It is common for Christians to assume that the Holy Spirit is confined to the pages of the New Testament. While it’s true that the Holy Spirit appears often in the life of Yeshua and the early Jesus movement, Israel’s Scriptures also mention the Holy Spirit explicitly, and the apostolic writers reaffirm the Spirit’s presence among the ancient Israelites. According to the biblical narrative, the Holy Spirit is the very presence of God among the people, and the Spirit speaks in order to impart divine messages to Israel.
New Testament readers are aware of the Spirit’s more conspicuous appearances at Jesus’ baptism (cf. Matt 3:16; Mk 1:10; Lk 3:22; Jn 1:32-33) or as tongues of fire at Pentecost (see Acts 2:1-4). Yet, the Holy Spirit (רוח הקדשׁ; ruach ha’qodesh) had been working among God’s people long before the Messiah’s arrival. In fact, the Spirit’s interaction with Israel goes all the way back to the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt. Isaiah recalls that God “put his Holy Spirit (רוח קדשׁו; ruach qadsho) in the midst of them… dividing the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name” (Isa 63:12-13). The Psalms also refer to the Holy Spirit as another way of speaking about God’s presence among humanity. The psalmist asks, “Create a clean heart in me, God; renew a true spirit within me. Do not cast me from before your face (מלפניך; milphanekha), and do not take your Holy Spirit (רוח קדשׁך; ruach qadshekha) from me” (Ps 51:10-11). In the poetry of the Psalms, the reference to God’s face parallels the Holy Spirit, which shows that the psalmist understood the Spirit as the equivalent of God’s very self. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the concrete presence of the Lord in the historic experience of Israel.
The New Testament reaffirms the relational work of God’s Spirit in Israel’s history. For instance, the writer of Hebrews quotes God’s words in Jeremiah and attributes them to the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit (τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον; tò pneuma tò hágion) also bears witness to us… saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord (λέγει κύριος; légei Kúrios): I will put my laws in their hearts, and write them on their minds’” (Heb 10:15-16; cf. Jer 31:33). Although the “Holy Spirit” (רוח הקדשׁ; ruach ha’qodesh) does not feature in the original Hebrew text of Jeremiah, the Greek epistle to the Hebrews affirms that the Spirit promised a new covenant long before the emergence of the New Testament.