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The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament

by Stephen Davey

Adrienne wrote and asked:

Was the Holy Spirit an indwelling presence with believers in the Old Testament? If not, how were believers drawn to God and how were they able to live sanctified lives if the Spirit of God did not dwell in them?

Great question, Adrienne. One of the intriguing questions concerning the work of the Holy Spirit in the Bible is whether the Holy Spirit indwelt believers in the Old Testament, and if not, how were they drawn to faith? This question requires a nuanced exploration of the Holy Spirit's role throughout biblical history. Here are some points that may help you understand this.

The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament:

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is certainly present and active. We see His involvement in creation (Genesis 1:2), in empowering individuals for specific tasks (Exodus 31:3), and in inspiring the prophets (2 Samuel 23:2). However, the nature of the Spirit's interaction with individuals in the Old Testament appears to be somewhat different from the indwelling presence experienced by New Testament believers.

The Spirit’s Empowerment for Service:

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon certain individuals to empower them for specific tasks or roles. For example, Saul and David were anointed by the Spirit to lead (1 Samuel 16:13-14). Similarly, Bezalel was filled with the Spirit to craft the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:3). This filling was often temporary and linked to a particular purpose.

The Spirit and Faith in the Old Testament:

Old Testament believers were drawn to faith primarily through God's revealed word and actions. The Law, the Prophets, and God's mighty acts (like the Exodus) were central in revealing God's character and requirements. Faith, therefore, was a response to this revelation. For example, Abraham's faith was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6), a faith responding to God’s promise.

Sanctification in the Old Testament:

In the Old Testament, sanctification was closely tied to the Law and the covenant between God and His people. The Law provided a clear framework for holy living, detailing how Israelites were to conduct themselves in a manner pleasing to God (Leviticus 19:2, Deuteronomy 7:6). Keeping the Law and living sanctified lives would have been seen as synonymous.

However, sanctification in the lives of Old Testament believers also hinged on their faith. Figures like Abraham, Moses, and David exemplify this. Despite their flaws, their faith in God’s promises and adherence to His commandments were counted to them as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Their lives, though not perfect, were marked by a sincere desire to follow God, which led to acts of obedience and moments of repentance when they strayed.

The Prophetic Promise of a New Covenant:

The prophets, especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel, foretold a time of a new covenant where the law would be written on people's hearts (Jeremiah 31:33; Ezekiel 36:26-27). <>, which was to be fully realized in the New Testament era. Link to:

The Holy Spirit in the New Testament:

The distinctiveness of the Holy Spirit’s role in the New Testament is highlighted by Jesus’ teachings and the events at Pentecost (Acts 2). Jesus promised that the Spirit would come to be with believers forever, dwelling within them (John 14:16-17). <>, initiating the era of the Spirit's indwelling presence in all believers.


So, while the Holy Spirit was certainly present and active in the Old Testament, His indwelling of believers as experienced in the New Testament era was not the norm. Old Testament believers were drawn to God through His revealed word and mighty acts, and the Spirit empowered individuals for specific tasks. The New Testament inaugurates a deeper, more intimate role for the Spirit - one of indwelling, guiding, and transforming believers from the inside out. This transition marks the fulfillment of the prophetic promises of a new covenant and represents a significant development in the Spirit's work in the lives of God's people.

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