon or filled the following persons with power for service: (1) a craftsman: Bezalel (Exod. 31:3; 35:30-31); (2) leaders: Moses (Num. 11:17); seventy elders (Num. 11:25); Othniel, judge (Judg. 3:10); Gideon, judge (Judg. 6:34); Jephthah, judge (Judg. 11:29); Samson, judge (Judg. 14:6, 19; 15:14); Saul, king (1 Sam. 10:10; 11:6; 19:23); David, king (1 Sam. 16:13); and (3) prophets: Balaam (Num. 24:2); Azariah (2 Chr. 15:1); Zechariah (2 Chr. 24:20); and Ezekiel (Ezek. 3:24; 11:5). Both priests and kings were anointed with oil, symbolic of the Spirit’s power coming upon them to serve in these capacities (Exod. 29:7; 1 Sam. 10:1; 16:13; 1 Kgs. 1:39). The Spirit’s anointing power on an individual could be removed (Saul, 1 Sam. 16:14) or remain for life (David, 1 Sam. 16:13).

The permanent indwelling of the Spirit is not unequivocally taught in the Old Testament except in the context of the new covenant passage of Ezekiel 36:27: “And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” Thus, it is generally held that the Holy Spirit came upon the Old Testament saints for specific purposes but did not permanently indwell them. Passages that speak of the Spirit coming upon and departing from individuals are usually cited to support this view (e.g., Judg. 3:10; 6:34; 1 Sam. 10:10; 16:13-14). However, such examples are best taken to refer to God’s anointing power for a task and do not shed light on the question of permanent indwelling. Even David’s plea that God not take his “Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11) seems best understood as reflecting David’s fear that the Spirit’s anointing power for kingly service would be taken from him as it had been from Saul (1 Sam. 16:13-14).

A number of evangelical scholars contend that the Holy Spirit did, in fact, regenerate and permanently indwell Old Testament believers. W. C. Kaiser Jr. presents a compelling case for this position and deals with difficulties associated with it in his excellent book, Toward Rediscovering the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991). No doubt exists that Christians today are blessed with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9).