The Holy Spirit: An Apostolic Perspective on Pneumatology, Lesson 5

Lesson 5: The Spirit of God (Elohim) in the Torah

December 30, 2018 | The Sanctuary UPC

Daniel L. Segraves

The first reference to the Spirit of God in the Torah[1] is found in Genesis 1:2b: “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” As we have already seen, this text reveals the role of the Spirit at the time of creation. As the Spirit hovered, “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2a). In connection with Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” – the Spirit of God is seen here as God in action. The Spirit is God doing something, not distinct from God, involved in bringing order out of chaos.

[2] The phrase “Spirit of God” is next used in Genesis 41:38: “And Pharaoh said to his servants, ‘Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?” We may be tempted to dismiss this text from consideration in the construction of a biblical pneumatology since it is Pharaoh who refers to the Spirit of God. But Pharaoh’s declaration follows Joseph’s explanation to him that it was God who enabled Joseph to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. (See Genesis 41:25, 28.) The God of whom Joseph spoke was the God to whom Pharaoh referred.

[3] It is commonly noted that the Spirit of God in this case enabled Joseph to exercise remarkable leadership in potentially disastrous circumstances, and that is true.[2] But we should note also that the Spirit of God in Joseph brought order out of the pending chaos anticipated by the seven years of famine of Pharaoh’s dream. Pharaoh had sought an answer from his magicians, but what they could not do, the Spirit of God enabled Joseph to accomplish.

[4] Bezalel is the next person mentioned as being filled with the Spirit of God. (See Exodus 31:3; 35:31.) The purpose of this filling was to equip Bezalel to make all the furnishings and clothing necessary for use with the tabernacle. This required wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. The phrase “all manner of workmanship” captures in broad terms the intricate artistic skills required to fulfill every detail of the requirements to construct and prepare God’s holy place. Other “gifted artisans,” like Aholiab, were also given wisdom to participate in this project. Bezalel and Aholiab were also gifted to teach others to help with this work. (See Exodus 35:34-35; 36:1-2.)

[5] This is the first time the Spirit of God is specifically mentioned in connection with the granting of specific skills and the ability to teach others. It seems we are beginning to see a glimmer of anticipation of the gifts of the Spirit in the New Testament, where some are gifted as teachers, leaders, helps and with words of wisdom, words of knowledge and – similarly to the case of Joseph and his ability to interpret dreams – with interpretative abilities as in the interpretation of tongues. (See Romans 12:6-8; I Corinthians 12:8-10, 28.)

[6] Balaam had a reputation for successfully blessing and cursing people. He did this in exchange for a “diviner’s fee.”[3] Balaam encountered the Angel of the Lord, who is contextually identified as God Himself.[4] When called upon for his services, Balaam usually resorted to sorcery, but not in this case. Nothing is said about Balaam being filled with the Spirit of God, but he is said to have had the Spirit of God come upon him (Numbers 24:2). He uttered magnificent messianic prophecies under the influence of the Spirit of God.[5]

[7] How is it that Balaam, a soothsayer and hireling whose counsel led the Israelites to trespass against the Lord, could be an instrument of the Spirit of God? The answer to this question reveals an essential understanding of the Spirit of God. When the Spirit of God comes upon a person, it tells us nothing about that person’s spiritual condition or theological accuracy. What it tells us is that God can use any person or thing – as in the case of Balaam’s donkey – to accomplish His purposes.


     In our examination of the uses of the term “Spirit of God” in the Torah, we have seen that the Spirit of God is God in activity, bringing creative order out of chaos. When the Spirit of God is in a person, that person can be enabled to foresee events in an interpretive way so as to provide creative leadership (e.g., Joseph). When people are filled with the Spirit of God, they may be given skills they did not previously possess so they can accomplish God’s purposes and teach others to do so (e.g., Bezalel). When the Spirit of God comes upon someone, it is no indication of God’s approval of one’s lifestyle or theology, even though this event can result in the divine purpose being accomplished (e.g., Balaam). References to the Spirit of God in these early biblical accounts anticipate the work of the Spirit that would be poured out upon “all flesh” on the Day of Pentecost.

[1] For our purposes, the words “Torah” and “Pentateuch” are synonyms.

[2] See, for example, Wilf Hildebrandt, An Old Testament Theology of the Spirit of God (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 105-06.

[3] Biblical references to Balaam are in Numbers 22-24; 31:8, 16; Deuteronomy 23:4-5; Joshua 13:22; 24:9-10; Nehemiah 13:2; Micah 6:5; II Peter 2:15-16; Jude 1:11; Revelation 2:14.

[4] See, for example, Numbers 22:35-38.

[5] See Daniel L. Segraves, Reading Between the Lines: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament (Hazelwood, MO: WAP Academic, 2008), 75-86.[archive]