Who or What is the Holy Spirit?

Considering what John the Baptist said:

Matthew 3:11-12 RSV
11 “I baptise you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Knowing the truth about the holy spirit ought to be a key concern for all true believers. And yet there are a variety of views regarding the true nature of the holy spirit. So as usual we will turn to God’s word in the scriptures to determine the truth, and rely upon the holy spirit:

John 14:26 NIV
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

There is a lot to cover on this subject, so we will start by looking at what the Hebrew scriptures tell us in this part, followed by subsequent parts looking at the teaching in the New Testament scriptures, and then we will pull it all together.

The first mention of God’s spirit is in Genesis 1:2 ‘moving’ in the creation setting.

Genesis 1:2 RSV
The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.

The Hebrew word translated ‘spirit’ is Strong’s number 7307, defined as ‘breath, wind, spirit’. Whether breath, wind or spirit, they are invisible, their power and effect is as a result of their movement or flowing action.

Can we take ‘God’s spirit’ to be ‘the holy spirit’? Is God holy?

Leviticus 19:2 NJB
‘Speak to the whole community of Israelites and say: “Be holy, for I, Yahweh your God, am holy.

Psalms 99:9 NJB
Yahweh our God, bow down at his holy mountain; holy is Yahweh our God!

Habakkuk 1:12 HCSB
Are You not from eternity, Yahweh my God? My Holy One, You will not die. Lord, You appointed them to execute judgment; [my] Rock, You destined them to punish [us].

Is God spirit?

John 4:24 RSV
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Yahweh God is both holy and spirit, hence ‘God’s spirit’ or ‘the spirit of God’ are terms equivalent to ‘the holy spirit’ and are related directly to Yahweh, the Father, Lord God most high.

Are ‘your holy spirit’ and ‘your presence’ used as parallel equivalents, strongly and directly related?

Psalm 139:7 HCSB
Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?

Psalm 51:11 HCSB
Do not banish me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Was Yahweh’s presence, also called His holy spirit and His spirit, present in the midst of His people Israel?

Isaiah 63:8-14 NJB
63:8 For he said, ‘Truly they are my people, children who will not betray me,’ and he became their Saviour.
63:9 In all their troubles, it was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them. In his love and pity he himself redeemed them, lifted them up and carried them throughout the days of old.
63:10 But they rebelled and vexed his holy Spirit. Then he became their enemy and himself waged war on them.
63:11 But he called the past to mind, Moses his servant. Where is he who saved them from the sea, the Shepherd of his flock? Where was he who put his holy Spirit among them,
63:12 whose glorious arm led the way by Moses’ right hand? Who divided the waters before them to win himself everlasting renown,
63:13 who led them through the depths as easily as a horse through the desert? They stumbled as little
63:14 as cattle going down to the plain. Yahweh’s Spirit led them to rest. This was how you guided your people to win yourself glorious renown.

Did the glorious presence of Yahweh fill the tabernacle, or dwelling in the midst of the people of Israel?

Exodus 40:34-38 NJB
40:34 The cloud then covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of Yahweh filled the Dwelling.
40:35 Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, since the cloud stayed over it and the glory of Yahweh filled the Dwelling.
40:36 At every stage of their journey, whenever the cloud rose from the Dwelling, the Israelites would resume their march.
40:37 If the cloud did not rise, they would not resume their march until the day it did rise.
40:38 For Yahweh’s cloud stayed over the Dwelling during the daytime and there was fire inside the cloud at night, for the whole House of Israel to see, at every stage of their journey.

So we can see that one aspect of the holy spirit is it relating to ‘the glorious, holy presence of Yahweh’ dwelling in the midst of His people.

Does the ‘spirit of Yahweh’ also have reference to the mind, understanding, knowledge of Yahweh God?

Isaiah 40:13-14 NJB
13 Who directed the spirit of Yahweh, what counsellor could have instructed him?
14 Whom has he consulted to enlighten him, to instruct him in the path of judgement, to teach him knowledge and show him how to understand?

Is this confirmed in the prophecy regarding the Messiah in Isaiah 11?

Isaiah 11:1-2 NJB
1 A shoot will spring from the stock of Jesse, a new shoot will grow from his roots.
2 On him will rest the spirit of Yahweh, the spirit of wisdom and insight, the spirit of counsel and power, the spirit of knowledge and fear of

Does the spirit of Yahweh encompass the spirit of wisdom, of understanding, of counsel, of might, of knowledge and the reverence of Yahweh? Isaiah 11:1-2 above.

So we see that another aspect of the spirit is the indwelling influence of the mind of Yahweh God working with His chosen ones.

Is Yahweh’s spirit also compared to and related to power and might?

Zechariah 4:6 Lexham English Bible
And he answered and said to me, “This [is] the word of Yahweh to Zerubbabel, saying, ‘Not by strength and not by power, but [only] by my Spirit,’ says Yahweh of hosts.

And to Yahweh’s dynamic, active presence to deliver through His chosen agent?

Judges 3:9-10 NJB
9 The Israelites then cried to Yahweh and Yahweh raised for the Israelites a deliverer who rescued them, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother.
10 The spirit of Yahweh was on him; he became judge in Israel and set out for war. Yahweh delivered Cushan-Rishathaim king of Edom into his hands, and he triumphed over Cushan- Rishathaim.

Judges 6:34 NJB
And the spirit of Yahweh clothed Gideon around; he sounded the horn and Abiezer rallied behind him.

Judges 13:24-25 NJB
24 The woman gave birth to a son and called him Samson. The child grew, and Yahweh blessed him;
25 and the spirit of Yahweh began to stir him in the Camp of Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Did this presence and influence sometimes result in prophetic utterances in accordance with the will of Yahweh?

Ezekiel 2:1-2 HCSB
He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak with you.” 2 As He spoke to me, the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet, and I listened to the One who was speaking to me.

Ezekiel 11:1 NJB
The spirit lifted me up and brought me to the east gate of the Temple of Yahweh, the gate that looks eastwards. There at the entrance to the gate stood twenty-five men, among whom I saw Jaazaniah son of Azzur and Pelatiah son of Benaiah, leaders of the people.

Ezekiel 11:5 NJB
The spirit of Yahweh fell on me, and he said to me, ‘Say, “Yahweh says this: I know what you are saying, House of Israel, I know how insolent you are.

Prophesying the Messiah and the New Covenant:

Isaiah 61:1-2 NJB
61:1 The spirit of Lord Yahweh is on me for Yahweh has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the news to the afflicted, to soothe the broken-hearted,
61:2 to proclaim liberty to captives, release to those in prison, to proclaim a year of favour from Yahweh and a day of vengeance for our God, to comfort all who mourn

Ezekiel 11:5 NJB
The spirit of Yahweh fell on me, and he said to me, ‘Say, “Yahweh says this: I know what you are saying, House of Israel, I know how insolent you are.

Ezekiel 36:25-27 NJB
I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your filth and of all your foul idols.
26 I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead.
27 I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws, and respect and practise my judgements

Power, justice and might to declare Yahweh’s truth:

2 Samuel 23:1-4 NJB
These are the last words of David: Thus speaks David son of Jesse, thus speaks the man raised to eminence, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the singer of the songs of Israel:
2 The spirit of Yahweh speaks through me, his word is on my tongue;
3 the God of Jacob has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: He whose rule is upright on earth, who rules in the fear of God,
4 is like the morning light at sunrise (on a cloudless morning) making the grass of the earth sparkle after rain.

We can see from the above review of the Hebrew scriptures relating to the spirit of Yahweh, or the holy spirit, that rather than being another person distinct from Yahweh it describes the creative, dynamic, active presence and influence of the glorious Yahweh God in and upon and with His chosen people.

This agrees very nicely with the Jewish view that the spirit of God alludes to His energy and self expression in word and action.
In the next part we will look at the holy spirit in the New Testament scriptures.