Oct 20, 2010

The Spirit of Power

Isaiah 63:7–14

“Like livestock that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest. So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name” (Isa. 63:14).

Even though the typical old covenant believer did not experience the Holy Spirit in the same measure that we enjoy as the new covenant church, Old Testament authors are well aware that the Spirit plays a decisive role in salvation. He is the Spirit of power who redeems the people of God, working in their midst to apply the Lord’s redemption. Our Creator’s work to rescue His people is not by human might or power, but by the strength of the Holy Spirit (Zech. 4:6).

Today’s passage reveals this truth. In Isaiah 63, the prophet looks forward to that final day when God will judge His enemies and redeem His people from bondage to His foes (vv. 1–6). This final redemption harkens back to the exodus, when the Lord saved the Israelites from Egypt’s oppression. Recalling this original exodus, Isaiah predicts a final exodus, an eschatological (end-of-days) work that the people could count on because the Lord rescued them in the days of Moses (43:1–2; 63:7–14).

The exodus from Egypt was brought about by the work of God through the Spirit’s power. Isaiah 63:7–14 is actually full of Trinitarian overtones that may not have been clear to the original readers of this passage but are plain to us who live under a fuller revelation. The compassionate covenant Lord, whom we would identify as God the Father, planned to show mercy to the house of Israel (vv. 7–8). He sent the “angel of his presence” (probably a reference to a pre-incarnate appearance of God the Son) to redeem His people from the pharaoh (v. 9). The Holy Spirit made this salvation effectual, dwelling among the people to guide them out of the slavery of Egypt into the freedom of Canaan (vv. 10–14). This probably refers to the Spirit’s indwelling of the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34–38) — God dwelt with His people but remained hidden behind the curtain, not making His presence fully known among Israel.

Still, the ancient Israelites saw the Spirit’s power in the dramatic rescue from Egypt, for as John Calvin comments on Isaiah 63:11, putting the Spirit in the midst of them “means nothing else than to display the power of his Spirit.” In these last days in which the church lives, we see the power of the Spirit on display more clearly than they did in the first exodus. We understand that God by His Spirit has always been rescuing His people from sin and death, foes stronger than ancient Egypt ever was.

Coram Deo

In our day there is much talk of the power of the Spirit, and people want to see this power displayed “dramatically” in physical healings and other such phenomena. While we certainly confess the Spirit’s freedom and ability to bring about healing, it is important to remember that the most powerful and dramatic work that the Holy Spirit ever performs is to take a dead heart and make it alive with faith in Jesus Christ.

For Further Study