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Psalm 51:11 (ESV):

Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Does this mean that people in the Old Testament could have the Holy Spirit indwelling them too?


Related: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” - Is John 3:3 a universal statement, O.T. Saints included?

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  • No. Not "just like" in the NT. Water was not (completely) absent from the world before Noah's flood either.
    – Lucian
    Jul 30 at 22:37
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it is true that the Holy Spirit is referred to in the OT for a very simple reason - without the Holy Spirit, there can be no change of heart, no conversion and no understanding of spiritual things generally.

There is an objection raised by some that the Holy Spirit was only given after Jesus' resurrection as per John John 14, 15, and 16. However, we should also observe that Jesus gave "a new commandment" of love (John 13:34, 35) that was actually given in the OT in Deut 6:4, 5, Lev 19:18.

Thus, we find that people in the OT did have some idea of the Holy Spirit - here is a sample:

  • Num 11;25 - Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and He took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and placed that Spirit on the seventy elders. As the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but they never did so again.
  • Isa 63:10 - But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit. So He turned and became their enemy, and He Himself fought against them. [Compare Eph 4:30]
  • Isa 63:11 - Then His people remembered the days of old, the days of Moses. Where is He who brought them through the sea with the shepherds of His flock? Where is the One who set His Holy Spirit among them
  • Isa 11;2 - The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD. [Compare John 16:13, 14.]
  • 1 Sam 16:13 - So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. Then Samuel set out and went to Ramah. [Compare Acts 2 where the Spirit rushed upon believers.]
  • 1 Sam 16:14 - After the Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, a spirit of distress from the LORD began to torment him.

Even in the NT, this is recognized - OT people had the Holy Spirit:

  • 2 Peter 1:20, 21 - Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture comes from one’s own interpretation. For no such prophecy was ever brought forth by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

See also Judges 3:10, 14:6, 19, 15:14, 1 Sam 10:10, 11:6, 19:20, 2 Chron 15:1, 24:14, 20, Eze 2:2, etc

So, what happened in the NT when Jesus gave the Holy Spirit as an enduring gift to His followers? The answer to this has elicited a number of answers but I believe the simplest is to simply recognize that 400 years before Jesus, the Holy Spirit had been largely withdrawn and was re-established among God's people by Jesus.

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  • Good answer, nothing has changed, the Spirit of God, shekinah was fully known to the believers. Especially Peter's reference is good. The only difference is the outpouring of it, in the last or latter days as seen in Acts 2. The kingdom of God has exploded violently. That's the only difference. The another Helper is not new but God's spirit.
    – Michael16
    Jul 31 at 12:22
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It's natural to ask this question, not just for Ps 51:11, but also for passages such as

  • 1 Sam 16:13-14 where the Spirit rushed upon David (v. 13) and left Saul (v. 14).
  • Ex 35:30-31 where God filled Bezalel with great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts to make the priestly clothing.
  • Judges 14:19 God gave Samson strength.
  • etc.

Christian theology usually handles it by differentiating between the equipping presence of the Holy Spirit (empowered for service) and the saving presence of the Holy Spirit (empowered for holy living). The latter only came at Pentecost, available only after Jesus's resurrection, as a fulfillment of God's promise of the new covenant as well as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in people's hearts for holy living (Ez 11:19-20):

19 And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart,20 so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.

A 2014 article by a professor of theology Jack Cottrell David and the Holy Spirit in Psalm 51:11 explains the difference in more depth. He also notes that equipping is associated with "came upon", while saving is associated with "came into".

Follow up question:

What is the basis for this distinction in the first place and the claim that the saving presence of the Holy Spirit was not present in OT times?

We know this because God never promised them eternal life (they are still under Adam's curse of death or they are still under the Mosaic covenant which doesn't mention Holy Spirit). But they are provided hope through

  • glimpses of a future redeemer (example: Job 19:25-27)
  • glimpses of a future coming of the spirit to transform their hearts so they can obey the covenant (example: Eze 11:19-20)

Conclusion: No, it does NOT mean that the people in the Old Testament could have the saving presence of the Holy Spirit indwelling in them but only for the temporary equipping presence of the Holy Spirit to perform specific work commissioned by God.

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  • Interesting differentiation. Maybe that could explain why some people might be able to perform miracles in the name of Jesus and still be denied entrance into the kingdom of God at the last day, as Jesus tells them "I never knew you". Perhaps they had the equipping presence of the Holy Spirit in them (through which they performed miracles), but not the saving presence. However, this raises the question: how did O.T. Saints get saved? And another: what is the basis for this distinction in the first place and the claim that the saving presence of the Holy Spirit was not present in OT times? Jul 30 at 22:59
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator See this C.SE question on how OT Saints get saved. For your second Q, we know this because God never promised them eternal life (still under Adam's curse of death, still under Mosaic covenant which doesn't mention Holy Spirit), only glimpses of future redeemer (example: Job 19:25-27) and glimpses of heart that can obey the covenant (example: Eze 11:19-20). Jul 30 at 23:28
  • How would you explain then that David will be raised in 1st res because he is already saved in Christ?
    – steveowen
    Sep 4 at 7:44
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The Spirit of God was on them:

The promises of the outpouring of the Spirit like in Joel, is a continuous blessing of God, which has an en emphatic but not exclusive fulfillment in the new covenant, Acts 2.

[Joel 2:28] "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.

[ESV 1Sam 10:5-7] 5After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, where there is a garrison of the Philistines. And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. 6Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. 7Now when these signs meet you, do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you.

Jewish Encyclopedia: Shekinah (Holy Spirit)

Those on Whom the Shekinah Rested.

The Shekinah was one of the five things lacking in the Second Temple (Targ. to Hag. i. 8; Yer. Ta'an. 65a, and parallel passages). Shunning the Gentiles, it rested solely among the Israelites (Shab. 22b), and even there only when they numbered at least 2,002 myriads (Ber. 7a; Yeb. 64a; B. B. 15b; comp. Sanh. 105b), confining itself solely to those of this multitude who were of pure and therefore aristocratic lineage (Ḳid. 70b) and who were wise, brave, wealthy, and tall (Shab. 92a; comp. Ned. 38a); but even for such it would not descend into an atmosphere of sadness (Shab. 30b and parallel passages), since there can be no sorrow in the presence of God (Ḥag. 5b); nor should one pray in a sorrowful frame of mind (Ber. 31a).

The polemic attitude which the conception of the Shekinah betrays toward the founder and the ideal of Christianity is unmistakable. The Shekinah rested upon the priests even if they were unclean (Yoma 56b); and if it was lacking, none approached them for an oracle (ib. 75b). Prominent doctors of the Law were considered worthy of the Shekinah, but both their generation. (i.e., their contemporaries) and their place of residence (i.e., in a foreign land) deprived them of its presence (Suk. 28a; B. B. 60a; Soṭah 48b; M. Ḳ. 25a). In all these statements the Shekinah is identical with the Holy Spirit. It was received by thirty-six pious persons (Suk. 45b), a number which recalls the thirty-six nomes of Egypt and their gods. The Shekinah was also believed to be a protection, as is still the case in the night prayer: "on my four sides four angels, and above my head the Shekinah of God" (comp. Ḳid. 31a). The Shekinah is found at the head of the sick (Shab. 12b) and at the right hand of man (Targ. to Ps. xvi. 8). Pharaoh's daughter saw it at the side of Moses (Soṭah 11a; comp. Targ. to Judges vi. 13), and it spoke with the prophet Jonah twice (Zeb. 98a), with Adam, with the serpent (Bek. 8a; Shab. 87a; Pes. 87b et passim), and with others.

To Whom Does the Shekinah Appear?

Unsullied thoughts and pious deeds render one worthy of the Shekinah, which is present when two are engaged with the Torah (Ab. iii. 3), when ten pray (Ber. 6a; Ab. 3, 9), and when the mysticism of the Merkabah is explained (Ḥag. 14b); and it is likewise attracted by the study of the Law at night (Tamid 32b); the reading of the "Shema'" (Shab. 57a); prayer (B. B. 22a); hospitality (Shab. 127a; Sanh. 103b); benevolence (B. B. 10a); chastity (Derek Ereẓ i.); peace and faithfulness in married life (Soṭah 17a); and similar deeds and qualities (Ket. 111a; Ber. 67a; Men. 43b; Sanh. 42b; Yer. Ḥag. i. et passim). Sins, on the other hand, cause the Shekinah to depart (Targ. to Isa. lvii. 7; Jer. xxxiii. 5 et passim). It inspires correct judgment in upright judges (Sanh. 7a), while unrighteous magistrates cause it to depart (Shab. 139a). It appeared on the day on which the Tabernacle was first erected (Num. R. xiii.). Before the Israelites sinned the Shekinah rested on every one; but when they did evil it disappeared (Soṭah 3b). In like manner it departed from David when he became leprous (Sanh. 107a). Among the transgressions which have this result are the shedding of blood (Yoma 84b) and idolatry, (Meg. 15b; others are cited in Soṭah 42a; Kallah, end; Ber. 5b, 27b; Shab. 33a;, and Sanh. 106a). Whosoever sins in secret or walks with a proud and haughty bearing "crowds out the feet of the Shekinah" (Ḥag. 16a; Ber. 43b; comp. ib. 59a).

The Holy Spirit or "Divine Presense", Shekinah rested upon them

Legends of the Jews 2:1:91 Seeing that the Shekinah rested upon him, Potiphar treated Joseph not as a slave, but as a member of his family, for he said, "This youth is not cut out for a slave's work, he is worthy of a prince's place.
The Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg [1909]

Targum Jonathan on Exodus 40:35 And Mosheh was not able to enter the tabernacle of ordinance, because the Cloud of Glory rested upon it, and the glory of the Lord's Shekinah filled the tabernacle.
The Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel, trans. J. W. Etheridge, London, 1862

Sefer HaIkkarim, Maamar 3 25:14 The Shekinah or holy spirit rested upon Israel through the offerings, and the priest foretold the future through the Urim and Thummim, as the senses testified.
Sefer Ha-ikkarim, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1929

And the so-called Trinity, was already believed by the Church of Israel, before Jesus.

"Hear, O Israel, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai is one. These three are one. How can the three Names be one? Only through the perception of faith; in the vision of the Holy Spirit, in the beholding of the hidden eye alone.…So it is with the mystery of the threefold Divine manifestations designated by Adonai Eloheinu Adonai—three modes which yet form one unity." 1 Zohar II:43b (vol. 3, p. 134 in the Soncino Press edition).

A Christian quote? Hardly. The above is taken from the Zohar, an ancient book of Jewish mysticism. The Zohar is somewhat esoteric and most contemporary Jewish people don't study it, but there are other Jewish books that refer to God's plurality as well.

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After the last supper, Jesus told his disciples in John 14 (ESV):

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper [G3875], to be with you forever, 17even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

The Greek word for Helper [G3875] is often translated into English as Paraclete. He dwells in believers forever. He cannot be taken out. Like the first birth, the second birth is an irreversible process. It cannot be undone.

Jesus continued in John 16:

7Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

The indwelling Spirit could only be sent after Jesus had died.

Hebrews 12:9 affirms this phenomenon of human father and spirit Father:

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!

Is Psalm 51:11 proof that people In O.T. times could have the Holy Spirit indwelling them too, just like in the New Testament?

No.

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A different view to consider. Not by any means meant to counter the excellent posts already submitted - but one to consider alongside them.

In the Old Testament Gods presence was encountered in the tabernacle, specifically in Holy of Holies. Which had to be ‘cleaned’. (Leviticus 16, and elsewhere.) In the OT, man’s ‘heart’ could not be, so when the Holy Spirit came onto someone, it could, it would have to leave at times.

Whereas in a born again believer, who has been ‘cleansed’, the Holy Spirit can dwell.

So rather than Psalm 55:11 supporting a premise that OT saints had the Holy Spirit, it actually is a support verse for the view that the Holy Spirit will never leave a New Testament believer.

JOHN 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever

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The best way to answer this is to understand that there would have been no necessity for the Ezekiel 36:22-27 prophecy if it's the exact same. There is a salvific nature to it (the regeneration of Saul's heart/person/Self when he is anointed in 1 Samuel 10) — also, David poetically parallelisms the "do not take your Spirit from me" line with the "do not take your salvation from me" line, so the spirit of YHWH is the salvation of YHWH), but the Spirit did not live in and through them.

The best way I've seen it explained is by those who point out that the Spirit repeatedly comes upon the OT messiahs; however, you don't see this language of the repeated coming of the Spirit in the NT. The Spirit comes upon the born-again person once at baptism, changes our nature (particularly in the heart/Self), remains living through us, and empowers us against sin therein. In the OT he would leave, return, leave, return, leave return. Note that this leaving and returning could either be salvific (lost salvation) or simply functional (that is, the Spirit comes for a particular scene so that a character can perform a particular act — sometimes when this happens it may not be plainly stated since it's assumed, such as with some of Elisha's miracles, and I think Elijah outrunning the horses is another example). It's the latter kind of leaving that no longer happens. Salvation can still be very clearly lost, such as is seen in 1 Peter 2:1, where those who were once bought by the Sovereign Lord became deniers of him, which means that the once saved always saved theology of "if they apostatized they were never born-again" is wrong. I have to clarify this so that I don't end up accidentally teaching that doctrine — the blood will be on my head if I don't clarify it.

It's ultimately connected to the temple language. In the OT, the temple had to be repeatedly re-cleaned every time the Israelites descecrated it for the glory of YHWH to return. The relationship of the Spirit to the temple of the body was the same. In the NT, the incarnate-YHWH is the perfect temple once for all, with no need to be rededicated. The relationship of the Spirit to the body of the temple reflects this. So David, by repentance, rededicated himself to YHWH and the Spirit returned (contrary to Saul). But in the NT, repentance is only once, and then baptism ("I will sprinkle you and make you clean" from Ezekiel 36:22-27) — note: repentance is not saying you're sorry over and over again.

As a side note, this is also important for understanding what's wrong with a good bit of Charismatic theology.

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Shortly before ascending into heaven, Jesus Christ informed the apostles that “the promise of the father” would soon be available.

And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me. For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence. Acts 1:4-5

Since this promise (being baptized with the holy spirit) first became available on the day of Pentecost ten days after Jesus' ascension, we know that it was not available in old testament times. Although the believers of the old testament could not be baptized with the holy spirit, we do know from the book of Isaiah that the spirit of God was “upon” certain of them.

Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles. Isaiah 42:1

Corresponding references in God’s Word indicate that before the day of Pentecost the spirit upon believers was measured out in portions and that in Jesus’ case it was upon him as fully as it could be.

... And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. II Kings 2:9

For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. John 3:34

From David's prayer in Psalm 51, we also know that prior to Pentecost it was possible to lose the spirit of God.

Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Psalm 51:11

Since the day of Pentecost, believers are sons of God with God’s spirit dwelling permanently within.

Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. Galatians 4:7

For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. Romans 8:14

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