A Question I Was Asked:

What is the Difference Between the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and God's Granting of the Holy Spirit to Believers Now?

What is the difference between the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and God's granting of the Holy Spirit to believers now?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Good question.

In the Old Testament God only granted His Spirit to rare individuals who played a major part in His plan; His effect was more dramatic and powerful but usually only to those individuals, people like Samson, Gideon, Samuel, David, Elijah and Elishah. God did not make His Spirit generally available to sincere followers at that time. His Spirit had a more immediate and impactful role. Here are examples of the typical Old Testament accounts of the activity of the Holy Spirit:

5. Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him. 6. The Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done. (Judges 14:5-6).

Pharaoh recognized that the Spirit was in Joseph (Genesis 41:38), though it is possible that Pharaoh did not understand that this was the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit was also in Joshua (Numbers 27:18), the Spirit was in Daniel (Daniel 4:8; 5:11-14; 6:3). The Hebrew preposition used is 'beth,' meaning "in."

In the Old Testament the Spirit also 'came upon' some. The preposition used to depict this is often 'al.' A number of people experienced this ministry of the Spirit (Numbers 24:2; Judges 3:10; 6:34; 11:29; 13:25; 1 Samuel 10:10; 16:13; 2 Chronicles 15:1). These included at least certain of the Judges of Israel, if not every single one. But taking the Hebrew Scriptures in general it seems that the activity of the Holy Spirit of God back then was somewhat more outward and dramatic, something to effect an immediate and dramatic result, less a thing that was ongoing, or which would change the internal man or woman over a period of time.

New Testament Contrast

In the New Testament God certainly marked the coming of the Holy Spirit to internally change various people in dramatic ways at times, including at the very first Christian Pentecost, yet not always, and we probably should not normally expect any dramatic outward changes in people who have received the Spirit of God, rather, we would expect to witness gradual changes over several years. However, it appears that we ourselves can 'stir up' the Spirit when necessary and we should request this ability from God.

Paul wrote this to Timothy:

6. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

To 'stir up the Spirit' appears to be another expression for 'being 'filled with the Spirit.'

17. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. 18. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, (Ephesians 5:17-18).

So 'fillings of the Spirit' can certainly be dramatic but, overall, it appears that God allows His Holy Spirit to work in a quieter manner in Christians in our own day. The good news is that every truly converted Christian believer has access to this, whereas in Old Testament times very few seem to have had such access but the results were often very dramatic back then. So there is a difference.

So it seems to me that the work of the Holy Spirit in this church age is now much more transformative, something to be witnessed over a lifetime rather than being something sudden and dramatic.

Robin A. Brace. February 3rd, 2018.