Spirit in the Tanakh – part 2: The Spirit of Kings

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(Ruach HaKodesh, Session 4b)


This session of the Ruach HaKodesh series is a survey of the Holy Spirit in the Tanakh. In part one we looked at creation and the great outpouring in Numbers 11. In this episode, part two, we will focus on the Spirit of God in the lives of Saul and David. We will also take a brief look at how the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai sets the prophetic expectation for the future work of the Spirit.

The following is a condensed version of the audio teaching, including all the references and sources cited. You can also subscribe to this podcast here.


Saul’s Encounters with the Spirit (1 Samuel 10-19)

We read in 1 Samuel 9-10 the story behind Saul’s anointing as king of Israel. When Samuel anoints Saul, he predicts three events that will take place as soon as Saul leaves. Among those events, Samuel says,

“After that you shall come to Gibeath-elohim, where there is a garrison of the Philistines. And there, as soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. Then the Spirit of the LORD will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.” (1 Samuel 10:5–6)

Later we read:

When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place. (1 Samuel 10:9–13)

There are a few items of interest in this passage. First of all, note the connection between anointing and the Spirit. This is a theme that we will see repeated. Secondly, note that the effect of the Spirit was to give Saul “another heart” and to transform him “into another man.” A true encounter with God’s Spirit is supposed to change us. God was equipping Saul for the role to which He had called him.

Saul the Prophet

A few questions arise from this passage. To start with, what does it mean that they were prophesying? What did that look like? (We had the same question last time about the 70 elders.) Here is Keil and Delitzsch on our text:

By the prophesying of these prophets we are to understand an ecstatic utterance of religious feelings to the praise of God, as in the case of the seventy elders in the time of Moses (Num. 11:25). Whether it took the form of a song or of an enthusiastic discourse, cannot be determined; in any case it was connected with a very energetic action indicative of the highest state of mental excitement.[1]C. F. Keil and Delitzsch F., Commentary on the Old Testament (10 vols.; Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), n.p.

Another question, which is related to the first: Why did they have musical instruments? What does music have to do with prophecy? Well, it seems “singing” and “composing music/poetry” is within the semantic range of “prophecy” in Scripture. We see other instances of prophecy connected with music in Scripture, such as 2Kings 3:15; Ezekiel 33:32; 1Chron 25:1-3. This particular band of prophets, it seems, was part of the “school” of prophets apparently led by Samuel (cf. 1Sam 19:20).

We will talk more about the schools of the prophets in session 12. But for now, we can note that there were two main schools of prophets in the era of the Israelite monarchy: the musical prophets under Samuel and David, and the “sons of the prophets” under Elijah and Elishah. Recall that, prior to Samuel, prophecy was rare (1Sam 3:1). His school marks the beginning of an era of musical prophecy (1Sam 10:5), which could be understood as the cultivation of sacred music and poetry. This continued and flourished especially in the time of David (cf. 1Chron 25:1-8) and resulted in the book of Psalms.

A third question about our passage: What was the meaning of those who exclaimed, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” Some take this as a taunt. They made fun of his experience, and didn’t think it amounted to anything significant. “And who is their father?” is another way of saying “They’re nobodies!” After all, Gibeah was Saul’s hometown, and as Yeshua says, a prophet is without honour in his hometown (Matt 13:57). Think also of the reaction of some in Acts 2:13 who mocked the disciples by saying they were drunk.

Alternatively, we could understand this reaction as one of astonishment and amazement. Instead of mocking, they marveled to see someone they had known behaving so differently. In this sense, “who is their father” is an answer to the question: Prophecy is not inherited! This would be a typical example of the Hebrew style of answering a question with a question. This interpretation makes more sense in light of the proverbial status this statement acquired.

[It became] a proverb which was used to express astonishment at the appearance of any man in a sphere of life which had hitherto been altogether strange to him.[2]Ibid.

Saul’s Second Filling

In the next chapter, we read of the Spirit coming upon Saul again:

Then Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh-gilead, and all the men of Jabesh said to Nahash, “Make a treaty with us, and we will serve you.” But Nahash the Ammonite said to them, “On this condition I will make a treaty with you, that I gouge out all your right eyes, and thus bring disgrace on all Israel.” The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days’ respite that we may send messengers through all the territory of Israel. Then, if there is no one to save us, we will give ourselves up to you.” When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul, they reported the matter in the ears of the people, and all the people wept aloud.   Now, behold, Saul was coming from the field behind the oxen. And Saul said, “What is wrong with the people, that they are weeping?” So they told him the news of the men of Jabesh. And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of the messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the LORD fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. When he mustered them at Bezek, the people of Israel were three hundred thousand, and the men of Judah thirty thousand. (1 Samuel 11:1–8)

Here we see the Spirit coming on Saul just like He did on the judges. He was supernaturally enabled to muster the various tribes together in unity for battle. We read about the exact same sort of empowerment with God’s Spirit in the case of Othniel (Judg 3:10), Gideon (Judg 6:34), and Jephthah (Judg 11:29).

When the Spirit of the Lord was attached to any activity in the Judges period, it was usually to the calling up of an army. In a tribal society with no centralized government it was difficult to get other tribes to stand with one or two that might be facing problems. The measure of a leader in such situations was his ability to compel others to follow though he had no office of command over them. In Israel this was a mark of the power of Yahweh, for it was he alone who had the authority to call out the armies of the tribes. Yahweh was the only central authority. It was therefore a clear indication of the Lord’s authority at work in someone when they exercised authority that was only Yahweh’s by calling out the armies (see Judg 11:29; 1 Sam 11:6–8). This was one of the distinguishing features of the judges of Israel.[3]John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, ...continue

The Spirit Leaves Saul

Now sadly, Saul did not continue to walk in obedience. God rejected him as king, and sent Samuel to go and secretly anoint David.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward. And Samuel rose up and went to Ramah. Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the LORD tormented him. And Saul’s servants said to him, “Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well.” So Saul said to his servants, “Provide for me a man who can play well and bring him to me.” One of the young men answered, “Behold, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a man of good presence, and the LORD is with him.” Therefore Saul sent messengers to Jesse and said, “Send me David your son, who is with the sheep.” And Jesse took a donkey laden with bread and a skin of wine and a young goat and sent them by David his son to Saul. And David came to Saul and entered his service. And Saul loved him greatly, and he became his armor-bearer. And Saul sent to Jesse, saying, “Let David remain in my service, for he has found favor in my sight.” And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him. (1 Samuel 16:13–23)

Here we read how the Holy Spirit left Saul (because of his sin) and went to David instead. (Again, there is a connection between anointing and the Spirit.) Verse 14 relates a remarkable replacement: Instead of the Spirit of the Lord, it says a “harmful/evil spirit” (ruach ra’ah) came on Saul.[4]Cf. Edersheim, Bible History, p. 466: “When the Spirit of the Lord departs, an evil spirit takes its place” (cf. Lk 11:24-26). It even uses the Hebrew term for “prophesying” to describe Saul’s raving under this harmful influence (1Sam 18:10). And what’s more, this spirit is said to have come at God’s bidding. What does this mean?

Remember that “ruach” can also mean emotion or disposition (as in the phrase “spirit of joy”). In this case, it was a severe state of anxiety or depression that drove Saul to the brink of insanity, a sort of mental disorder. This is not necessarily a demon, or demonic possession. But there was certainly a spiritual element to it.

Two points to note:

  1. God is in control of all spirits. Even evil spirits. And he is also in control of the hearts of kings (Prov 21:1), able to direct their thoughts, emotions, and decisions. In this case, God was intentionally frustrating Saul’s capacity to rule and make just decisions. Just as with God’s Spirit it was easy for Saul to lead, now with God against him his efforts were frustrated.
  2. Music actually helped. Music in ancient times was often used for healing mental diseases. Even today we are beginning to discover the benefit of music therapy. Perhaps this should also warn us about the negative effects that harmful music can have on us.

Saul’s Last Encounter with the Spirit

I want to look at one last passage concerning Saul and the Spirit:

Now David fled and escaped, and he came to Samuel at Ramah and told him all that Saul had done to him. And he and Samuel went and lived at Naioth. And it was told Saul, “Behold, David is at Naioth in Ramah.” Then Saul sent messengers to take David, and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as head over them, the Spirit of God came upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. When it was told Saul, he sent other messengers, and they also prophesied. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they also prophesied. Then he himself went to Ramah and came to the great well that is in Secu. And he asked, “Where are Samuel and David?” And one said, “Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah.” And he went there to Naioth in Ramah. And the Spirit of God came upon him also, and as he went he prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he too stripped off his clothes, and he too prophesied before Samuel and lay naked all that day and all that night. Thus it is said, “Is Saul also among the prophets?” (1 Samuel 19:18–24)

It may seem strange to us that Saul lay “naked.” But note that when the Bible talks about being “naked”, it usually doesn’t mean completely nude. For example, the Bible frequently talks about “clothing the naked”, referring simply to people who lack adequate clothing. We read also that David was considered “exposed” on account of his removing his outer, kingly garments and wearing a linen garment (2Sam 6:14, 20).[5]Some suggest reading Isaiah 20:2 in the same light. “With the great importance attached to the clothing in the East, where the feelings upon this ...continue We should understand the passage to mean that Saul had stripped off his kingly robes and lay undressed in a manner that was ill-fitting of his rank.

Notice how similar this experience is to what happened to Saul back in chapter 10. But notice the irony: Earlier, Saul prophesied as a sign of his kingship. Here, prophecy is what prevents him from securing his kingship by getting rid of David.


David and the Spirit (Psalm 51)

1 Samuel 16:13 describes how the Spirit came upon David at his anointing. And while it is not as clear as with Saul, it does seem that David had the gift of prophecy through the Holy Spirit (2Sam 23:2; cf. 1Chr 28:12). This would explain how he came to write so many Psalms.

There is one passage from the Psalms that I want to look at, which is taken from David’s prayer after he committed adultery with Bathsheba:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:10–12)

This is one of the only passages in the Tanakh where the term “Holy Spirit” is used. (“Spirit of the Lord” or “Spirit of God” is much more common.) Notice that three different “spirits” are mentioned in parallel:

  • A right/steadfast spirit (ruach nachon)
  • Your Holy Spirit (ruach kodsh’cha)
  • A willing spirit (ruach n’divah)

It seems that the middle one refers to God’s Spirit while the other two refer to David’s spirit. But there is a sense in which they are all connected. Being filled with God’s Spirit is what empowers someone to be steadfast and faithful, and what enables someone to be willing. God’s Spirit changes us so that we are willing to obey; He gives us a desire to do what is right. And what David prays for here is in fact exactly what is promised to Israel in the end times: that God would give them a new heart and fill them with His Spirit so that they would be willing and able to obey Him fully.

Why was David afraid of the Spirit leaving him? Well, the Spirit leaving him would mean God removing him and his offspring from the kingship. That is exactly what happened to Saul because of his sin. David feared the same thing happening to himself because of his sin. Thus, David prayed that his sin might not bring about the same thing that happened to Saul.

This is similar to what Paul says in Eph 4:30: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Here Paul seems to be referencing Isaiah 63:10-11, as well as the concept behind Psalm 51. (Interestingly, those are all the places where “Holy Spirit” is found in the Tanakh.) The message is clear: sin and rebellion grieve the Holy Spirit, and make us unfit for God’s service.[6]Cf. Psalm 106:33. A similar thing happened in the life of Samson: because of his sin, “the Lord left him” and he lost his miraculous strength. ...continue)

There is an important lesson based on the lives of Saul and David that is worth emphasizing: You cannot rely on a past spiritual experience to guarantee your spiritual wellbeing in the present. Saul had incredible encounters with the Spirit, and he was anointed by God. But that alone was not enough. He failed because he did not continue in obedience and humility before God.

Both Saul and David sinned. But the key difference between the two was in the way they reacted when confronted about their sin. David repented and humbled himself before God. None of us are perfect or sinless. None of us deserve to be vessels for God’s Spirit. But the key here is a heart of humble submission to God.

The Giving of the Torah (Exodus 19-20)

There is one last passage I want to look at in connection to the past work of the Holy Spirit in the Tanakh: the giving of the Torah in Exodus 19-20. This is not a passage people normally think of as being about the Holy Spirit. But it actually has some very deep parallels with what took place in Acts 2. We will discuss that more in session 6, but for now I want to focus on what took place when God spoke the Ten Commandments in the hearing of all Israel.

The significance of this event, of all the people hearing God’s voice audibly, cannot be overstated. God says, “You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven.” (Exodus 20:22) This is an event unparalleled in history. “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?” (Deuteronomy 4:33) There is a sense in which hearing God speak elevated all Israel to the level of prophecy.[7]Cf. Samuel, whose prophetic gift was evidenced by hearing an audible voice. (1 Samuel 3) In that moment the entire nation, each individual, was a direct recipient of divine revelation. Never before, nor since, has such a large number of people heard God’s audible voice at once.

Note the reaction of the people (Exodus 20:18-19): They were afraid and stood afar off. Their reaction was one of fear, and they begged Moses to be the mediator between them and God. Some interpreters (particularly dispensationalists) criticize the response of the people as immature. In contrast, Deuteronomy 5:23-33 portrays their response as good and appropriate:

“And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders.And you said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live.Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, we shall die.For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived?Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’
And the LORD heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken.Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.”But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you the whole commandment and the statutes and the rules that you shall teach them, that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.’You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.”
(Deuteronomy 5:23–33)

Notice that the result of the people’s fear is the establishment of Moses’ role as mediator. Israel recognized their need for a mediator between them and God. In fact, the entire mediatory system of the priests and Levites in the Tabernacle could be seen as an outgrowth of this. And all of this finds it’s climax in Messiah, the ultimate mediator, who would come as the prophet like Moses and speak to the people on behalf of God (Deut 18:15-19; cf. 1Tim 2:5).

Note however the contrast between this and Moses’ utterance in Numbers 11:29: “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” On the one hand we have the promise of a single prophet who will deliver God’s Word to His people, and on the other hand we see the wish that all Israel will be prophets. In other words, we see two contrasting pictures:

  1. An individual spirit-filled prophet to mediate God’s Word to the people
  2. All God’s people being filled with the Spirit and prophesying, with everyone as a direct recipient of God’s revelation

I would suggest that the two are complimentary rather than contradictory. In fact, we see these two themes developed and expanded throughout the prophets as they anticipate the end-time work of God’s Spirit. There would come an ultimate, anointed, Spirit-filled individual who would be the true Prophet-like-Moses, and this individual would usher in a Spiritual outpouring on all the people enabling them all to partake of the gift of prophecy. It is this prophetic expectation that we will explore in the next episode.

References   [ + ]

1. C. F. Keil and Delitzsch F., Commentary on the Old Testament (10 vols.; Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996), n.p.
2. Ibid.
3. John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 295.
4. Cf. Edersheim, Bible History, p. 466: “When the Spirit of the Lord departs, an evil spirit takes its place” (cf. Lk 11:24-26).
5. Some suggest reading Isaiah 20:2 in the same light. “With the great importance attached to the clothing in the East, where the feelings upon this point are peculiarly sensitive and modest, a person was looked upon as stripped and naked if he had only taken off his upper garment. What Isaiah was directed to do, therefore, was simply opposed to common custom, and not to moral decency. He was to lay aside the dress of a mourner and preacher of repentance, and to have nothing on but his tunic (cetoneth); and in this, as well as barefooted, he was to show himself in public. This was the costume of a man who had been robbed and disgraced, or else of a beggar or prisoner of war.” Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, paragraph 26365.
6. Cf. Psalm 106:33. A similar thing happened in the life of Samson: because of his sin, “the Lord left him” and he lost his miraculous strength. (Judges 16:20
7. Cf. Samuel, whose prophetic gift was evidenced by hearing an audible voice. (1 Samuel 3

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