A few weeks ago, I wrote an article called “Spiritual Life Comes From The Holy Spirit”.  This article is part of my Bible study series on the Gospel of John.  Part of the article focused in on verse 39 of chapter 7 where John comments that “the Spirit had not yet been given.”  I received a response from one of my readers who raises a good question.  I would like to paste his comment and try to give a good response to him.

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Not arguing with your scripture quotes, but how is it that long before Pentecost, various OT prophets were operating in the Holy Spirit with massive power and miracles. It seems that the Holy Spirit was always there for those who sought Him. The OT account seems to contradict Jn7v39. Just wondered what your thoughts were.

I comprehend where you are coming from, but I keep finding anomalies to the plain statement that the Holy Spirit would not be sent until Jesus had ascended.  i.e. Proverbs 1:23 ‘Turn you at my reproof, behold I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.’

This seems to be quite plain (and present tense) in its meaning, and I don’t buy that there is some difference between pouring “unto” and pouring “into”. Added to which it is an open statement to any reader, not just some OT Patriarch.  I also read some other OT verse the other day saying similar. I have sneaking suspicion that anyone who desired God’s Spirit would never have been refused OT or NT.

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There is no question that God’s Spirit was active long before the day of Pentecost.  We have God’s Spirit involved in the creation of the universe in Genesis ch. 1.  And there are many key people who were empowered by the Spirit of God (Moses, Gideon, Samuel, Saul, David, Elijah, Elisha, Zechariah to name a few).

What many people do not understand is that the Spirit of God was given only selectively to some of these key people that God was empowering to do His work during the OT period.  During the earthly ministry of Jesus, the Spirit did come down and empower Him, just like the OT judges and prophets.  But the Holy Spirit had not yet been released to all believers yet.

In fact, Jesus himself stated in John 16:7 that the Holy Spirit could not come to help believers until Jesus had ascended back up to Heaven.  This is a divine mystery, but it would appear that God decided to limit His direct involvement in the lives of people with only one Person of the Trinity at a time.  But there will come the day when we all who believe will be with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit when we are resurrected into the new heaven and the new earth.

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Let’s take a closer look now at some of the specific times in the OT where God’s Spirit empowered people, and consider the verse our friend pointed out in Proverbs 1:23.  I did check the Hebrew for this verse and taken just by itself, הִנֵּ֤ה אַבִּ֣יעָה לָכֶ֣ם רוּחִ֑י, it can be translated “Behold, I will pour out to you (pl) my spirit.”  In biblical studies and linguistics though, we must always look very carefully at the context in which we find a verse.

Proverbs 1:23 just happens to be part of a larger section (Proverbs chs. 1-4) that deal extensively with the topic of “Wisdom”, and also comes within a unique section of verses in chapter one of vv 20-33.  In this short section, “Wisdom” is personified (which may or may not be a reference to God), and it is Wisdom who starts to say, “I will pour out my….”  So should we translate “ruach” as “Spirit” or something else?

The Translator’s Handbook says:

Wisdom is likened to a fountain of water, a gushing spring for the person who will accept her instruction. Translations differ considerably in this line. NAB has “pour out to you my spirit,” NJPSV “speak my mind,” NJB “pour out my heart,” GECL “I open to you [plural] the treasure of my wisdom.”

It seems best to understand “my spirit” (my thoughts) in terms of what characterizes Wisdom, who is the speaker here. Her essential characteristic is wisdom, and therefore we may say something equivalent to TEV “I will give you good advice” or SPCL “I will fill you with wisdom.”

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Okay, so what about the many other places in the Old Testament where it is quite clear that “God poured out His Spirit” upon His people, or “the Spirit of the LORD came upon them.”  Using word searches like “the Spirit of God”, “God’s Spirit”, and “My Spirit”, I found roughly 50 verses in the entire Old Testament.  With the exception of a few verses which refer to God giving His Spirit to all people, and which are very likely references to the distant future, i.e. in or following the time of Christ, or the end times, almost every other verse was connected to key people and leaders of Israel.

The people to whom God poured out His Spirit were almost exclusively upon Moses and the leaders of his time, upon Judges like Othniel, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson and Samuel.  Then we see special anointing upon the kings of Saul, David and Solomon.  Finally, the Spirit of God came upon the great prophets, from Azariah to Isaiah, Jerimiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, plus prophetic passages that speak of Christ as in Isaiah 42:1-3 and Joel 2:27-29.

The bottom line is that God empowered special leaders of Israel (judges, priest, kings and prophets) when God needed something specifically to be done.  But otherwise, the people of God back then were not fortunate to experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that all believers have access to today.  There is no doubt that we are very privileged to live in the age of the Spirit, who has been  given to all believers after the resurrection and ascension of Christ.  Thank you God!

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