1. The Holy Spirit in the Old Testament


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Detail of Creation Windows, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Columbia, Missouri.

We'll begin our study by exploring what the Old Testament teaches us about the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is there at the very beginning:

"1  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." (Genesis 1:1-2)

Incidentally, it's important to understand that "Spirit" is synonymous with the "Spirit of God," "Christ's Spirit," and the "Holy Spirit." They are all one and the same Spirit.

"The Spirit of God" in verse 2 could just as well be translated "the Wind of God," because the Hebrew word ruach can mean either "spirit" or "wind." Depending upon the translation, the Spirit is "hovering" or "moving" over the waters, perhaps as an act of creation (Psalm 33:6; 104:30; Job 33:4; Ezekiel 37:9).[2]

The Spirit is active in many ways in the Old Testament, but I want to consider a few particular incidents as we begin to delve into this subject.

The Spirit Comes Upon Individuals

It's important to observe that in the Old Testament that the Spirit isn't universal. He doesn't indwell everyone. Rather the Spirit "comes upon" or "fills" only specific people for a special service. For example:

  • Bezalel is "filled" with the Spirit of God to develop and execute artistic design for the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:2; 35:31).
  • The 70 Elders receive some of the Spirit of God[3] that is on Moses (Numbers 11:17, 25).
  • Gideon is able to deliver Israel because "the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon" (Judges 6:34), as well as upon other judges (Judges 3:10; 11:29).
  • Sampson performs feats of strength when the Spirit of the Lord comes upon him (Judges 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14).
  • Prophets prophesy when the Spirit of God comes upon them (2 Chronicles 15:1; 20:14; 24:20; Joel 2:28-29; Luke 2:25).

The Spirit upon Saul (1 Samuel 10)

It is especially instructive to consider the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Saul and David. In 1 Samuel 8, the Lord tells the prophet Samuel to anoint a king over the people of Israel. In chapter 9 God identifies Saul as his choice of king to Samuel. After several other events, Samuel suddenly anoints Saul king, to the young man's surprise.

"Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on Saul's head and kissed him, saying, 'Has not the LORD anointed you leader over his inheritance?'" (1 Samuel 10:1)

Then Samuel tells Saul of a series of people he will encounter, which culminates in a procession of prophets. Samuel explains:

"6 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.... 9 As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul's heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. 10  When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying." (1 Samuel 10:9-10)

The Holy Spirit changes Saul and transforms him into a person who can act in power to deliver Israel (1 Samuel 11:6). He reigns for a long time, but gradually stops depending upon God and stops being careful to obey God. After one clear act of disobedience, Samuel says to him:

" 13  You acted foolishly.... You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14  But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command." (1 Samuel 13:13-14)

We're told, "The LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel" (1 Samuel 15:35)

The Spirit on David (1 Samuel 16)

Now the Lord says to Samuel: "Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king" (1 Samuel 16:1). As you may recall, Jesse lines up each of his sons, but none of them is the chosen one. Finally, David is called in from watching the sheep. When he arrives, the Lord speaks to Samuel:

" 12b 'Rise and anoint him; he is the one.' 13  So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power....  14  Now the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul...." (1 Samuel 16:12b-14a)

All of David's life thereafter is infused with the Spirit. The psalms written by David are not only prophetic (Acts 1:16; 4:25; Matthew 12:36; 22:43), but also a record of David's love for and personal relationship with the Lord.

"O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.
Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands." (Psalm 63:1-4)

The personal relationship David has with God is because the Spirit of God has come upon him and the presence of the Spirit with David. Others know of God, and know him at some level, but David knows him personally and intimately through the Spirit.

 When David repents from his sin concerning Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Samuel 12:13), he pleads with God against whom he has sinned:

"Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me." (Psalm 51:11)

For David, the Holy Spirit brings God's precious presence. Without the Holy Spirit, David would be bereft of the wonderful relationship he has with God.

Praise God! Under the New Covenant, God doesn't withhold his Spirit in this way. He disciplines us but does not forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Sometimes we are afraid that because we have sinned, because have grieved the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), that he will withdraw God's presence from us and forsake us. The very fact that you long to restore your relationship with God shows that God has not left you. It is the Spirit within you drawing you back (John 6:44).

To help you internalize and apply what you are learning from this study, I have included several Discussion Questions in each lesson. These are designed to help you think about and ponder the most important points. Don't skip these. It is best to write out your answers, whether you post them or not. However, you can post your answers -- and read what others have written -- by going to the online forum by clicking on the URL below each question. (Before you can post your answer the first time, you will need to register. You can find instructions at http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/instructions.htm

Q1. (1 Samuel 16:13; Psalm 51:11) What is the primary purpose of God putting his Spirit upon selected individuals in the Old Testament? What effect does the Spirit seem to have upon their relationship with God?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1784-q1-the-spirit-upon/

The Spirit on Moses

The Spirit of God also rests on Moses (Numbers 11:16-17, 25). The Spirit is the key to his relationship with God, as well as his ability to lead

Moreover, God's presence with the people by his Sprit is the reason for their uniqueness (Numbers 11:25). When the people worship the golden calf, God is angry. He will forgive, but says he will send an angel instead of his own Presence.

Moses pleads with God:

"You have been telling me, 'Lead these people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me...." 14  The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." 15  Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16  How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?" (Exodus 33:12, 14-16)

This invisible Presence of God, manifested in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, is the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 63:11). The Spirit is upon Moses personally, but with the people Moses is leading.

The Spirit Enables Moses' Relationship with God

One of the beautiful pictures of Moses is his intimate relationship with God. Prior to the construction of the Tabernacle, Moses erects a "tent of meeting" outside the camp where he comes to seek God (Exodus 33:7-11). Later Moses seeks God in the newly-completed Tabernacle (Numbers 7:89). In these places, Moses encounters God in such deep, personal ways that he returns visibly changed.

"The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend." (Exodus 33:11a)

When Moses converses with God, his face comes to glow with God's glory, causing him to put a veil over his face when with people, so as not to disturb them too much (Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:13). Along the same lines, though the word "Spirit" is not used in the Bible in relation to Abraham, I have no doubt that the Spirit upon him enables him to have faith and become a Friend of God (2 Chronicles 20:7; Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23).

The Spirit upon the 70 Elders (Numbers 11:16-17, 25)

We learn more about the Holy Spirit as we look at a wonderful passage in Numbers -- laced with a bit of humor, if you can see it. Moses is overburdened and needs others to help carry his load.

"16  The LORD said to Moses: 'Bring me seventy of Israel's elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you. 17  I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take of the Spirit[4] that is on you and put [the Spirit] on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone.'" (Numbers 11:16-17, NIV, 1984 edition)

The Holy Spirit is the secret of Moses' relationship with God, and his ability to lead.

"Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put [the Spirit] on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again." (Numbers 11:25)

Here (and with Saul above) you can see that prophecy and the Holy Spirit have a connection. There's a similar connection in the New Testament (Acts 2:17-18; 19:6, which we'll consider more deeply in Lesson 8). In this passage, the 70 elders "prophesied, but they did not do so again." In other words, prophecy occurs here as an initial experience. They don't become gifted prophets; rather, their gift is to lead God's people and to administer justice.

When a couple of the elders don't get to the committee meeting at the Tabernacle, the Spirit falls on them right there in the camp. Joshua is offended and reports them to Moses to stop them. I see Moses smiling and replying, "I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!" (Numbers 11:29).

Q2. (Numbers 11:16-29) What enables the 70 Elders to lead the people? What happens when the Holy Spirit comes upon them? Why does Moses long for the Spirit to come upon all God's people?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1786-q2-the-70-elders/

The Spirit at the Close of the Old Testament Era

Consider these three eras of the Spirit:

  1. Prior to Jesus' ministry
  2. During Jesus' ministry, when the Holy Spirit is upon him
  3. Pentecost and beyond

Several people have the Spirit upon them during the transition time right before the Messiah is revealed:

  1. Mary, Jesus' mother -- "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you..." (Luke 1:35).
  2. Elizabeth, John the Baptist's mother (Luke 1:41).
  3. Zechariah, John the Baptist's father (Luke 1:67).
  4. John the Baptist himself (Luke 1:15), who is "filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth" (Luke 1:15).
  5. Simeon (Luke 2:25-27).
  6. Anna (Luke 2:36-38).

These last two meet the Holy Family in the Temple at Jesus' dedication. Simeon is identified as "righteous and devout ... and the Holy Spirit was upon him." The Spirit reveals things to him and moves him so that he meets up with the Holy Family (Luke 2:25-27). The Spirit is certainly at the root of the deep communion that Simeon enjoys with God. Though the Spirit isn't specifically mentioned in regards to Anna, it is obvious that she, too, is led by the Spirit to meet the Holy Family and enjoys a deep love for God, enabled by the Spirit (Luke 2:36-38).

To summarize, in the Old Testament era, the Holy Spirit comes upon select individuals to empower them to do God's work -- and to know God intimately. True, not all individuals who have the Spirit seem to know God very well -- Sampson comes to mind. Yet the potential to know God deeply and joyfully by means of the Holy Spirit is certainly present in the Old Testament era.

Were the Old Testament Believers Indwelt by the Spirit?

This raises some questions that we struggle to answer. For example, how could people even believe without the Holy Spirit helping them? Some theologians have even gone so far as to suggest that the Holy Spirit indwelt all Old Testament believers and they were born again or regenerated.[5] It's clear to me, however, that the New Birth of the Spirit had not been experienced by devout people in the Old Covenant, people like Nicodemus, even though I have no doubt that the Spirit aided and helped Old Testament believers as they sought after God.

Some men and women -- especially prophets, kings and certain priests -- did have the Spirit upon them (and presumably in them) as they led the nation. God is with his Covenant People. Thus the Holy Spirit influences all who are part of the Old Covenant. It's something like Jesus' statement to his disciples about the Spirit (that we'll study in greater detail in Lesson 3):

"... You know him, for he lives with you and will be in you." (John 14:17)

The Spirit who is "within" Jesus is "with" the disciples while Jesus is on earth. But the Spirit comes to dwell "in" them when Jesus asks the Father to send the Spirit after Jesus' time on earth is ended.

The Israelites certainly experience blessings from God. Paul writes:

"Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen." (Romans 9:4-5)

The Spirit is "with" Israel in his Presence among them (as indicated by the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and the ark, signified by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night) and upon the Spirit-filled leaders. But the Spirit is not "in" all the people as individuals. That doesn't happen until Pentecost at the beginning of the New Covenant (Exodus 33:14-15).[6]

Though all Old Testament believers can "know" God in some sense (Hosea 6:3, ESV), only those few blessed with having the Spirit come upon them can "know" him more intimately and hear his voice (1 Samuel 3:7). The time when all Israel will "know the Lord" directly will wait until the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:34).

 The Spirit upon the Messiah

Before we leave the Old Testament it is important to note several prophecies of a new era of the Holy Spirit. The first of these is a prophecy that the Holy Spirit will come upon the promised Messiah, the descendant of David.

" 1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him --
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge
and of the fear of the LORD." (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Isaiah also says that Yahweh will put his Spirit upon the Suffering Servant, who turns out to be Jesus (Isaiah 53):

"Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations." (Isaiah 42:1)

Jesus reads from a third prophecy of Isaiah that refers to the Anointed Messiah.

"1  The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2  to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn." (Isaiah 61:1-2, ESV)

Jesus sees himself as the fulfillment of this prophecy (Luke 4:21). We'll return to this prophecy when we consider the Spirit on Jesus in Lesson 2.

Q3. (Isaiah 11:1-2; 42:1; 61:1-2) What promises does God make through Isaiah the prophet concerning the Holy Spirit and the Messiah? How were these fulfilled?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1787-q3-spirit-and-messiah/

The Spirit upon All Believers (Joel 2:28-32)

A second sort of prophecy about the Spirit's future ministry comes from the prophet Joel, and is cited by Peter as being fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16-21).

" 28 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.
29  Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days....
32  And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved...."
(Joel 2:28-29, 32a)

We'll revisit this passage when we study the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in Lesson 6.

More of these promises of the Spirit upon God's people come in Ezekiel, some clustered around Ezekiel's famous vision of the Valley of Dry Bones that God brings to life:

"26  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." (Ezekiel 36:25-27; cf. 11:19)

"And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD." (Ezekiel 37:14)

"And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord GOD." (Ezekiel 39:29)

These prophecies point to a future time: the New Covenant.

Q4. (Joel 2:28-32; Ezekiel 36:26-27; 37:14; 39:29) What promises do we find in Joel and Ezekiel concerning the Holy Spirit? Who are the recipients of these promises?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/topic/1788-q4-upon-all-flesh/

Lessons for Disciples

There are a great many lessons that one might extract from what we've looked at so far. But I want us to concentrate on just a few:

  1. In the Old Testament, the Spirit came upon only a relatively few individuals to empower them for a particular task.
  2. In the Old Testament it seems that only people upon whom the Spirit rests are able to form deep, meaningful relationship with God and to really get to know him.
  3. There are hints in Old Testament prophecies that, in the last days, the Spirit will come upon the Messiah to empower him -- and ultimately upon all people who are called by God.

Growth Assignment (Week 1) -- Quiet Time

I want to conclude with a question: How well do you really know God? What's your relationship like? Unlike nearly everyone in the Old Testament, you've presumably had the Holy Spirit in you since you were saved. How has this affected your life? Have you really taken advantage of the opportunity to know God? Or are you satisfied with where you are?

Two passages come to mind. The first is from the Apostle Paul, who wasn't at all satisfied with his present state of knowing God. He knows a lot about God, but he wants to know God even more deeply, personally, intimately, and fully.

"7  But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:7-11)

The second passage is an exhortation from the Prophet Hosea:

"Come, let us return to the LORD;
for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
he has struck us down, and he will bind us up....
Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD;
his going out is sure as the dawn;
he will come to us as the showers,
as the spring rains that water the earth." (Hosea 6:1, 3, ESV)

The NIV translation of verse 3 translates the word "know" as "acknowledge." Sure, it's a possible translation, but it misses the passion of the passage. The meaning here is, "to know relationally, to know intimately." The prophet is calling the people to return to the Lord, to revival, to knowing God intimately. The result will be the gentle showers of heaven upon our souls.

And so I conclude this lesson with this challenge for you. "Press in to know the Lord" as we are studying the Holy Spirit. Seek him diligently; draw near to him. Place yourself before him in surrender.

I encourage you over the eleven weeks we are studying the Holy Spirit to increase the duration of your Quiet Time -- to sacrifice other things so you can perhaps double the time you spend with the Lord. Then spend time before him in worship and prayer. Sing some hymns and praise choruses so your heart can open up to him. Confess to him your struggles, surrender to him the obstacles that have blocked you in the past. Talk to him about what's going on in your life. Don't be afraid to be before him in silence. And open your heart to the Scriptures. Perhaps spend some days or meals fasting in order to humble yourself. As you'll see through this study, I feel that having a regular Quiet Time is one of the essential keys of growing in the Spirit!

I'd also like you to secure a simple notebook or journal in which you can record your thoughts, or things God might be showing you as you open up your life afresh before him. Writing things down helps us understand them more clearly -- and remember them when we read later what God has been doing in our life. (You'll be using your notebook each week, so if you don't have one, get one now.)

As you do these things with a full heart, the log-jams will begin to clear, and you will find that your relationship with God is growing deeper, richer, and more intimate.


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You have received the Holy Spirit for just a purpose as this -- so you, (insert your name) can know God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) begins:

Question: What is the chief end of man?
Answer: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Through the Holy Spirit, may you move closer over these eleven weeks, that you might find delight in His presence.

Prayer

Father, we have had your Spirit for a long time -- perhaps decades. But sadly we sometimes feel far from you. I pray that you'll help us to press in to know you. Help us -- help me, O Holy Spirit. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." (Genesis 1:1-2, NIV)

"So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him 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, NIV)

"Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me." (Psalm 51:11, NIV)

"The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend." (Exodus 33:11a, NIV)

"Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put [the Spirit] on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again." (Numbers 11:25, NIV)

"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him --
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge
and of the fear of the LORD." (Isaiah 11:1-2, NIV)

"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn." (Isaiah 61:1-2, ESV)

"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.
I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.
And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved...."
(Joel 2:28-32a, NIV)

"And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." (Ezekiel 36:25-27, NIV)

Notes

[2] "Hovering" (NIV), "swept" (NRSV, cf. NJB), "fluttering" (ESV), "moved" (KJV, NASB) is rāḥap, "hover," also in Deuteronomy 32:11, "like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions" (Deuteronomy 32:11). It may also connote the ideas of to "move gently, cherish, brood" (BDB, p. 934; TWOT #2149, II).

[3] In Numbers 11:17, the NIV (2011 edition) incorrectly paraphrases the "power of the Spirit" instead of just "the Spirit" as the Hebrew text indicates, thus differing from most other English translations. I believe it is important to distinguish the Person of the Spirit from his power.

[4] In Numbers 11:17, the NIV (2011 edition) incorrectly paraphrases the "power of the Spirit" instead of just "the Spirit" as the Hebrew text indicates, thus differing from most other English translations. I believe it is important to distinguish the Person of the Spirit from his power.

[5] John Piper says, "The Old Testament believers experienced the new birth and indwelling of the Holy Spirit." He comes to this conclusion on the basis of logical deduction, not clear Scriptural teaching. He says, "Any Israelite who has ever been saved had to be born again by God's Spirit. Otherwise how would they ever overcome their natural hostility to God?" I think he extrapolates beyond what the Scripture actually teaches (John Piper, "How Believers Experienced the Spirit before Pentecost," February 19, 1984, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/how-believers-experienced-the-spirit-before-pentecost). R.C. Sproul also sees Old Testament saints as "regenerated," and cites Deuteronomy 30:6. However, Sproul differentiates regeneration from the filling or indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as does James M. Hamilton, Jr., God's Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments (B&H Publishing, 2006).

[6] See Hamilton, God's Indwelling Presence.


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