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Theological Enrichment

Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Old Testament Promise

By Edgar R. Lee

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It appears, in some quarters at least, our Fellowship is losing much of its passion for the baptism in the Holy Spirit. If so, we are tempted to blame the influence of an increasingly materialistic and sensate culture. But maybe we who are responsible to preach, teach, and pastorally lead our people have become theologically deficient on the one hand, and perhaps intimidated by non-Pentecostal and emergent theologies on the other. Are we deliberately and purposely planning preaching, worship services, and other ministries to perpetuate baptism in the Spirit and Spirit-filled living?

This article is the first in a series where Tim Enloe and I will present the best of recent Pentecostal theological reflection that clarifies and broadens the biblical foundations of our historic beliefs as well as practical suggestions to strengthen preaching and spiritual formation within local churches. In this article, I briefly review prominent facets of Old Testament teaching that ground Pentecostal doctrine and practice in the whole of biblical revelation.

Old Testament Promise

What God has done in the New Testament, He began in the Old. The Old Testament was the first Bible of the Early Church. The Early Church used the Old Testament to support its understanding of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Old Testament also introduces the work of the Spirit of God whose identity and functions gradually emerge through its successive ages and come to fruition in the New Testament. “Old Testament pneumatology foreshadows much of what appears in the New Testament. It would be difficult to understand some New Testament passages if it were not for the light the Old Testament sheds on them.”1

The New Testament identifies the Holy Spirit as “the promised Holy Spirit.” Before His ascension, Jesus said, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised” (Luke 24:49).2 Peter picked up this theme in his inspired Pentecost sermon, “Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear” (Acts 2:33). Paul spoke of the “promise of the Spirit” (Galatians 3:14) and “the promised Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13; more literally in NASB, “the Holy Spirit of promise”). While Jesus spoke about the Father as giver of the Spirit in the Gospels (see Luke 11:13; John 14:16), Peter’s use of Joel indicates God first gave the promise of the Spirit through the great prophecies of the Old Testament (Joel 2:28,29; see also Isaiah 32:15; 44:3–5; Ezekiel 11:19,20; 36:26,27; 37:1–14; 39:29; Zechariah 12:10).3

A knowledge of the Spirit’s work in the old economy aids our understanding of His work in the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles. This article will focus on several key Old Testament narratives and prophecies that provide striking clues to His4 work in the New Testament era.

Moses and the Elders

Moses was the Old Testament prophet par excellence. His miracles during the plagues on Egypt and those manifested throughout Israel’s wilderness wanderings attest the extraordinary way in which the Spirit of God worked through him. Yet, the role of the Spirit in his ministry is not revealed in the Pentateuch until Numbers 11. Here, the constant grumbling and complaining of the people had drained Moses of vitality and enthusiasm. In modern parlance, he was “burned out.” Enervated and depressed, he cried out to the Lord, “I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now … do not let me face my own ruin” (11:14,15).

The Lord laid out a surprising and unexpected remedy, “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders. … I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them” (11:16,17). The intended outcome? “They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone” (verse 17). We are intended to understand that Moses’ exceptional wisdom and power had been mediated through him by the Spirit of God. Moses is a preeminent bearer of the Spirit.

God is showing that the same Spirit of God who rested on and energized Moses is inexhaustible and also available to be placed on a body of leaders other than Moses. And this without diminishing Moses’ prestige or power (we assume Aaron and Miriam, both prophets, were also moved by the Spirit).

The Lord is specific about the role the Spirit is to play in the lives of these 70 elders. “They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone” (Numbers 11:17). The Spirit will energize and guide their leadership functions to a greater degree of effectiveness and helpfulness.

Something else occurred which, by its inclusion in the narrative, is important in the experience of the elders. “When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again” (Numbers 11:25). The elders were not called to be prophets, nor did they subsequently, so far as we know, act in that capacity. Rather, the Lord chose to use a dramatic temporary experience of prophecy as a confirming sign the Spirit had come upon the elders. The sign of prophetic speech was convincing to Moses, the elders themselves, and others who witnessed the event, or had the event reliably reported to them. The public experience in the camp of the (providentially?) tardy Eldad and Medad was a witness to the community, a proleptic mini-Pentecost (11:26).

Saul and David

Saul’s spiritual failures so sullied his reputation we tend to overlook, or perhaps discount, the early work of the Spirit in him. The Lord chose Saul to be the first king of Israel, revealed His choice to the prophet Samuel, and then commanded Samuel to anoint Saul as king (1 Samuel 9:16; 10:1). The act of anointing was symbolic of God’s choice, and administered at God’s direction guaranteed the coming of the Spirit in power.

After privately anointing Saul, Samuel gave him three signs to be fulfilled. The last of the three was, “You will meet a procession of prophets. … The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you in power, 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 10:5–7). The nature and order of the events that follow are significant. “As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart” (10:9). Later, when Saul met the band of prophets, “the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying” (1 Samuel 10:10).

The sacred historian carefully described God’s work in Saul as accomplished in two sequential steps. First came a change of heart; second, the Spirit came in observable power and prophetic evidence reminiscent of the 70 elders.

Neither Saul nor the elders were called to be or recognized as prophets. But in each case, a temporary experience of prophecy was a sign of the Spirit’s coming on them in power for their leadership tasks. Moreover, Saul experienced a definite two-stage experience of the Spirit. Saul’s sins and apostasy over a 40-year reign do not invalidate the fact God chose him to be the first king of Israel and provided the necessary change of heart and the miraculous power to lead and deliver Israel.

Scripture also attests another remarkable work of the Spirit at the calling of David. Samuel, at the direct command of God, “took the horn of oil and anointed him [David] in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power” (1 Samuel 16:13). Unlike Saul, the Scripture does not say David was given a changed heart. Also, unlike Saul, the Spirit came upon David “from that day on.” So David, unlike other priests, prophets, and kings in the Old Testament, had the continuous presence of the Spirit in his life.

Even as a boy, David seems to have had a precocious and unusual relationship with God. Therefore, the Spirit, doubtless already at work within him, came on him in an observable and powerful way with no need to report a change of heart. And Goliath’s defeat — coming shortly thereafter in the narrative — publicly demonstrated the wisdom, passion, and power of the Spirit in David (1 Samuel 17). We see the continuity and importance of the Spirit in David’s daily life in his broken prayer after Nathan confronted him with his adultery and murder: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:11).

It is evident that the Spirit gifted David with a broad spectrum of abilities — as a warrior and military leader, an administrator, a musician and singer, a poet and prophet, an architect and builder (see 2 Samuel 23:2; 1 Chronicles 28:12,19). David is one of the greatest men of the Old Testament, the harbinger of the Lord Jesus Christ who is identified as the “Son of David.” Saul and David, along with Moses and a host of other Old Testament greats, stand in the tradition of the great charismatic leaders of Israel, so called because of the way in which the Spirit came upon them in dynamic power.

Bezalel and Oholiab

The first definitive action of the Spirit on individuals recorded in the Old Testament is found in the Book of Exodus. It is included in the narrative prior to the Numbers 11 account of the Spirit’s work in Moses and the elders. The background for this event is the Lord’s directing Moses to build the tabernacle and its furnishings according to an exact plan (Exodus 25:8,9). But not only did the Lord give Moses a plan, He also provided Spirit-filled people for building and artistry: “See, I have chosen Bezalel … and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts — to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship. Moreover, I have appointed Oholiab … to help him” (Exodus 31:2–6; see also 35:30–35).

For the first time, we learn that the creative Spirit grants wisdom and skill to particular persons for instructional and physical tasks facilitative of God’s redemptive plan. In this case, the spiritual gifts have to do with creative vision, craftsmanship, and the teaching and leadership skills to bring the vision to reality. It is not a long stretch from this account to Paul’s discussion of the so-called “mundane” spiritual gifts of Romans 12:6–8 (e.g., serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others, leadership, showing mercy).

Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Joel

Looking to the future, the prophet Jeremiah predicted, “ ‘The time is coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts’ ” (Jeremiah 31:31,32). Jeremiah foresaw a deeper “conversion” than had yet come to God’s covenant people. (When the writer to the Hebrews cited this prophecy, like other New Testament writers, he said, “The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this” [Hebrews 10:15]).

Ezekiel spoke in similar terms, but connected Jeremiah’s anticipated soteriological work directly to the Spirit of God. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26,27). Rather than emphasizing the charismatic power of the Spirit, these two prophecies focused on the soteriological power of the Spirit.

In the case of the prophet Joel, there is a remarkable continuity between his words and those of Moses. Consciously or not, Joel picked up on the prophetic motif found in the wish-prayer of Moses when he learned Eldad and Medad were prophesying in the camp: “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29). Looking toward the time of fulfillment, Joel uttered these words of the Lord, “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:28,29). While Joel was certainly not unconcerned about spiritual change among God’s covenant people, he foresaw a universal prophetic endowment for them. The emphasis of this crucial text, the foundational text for Peter’s initial prophetic address to the new covenant era, is charismatic — all God’s people are to become prophets.

Provision for the Future

These salient features of Old Testament pneumatology reveal several aspects of the Spirit’s work that come into strong relief in the New Testament. Several points are particularly relevant to this series.

  1. 1. In the Old Testament narratives, the Spirit often came in powerful and experiential ways that we refer to as charismatic. The term comes from the word Paul used most often for spiritual gifts (charismata) and usually signifies in theological discussion the more obviously supernatural and experiential presence and work of the Spirit.
  2. 2. The narratives also provide hints of the soteriological work of the Spirit. By soteriological we refer to the spiritual renewal and sanctification, or maturity, of God’s people. Remember Saul’s “new heart” and David’s unique experience with the Spirit “from that day on,” as well as his concern that the Spirit not be taken from him as a result of his sin.
  3. 3. The Old Testament promises of the work of the Spirit in future times include both the charismatic and the soteriological concerns of the Spirit. Ezekiel directly connects the new covenant experience of personal salvation to the Holy Spirit. Joel, by contrast, sharply delineates the universal charismatic work of the Spirit as He pours out the gift of prophecy upon all God’s people.
  4. 4. Both in historical narrative and prophetic promise, the charismatic endowments of the Spirit appear to be observable and experiential events, frequently accompanied by distinctive prophetic utterance.

Neil B. Wiseman

EDGAR R. LEE, S.T.D., academic dean emeritus and senior professor of spiritual formation and pastoral theology, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary; chair, Commission on Doctrinal Purity, The General Council of the Assemblies of God.


1. Anthony D. Palma, The Holy Spirit: A Pentecostal Perspective (Springfield, Mo.: Logion Press/Gospel Publishing House, 2001), 33.

2. Bible quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the New International Version (NIV).

3. See the discussion in Palma, The Holy Spirit, 136,137.

4. This paper will refer to the Spirit with masculine pronouns in accordance with traditional Protestant theology.


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