The (Other) S-Word appears a lot more in the New Testament than the Old, but there’s easily enough Spirit-related material in just the Old Testament to fill a whole book. I barely scratched the surface in Part 3 of this series, so I’m afraid we need to go into Double OT.
But since I have no interest in writing such a book (today), I’ll try to be ruthlessly selective, and hopefully we won’t end up going into Triple OT. … Definitely not Quadruple OT, anyway!
Moses and Joshua
In Part 3, I noted that even a legitimate hero of the faith can have his heart on a little crooked now and then – as Joshua did in Numbers 11, when he wanted Moses to stop Eldad and Medad to stop prophesying. Today, in Numbers 27, we see the proof that despite this error (and others on Joshua’s part) God sees something great in him:
‘So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit of leadership, and lay your hand on him.’ – Numbers 27:18
But in light of Moses’ exasperated rebuke in Numbers 11:29, I wonder if prior to this point, Joshua believed that ‘spirit of leadership’ thing about himself. He’d certainly shown skills as a military captain and the loyalty of an able lieutenant up to this point, but did he see himself as a worthy successor of Moses? The Son of Amram wore some mighty big sandals, after all, and we don’t get the impression he was big on high-fives and hugs to motivate his helpers.
But any doubts he (and any of the people of Israel) may have had about his qualifications were definitively extinguished in Verses 22 and 23, when Moses obeyed God’s instruction in Verse 18.
Furthermore, in a flashback to this scene in the closing chapter of Deuteronomy, we learn that Joshua gained more than a mere succession mandate in this ceremony:
‘Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.’ – Deuteronomy 34:9
Prior to that ceremony, he was equipped with the spirit of leadership. Afterwards, he was filled with the spirit of wisdom, too.
But as I ponder this episode, I wonder if he actually gained the spirit of wisdom as a result of the experience. Is it possible that the wisdom he acquired was simply the knowledge that he had the spirit of leadership he needed to take over for Moses? Maybe the miracle in this scene is that God revealed strength and wisdom and leadership skills that were already inside Joshua, and this knowledge gave him the courage and the confidence to step out in faith (in God for sure, but also in himself) and use them to do the job he’d been anointed to.
And on that note …
What formidable, daunting tasks are before you? Are you waiting for the Holy Spirit to equip you with what you need to complete them? And are you sure He hasn’t already done that?
Make your way through the Book of Judges – which guides us through the dark age of Israelite history between the glory days of Joshua’s conquest and the age of Kings – and you’ll see a very sad pattern emerge. (Listen to Andy Stanley’s Right in the Eye sermon series for more insight on this pattern. To quote one of Andy’s taglines, ‘you’ll be glad you did.’)
The Coles notes of this cyclical story is that the Spirit of God repeatedly comes on an ordinary Israelite, who then goes on to judge (lead) Israel, and mop the floor with its enemies. The Israelites then bask in the glory of this victory and live righteously(ish) for a while, but their memories are short and they revert to heathen ways, leading to their domination at the hands of their neighbors – the very heathens they’ve just chosen to emulate, as Stanley points out in the sermon series – and they cry out to God for help … and the cycle starts again.
The phrase ‘the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord‘ appears seven times in the 21 chapters of Judges – and yet the Spirit of God faithfully continues to anoint judge after judge after judge.
That pattern paints a very discouraging (but accurate) picture of the shortsightedness and stiffneckedness of man, but thankfully, it also paints a very encouraging (and accurate) picture of the patience and grace of God.
Sam & Dave (and Saul)
At the end of this era, the last judge – a righteous man named Samuel – eventually passes the mantle of the leadership of Israel to the kings, starting with a tall, brawny and handsome Benjamite named Saul. Clearly wanting to give the king every possible advantage, God doesn’t just give Saul a crown, He gives him his spirit:
‘The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.’ – 1 Samuel 10:6-7
The Spirit does come, Saul does prophesy and things go well in the early days of his reign. But before long, he turns his back on God and Samuel, leaving the Spirit no choice but to bless a replacement king:
’13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
’14 Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him.’ – 1 Samuel 16:13-14
It’s great to see the Spirit of the Lord come powerfully upon David in Verse 13. And I’m also OK with the first part of Verse 14 as well – it seems more accurate to say that Saul departed from the Spirit of the Lord than vice-versa.
However, I find the idea that the evil spirit that tormented Saul was ‘from the Lord’ quite disconcerting. Did God really send evil spirits to torment the people who offended him? Does He still do that?
I found an Apologetics Press article on this exact question. The writer suggests that the idiom used in the original Hebrew in this passage is meant to convey that God merely allowed the spirit to torment Saul, not that He sent it.
So perhaps the evil spirit’s entry into Saul’s life isn’t retribution for turning away from God, but it’s a consequence of it. God could have stopped it, of course, because He can do anything.
But perhaps His decision not to prevent the spirit from tormenting Saul is no different than the thousands of times per day that He doesn’t set aside the laws of physics to save the life of one of His children who does something stupid like texting while driving.
That still seems harsh, but perhaps it illustrates an integral but alarming component of the gift of free will that God gives us. When we opt out of the grace of God, He honors that choice. Period.
† † †
Well, apparently even Double OT isn’t enough. Looks like we’re headed to Triple OT, folks. In the meantime…
Peace be with you.