Basic Theology: Indwelling


Indwelling in the Old Testament was selective and temporary. The Spirit “came upon” such Old Testament people.

And the Lord said to Moses in,
Numbers 27:18, "Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit, lay your hand on him"

This verse indicates that the Holy Spirit is not to be found in everyone. By stating that the Holy Spirit is in Joshua, it infers He is not universally given. The Spirit is said to have come upon other individuals, such as Othniel.
Judges 3:10, The Spirit of the Lord came upon him and he judged Israel.

1 Samuel 16:12-13, So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah.

Not only was the Spirit limited to certain individuals, the extent of the indwelling was limited. He could leave an individual after He had indwelt them.

The life of Saul serves as an example:

1 Samuel 10:10, When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.

1 Samuel 16:14, But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the Lord troubled him.

Yet there is another way to understand this difficult passage and the Old Testament references to the Holy Spirit.

It is possible that the references to the Holy Spirit being upon Joshua and others refer to a "special anointing" and not the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The reason for holding this view is because it is difficult to see how anyone could have entered a right relationship with God without the Holy Spirit indwelling them. The Bible teaches that we all have a sinful nature and need to be saved from our sins.

If the Holy Spirit did not indwell individuals during the Old Testament period, how were they saved and how did they lead a godly life?

The indwelling was a sign of God’s favour upon that individual (in the case of David), and if God’s favour left an individual, the Spirit would depart (e.g., in Saul’s case in 1 Samuel 16:14).

The Spirit “coming upon” an individual doesn’t always indicate that person’s spiritual condition (e.g., Saul, Samson, and many of the judges). So, while in the New Testament the Spirit only indwells believers and that indwelling is permanent, the Spirit came upon certain Old Testament individuals for a specific task, irrespective of their spiritual condition. Once the task was completed, the Spirit presumably departed from that person.

The Old Testament records the Holy Spirit giving special ability to certain individuals:

Exodus 31:1-3, Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 3 And I have filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,

The Holy Spirits ministry to the world has existed from the beginning of time as a restraining influence. This is as true today as it was during the Old Testament period. The Holy Spirits influence kept sin from running entirely rampant.

There are no direct statements in the Old Testament about the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the believer. Thus, it is difficult to arrive at any conclusion about the work of the Holy Spirit during the Old Testament period.

There are those who believe the Holy Spirit did not work in the same manner during the Old Testament age as He does today. Although it has been the same Holy Spirit all along, His methods have changed from age to age. They contend that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was not universal to every believer, but was available only to certain believers.


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