What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the OT?
This week I’m preaching on Hebrews 8, which describes the betterness of the New Covenant using Jeremiah 31. The passage raises the question: if the NT is so much better because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, by which God implants the word upon our hearts, what was the role of the Spirit in the Old Covenant?
That’s a tricky question, and this isn’t meant as anything like a complete answer, but here’s a brief attempt I published awhile back in an article on the Holy Spirit for Baker’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary:
The scarcity of the phrase “Holy Spirit” in the OT (only in Ps. 51:11 and Isa. 63:10) does not imply lack of interest or importance. While it should be recognized that the person of the Holy Spirit receives nothing like the systematic reflection devoted to it in the NT, when one includes correlative terms, such as “Spirit of God,” “my Spirit,” “wind,” or “breath,” it is apparent that OT writers attributed great significance to God’s Spirit. Thus the Spirit was at work in the beginning of creation (Gen. 1:2). Adam and Eve are uniquely given life by the breath of God (Gen. 2:7). The Spirit enables the building of the Tabernacle (Exod. 31:3), gives voice to the message of the prophets (Num. 11:29; cf. 2 Pet. 1:21), empowers Israel’s leaders (1 Sam 16:13), and provides access to God’s presence (Psa 51:11). Yet in all this, the work of the Spirit in the OT is preliminary, sporadic, occasional, and localized. Thus, the prophets long for a new age when God’s people will more perfectly enjoy the Spirit’s presence (Isa 32:15; 44:3, 61:1; Joel 2:28).