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Archive for February, 2009

There is much discussion – and much confusion – abroad today with regard to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament.  I would not attempt a facile resolution to the many difficult aspects of that issue.  But I would suggest that there is one element of the question which is much overlooked, and without which the broader issues cannot be helpfully pursued.  That element is the very distinctive ministry of the Spirit vouchsafed those assigned positions of leadership in the Theocratic rule of Yahweh over the covenant nation, Israel.  The following is a redacted excerpt from my doctoral dissertation.  It is a brief survey of the appearances of that phenomenon in the narrative of the Old Testament.  A slightly more complete version (with footnotes) can be found on this page.

 

 

It is significant that Joshua is identified as “a man in whom is the Spirit” (Num 27:18).  The reference is to a very important Old Testament ministry of the Holy Spirit, identified as a “special enduement” which “had to do primarily with the regal functions of those who stood as mediators of the divine government of Israel” (McClain).  Bright acknowledges this Holy Spirit enablement as appropriate to the theocratic arrangement, which he defines as “the direct rule of God over his people through his designated representative.”

 

This distinctive ministry, which might be termed a “theocratic anointing,” was a special intervention by the Holy Spirit by which an individual was equipped to fulfill some responsibility pertaining to the theocratic kingdom.  At the inception of the theocratic arrangement between Israel and Yahweh, God’s Spirit enabled craftsmen to manufacture all the accouterments of the nascent levitical system – the tabernacle which would serve as the throne room of King Yahweh, the vestments of the high priest, the implements and utensils to be employed in the sacrificial services.  Those men had lived their entire lives as slaves; they evidently possessed no skill other than making mud bricks.  But the Lord filled them with “the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold, in silver, in bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood” (Exod 31:3-5; cf. 28:3; 31:6-11; 35:31-35; Neh 9:20; Isa 63:11).

 

The theocratic anointing is most often referenced in connection with the individual (or individuals) given the responsibility of ruling over the covenant people in the name of Yahweh.  Although there is no record of the Spirit coming thus upon Moses, implicit evidence of such a ministry can be found.  When the lawgiver grew weary and asked Yahweh for help in judging the people, God told him to select seventy elders, and then promised, “I will take of the Spirit who is upon you, and will put Him upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you shall not bear it all alone” (Num 11:17, 25, NASB).   Later, Moses momentarily forgot his place and suggested that he was in some sense responsible for bringing water from the rock (Num 20:1-13); in the Psalter it is recorded that he “rebelled against His Spirit, so that he spoke rashly with his lips” (Ps 106:33).  Moses had been vouchsafed the enabling Spirit to equip him to function as the representative of Yahweh; when he spoke words suggesting that he deserved some of the honor for what was being done, it was interpreted as rebelling “against the Spirit.”

 

Not only is Joshua identified here as “a man in whom the Spirit is” (Num 27:18), but later as well (“full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him,” Deut 34:9).  Of four of the judges, the book of Judges is explicit that they were capable of great works only because “the Spirit of God came upon them” (Othniel, 3:10; Gideon, 6:34; Jephthah, 11:29; Samson, 13:25; 14:6,19; 15:14).

 

It is in the days of the united monarchy that the record of the theocratic anointing is most apparent.  That ministry descended upon Saul (1 Sam 10:6, 10; 11:6) and transformed a cowardly young man unable to keep track of his father’s donkeys (1 Sam 9:3; 10:21,22) into an able leader and courageous warrior (1 Sam 14:47, 48; 11:1-15).  When that ministry departed Saul (1 Sam 16:14), he was rendered unfit for all of the duties of the throne.  On the other hand, that anointing came upon young David (1 Sam 16:13) and equipped him as warrior (1 Sam 17:1-58), enabled him as “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Sam 23:1-2), and directed him as he drew up the intricate plans for the temple which God had not allowed him to actually construct (1 Chr 28:11-12).  Furthermore, David had experienced the sorry results of sinning away this enabling of the Spirit; after the Spirit had departed from Saul, that melancholy monarch had spent years pursuing David, hoping to eliminate the divinely appointed pretender to the throne of Israel.  Thus, in confessing his own horrible sin, David begs God not to punish him as he had Saul by depriving him of the enabling Spirit (Ps 51:11, 12; cf. Ps 139:7; 143:10).

 

There is no explicit record of such an enabling on any of the kings after David, but it is possible to find a reference to the concept in Solomon’s request for “an understanding heart to judge Your people” (1 Kgs 3:9; cf. 2 Chr 1:10).  God answered that request by promising Solomon, “I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you” (1 Kgs 3:12 NKJ); those qualities could certainly be interpreted as an extra measure of the theocratic anointing.  But after David, explicit mention of the ministry of the Spirit is reserved for prophets (2 Chr 15:1; Dan 4:8, 9, 18; 5:11, 14; Neh 9:30; Zech 7:12) and for priests and Levites (2 Chr 20:14; 24:20).

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On or very close to September 18 of this year, there may very well be a moment of solemn silence in the Courts of Heaven. For that day will mark the 2600th anniversary of one of the most melancholy events in the history of God’s dealings with mankind. 

 

The date of the historical incident is defined in Ezekiel’s introduction to the extended visionary experience which he records in chapters 8 to 11 of his prophecy. 

 

     And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house with the elders of Judah sitting before me, that the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. (8:1)

  

Given the vagaries of the ancient Hebrew (lunar) calendar, it is impossible to be precise as to the very day, but that date is very close to September 18, 592.

 

The event which I can imagine might excite such unhappy and sober memories among the angelic host is described in a drama composed of a series of scenes witnessed by Ezekiel in those four chapters. Central to those scenes is the Glory-Cloud – that majestic physical manifestation of King Yahweh’s regal presence which had dwelt (not without some interruption) in the Temple/Throneroom ever since the inauguration of the Theocracy in 1446 BC.  The climax of that drama is simply this: Ichabod!  That is, The Glory Has Departed (cf. 1 Sam 4:21).  In this regard, two brief thoughts.

 

First, though I can imagine that such an anniversary of the abandonment of the Theocratic relationship by King Yahweh might be noted in the Courts of Heaven, I cannot imagine that it will be much noted or remarked upon here on earth.  The primary reason is that the very idea of a real Theocracy – a relationship in which, to use the words of an Old Testament theologian of the 19th century, “Jehovah condescended to reign over Israel in the same direct manner in which an earthly king reigns over his people” – is almost entirely foreign to most Bible students today.  The Scriptures could not be more explicit, and yet the concept has been largely lost today.  (In part because so many frame an understanding of what is going on in the Old Testament without ever reading the Old Testament.)  That is a bottomless misfortune.  Absent the reality that there was already a period (indeed, a period of over 850 years) when Yahweh ruled as a real, actual, physically present Sovereign King over a nation of people, there is no making sense of what God is doing in the Old Testament and little hope of making sense of what He intends to do in days to come.  With all that, I would like to offer a whisper in defense and definition of the glorious reality that the question put to Jesus by His disciples as He ascended to the Father, “Will you at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6), is at once legitimate and coherent only because there has already been a time when Yahweh ruled as King in Israel (1 Sam 12:12).  To that end, there is an essay posted on this page in which I try to trace the outlines of the Old Testament Theocratic rule of King Yahweh.  I invite your reaction.

 

Second, the final scene of the drama of King Yahweh’s departure is described by the prophet as follows:

  

     And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain which is on the east side of the city. (11:23).

  

Of course, that mountain is the Mt. of Olives.  It is abundantly meaningful that the Scriptures record a later time when the duly authorized King of Israel, this time her Messiah, late on Tuesday of the week of His passion left the city of Jerusalem for the last time under His own power, stood on that same mountain, and in tears pronounced Ichabod once again over the city which had rejected Him just as it had rejected the reign of Yahweh earlier in her history (Mt 23:37-39).  But even more importantly, Yahweh is a God who keeps covenant, and in His unfathomable mercy He has promised to bring that rebellious people to Himself; thus there will come a day when King Jesus will descend to rescue His people, when He will stand again on that same mount, when the Spirit of grace and supplication will be poured out and that stiff-necked people will look with faith upon the One whom they once pierced.  Then, indeed, the God who is jealous for His holy name “will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel” (Ezek 39:25; cf. Ezek 20:40; Rom 11:26), and thus the covenant-keeping name of King Yahweh will be celebrated throughout the spheres.

 

September 18, 2009.  The 2600th anniversary of the day when the Glory-cloud departed because of the continued covenant faithlessness of the people whom God had called His own.  But don’t let it be just a remembrance of man’s covenant faithlessness.  You have biblical warrant to rejoice in that day as a reminder of the covenant faithfulness of that God who, though once and again rejected, will never fail to be Yahweh, who will never abandon His Word.

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