After the great initial response from the first article, I modified this one to focus more on the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament based on some questions folks asked. It’s amazing what you can dig out of familiar passages, even if you’ve read them many times. These were presented originally in this Dr. Michael Heiser talk about the Jewish Trinity, so if you like this short primer, I highly recommend you dig into the talk.
In the 63rd chapter (starting at verse 7), Isaiah is discussing the lovingkindesses (חֵסֵד, chêsêd) of YHWH right after presenting a picture of judgement for the sinful Edom. As a side-note, it’s important to point out that all the bloody, harsh ‘judgement’ sections discussing God’s wrath in the Bible are always couched in (1) a passionate plea from God to stop the sin causing the judgement and (2) a declaration of God’s love for the sinner. Every time! Remember that when someone tells you that the Bible is full of violence and features an angry God. He certainly doesn’t want to do those things! I digress…
Here are the verses in question:
8 He said, “They are indeed My people,
children who will not be disloyal,”
and He became their Savior.
9 In all their suffering, He suffered,[e]
and the Angel of His Presence saved them.
He redeemed them
because of His love and compassion;
He lifted them up and carried them
all the days of the past.
10 But they rebelled
and grieved His Holy Spirit.
So He became their enemy
and fought against them.
11 Then He[f] remembered the days of the past,
the days of Moses and his people.
Where is He who brought them out of the sea
with the shepherds[g] of His flock?
Where is He who put His Holy Spirit among the flock?
12 He sent His glorious arm
to be at Moses’ right hand,
divided the waters before them
to obtain eternal fame for Himself,
13 and led them through the depths
like a horse in the wilderness,
so that they did not stumble.
14 Like cattle that go down into the valley,
the Spirit of the Lord gave them[h] rest.
You led Your people this way
to make a glorious name for Yourself.
Isaiah in this passage introduces us to three distinct characters.
It is clear that there are three entities in view based on the grammar. It is the Father who is quoted speaks in verse 8. It is the Father, interestingly enough, that is labeled as the Savior. Then notice right after that in v. 9 the Angel of the Presence is the one who saved Israel!
Is Isaiah confused? No. He is clearly making a point to include them both, filling the same role and purposefully “melding” the identities of the two. The Angel of the Presence is also the one who is credited with lifting Israel up and carrying them all the days of the past (which includes the Exodus, which we’ll discuss another time).
In addition to this, we see that The Father’s Holy Spirit here is the one who was rebelled against and who was grieved by Israel. If this was read in a vacuum, one might just shrug this off and say, “Fine, the author is just trying to use an analogy to help us understand that God’s “heart” was hurt by Israel’s actions.” This was certainly not the case: as we’ll see, “rebelled against” in conjunction with “grieved” was a phrase used in the scriptures to refer to YHWH Himself!
The words used in Isaiah 63 for “rebelled against” and “grieved” are used in Psalm 78 to describe what Israel did to YHWH. The author of Isaiah, as well as the other prophets, were well-versed in the Pentateuch (first 5 books of the Bible), the Histories (Judges, Chronicles, etc.), the Psalms and Proverbs. They knew that their holy God was multiple persons, and had no problem writing ambiguous passages that conflated the identities of the Father, the Second YHWH, and His Spirit.
How often they rebelled (מָרָה, mârâh) against Him
in the wilderness
and grieved (עָצַב, ‛âtsab) Him in the desert.
Isaiah 63 used the exact verbiage of Psalm 78 to describe “His Holy Spirit.” However, in the Psalm, the author is clearly talking about “the Most High God,” a title reserved for the Father (see v. 35)! This is another example of the Biblical authors using phrases and words to carry meaning and theological weight to their writings. To further the point, this tradition was carried on into the New Testament. This same word (in Greek, of course) is also used by Paul in Ephesians 4:30, commanding believers not to “grieve” the Holy Spirit.
A great example of using the technique of equating certain descriptions of YHWH to convey certain theological truths is found in Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 1, God is described in the following way:
25 A voice came from above the expanse over [the living creature’s] heads; when they stood still, they lowered their wings. 26 The shape of a throne with the appearance of sapphire[c] stone was above the expanse.[d] There was a form with the appearance of a human on the throne high above.27 From what seemed to be His waist up, I saw a gleam like amber, with what looked like fire enclosing it all around. From what seemed to be His waist down, I also saw what looked like fire. There was a brilliant light all around Him. 28 The appearance of the brilliant light all around was like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This was the appearance of the form of the Lord’s glory. When I saw it, I fell facedown and heard a voice speaking.
This passage describes YHWH Himself, since the “form of the Lord’s glory” sitting on the throne of Heaven could belong to no other. Now, compare this description with the following passage:
8 In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting in front of me, and there the hand of the Lord God came down on me. 2 I looked, and there was a form that had the appearance of a man. From what seemed to be His waist down was fire, and from His waist up was something that looked bright, like the gleam of amber.3 He stretched out what appeared to be a hand and took me by the hair of my head. Then the Spiritlifted me up between earth and heaven and carried me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the inner gate that faces north, where the offensive statue that provokes jealousy was located. 4 I saw the glory of the God of Israel there, like the vision I had seen in the plain.
Here, the Spirit, who is the same character as the “hand of the Lord God,” shares the same exact qualities as YHWH from Ezekiel 1:
Yet, even after equating the “form of the Lord’s glory” of chapter 1 with “the Spirit” here, he then describes seeing another character, the “glory of the God of Israel,” waiting at the entrance of Jerusalem’s North Gate… the same one that he saw in the vision “seen in the plain” (chapter 1)!
This is incredible to me. It’s as if Ezekiel wanted to make sure his readers knew that the “form of the Lord’s glory” and the “Spirit” of YHWH are different, even though they are the same.
Another fascinating glimpse into the workings of the Jewish Trinity are found in Ezekiel 1:12.
12 Each creature went straight ahead. Wherever the Spirit[a] wanted to go, they went without turning as they moved.
20 Wherever the Spirit[b] wanted to go, the creatures went in the direction the Spirit was moving.
These phrases occur amongst Ezekiel’s description of the four living creatures who accompany the movement of the throne of God, as described in 1:24-26. We see here that the Spirit has a will of His own, and that the direction of travel of the throne of God was His to decide. Who else but YHWH could control the throne of YHWH?
Some food for thought. The Love of God is extremely apparent in both Old and New Testaments. It is, indeed, a fundamental attribute of God’s nature, right alongside His holiness, justice, and mercy. If you have any doubt about this, this article entitled “17. The Love of God” by Bob Deffinbaugh, is a fantastic resource if you want to study God’s love or any of His other attributes.
My favorite example of God’s unconditional love for us are actually found in the Old Testament. In Genesis 15, God performs a one-sided Covenant Confirmation with Abraham. In the ancient Middle Eastern, when you confirmed a covenant between multiple parties, all parties of that covenant were supposed to pass through several split carcasses to show that they would uphold whatever promise or relationship was being confirmed… or else their lives would be as forfeit as the dead animals through which they passed. When God sets this up with Abraham, however, he then puts Abraham to sleep and then passes through split carcasses alone, thereby taking all of the responsibility for their relationship upon Himself! For more information on this amazing display of selflessness on God’s part, Growing Christian Ministries has a great article on the history of this practice.
How can the Creator of the universe know this kind of love, this unconditional commitment to someone else? How can a Spirit being know and understand how love works before the existence of any other thing?
For that matter, why would God desire to want relationships at all, given He was perfect and whole before the creation of anything? (This isn’t just coming from the Bible… philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s Ontological Argument indicates that God is a Maximally Great Being that necessarily exists and is perfect in every possible world.)
I believe the answer lies in the Trinity.
If God is a three person relationship at the very core of His being, then there is nothing more fundamental to our understanding of His nature aside from His holiness.
Relationship and love actually define how God exists.
The Jewish writers of the scriptures understood this. We should too. :-)
The first 5 Nuggets on the Jewish Trinity.
If you found this information interesting, check out The Unseen Realm by Dr. Michael Heiser. You can also watch his series of lectures on “The Jewish Trinity,” which much of this topic is pulled from, here. Enjoy!!