The Holy Spirit: An Apostolic Perspective on Pneumatology, Lesson 6

Lesson 6: The Spirit of God (Elohim), the Spirit and His Spirit in the Torah.

January 6, 2019 | The Sanctuary UPC

Daniel L. Segraves

The Spirit of God (Elohim)

[1] Balaam had a reputation for successfully blessing and cursing people. He did this in exchange for a “diviner’s fee.”[1] Balaam encountered the Angel of the Lord, who is contextually identified as God Himself.[2] 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.[3]

[2] 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.


[3] 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.

The Spirit  and His Spirit 

[4] The first reference simply to “the Spirit” in the Torah is found in Exodus 28:3. The Lord tells Moses to take his brother, Aaron, and Aaron’s sons, Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, to serve as priests unto the Lord. This would require glorious, beautiful, holy garments. The Lord had already filled gifted artisans with the spirit of wisdom for this task. (See Exodus 28:1-4.)

[5] This anticipates Exodus 31:1-11, where we discover that Bezalel was the first person mentioned who had been filled with the Spirit of God for this purpose. The spirit of wisdom to which Exodus 28:3 refers is the Spirit of God, according to Exodus 31:3.

[6] In Numbers 11:17, the Lord said to Moses, “I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone.” Those upon whom the Spirit would “rest” were seventy elders in Israel (Numbers 11:16, 24-30). The selection of these elders apparently occurred when Moses followed the advice of his father in law, who saw how burdened Moses was in his attempt to judge all the people of Israel alone. (See Exodus 18:13-27; 24:1, 9; Deuteronomy 16:18.)

[7] Although it was wise for Moses to select these men to help him, it was not the final answer for his heavy responsibilities. When the people complained about the manna, Moses said to the Lord, “I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me. If you treat me like this, please kill me here and now” (Numbers 11:14-15). Not only did Moses need seventy men; he needed seventy men upon whom the Spirit came and rested. (See Numbers 11:25-29.)

[8] Joel’s promise of the outpouring of the Spirit[4] seems to be the answer to Moses’ prayer: “Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29).[5] When the Spirit that was upon Moses was placed on the seventy elders, causing them to prophesy, it was a radically new pneumatological concept for the ancient Israelites. When Eldad and Medad prophesied in the camp rather than at the tabernacle, Joshua’s shock was palpable: “Moses my lord, forbid them!” (Numbers 11:28). Moses’ prayer anticipated a day when the Spirit would come not merely upon selected male leaders among the Israelites, but upon all the Lord’s people without regard to gender or social standing.  This is exactly the promise of Joel, and it was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost.[6]

[9] We will at this point in our study begin to see a pattern forming throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament. That is, when the Spirit comes upon people, their immediate response tends to be supernatural vocalization, as in the case of the Spirit resting on the seventy. They prophesied. It is not always said that this happened, but it is not unusual. This anticipates the Day of Pentecost, when all who were filled with the Spirit spoke in languages (i.e., tongues) they had never learned. It was no surprise for these newly Spirit filled believers to speak under the influence of the Holy Spirit, but it was surprising for them to speak with other tongues. This had never before happened, and it signaled that the Day of Pentecost ushered in a new era surpassing all that had gone before as it relates to the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people.

[10]The next reference to “the Spirit” is located in Numbers 27:18: “And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun with you, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him.’ ” As we have already seen, Joshua was full of the Spirit (Deuteronomy 34:9). This equipped him to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land. The laying on of Moses’ hands inaugurated Joshua as Moses’ replacement (Numbers 27:18-23).[7]


[11]The descriptors “the Spirit,” “His Spirit,” “the Spirit of Wisdom,” “the Spirit of God,” and “the Spirit of the Lord” are virtual synonyms.[8] Human wisdom alone cannot accomplish God’s purposes. Moses’ seventy elders needed the Spirit to rest on them to provide the help Moses’ required. When the Spirit rested on the seventy elders, they prophesied. This is the beginning of a pattern of supernatural vocalization in conjunction with the coming of the Spirit, a pattern that is finalized on the Day of Pentecost. The prophecy of Joel 2 is God’s response to Moses’ prayer. This prophecy was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. While the same Spirit that rested upon the seventy elders filled the believers who waited in the upper room, the fact that the first century believers spoke in languages they had never learned indicates that their experience with the Spirit surpassed anything before that day. For the first time, people were baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5). The presence of the Spirit in a person’s life, together with the laying on of hands, can signal the inauguration of that person for leadership, as in the case of Joshua.

[1] 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.

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

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

[4] See Joel 2:28-29.

[5] This is the only time the descriptor “His Spirit” appears in the Torah.

[6] See Acts 2.

[7] For further insight on the practice of “the laying on of hands,” see the comments on Hebrews 6:1-2 in Daniel L. Segraves, Hebrews: Better Things (Hazelwood, MO: Word Aflame Press, 1997).

[8] In addition to the texts studied in this section, see Isaiah 11:2.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Daniel L. Segraves[archive]