God's Spirit Before the Church Era
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When is God's Spirit first mentioned in the Bible?
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters" (Genesis 1:1-2, New International Version).
In its first chapter the Bible introduces us to powerful effects of God's Spirit. The subsequent verses then describe God, with the power of His Spirit, fashioning the heavens and earth and all that is in them. "By His Spirit He adorned the heavens ..." (Job 26:13).
God then made mankind "in His own image" (Genesis 1:26-28). He placed the first man and woman in the Garden of Eden, where they could have eaten of the tree of life (Genesis 2:9).
Christ taught that "life"—eternal life—is available only through God's Spirit (John 6:63). Paul explained that, "if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit [which] dwells in you" (Romans 8:11).
Therefore the tree of life represents the life-giving power of God's Spirit.
Adam and Eve, of course, had the opportunity to make another choice. And, to their detriment, they chose the other tree. As a result of Satan's persuasion, they chose the fruit of the tree that represented only knowledge of right and wrong—"the tree of the knowledge of good and evil"—rather than the power to subdue and control human nature as represented by the fruit of the tree of life (Genesis 2:16-17; Genesis 3:6). Tragically, they did not understand that knowledge alone—especially knowledge acquired primarily through human experience—is not enough.
So with Adam and Eve the history of human beings began without the active presence of God in their lives; they lacked the power and help of His Spirit.
By the time of Noah how had Adam's and Eve's choice affected their descendants?
"The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth" (Genesis 6:11-12).
Human beings without God's Spirit cannot control their own fleshly nature. Such control requires more than knowledge alone. It requires help from God through His Spirit. But not until Jesus had died to pay for humanity's sins would God again begin offering His Spirit to all who would come to Him in a spirit of repentance.
How did God usually communicate with mankind after Satan deceived Adam and Eve?
"... Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:20-21, New American Standard Version).
Though humanity as a whole had no access to the Holy Spirit, God did give His Spirit to certain chosen servants who spoke for Him. God also inspired His messages through them to be recorded for us today in the pages of the Bible.
Did mankind listen to these prophetic messengers inspired by God's Spirit?
"Yet He sent prophets to them, to bring them back to the LORD; and they testified against them, but they would not listen" (2 Chronicles 24:19; compare Genesis 6:5; Nehemiah 9:26).
Then, as today, most people ignored the warnings of God's messengers. Similarly, most people today choose to ignore those same warnings written in Scripture. Human attitudes toward God's Word haven't changed.
What was God's conclusion concerning humanity as He began to use Noah?
"Then the LORD said, 'My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years'" (Genesis 6:3, NIV).
Resistance to anything He tried to teach humans was so intense by the time of Noah that God decided to give humanity only 120 more years before He would destroy all but Noah's family. That destruction came through what has come to be known as Noah's Flood.
After the Flood God called and used Abraham. In the succeeding years He used Abraham's son, grandson and great-grandson. Then, generations later, He began working with the nation of Israel, which He began through some of Abraham's descendants.
Did God communicate with Israel through His Spirit in His prophets?
"You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct [the people of Israel], and did not withhold Your manna from their mouth, and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness, they lacked nothing ..." (Nehemiah 9:20-21; compare Nehemiah 9:30).
So overwhelming was the task of trying to lead the people of Israel that Moses, even though he was the only man at that time who had the Holy Spirit, complained to God, "I am not able to bear all these people alone, because the burden is too heavy for me" (Numbers 11:14).
"So the LORD said to Moses: 'Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. Then I will come down and talk with you there. 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'" (Numbers 11:16-17).
This is the largest group of people mentioned in the Old Testament to receive God's Spirit at the same time. God gave the chief leaders in Israel some of the same spiritual help and the divine power He had given Moses so they could help guide the new nation. This occurred during the 40 years of the Israelites' wandering in the wilderness, before they entered the Promised Land.
After the days of Moses, did God continue giving His Spirit to leaders and prophets in Israel?
"The Spirit of the LORD came upon [Othniel], and he judged Israel" (Judges 3:10).
As time went on, God gave His Spirit to other leaders of Israel. Among them were Gideon, Jephthah, Saul and David (Judges 6:34; Judges 11:29; 1 Samuel 11:6; 1 Samuel 16:13-14). But, apart from a few exceptions, the people never returned to God with all their hearts. Ultimately their rebellion against Him and rejection of His ways were so great that most of them were taken into captivity at the hands of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires.
Does God explain why He finally sent all of the tribes of Israel into captivity?
"But they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus ... I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations which they had not known" (Zechariah 7:11-14).
After the Israelites demonstrated by their long history of disobedience that the guidance from leaders and prophets filled with God's Spirit would not change their hearts, God began revealing His plans for the then-distant future.