The Holy Spirit: The Torah, Part 2


(Num 11:25-29 ESV)  25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it. 26 Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.

27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.”

29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

This is a fascinating story. When these judges received God’s spirit, they “prophesied.” What this means is less than clear. There’s no record that they predicted the future or otherwise spoke the words of God. And how did Joshua know that Eldad and Medad were prophesying instead of just talking? What was it about their speech that showed it to be prophecy? I have no idea.

The purpose of giving them this gift of prophesy appears to have been to demonstrate their qualifications as judges. People needed to see that they possess the Spirit. So there was something about what they spoke that marked their words as coming from God.

Moses’ words that he wished that “all the LORD’s people were prophets” look forward to the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. Until Pentecost, the Spirit was only given to a few leaders among God’s people.

(Num 24:2-3 ESV) And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him,
3 and he took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened …

Balaam was a prophet who’d agreed to curse Israel, but the Spirit prevented him from cursing the people and instead had him bless them. And so we see that the Spirit can inspire the words a person speaks.

(Num 27:18 ESV) So the LORD said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him.

When God chose Joshua to succeed Moses, God declared him qualified for the task by the Spirit. Joshua — likely one of the 70 judges — already had the Spirit.


The New Testament doctrine of the Spirit is foreshadowed in the contrast between two passages in Deuteronomy —

(Deu 10:14-16 ESV) 14 Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.

This passage appears at the beginning of the making of God’s covenant with Israel just before they enter the Promised Land. He begins by telling his people to circumcise their hearts — meaning obedience isn’t good enough: he wants their hearts. It’s been falsely taught many, many times that Judaism is a religion of externals, but God disagrees. He demanded their hearts.

Near the end of the book, the Israelites are told what awful curses will befall them if they disobey. But even in their disobedience, God’s promises remain. He promises to preserve a remnant whom he will bless.

(Deu 30:5-8 ESV) 5 And the LORD your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. 7 And the LORD your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. 8 And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today.

After their disobedience, exile, and return, God will no longer demand that they circumcise their own hearts. Rather, God himself will do the circumcising — he’ll change their hearts so that they — and their decendants — will truly love God.

The Book of Jubilees comes to the same conclusion,

23 And after this they will turn to Me in all uprightness and with all (their) heart and with all (their) soul, and I will circumcise the foreskin of their heart and the foreskin of the heart of their seed, and I will create in them a holy spirit, and I will cleanse them so that they shall not turn away from Me from that day unto eternity.

R. H. Charles explains —

The Book of Jubilees was written in Hebrew by a Pharisee between the year of the accession of Hyrcanus to the high-priesthood in 135 and his breach with the Pharisees some years before his death in 105 B.C.

Deuteronomy also gives detailed instructions about prophets —

(Deu 13:1-11 ESV) “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”

God declares that one test of a true prophet is whether he urges the people to follow false gods. Prophets who successfully predict the future but urge idolatry are to be killed.

(Deu 18:15-19 ESV) 15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers — it is to him you shall listen — 16 just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.

The interpretation of this passage is controversial. Some take it to refer to Joshua — a prophet like Moses. Others see a reference to the Messiah. Thus, in the Gospels, when the people ask whether Jesus is “the prophet,” they are referring to the prophet Moses said would come after him. And in the Jewish mind, no prophet — even Joshua — was great enough to be like Moses. Only the Messiah could fill those shoes. And this conclusion is well supported by —

(Deu 34:10-12 ESV) 10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

This passage seems to plainly dispute the interpretation that Joshua was the prophet “like Moses.” The key distinction being whether the prophet “knew God face to face” — a promise fulfilled in Jesus for all Christians according to Paul.

(Deu 18:20-22 ESV) 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’ — 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.

God next warns the people that the predictions of true prophets come true.

(Deu 34:9 ESV)  9 And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the LORD had commanded Moses.

The same gift is called the “Spirit of wisdom” — a gift from God through the Spirit, qualifying a man for leadership of God’s people.


The teachings regarding the Spirit in the Torah are a rough sketch only. There are many details left out, questions unanswered. But already we see where Paul gets much of his vocabulary. We see the “gift of wisdom” and the “gift of knowledge.” We see prophecy associated with the Spirit. We see the leaders of God’s people especially equipped for the task by the Spirit. And we see the ability to sew and make works of art coming from the Spirit.

The Spirit isn’t limited to leaders, but it’s not given to just anyone either. At this stage, God only gives the Spirit when he has a particular task he wants done and that requires special help from God. Indeed, it’s fair to say that the receipt of the Spirit is very much a call to a special service consistent with the gift given.

Not everyone receives the same gift. Some — such as Moses — have far greater gifts than others.

And we have this phenomenon of “prophecy” being given to people as a sign of receipt of the Spirit. It may be some kind of ecstatic speech. Whatever it is, it’s something that listeners immediately recognized as coming from God and showing God’s favor.

Indeed, we find a very large portion of what the New Testament says about the Spirit already laid out in just a few verses in the Law of Moses.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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4 Responses to The Holy Spirit: The Torah, Part 2

  1. Ben says:

    Why do you think Joshua was concerned about the judges' prophesying and wanted Moses to stop them?

  2. Todd Collier says:

    Similar to the disciples issues with the nonaligned demon excorcist in Mark 9 I would assume. They aren't a part of our "tribe" so they shouldn't be authorized to do what we do. This is even more sharp for Joshua as all of the leaders were called up to the meeting and these two had stayed home – apparently in disobedience to orders.

  3. Ray Downen says:

    Is it significant that Joshua had this spiritual power because Moses had laid his hands upon him? Those who received special spiritual gifts in apostolic times did it because THEY had received laying on of apostolic hands.

  4. Jerry Pinciati says:

    It is significant that Jews have often interpreted it that the high priests was following the spirit of Deuteronomy 13:1-11 when they convinced Pilate to crucify Jesus. For indeed weren't they? Doesn't the spirit of this passages teach that anyone who teaches anything other than the law of moses is to be killed? It certainly does. Even to the point that it says you are to stone your family members if they just suggest the possibility of changing religions. Per Deuteromony 13:6 if your brother, mother, son, dauther, wife or very dearest friend says "let us serve other gods" you must be the first to cast a stone at them. (doesnt this remind you of he that is without sin let him cast the first stone?) What are we reading in these old testament passages? no wonder Jesus was to james and John "ye know not what spirit ye are of" when they seek to do as elijah did in callng down fire to kill. Is this the spirit of Christ or of Mohammed and Allah?

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