Both the Old and New Testaments speak about the need for God to spiritually renew us and change our hearts. Both associate this spiritual renewal with the Spirit of God. But there is only one really clear Old Testament passage on this topic.
- The Holy Spirit is God’s agent of change in this world.
- Broadly speaking his work can be categorized as: universal and individual.
- The universal work of the Spirit is the work that the Holy Spirit does in all believers to give us saving faith.
- The individual works of the Spirit are the gifts and opportunities to serve the kingdom of God that the Spirit gives one believer but not another.
- Revelation is an individual work of the Spirit given to God’s chosen messengers, such that they can teach God’s word to the rest of us.
- Understanding is the receptivity to embrace and believe God’s message as wisdom, which is a universal work given to all believers.
- Most of the discussion of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament concerns the individual work of the Spirit empowering particular individuals as leaders to protect, defend and guide Israel or as prophets so that they can proclaim God’s word to His people.
This podcast explores the universal work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. Both Testaments agree about our need for the Spirit of God to change our hearts, but the New Testament gives us a much more fully developed understanding of the topic.
Why do we need transformation? See What is the Gospel?
29:2And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 3the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. 4But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. – Deuteronomy 29:2-4
- As they are about to enter the promised land, Moses speaks to the children of Israel.
- This generation saw the mighty works of God displayed in a way no other generation had ever seen.
- Yet they failed to trust in God because God had not given them the ability to see and understand.
63:15Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion are held back from me. 16For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name. 17O LORD, why do you make us wander from your ways and harden our heart, so that we fear you not? Return for the sake of your servants, the tribes of your heritage. 18Your holy people held possession for a little while; our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary. 19We have become like those over whom you have never ruled, like those who are not called by your name. – Isaiah 63:15-19
- The prophet Isaiah is writing from the perspective of the exiles in Babylon.
- Like Moses, Isaiah says the people do not fear and trust God because God has hardened their hearts.
- Both Moses and Isaiah speak of the need for God intervention to change their hearts from rebellion to faithfulness.
30:1“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, 2and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. 4If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. 5And the LORD your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. 7And the LORD your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. 8And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today. 9The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. – Deuteronomy 30:1-10
- Moses is speaking to the children of Israel as they are about to enter the promised land.
- He predicts both the exile and the return from exile.
- Moses also tells them the time will come when God will gather them back to the land and circumcise their hearts so that they love and follow him.
- God will metaphorically cut away their rebellion and hostility and make them people who love God instead.
31:31“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” – Jeremiah 31:31-34
- Like Moses, Jeremiah is speaking of the exile and return.
- Like Moses, Jeremiah predicts a time when God will write the law on the hearts of His people with the result that they will follow and trust Him.
- Rather than writing the law on stone tablets, God is going to transform His people into the kind of people who want to keep the Law.
36:16The word of the LORD came to me: 17“Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their own land, they defiled it by their ways and their deeds. Their ways before me were like the uncleanness of a woman in her menstrual impurity. 18So I poured out my wrath upon them for the blood that they had shed in the land, for the idols with which they had defiled it. 19I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. 20But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.’ 21But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. 22“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26And 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. 27And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. – Ezekiel 36:16-28
- Like Moses and Jeremiah, Ezekiel is speaking of the exile and the return.
- Ezekiel says God will replace their heart of stone with a heart of flesh and put His Spirit in them so that they obey Him.
Moses, Jeremiah and Ezekiel are speaking about the same idea.
- Israel lost God’s blessings because their hearts were unfaithful. They turned away from God and so they were exiled and judged.
- Yet a day is coming when God will restore His people, but this time it will be different because God will change their hearts.
- Moses says he will circumcise their hearts.
- Jeremiah says he will write the law on their hearts.
- Ezekiel says he will remove their hearts of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
- The result is they will follow God in faithfulness and obedience and so they will get blessings and not judgment.
- Only Ezekiel explicitly mentions the Spirit of God.
The New Testament authors connect this transforming change with the Holy Spirit.
- Romans 2:28-29 – Paul connects the circumcision of the heart with the activity of the Holy Spirit.
- 2 Corinthians 2:17-3:6 – Paul sees his ministry of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ as being a minister of this new covenant. Using the language of the prophets, Paul contrasts the old (tablets of stone) with the new (tablets of human hearts) and argues this transforming work is accomplished by the Holy Spirit.
Like the New Testament, these Old Testaments passages teach us that our hearts by nature do not want to turn to God. Left to our own devices, we would continue to rebel against God. But that God in His grace — through his spirit and because of the blood of Jesus Christ –changes our hearts so that we love might find life and mercy in Him.
For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.
Series: Who is the Holy Spirit?
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