Charles Hodge in his Systematic Theology said of the Holy Spirit: “The Spirit is the executive of the Godhead. Whatever God does, He does by the Spirit” (p. 529). If this is the case then God was busy in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit created the universe. Of course, all three persons of the Trinity are said to have created (Acts 4:24; John 1:3; Isa.40:12-14). Holy Spirit inspired Scripture (2nd Pet. 1:21). In the OT, believers knew little about the Trinity (Deut. 6:4) because the oneness of God was emphasized. It is like walking into a dark room. At first you see little, but as you linger your eyes ajust and you begin to see faintly the outlines of furniture. As the student studies in the OT, he will begin to observe traces of the Trinity as in Isaiah 63:7-11. The plurality of God would have led Israel to worship three Gods (Dt.6:14-15) with their propensity for polytheism. The Holy Spirit also instructed the nation of Israel (Neh.9:20, 30).
The Holy Spirit interpreted dreams (Gen. 41:38) and gave special skills (Ex. 31:3; 35:31; Hag. 2:5; Zech. 4:6). “The thought of spiritual enablement in such cases does not exclude the idea of natural ability but indicates both an act of providence in the bestowal of the natural ability latent in the individual and a special quickening to accomplish the task. While the natural is not excluded, the result is clearly supernatural and impossible without the enablement of the Holy Spirit” (Walvoord, John. The Holy Spirit, p. 75).
The Holy Spirit gave superhuman strength (Samson-Judges 13:25; 14:6, 19; Elijah-I Kgs. 18:46) and anointed rulers (called the Theocratic Anointing by Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom). The “Theocratic Anointing” was a special ministry of the Holy Spirit given to the head of the Theocratic Kingdom that enabled him to function as mediator between God and Israel. The following are examples: Moses (Num. 11:17), 70 Elders (Num. 11:17, 25), Joshua (Deut. 34:9; Josh. 1:5), Othniel (Judges 3:10), Saul (I Sam. 10:6, 9, 10), David (I Sam. 16:13-14; Psalm 51:11), and Solomon (I Kings 3:7-12). This has a bearing on the Holy Spirit departing from King Saul and David praying in Psalm 51:11 that God not take away the Holy Spirit. Some believe that these two instances are not examples of the Holy Spirit leaving these men as far as permanent indwelling is concerned but the Holy Spirit taking away His Theocratic Anointing or His enablement to be King over the OT theocratic kingdom.
Although the Scriptures are silent concerning the anointing of kings after Solomon, anointing probably came on all Davidic kings (because of the Davidic Covenant). There was probably no anointing of any northern kings after the division. With the departure of the Shekinah glory in September, 592 B.C. (Ezek. 8-11), the Theocracy ceased to function, as did theocratic anointing. It may have even left as early as April, 597 B.C. when Jehoiachin, the last legitimate Davidic king, was taken captive to Babylon. What about the anointing of Jesus at His baptism? The best way to explain this is a theocratic anointing. This launched Jesus’ public ministry, and enabled Christ to function as the King in the offered and coming messianic Kingdom which He was presenting. In His incarnation the Holy Spirit and the theocratic anointing gave Christ His ability to perform miracles (Dr. Windsor, Class notes on the Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, pages 14, 15).
Holy Spirit also regenerated sinners. Regeneration is the impartation of spiritual life to unregenerate sinners who are dead in trespasses and sins. There are different views on the necessity of the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the OT in order to make regeneration possible. Dispensationalists hold generally to three different views on the necessity of the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the regeneration of the Holy Spirit in the OT.
One view is that there is no regeneration nor permanent indwelling of believers in the OT. This view was held to by Alva J. McClain, Homer Kent, and Herman Hoyt. “Regeneration of the individual cannot be separated from the Kingdom, and redeemed and regenerated people since the cross are being prepared for the Kingdom which Christ will establish when he comes to sit upon the throne of His glory” (Herman Hoyt, Expository Messages on the New Birth, p. 5).
C. H. Chafer believed in the renewal of OT believers, but not the regeneration.
With respect to regeneration, the Old Testament saints were evidently renewed; but as there is no definite doctrinal teaching relative to the extent and character of that renewal, no positive declaration can be made. In its New Testament aspect, regeneration provides for the impartation of the divine nature; the regenerated person becomes thus the very offspring of God, and heir of God and a joint heir with Jesus Christ. It results in membership in the household and family of God. If the first law of interpretation is to be observed—that which restricts every doctrinal truth to the exact body of Scripture which pertains to it—it cannot be demonstrated that this spiritual renewal known to the Old Testament, whatever its character may have been, resulted in the impartation of the divine nature, in an actual sonship, a joint heirship with Christ, or a placing in the household and family of God. So the case of Nicodemus—a perfected saint under Judaism—was duplicated in the experience of every Jew who passed from the old order into the new. To Nicodemus Christ said, ‘Ye must be born again,’ and it is significant that this imperative was not addressed to the lowest member of Jewish society but to one of its rulers who could serve as the supreme example of all that entered into the reality which Judaism provided. Nicodemus, like Saul of Tarsus, could have been called as a ‘just man’ before the Mosaic Law; but to claim for him that he was justified on the ground of imputed righteousness through a placing in Christ by the Holy Spirit is to assert that which could have no foundation in fact, otherwise he would have had no need or occasion to be born ‘from above’ (C. H. Chafer, Systematic Theology, VI, p. 73).
Dr. Mike Stallard argues there is a continuity between the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels and the OT.
However, the experience of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels is essentially unchanged from the Old Testament. For example, the Holy Spirit comes upon some believers to empower them for certain tasks. The Holy Spirit certainly comes upon Jesus early in his ministry (Mt. 3:16-17) although it could be argued that Christ is a special case. However, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples with “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness” (Mt. 10:1). Nowhere in this particular context is the Holy Spirit mentioned. However, in the debate between Jesus and the Pharisees two chapters later, Jesus essentially tells the representatives of that belligerent sect that He casts out demons by the Spirit of God (Mt. 12:28). Hence, the enablement granted to the disciples to do the same thing also came from the Holy Spirit of God (Mike Stallard, The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, Stallard’s website Hope, page 10).
Since there is a continuity between the Gospels and the OT, regeneration did occur before the Day of Pentecost according to John 1:11, 12 and also Jesus imperative stated to Nicodemus that he must be born again or regenerated which was prior to the Day of Pentecost.
The second view advocates both regeneration and permanent indwelling of OT believers. This view is held to by Leon Wood, Rolland McCune, and Robert V. McCabe. Robert V. McCabe summarizes this position: In the final analysis, if men have been totally depraved since the Fall and if God has chosen to save any of Adam’s descendants, then the Spirit, in coordination with the proclamation of God’s message of salvation, must impart new life at regeneration and sustain this saving relationship through indwelling. If Old Testament saints were not indwelt, then they had not been regenerated and they were still ‘dead in trespasses and sin.’ As McCune has aptly summarized the Spirit’s indwelling work in the Old Testament: ‘Just as the evidence of spiritual fellowship and communion with God cannot be accounted for without regeneration, neither can they be accounted for without a continuous ministry of the Holy Spirit after the new birth.’ Therefore, the Spirit’s indwelling ministry was a necessity for Old Testament saints, just as it is for New Testament saints” (McCabe, Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, page 264).
McCabe admits that this view is the standard Covenant position. Those who see a consistent continuity between the Old Testament, most covenant theologians, affirm that Old Testament believers were indwelt, while those who see a fundamental discontinuity between the testaments, many dispensational theologians, affirm that they were not indwelt. In McCabe’s footnote he lists covenant theologians who hold to the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the OT such as John Owen, B. B. Warfield, and Sinclair B. Ferguson (p. 216).
There are many examples, however, of discontinuity between the OT and NT ministry of the Holy Spirit. For example, in Num. 11:24-25, the Holy Spirit, who was apparently permanently indwelling Moses, indwelt his seventy elders. 1 Per. 1:10-11, in reference to OT prophets states that “the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” The Spirit that was permanently indwelling Moses, the prophet, began to indwell the elders who before this experience did not possess the Spirit. Even though Num. 11:24-25 uses “upon” to describe the ministry the Holy Spirit with Moses and the elders, I’m, using “in” and “upon” interchangably because in Isa. 63:11 the Spirit is said to be “within him” not just “upon” him. So here is a case where these believers who were not indwelt became indwelt. Were the elders permanently indwelt from this point? The Scriptures do not say the elders were permanently indwelt after his experience and to teach otherwise is to argue from silence.
The third view holds to regeneration but no permanent indwelling of OT believers. Charles Ryrie and John Walvoord taught this position. John Walvoord addressed this issue in The Holy Spirit.
The first reference to this doctrine is found in Genesis 41:38, where Pharaoh asks the question concerning Joseph, ‘Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the spirit of God is?’. . . . Further references to this same operation of the Spirit are not difficult to find . . . . No doubt all the prophets were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, though this was not necessarily essential to their ministry. From these specific instances and inferences which may be fairly drawn from other cases, the fact that the Holy Spirit indwelt some saints in the Old Testament can be conclusively established. . . . Indwelling was a sovereign gift usually associated with a special call to service, and it had in view enablement for a specific task. Indwelling was not a universal privilege. Only a few were indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and these were known for their distinctive gift, were sought out as leaders and prophets, and were usually marked men (John Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, pages 72, 73).
The Holy Spirit did not permanently indwell OT believers for the following reasons (1) There is no definitive statement of permanent indwelling in the OT (2) Some believers were said to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but it never says that they were all permanently indwelt as seen in the Walvoord quote (3) There is a change in the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the NT from the OT: (John 7:38, 39; 14:16, 17; 16:7). The permanent indwelling position’s response is that these verses are referring to the future baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit and not to indwelling. But these three verses are not describing the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit. In John 7:39, Jesus said, “He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” The Baptism of the Holy Spirit does not produce this result. The Baptism of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13) identifies us with the Body of Christ.
In John 16:7, Jesus promised the Comforter or Helper will come in the future (Day of Pentecost). Again, this is not the result of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit to help believers but the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The same is true for John 14:16, 17. In this promise, Christ said, He would not leave His disciples comfortless or helpless. The ministry of strengthening believers is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit not the baptizing ministry of the Holy Spirit.
This is how Paul explains the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:11: “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if you live after the flesh, you shall die: but if you through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, you shall live.” It is the indwelling Spirit that enables us not to live after the flesh.
The change in the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the NT is a difference not only in the fact that OT believers were not baptized with the Holy Spirit but they were not permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Mike Stallard gives three additional arguments of those who do not believe the Old Testament believers were permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit (which is his view).
They argue, first of all, that the argument from the distinction between the coming and going of the Spirit upon individuals in the Old Testament in contrast to the post-Pentecost New Testament indwelling cannot be so easily dismissed as the confusing of apples and oranges. The continuity of the Gospels with the Old Testament in the area of the ministry of the Spirit was established earlier. Its significance for this question is that passages such as John 14:17 show that the New Testament makes the exact distinction that those who want to accept Old Testament indwelling refuse to accept. The Gospels speak of the Spirit coming upon Christ and through Him to the disciples in the same way that He operated in the Old Testament. The Spirit was “with them” but would be “in them,” an indwelling to begin later at Pentecost.
In addition, the promise of a New Covenant given in the Old Testament highlights the distinction between the Old Testament experience of the Spirit’s presence and that of New Testament saints. The Church in some way experiences the blessings of the New Covenant (1 Cor. 11:25). The content of the New Covenant will be discussed below, but for now, it significance lies in the empowerment for obedience that is promised to those receiving the blessings of that covenant (see Jer. 31:33-34; Ez. 36:26-27). It must be noted that this was a prediction in those Old Testament passages with respect to the nation of Israel. If the universal and permanent indwelling of the Spirit were true of Old Testament saints, then the promise of the covenant for future fulfillment would not be much of a promise since all Old Testament saints would already possess what was promised.
Finally, those who do not see Old Testament indwelling would point to biblical examples that show the ability of spirit beings to affect humans to great extents without indwelling them. Thus, it would not be necessary to argue for the indwelling of the Spirit in order to produce regeneration, sealing, and perseverance. One such example is Satan’s influence on Job (Job 1-2). Another example is Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5). Satan, the unholy spirit, leads them into lying disobedience. There is no mention in the passage that he entered them in any way. If this is so for Satan, how much more will the divine Spirit be able to produce the desired effects in individual believers without indwelling.
I agree with Dr. Stallard’s conclusion: In light of this and the preceding arguments, it seems best to reject the belief that the Holy Spirit indwelt Old Testament believers (Hope, page 16).
Although I have painted with broad strokes the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the OT, we indwelt NT believers should appreciate His empowerng and encouraging ministry in us and through us in service to others for our Risen Savior.