The Spirit of God was originally experienced as a power that came upon an individual and helped that individual lead the people out of a state of desperation and back into relationship with God. The Spirit brought about a unanimity of purpose for the people as they aligned themselves with God’s will and were able to shed the destructive habits that they were participating in. The Spirit helped to bring hope and healing to a people who needed it.
Later texts in the Old Testament, especially those that are considered messianic texts, help to expand the role of the Spirit. This is especially true in the Isaiah tradition where the Spirit not only comes upon but rests and remains upon God’s servant who is called to bring salvation to the world. Three of the most important texts in this regard are Isaiah 11, Isaiah 42, and Isaiah 61. All of these texts not only speak about the Spirit resting upon God’s chosen instrument but also speak about the power that this chosen instrument will bear. This power will be evidenced in the universal extension of justice, mercy, and the knowledge of God.
All three of these texts speak to the truth that the promised bearer of the Spirit will bring about the fulfillment of the law. At the very core of the Old Testament law code are three basic classifications of laws; laws that help to ensure that justice is enacted for victims of crimes, laws which deal with the regulation of the religious cult or help to bring about a greater knowledge of God, and laws which are specifically designed to not take advantage of the weak and marginalized of society, otherwise known as laws of mercy. All of these categories were necessary for Israel to be righteous. Justice could not be accessible in a society if there were not permanent measures being taken to ensure that the powerless and weak were not being taken advantage of. A proper knowledge of God, partially obtained through cultic life (sacrifices, ceremonial laws, temple worship) could not be possible without the express intention of justice and mercy being sought after within society. Justice, mercy, and the knowledge of God were so intertwined that a righteous society was not possible without them, to take one out causes everything else to crumble.
That was part of Israel’s problem. Many of the prophets spoke to the truth that Israel had lost the concepts of justice and mercy and so they had lost God and were in danger of punishment and exile. Isaiah saw this same problem and feared the impending destruction of Israel by Assyria and Babylon. He knew that a society that lacked mercy and justice disintegrated and fell apart. A society that was not sensitive to the poor and weak and did not seek to direct the judicial resources to their participation in society would eventually disintegrate. It was only through a proper knowledge of God that called for justice and mercy to bring about a general level of social and economic standing for all, rich and poor, strong and weak, that a society could be righteous. Thus Isaiah looked forward to that day when the bearer of God’s Spirit would arrive and usher in a new age. It would be an age in which the wolf and the lamb would live together, in which a bruised reed would not be broken or a burning wick snuffed out, in which good news would be proclaimed to the oppressed. It would be a time in which God’s Spirit would bring about a world characterized by justice and mercy to such an extent that it would be a light to the nations and others would stream to the mountain of God. It would be a time in which God’s people lived out the very heart of the law of God, to be a blessing to the world around them. And this would all be made possible because the Holy Spirit would be in the forefront of leading Israel towards a proper fulfillment of the Law of God.
Christians often pray for God’s Kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. This reality can not be true without a proper knowledge of God that helps to bring about justice and mercy for all of the world. As long as the weak and the powerless are being taken advantage of God’s will is not being done. But, through the Bearer of the Spirit God works to bring about a righteous society through the fulfillment of his law. A law that is best understood through the interaction of three specific traits; justice, mercy, and a proper knowledge of God.
Editors Note: This is part 3 of 6 in a series on the Holy Spirit. The series is not meant to be exhaustive but to serve as a starting point for a fuller understanding of the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer and of the world.