The Great Enabler
Throughout the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is seen acting dramatically in the lives of people to enable those individuals to do that which, left to themselves, they could not do.
When Moses asked for elders to assist him in judging the people, the Lord “took of the Spirit that was upon him [Moses], and placed the same upon the seventy elders” (Num. 11:25).
In the days of the judges, Gideon was smitten with fear until “the Spirit of the Lᴏʀᴅ came upon” him (Jud. 6:34). Samson, a man of rather ignoble character, was nonetheless effective in battle against God’s enemies because “the Spirit of the Lᴏʀᴅ came upon him mightily” (14:19).
Young Saul, Israel’s first king, was an insignificant Benjamite who couldn’t keep track of donkeys until the Spirit of the Lord equipped him as a bold warrior; and he defeated the Ammonites at Jabesh Gilead (1 Sam. 11:6).
All of these examples of specific and occasional ministries of the Holy Spirit are termed “the theocratic anointing.” They do not reflect the standard experience of Old Testament saints; rather, they chronicle a special ministry by which the Spirit provided enablement for someone given a special task relative to Yahweh’s Kingdom.
The Old Testament accounts help us understand that an important element of the Holy Spirit’s ministry today is equipping or enabling the people of God to do the work of God. As we come to the New Testament, we are introduced more thoroughly to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit.
The Old Testament narratives also instruct us that, though the Spirit empowered people, He did not accomplish the work on their behalf. The 70 elders, for example, had to weigh testimony and pass judgment. Gideon, Samson, and Saul had to marshal their forces and go to battle (albeit employing strange tactics at times).
The Spirit’s enabling ministry did not remove all effort and toil from the task; rather, the Spirit showed Himself powerful by the fact that, when the task was accomplished, those involved had to confess that they could not have done the job except by the Spirit’s gracious intervention.
The Bible is clear that if people today are to know Scripture aright, it will be because of the enabling ministry of the Holy Spirit. The truths of God are foolishness to someone left to himself because they can only be “spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:9–16). It is the Holy Spirit who teaches us the Scriptures and intercedes for us as we pray.
The apostle John spoke of the Spirit as an anointing that “abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but…the same anointing teaches you concerning all things” (1 Jn. 2:27). Again, with regard to the prayer life of believers, the Bible is clear: “The Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).
The Old Testament exemplar is instructive with reference to each of these New Testament ministries of the Spirit. It is difficult to define precisely how the Spirit teaches and/or intercedes. It is fruitless to think we can sort out where our efforts end and His begin. It is blasphemous to suppose that, where there is misunderstanding with reference to the Scripture or carelessness with reference to prayer, it is the result of some deficiency or inattentiveness on the Spirit’s part. And it is high-handed disobedience to suppose that we can shirk the God-given mandates to search the Scriptures and pray without ceasing because we choose to sit back and let the Spirit fulfill those responsibilities on our behalf.
In every area of stewardship, it is imperative to acknowledge that it is God who must enable the effort. We must be diligent and industrious in our study of Scripture; but if we get it right, it is because of the teaching or illuminating ministry of the Spirit. We must struggle to be faithful in prayer; but we also must know that if those prayers are effectual, it is because of the Spirit’s intercession.