As I said in Part 1 of this series, while the Holy Spirit came to stay at Pentecost, He’s been involved in the biblical narrative and the lives of human beings since Day 1 – literally.
Having said that, there’s no doubt that the Spirit’s involvement in the story goes into overdrive in the New Testament. The (Other) S-Word appears nearly twice as often in the New International Version of the New Testament as it does in the Old (370 to 193), despite the fact that the Old Testament (OT) is around three times as long as the New!
Therefore, I plan to do a pretty deep dive into what the NT says about the Spirit. But I think there are insights to be gained by looking at the first three-quarters of the Bible, too – so let’s start by going into OT:
After fluttering over the waters prior to creation in Genesis 1:2, the next time we see the (Other) S-Word is in Genesis 6:3:
‘Then the Lord said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”
The 120 years in this verse gets a lot of attention: Does it refer to a maximum lifespan for humans? And if so, is that a literal, temporal lifespan, or some sort of spiritual lifespan? Does it serve as a countdown to Noah’s flood?
That’s a topic worth exploring, but what I find more interesting is the notion that God’s Spirit will not contend with humans forever. Do we read ‘contend with’ to mean ‘put up with’ or ‘tolerate’? Does this point to an understanding of an infinite God whose patience with humanity is finite?
Or is it a reminder that we are finite: we’ll only have a century (±20%) – a blink of an eye from God’s perspective – where we’ll occupy temporal bodies that have been animated by the Spirit (breath) of God? And if so, maybe it challenges us to consider and decide whether we’ll we squander this tremendous gift on selfish, pointless pursuits – as the people discussed in the opening passages of Genesis 6 did – or carefully and deliberately use this precious time to bring about the will of our Creator, here on Earth?
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We don’t see the word ‘spirit’ again until Genesis 41:38, when Pharaoh sees the spirit of God in Joseph, and makes the young Hebrew his new prime minister.
Now, presumably, Pharaoh was a worshiper of Ra and Osiris and co., not Yahweh. In light of that, for him to acknowledge that there is one God, and that the Spirit of this one God happens to reside in the foreigner-inmate in front of him, and therefore turn the management of his kingdom over to this Spirit-indwelled foreigner-inmate, is quite remarkable. (I bet his advisers wondered if his someone had slipped some camel droppings into his palm wine.)
Clearly, that’s not the case. Pharaoh’s spiritual vision is bang-on, as Joseph saves Egypt and his family as a direct result of the decision.
But what’s interesting about Joseph – the man who is so obviously indwelled by the Spirit of God that an unbeliever king sees it in him – is that other than the fact he has the ability to interpret people’s dreams, he doesn’t appear to fit the conventional definition of a particularly spiritual person.
We don’t see him engaged in long, detailed conversations with God like his grandfather Abraham had. He doesn’t build altars or make elaborate sacrifices. Heck, Genesis doesn’t even tell us that he prayed!
What it does say is that he was scrupulously honest, very capable and that he gave his all in whatever job he was given. Perhaps most importantly, he seems determined to put God first in his life, and refuses to compromise on that.
Hmm. Two seemingly related facts we know about Joseph:
- The Lord was with Joseph, and gave him success in whatever he did.
- Joseph was a decent, hard-working, God-fearing man who lived a life of gratitude.
But which was the cause, and which was the effect?
Is it possible you have this cause and this effect backwards in your own life?
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Pharaoh’s declaration about the spirit of God being in Joseph is also noteworthy because it’s the first time this kind of language is used. But as we flip forward in the pages of the Old Testament, we see this concept of the Spirit of God indwelling people fairly often.
In Exodus 31:3, a fella named Bezalel is ‘filled with the Spirit of God’ to engage in all kinds of crafts to equip, furnish and adorn the Tabernacle.
A couple of books to the right, in Numbers 11, Moses is tired of shouldering the burden of being the sole go-between for Israel and Yahweh, so God takes some of the power of the Spirit from Moses and gives it to 70 elders who Moses had gathered together to stand around the Tabernacle for a special prayer meeting.
‘When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.’ – Numbers 11:25
So in this case, and elsewhere in the OT, we see the Spirit rest on people for a finite amount of time, to empower them for a specific task. Once the the chore was accomplished, the Spirit apparently departed – and in this case, returned to Moses. (That all changed at Pentecost, as I mentioned earlier in this series, and will explore more, later.)
Another aspect of this story that I find really encouraging comes in Verses 26-29:
26 However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”
28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!”
29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” 30 Then Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
I love the humility of Moses here, for one thing. He knows there’s more than enough Spirit to go around and wishes all of the people would come to their senses and receive Him! And the fact that Joshua – who’s normally a righteous, fearless, faithful man in step with the will of God – gets it wrong here, reminds us that God doesn’t require perfection from His partners.
But what really encourages me about this passage is the fact that Eldad and Medad were gifted with the Spirit, too – even though they didn’t come forward to stand around the tent with the other 70 elders. Maybe Moses missed them when he brought the elders together. Or perhaps they were initially reluctant to come for one of 100 reasons, but once they missed their chance, they regretted it.
And when the time came, the Spirit of God didn’t let their geographic distance from the other elders, or their initial indecisiveness, or Moses’ oversight, stop Him from resting on the people He wanted to rest on, in order to accomplish His will for God’s glory and for their benefit.
I think the same is true for us. Our inadequacies and our misgivings (about us or about Him) are firmly in the category of ‘not a problem’ for the Holy Spirit. If we believe (even, or maybe especially, despite our unbelief), we will receive.
Peace be with you.