The Newness of Regeneration: The Work of the Spirit in the Old Testament

There is clear evidence that the Spirit of God was at work in the Old Testament very actively. However, what kind of work was He doing? Regenerating? Indwelling? Gifting faith? Circumcising the heart?  We know He was and is circumcising the heart; Paul tells us that in Romans and Colossians. Yet what does the Scripture reveal about His other work in men during Old Testament times? 

    • Genesis 6:3 indicates that the Spirit of God had some interaction with men prior to the flood (whether that interaction was “abiding in” or “striving with” depends on translation. Personally, “strive with” makes more sense contextually, not the ESV “abide”).
    • Genesis 41:38 contains Pharaoh saying that Joseph had the “Spirit of God” in him.
    • Exodus 31:3, 35:31 says that Bezalel was filled ‘with the Spirit of God’ for the purpose of devising artistic designs. The context makes clear this is a temporary filling for the purpose of building the Tabernacle.
    • Numbers 11:17-29  states that there was a “ruach” on Moses that God would spread it to the elders that they would help bear the burden. It is “on”, not “in” Moses nor the elders. When the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. Interestingly, verse 29 indicates that prophets were the ones who had the Spirit on them!
    • Numbers 14:24 says that Joshua had a different spirit than those who despised the Lord.
    • Numbers 24:2 states that Balaam, a false prophet, had the Spirit of God come upon him to prophesy.
    • Numbers 27:18 states that the Spirit was in Joshua.
    • Deuteronomy 34:9 states that Joshua was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him.
    • Judges 3:10 states that the Spirit of the Lord was on Othniel, Caleb’s younger brother.
    • Judges 6:34 states that the Spirit of the Lord clothed Gideon.
    • Judges 11:29 states that the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah.
    • Judges 13:25 states that the Spirit of the Lord began to stir in Samson.
    • Judges 14:6,19, 15:14 states that the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon Samson and gave him great physical strength.
    • 1 Samuel 10:6,10 states that the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul for the purpose of prophecy.
    • 1 Samuel 11:6 states that the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul and made him angry to pursue the Ammonites.
    • 1 Samuel 16:3 states that when David was anointed, the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him from “that day forward”.
    • 1 Samuel 16:14 states that the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul.
    • 1 Samuel 19:20 states that the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul’s messengers and they prophesied.
    • 1 Samuel 19:23 states that the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul and he prophesied and became naked.
    • 2 Samuel 23:2, containing some of David’s last words, states that the Spirit of the Lord placed words on David’s tongue and spoke through him.
    • 1 Kings 18:12 states that the Spirit of the Lord carried Elijah.
    • 1 Kings 22:24 states that the Spirit of God spoke to Micaiah.
    • 2 Kings 2:16 states that the Spirit of God carried Elisha different places.
    • 1 Chronicles 12:18 states that the Spirit clothed Amasai, and then he prophesies.
    • 2 Chronicles 15:1 states that the Spirit of God came upon Azariah and he prophesies.
    • 2 Chronicles 20:14 states that the Spirit came upon Jahaziel and he prophesies.
    • 2 Chronicles 24:20 states that the Spirit of the Lord clothed Zechariah and he prophesies.
    • Nehemiah 9:20 states that God gave His “good Spirit” to instruct Israel in the wilderness.
    • Nehemiah 9:30 states that God warned Israel by His Spirit through His prophets.
    • Job 27:3 states that the spirit of God was in Job’s nostrils.
    • Job 32:7 states that Elihu says that “the spirit, the breath of the Almighty” makes man understand.
    • Psalm 51:11 contains David’s plea that God would “take not your Holy Spirit from me”.
    • Psalm 143:10 states that God’s good Spirit leads David.
    • Isaiah 11:2 says that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Christ, the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear of the Lord.
    • Isaiah 32:15 states that the Spirit will be poured out on Israel at a future time (from Isaiah’s perspective) and justice, righteousness, and peace will be prevalent.
    • Isaiah 42:1 states that the Spirit will be upon Christ when He comes.
    • Isaiah 44:3-5 states that the Spirit will be poured out on Israel’s offspring and descendants, which will result in their association with the Lord.
    • Isaiah 59:21 states that the Spirit produces everlasting words in the mouth of the prophet.
    • Isaiah 61:1-3 states that the Spirit of the Lord would be upon Christ.
    • Isaiah 63:9 states that the Holy Spirit was grieved and fought against Israel.
    • Ezekiel contains an enormous amount of references to the Spirit transporting Ezekiel different places as well as the future promises of  the indwelling Spirit. I will only note the ones relevant to this discussion.
    • Ezekiel 36:26-27 states that God will give a new spirit to His covenant people, and then that God will place His Spirit within His covenant people, which produces careful God powered obedience to His rules.
    • Ezekiel 37:14 states that God will place His Spirit within Israel in the future.
    • Joel 2:28-29 states that God will pour out His Spirit on “all flesh”, His sons and daughters specifically. This was fulfilled at Pentecost.
    • Micah 3:8 states that Micah was filled with the Spirit of the Lord for the purpose of declaring to Jacob his transgression and Israel his sin.
    • Haggai 2:5 states that the Spirit remains in the midst of Judah, encouraging them to work and build the temple.
    • Zechariah 7:12 states that God sent His law and words by the Spirit through the former prophets

A careful examination reveals something amazing. The dominant work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament was this: to enable certain men at certain times to do certain things, namely prophetic work. The Hebrews preposition בְּ is hardly ever used to describe the location of the Spirit in man; instead, the majority of instances use עַל, which refers to an external location rather than an internal one. The Spirit did not indwell Old Testament believers, but rather filled, rested upon, or rushed upon certain men. It was not a universal experience by all of God’s Old Testament elect, but rather the experience of those God chose to prophecy. This includes righteous prophets like Elijah or David and unrighteous prophets like Saul or Balaam. There is nothing in the Old Testament about a permanent indwelling, nor heart replacement, nor spiritual transformation as a present reality during their time on earth. Those verses are found only in the New Testament and are directly related to the New Covenant and the life, death, and resurrection of Christ in space and time. 

That’s not to say, of course, that the Spirit did not interact and was not with Old Testament believers, producing justifying faith in them and circumcising their hearts, inclining their inner persons to love God and His Laws. Yet, this is not the same as regeneration; it is a type, a foreshadowing of what is to come.

However, the question is raised: Why couldn’t God apply the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit (which is universally admittedly is secured through the New Covenant) to Old Testament saints? First, it is a mistake to assume that just because He could doesn’t mean He did. Furthermore, Paul nor John never present regeneration as a long existing reality. Regeneration is always mentioned and referred to in such a way as to indicate that it is a new work of God in men connected with the coming and work of Christ on earth, not a work that has been performed by Him for millennia in the nation of Israel.

In addition, there is a problem for stating that regeneration occurred in the Old Testament. God’s Spirit dwelled in the Temple in the Old Testament, but 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19 and 1 Peter 2:4-5 state clearly that believers are now the Temple of God because the Spirit dwells in them. What would the purpose of the Temple in the Old Testament be if OT believers were regenerate and indwellt by the Holy Spirit? Why would they need to go to a particular location in order to be in God’s presence when God Himself dwelled in them in the manner described in the New Testament? The analogy of faith may bring one to that conclusion, but it ignores the progress of God’s redemptive plan as well as the newness of the New Covenant, and by extension, the newness of regeneration. 

Yet, the New Covenant is mentioned multiple times in the Old Testament. Does this affect how we should view regeneration prior to the work of Christ Jesus? It certainly does.

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