God’s Spirit, OT
The later prophets look forward to an age of the Spirit, when God’s Spirit will be poured out on all flesh. What did the OT believers understand of the Spirit, and what is the meaning of the term “spirit” in the OT?
The word translated “spirit,” like the Greek term used in the NT, simply means “wind, breath, or spirit.” It is a word associated with life, as when God breathes the breath (spirit) of life into Adam, and man becomes a living being. The breath, or spirit, is that active, life-giving force which animates all who move and breathe. Not every reference to spirit in the OT is a reference to God’s Spirit.
When the OT speaks of the Spirit of God, or of God’s Spirit, the Scriptures focus our attention on who God is as a vital, active, life-giving person. The OT does not state, and OT saints did not suspect, the Holy Spirit as separate and yet equal persons. But they did know that the one the prophets spoke of as “the Spirit” is God.
In the OT it is God as Spirit who hovers, superintending the shaping of the universe. It is God as Spirit who contends against man’s sins and who finally acts to bring on the cataclysmic judgment of the Flood.
The Spirit of God is also known in the OT as the one who provides power or skill or ability for special ministries, whether to artisans for construction of the winderness Tabernacle, to men for the leadership of God’s people, or to warriors for battle. It is the Spirit of the Lord who speaks through the prophets.
In the OT the Spirit is associated with the person and mission of the Messiah. It is the Spirit who rests on Messiah to give him his wisdom and understanding. While it is the Holy Spirit who has been angered by Israel’s sins, it is this same Spirit who will one day be poured out on all, to bring man to purification and transformation from within. The new heart is a gift brought by the Spirit (Ezekiel 37:14, Joel 2:28, 29).
And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the Lord have spoken it, and performed it, saith the Lord. Ezekiel 37:14
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: 29 And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. Joel 2:28,29
When Jesus, in John 3, expresses surprise that Nicodemus does not understand his reference to the wind (Spirit) and being “born again,” he is referring to the OT promises associated with the age of the Spirit. A ruler in Israel, versed as Nicodemus was in the Scriptures, should have understood new birth as the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s new covenant promises, and a sign of the advent of the promised new age.