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Summer 2012, Vol. 9

Book Review

Presence, Power, and Promise: The Role of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament
edited by David G. Firth and
Paul. D. Wegner
(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011) 395 pages

Reviewed by Roger D. Cotton, Th.D., Professor of Old Testament, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri



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“The Spirit of God in the Old Testament appears to be the energizing force in the lives of people to accomplish God’s mission on earth.” So begins the introduction by the two editors of the most recent and one of the best books on the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. This statement of what the Old Testament writers meant when they referred to the Spirit of God is as accurate as any in print and is a taste of the excellent biblical exposition provided by this book. Several of the authors are among the best conservative, Evangelical, Old Testament scholars published in English.

This collection of twenty-one recent studies on specific texts and topics covers many issues within the subject of the Spirit of God in the Old Testament. The eight parts of the book reflect divisions seen in other books: 1) Orientation to the Spirit in the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East, 2) The Spirit and Creation, 3) The Spirit and Wisdom, 4) The Spirit and Creativity, 5) The Spirit and Prophecy, 6) The Spirit and Leadership, 7) The Spirit and the Future, 8) The Spirit at Qumran. These studies fill some of the gaps in the current literature and give a fresh, thorough, and scholarly analyses of and conclusions on several significant issues.

Many of the chapters begin with the writer’s own summary of the study of the Hebrew word for “spirit,” ruach, thus accumulating throughout the book a thorough understanding of its ancient and Old Testament usage. Daniel Block concludes, “We should think first and foremost of the divine presence on earth. … This creating, animating, energizing ruach is none other than God himself” (p. 206-207). Furthermore, this book provides some explanations regarding the relationship between the Old Testament understanding and the New Testament teaching on the Trinity, especially on pages 19 and 20, where the editors assert that God was not intending to reveal the Trinity in the Old Testament. Eugene Merrill gives a helpful interpretation of the Angel of the Lord in relation to the Spirit (p. 283-289). Toward the other end of the range of ruach, the reference to a wind sent by God is a fairly common use. Richard Averbeck clarifies the close relationship between the concepts of ruach as wind/breath from God and as the Spirit of God on page 34 and throughout his chapter.

These studies are full of valuable data on the Hebrew terms used with ruach and conclusions on the concepts such as John Walton’s chart of the functions of the spirit/Spirit in the Ancient Near East, Old Testament, and New Testament (p. 66). Robert Hubbard provides a chart of the references to the Spirit of God/the Lord (p. 80 and 81) that gives the verbal formula, the action’s recipient, and the result. Scriptural support for all the writers’ observations abounds in these studies.

The writers are conversant with much of the important literature on the subject. Daniel Block gives an excellent argument against James Hamilton’s view that the Spirit did not indwell and regenerate believers before Christ came (p. 197-199).
David Firth gives a very helpful, clarifying explanation of the confusing story of David and Saul in 1 Samuel leading up to 19:23. He concludes, “The narrator has created a text in which we experience the confusion of bystanders who see him [Saul] disabled by the Spirit” (p. 304).

While I do not agree with all their conclusions, they are usually very well argued. Merrill’s observation on the Hebrew of Judges 6:34 indicating that the Spirit put Gideon on as clothes is a significant clarification of the word usage, which I have found accurate. However, then, Merrill goes on to say that this was a misunderstanding of the form involved (p. 292), which is contrary to what I have found.  One other weakness worth noting is that the chapter on the Spirit and creativity did not develop the concept of creativity, but focused on the empowering of the men who received wisdom to construct the tabernacle.

The book concludes with a study of the passages on the Spirit of God in the Qumran documents, which is especially interesting as New Testament background. The book also includes a Scripture index and an author index.

Even though most, if not all, of these authors are not Pentecostal, their treatments of the Scriptures and the topics are so careful and fair that it does not seem to matter. I highly recommend this book for all serious students of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament. I will use it as a supplementary text to those by Hildebrandt and Horton.

Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 9:33 AM