We must understand that the Holy Spirit works in different ways in different dispensations. A dispensation is a term used to speak of a particular manner of God?s working, usually within some period of time. It is derived from a word from which we get ?economy? and it primarily signified the administration of the affairs of a household. Thus it means God?s manner of working with men in those different times according to His purpose, though the time periods are not emphasized in Scripture. For our purposes here we can summarize these periods and manners of working as the time before Christ?s first coming, the present age, and that which is to come, though there are also other and more distinct dispensations seen in Scripture. Each period has its own distinct way in which the Spirit works with relation to men. A careful understanding of those differences helps us have a proper appreciation of how the Spirit of God is moving today. We want to notice His various ways of working before the time of Christ?s coming into this world.


The Spirit of God is the first specific Person of Deity mentioned in our Bible. In Gen.1:2, we find that it is clearly stated that the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.  Because  the previous statement says that the ?earth was without form and void,? some have suggested that this work of the Spirit of God was to initiate a re-creation or restoring work to bring the earth back into the intended condition as God made it. This view says that the earth was not originally made ?without form and void,?  but that this condition was the result of some cataclysmic event, possibly connected with the fall of Satan. In this case, they say that his fall took place between the original creation in verse 1 and this work in verse 2. Those who hold this view would teach us that the word ?was? should mean ?became? rather than ?existing.? Some (but not all) teach this so they can make room for the long periods of geological ages which some teach existed in the past. They have tried to harmonize the Biblical teaching of creation with the views of geological evolution.  However, believers do not need to make allowances for long geological ages of time in order to accommodate the theory of evolution. The view that maintains this ?gap? between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2  was introduced around the 1800?s by a man named Dr. Chalmers, and it has been perpetuated by others since then. While it may be true that there could be a period of time between these verses and that this view may be correct, we should not allow evolution and man?s theories to determine how we interpret or hold the truth of the Word of God. What God created was made through His own power in six definite days. It would seem that all the events of Gen.1:1-5 are those of the first day, although it may be possible that verse 1 should be separated from the days that follow.  To introduce this program of evolution into the record as a means by which creation has been accomplished is to bring into God?s creation a record of death, ruin and destruction which is contrary to God?s character and revelation. The introduction of death, ruin and decay is the result of man?s sin and disobedience (I Cor. 15:21, Romans 5:12).

Others have difficulty reconciling the expression ?without form and void? of Gen. 1:2 with other Scriptures such as Isa. 45:18, ?He created it not in vain (a waste).? However, it has been pointed out that other occurrences of ?was? in Genesis usually have the sense of ?existing? rather than ?become.? We understand the original word is found over 1500 times in the first five books of the Bible and only 22 times is it translated ?became.?  If this were true,  you  could change  ?the  serpent was. .? in Gen.3:1, to say ?the serpent became?. Cannot we rather say that as God made the earth, it was without distinguishing features that we are accustomed to and which were the result of His further work to complete it? ?Waste? indicates that it had not been brought to its final form, and ?void? means that it had not been filled yet. There is no need to introduce an extended period of time with its accompanying great events between verses one and two of Genesis 1. However, we freely acknowledge some difficulty with this portion and gladly recognize that there are good Bible teachers who hold differing views on this passage. We do not wish in any way to disparage or question what they might believe or to question their motives for holding their particular view.

The expression ?moved,? used here of the Spirit of God, is found only two times elsewhere in Scripture. It is found as ?fluttereth? in Deut.32:11 and as ?shake? in Jer.23:9. The root of the word indicates the soft, tender moving of a bird over her eggs, cherishing them with the anticipation of the development and display of life contained therein. The Spirit of God was moving energetically to bring this creation into a condition suitable for the habitation of man as He brooded over the face of the waters. It has been suggested that the ?moving? implies the impartation of energy. Matter had been created, and now energy was being imparted so that the creation might have the power required for the physical realm. There were no physical features, no distinguishing marks in that original creation.   Now God,   expecting to bring life and man into the scene, was going to bring that work of creation to completion.

To emphasize the work of the Spirit in creation is not to deny the full involvement of Father and Son in this work as well. Other Scriptures would abundantly prove this point (Col.1:16, etc.). Every work of God results from the harmonious working of every member of the Trinity.

We read with regard to the life of an individual (Job 27:3, 33:4) that one?s own being and life has been the result of the power and work of the Holy Spirit. So not only is creation the result of His work, but the existence and life of every person is also His work. The realization of this truth would emphasize the personal responsibility of every one toward God as His own creator and the sustainer of life. The realization that God has given life to man should cause every one to recognize His claims upon him. However, sin has so corrupted man?s thinking, that God?s claims are denied by the majority of men. In addition, this truth strongly stands in  opposition to the views men have that there is no real life before birth. Human life is precious before God, and it must not be subjected to the precarious views of men. Men may legislate in such matters as abortion and make it and a host of other evils legal, but it is not acceptable in God?s sight and is contrary to His intent.


The second reference to the Spirit of God in Scripture is in Gen.6:3. Here He was directing His work toward a sinful world under the judgment of God. The flood of God?s judgmental dealings was coming shortly to remove men from the earth because of their iniquity and sin against God. In view of that, God was carrying out a gracious work by the Spirit to strive with them. We read in I Peter 3:20 that the ?longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah.?  During that time, the Spirit was ?striving? with men. The word ?strive? also can be translated ?contend with? (as  in Eccles.6:10), thus indicating that the Spirit was graciously standing against man in his mad, determined opposition to God. Gesenius? Lexicon says the word is associated with ?be despised by man,? and this suggests that His work was despised by men in that day even as it is now. They didn?t want the work of the Holy Spirit to hinder their sinfulness. In the translation by H. Spurrell, the verse is translated ?My Spirit shall not execute judgment unawares on mankind-he is flesh-therefore a hundred and twenty years shall be his days [of reprieve].? God was striving through His Spirit so that men might not experience judgment without warning, even as He is doing now. His striving and warning is always a manifestation of His grace and mercy.

We can be sure that the work of the Spirit in that day, even as now,  was restraining the increase of rebellion and sin in the world. However, that increase was slowly leading to the moment when the  right-eous judgment of God would be revealed, judgment that would inevitably bring retribution upon men  for their evil deeds.

To say that the Spirit will cease to strive with an individual if they do not respond to the gospel is to use this verse beyond what it teaches. Only God can say when that work will come to an end in the life of a sinner. Perhaps this view has resulted in more harm than good, resulting in some taking supposed refuge in the thought that they cannot be saved because the Spirit is no longer striving with them. We do know, however, that when a sinner dies, that work is ended. There is no salvation after death takes place. Likewise, for those who have rejected the gospel in this day, it seems clear they will not experience His striving in the future after the rapture of the church (II Thess. 2:10-12). Without the striving work of the Holy Spirit there can be no response to the gospel, and very clearly there will be no salvation for them.  This places a solemn responsibility on those who hear the gospel. It should make a sinner concerned how he responds to the striving of the Holy Spirit, realizing how essential it is for his salvation.


Some vital distinctions between the operation of the Holy Spirit in the past age with that of the present are important to note at this point. The best way to describe His work toward individuals in the Old Testament is to say that it was sovereign (according to His will and choice), selective (not true of all believers), and temporary or interruptible. The work He does in the present day is also sovereign, but it is effective toward all believers through His indwelling presence, and His work to fill the believer is seen toward all who are so exercised. The precious truth we appreciate is that His indwelling work is permanent, in that He will never leave the child of God. This truth is one vital reason why we believe in the eternal security of the true believer. For a child of God to be lost violates the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit in that believer. As long as His indwelling presence is a reality, that person is a child of God. However, His filling is not permanent and is conditional, and this is a subject that will be discussed later.

We read of those of that day who had the Spirit ?in? them, such as Joseph (Gen.41:38), Joshua (Num.27:18), and Daniel (Daniel 4:8). We also see the usage of that expression concerning the prophets writing the Holy Scriptures (I Peter 1:10-12). The Spirit was also said to come ?upon? certain ones such as some of the judges (Judges 3:10, 6:34, 11:29, 14:6) and also Saul (I Sam. 10:10) as well as David (I Sam.16:13). This was true of believers as well as unbelievers, for example Balaam (Num.24:2).  This seems to be entirely connected with His purpose to carry out in that person some specific work that God determined to accomplish without definite regard to the spiritual condition of that individual. 

We also read of those who were ?filled? with the Holy Spirit, such as Bezaleel (Ex.31:3), Joshua (Deut.34:9) and the last of Old Testament prophets, John Baptist (Luke 1:15). The Spirit ?moved? Samson (Judges 13:25) and we read that the Spirit ?rested upon? the elders of Israel (Num.11:25), and they prophesied. All these references suggest a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit irrespective of the individual and his exercise. Instead, it seems that His work had in view a particular function He purposed to accomplish. There was a purpose of God to be fulfilled or a responsibility that required the control and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Then, as well as now, God moved so that His power would be the means by which that work would be accomplished, and He would receive all the glory. This was markedly true when He was using an unbelieving, opposing enemy of the people of God such as Balaam. Balaam had to express great truths concerning God?s people, truths that magnified their greatness and the majesty of their God among them.  He made these expressions because of the controlling power of the Spirit of God.

Men were filled with the Spirit of God even though they were not indwelt with the Spirit. Indwelling is a New Testament experience. The experience of filling is seen more clearly if understood in this way. It is not a condition of one having more of the Holy Spirit, but rather the Holy Spirit having control over the individual, empowering and working through that person to accomplish a work which could not be done otherwise.


Since there were genuine believers who knew fellowship with God in Old Testament times, we recognize that the Holy Spirit was actively working to bring them to faith and give them life in their souls. There is no life for God apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. To give specific references that identify the Holy Spirit as the Person through Whom this was accomplished is difficult. However, when the Lord Jesus spoke to Nicodemus in John 3, He made clear that the birth of water and the Spirit was a truth Nicodemus should have been familiar with (John 3:10-13). No doubt He was referring to some of the prophecies of Ezekiel having to do with a national work which God will accomplish toward Israel by His Spirit, a work which will produce an inward as well as outward change in them. The picture of Ezek. 37 is undoubtedly showing what God will do to a nation outwardly dead; He is going to give them life by the Spirit of God working upon and in them. What God speaks of nationally would have to be true individually as well.The reader may examine other references which may bear on this subject including Pr.1:23, Isa. 59:21; 63:10,11,14; and Ezek.36:26-27.



The authority of the prophet lay in the fact that men directly recognized him to be one who was speaking for God. The certainty of that claim had to be proven by the literal and accurate fulfillment of all that he spoke (Deut. 18:21-22).  The One Who enabled him and spoke through him was clearly the Holy Spirit of God. We only have to examine references such as I Peter 1:10-12 and II Peter 1:20-21 to grasp the extent of this work. The foretelling of near events as well as prophecy concerning that which was far off was the work of the Holy Spirit. Even the false prophet Zedekiah in I Kings 22 recognized that the Spirit of the Lord was the One who directed the prophets in their ministry (22:24). One can examine other references that would emphasize this truth (II Sam.23:2, Ezek. 2:2, Micah 3:8, Acts 1:16, Matt.22:43).

In summary, we should be assured and aware that God has been working with men from the beginning through the agency and power of His Holy Spirit. The work that God does is forever (Eccles. 3:14), even though men may fail because of their frailty and sinfulness. What God has done through His Spirit has lasting quality and permanence stamped on it for our confidence and assurance. We rest with certainty on a God Who cannot fail and Whose purposes toward us are good and for blessing.

            ?Spirit of truth and love,

              Life-giving, holy Dove,

            Speed forth Thy flight;

              Move on the water?s face

            Bearing the lamp of grace

              And in earth?s darkest place

            Let there be light.?


                                                John Marriott  (BHB 457)