Autumn is my favorite time of year. Texas summers are infernally hot and interminably long so when that first cool front comes whizzing through I consider it an invigorating and rejuvenating blessing from God and I look forward to it with immense anticipation. I love to go stand outside and feel the refreshing breeze blowing through my hair and across my skin. It’s then that I truly appreciate the power and wonder of the wind because it feels so gol dern good. It’s interesting that, in both the original Hebrew and Greek languages, the scriptural word used in reference to the Holy Spirit is the word that can also mean “wind.” I find it a fitting description of Him because we can’t see the atmosphere that surrounds us all day every day but we’d know in a nanosecond if it wasn’t there. And anyone who’s experienced a hurricane, a tornado or even the strong outflow from an approaching thunderstorm can attest to how incredibly powerful air in motion can be. Plus air can be harnessed and used to brake huge semi-trucks, to create lift for heavy aircraft and hoist gigantic slabs of granite into place. The same air so thin and immaterial a baby can move her fingers through it without effort is also so substantial that returning spacecraft must utilize high-performance heat shields in order to keep from being burned to cinders by it. Therefore, in many ways, the Holy Spirit is just as mysterious as the wind that can soothe a fevered brow and inspire jaw-dropping awe.
In my last essay I attempted to amplify what the Bible tells us about the nature and personality of the Holy Spirit. In this edition I’ll try to shine a light on what He’s been up to throughout history. Of course, any study of what He’s been doing has to include what the Triune God has been doing because it’s impossible for mortal beings to separate Him from the indivisible majesty of the Godhead. Simultaneously the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have different functions they perform that are distinctive to each yet they remain unified as one. What I’m trying to say is that it wasn’t the Father or the Spirit who died on the cross, it was definitely God the Son acting on behalf of what we call God. Separating what in actuality can’t be separated is the only way men and women can express the Trinity in comprehensible terms. So we writers do the best we can with that unavoidable conundrum. When we read the Holy Word we find the work of God the Father emphasized in the Old Testament while the acts of God the Son are highlighted in the Gospels. But going forward from the day of Pentecost we notice that God the Holy Spirit takes precedence. At the same time we’re informed that all three aspects of God Almighty have been constantly active in the affairs of the world and mankind from day one. So if I’m to tackle this rationally it makes sense to start out by looking for clues of how the activities of the Holy Spirit can be detected in the books from Genesis through Malachi.
As I pointed out in the previous blog, the Holy Spirit was present in the beginning, “moving over the surface of the waters.” The Hebrew word for “moving” means “brooding” or “hovering” so it’s fair to characterize Him as being like an expectant dove incubating her eggs for the purpose of hatching them and bringing forth new life. Thusly we can deduce He was an integral partner in the original creation. Later, when God “formed the man from the soil of the ground” (Genesis 2:7) He was involved, as well. Job 33:4 says “The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” It’s worth noting that “Spirit” and “breath” are derived from the same fundamental Hebrew word. So when it states in the second half of Genesis 2:7 that God “breathed into his [Adam’s] nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being” the implication (when taken in conjunction with Job 33:4) is the breath of God that got the human race jump-started was, in fact, the Holy Spirit. Psalm 104:30 takes it even further by associating Him not only to the formation of the earth and the debut of humans but to all life. David wrote, “When you send your life-giving breath, they are created, and you replenish the surface of the ground.” Who are the “they” whom the Spirit creates? Psalm 104 in its entirety makes it clear but in verses 18 through 26 we’re told specifically “they” include wild goats and rock badgers, beasts of the forests such as lions, human beings and whatever else lives on land or in the sea. As a matter of fact, without acknowledging the intervention of the Holy Spirit, our scientific knowledge of how a man’s sperm penetrates a woman’s ovum and instigates the process of turning them into a unique person has so many gaping holes in it as to be laughable. Read about Hannah in the OT. As was the custom in those days, a married woman who was barren would pray in the temple for God to bless her and make her fertile so Hannah did just that quite vocally. She was so dramatic about it she was in danger of being arrested for disturbing the peace. The high priest Eli first thought she was drunk but when he admonished her she explained she was simply overwrought with sorrow and couldn’t help herself. 1 Samuel 1:17 tells us the old man responded with kindness and said to her, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant the request that you have asked of him.” About nine months later the great prophet Samuel was born to Hannah and she dedicated him to God. While the Holy Spirit isn’t specifically mentioned, what we found in Psalm 104 and Job 33 indicates that the life-giving miracle involved was due to the supernatural working of none other than the Holy Spirit.
To fully appreciate the scope of what the Holy Spirit does for mankind we must widen our parameters. As part of the Godhead he oversees the feeding of His creation. Psalm 104:14 states, “He provides grass for the cattle, and crops for people to cultivate, so they can produce food from the ground.” But for this blessing obedience and fidelity was expected. In Deuteronomy 28 God informed Israel that if they held up their end of the covenantal bargain so would He. Verse 4-6 reads, “Your children will be blessed, the offspring of your livestock, the calves of your herds, and the lambs of your flocks. Your basket and your mixing bowl will be blessed. You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.” The Jewish Feast of Firstfruits formally gave a nod to the Lord as the one responsible for abundance and the custom of saying grace over meals is a continuation of that tradition. However, as we know, the Israelites were far from faithful. They constantly tested the great I AM’s patience and they eventually incurred God’s justified wrath. In actuality the Holy Spirit tired of man’s belligerent nature even before Abraham came along. In Genesis 6:3 He vowed, “My spirit will not remain in humankind indefinitely…” and a few pages later the worldwide flood erupts to clean the planet’s slate. How can we not look at the mess civilization has gotten itself into in the 21st century and not surmise that He’s most likely in a similarly surly mood? In Luke 17:26 Jesus said of His second coming, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man.” Still we continue to test His tolerance despite that warning.
It should be noted that sometimes the Holy Spirit took possession of certain individuals in order to deliver messages to His chosen people. In the book of Judges alone we come across Othniel, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson. But, as Frederick Buechner wrote, “No prophet is on record as having asked for the job” so the blame has to fall upon the Holy Spirit. There are three main expressions used for how the Holy Spirit “did His thing” through certain men. (1) He supercharged them: “God’s Spirit energized Zechariah…” (2 Chronicles 24:20). (2) He descended upon men: “…the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to them, and he took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied…” (Numbers 11:25). (3) He saturated men: “…I have filled him with the Spirit of God…” (Exodus 31:3). It’s worth noting the Holy Spirit recruited not only judges and prophets but kings. Being anointed with oil was a sign they were now empowered with the power of the Holy Spirit. When Samuel did that to David in 1 Samuel 16:13 we’re told “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day onward.” Yet, as we observed in the Scriptures, the Spirit wasn’t a permanent possession and it could be withdrawn due to disobedience or pride as in the cases of Saul and Samson. David earnestly tried to learn from those guy’s mistakes. In Psalm 51:11 he pleads, “Do not reject me! Do not take your Holy Spirit away from me!” Ultimately, though, God’s merciful deliverance came not in the form of a humanly-anointed king but with the promised Messiah, a title that means “anointed.” Isaiah had predicted way in advance that the Messiah would utter, “The spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has chosen me…” (Isaiah 61:1) and Jesus, after reciting that passage in the synagogue 800 years later, boldly announced, “…Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read.” (Luke 4:21).
Like I said, it’s no easy task to accurately identify the individual activities of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the pages of the OT. It can often get downright subjective. But we do know that Christ appeared from time to time in person (known as “Theophanies”) before the Incarnation and that the moniker of “God” can be attached to any of the three personalities of the Trinity almost arbitrarily. But the gist of my argument so far is that the Holy Spirit isn’t a new addition to the Kingdom of God. He’s been around forever and was instrumental in getting the creation of the universe under way. After that He constantly renewed and nourished what He’d helped to make. We see Him pop up hither and yon throughout the first 39 books of the Bible in the earth’s ecology and among His people, guiding and delivering them through the judges, prophets, kings and others. On top of all that He guaranteed there’d come a day when the Savior of mankind would arrive in the flesh. When that glorious event finally came about the work of the Holy Spirit became focused on the person of Jesus Christ. The Son was begotten of Him (see Luke 1:35 in the next paragraph), baptized by Him: “Then John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining – this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:32-33), led by Him: “Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…” (Luke 4:1), crowned by Him: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” and “…with respect to Jesus from Nazareth, that God anointed him with the Holy Spirit…” (Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38) and empowered by Him: “And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? For this reason they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has already overtaken you.” (Matthew 12:27-28). Jesus also offered Himself up as the atonement for sin by the Spirit: “…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” (Hebrews 9:14), was resurrected by Him: “Moreover if the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will also make your mortal bodies alive through his Spirit who lives in you.” (Romans 8:11) and issued commandments by Him “…until the day he was taken up to heaven, after he had given orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.” (Acts 1:2).
There’s not a more dramatic and mind-stretching passage in the Bible than Luke 1:35 wherein the Virgin Mary is told by the angel Gabriel in person, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.” Churchgoers hear that verse repeated every Christmas so often they tend to gloss over its astounding poignancy. To an unbeliever it’s utter nonsense and they’re quick to point out its implausibility. Even Mary herself entertained a doubtful moment or two as she questioned her sanity but Gabriel picked up on her thoughts and assured her with the statement, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37) The deal is, for Christians who trust God without reservation what’s truly nonsense is any suggestion that the Holy Spirit was incapable of pulling off such a feat! Our faith tells us there’s only one God. He rules supreme in His universe and there’s absolutely nothing He can’t do. Close-minded skeptics don’t bother Him one bit because at all times He does precisely as He chooses sans their permission. When He planned the Messiah’s birth He performed a miracle by skipping one crucial step in the normal physiological chain of events: no human male was involved in the conception. The fetus that formed in the womb of the virgin was none other than Emmanuel, “God with us.” The virgin birth can’t be explained in any other way than by acknowledging God as the Son’s heavenly and earthly Father. Some theologians have stepped perilously close to a dangerous spiritual ledge by hinting that the Divine Incarnation is some sort of myth but they’re literally playing with hellfire. To reject the deity of Christ is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit and the Bible says that’s the unpardonable sin. Go there and you’re on your own, Bubba.
The Holy Ghost also ministered to the disciples before Pentecost. Jesus said of his followers in John 14:17, “But you know him [the Holy Spirit], because he resides with you and will be in you.” To Nicodemus’ infamous question the Lord answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5) Yet the work of the Holy Spirit among men and women in Jesus’ day was different from His work in today’s world. In John 7:38 we’re informed by the writer that Christ confidently announced, “From within Him will flow rivers of living water.” In the next verse John adds in a kind of footnote, “Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” This is one of those times in the Scriptures when discerning the exact meaning is a speculative undertaking at best. What we do know, however, is that when the Spirit descended upon the disciples at Pentecost it was a fantastic happening that surpassed anything they’d ever experienced before. It was a collective epiphany to beat all epiphanies.
What I’ve tried to show so far is that the Holy Spirit was busy at work in various ways leading up to the birth of the Messiah and played a vital part in His arrival on earth, after which he participated extensively in the life Jesus led afterwards and in the goings on of His disciples. Next we’ll look into what He’s been up to since Pentecost.