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Back in the message, The Work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, in our Holy Spirit sermon series, I had another point concerning the ruach of God as the power of the Holy Spirit in the area of God’s providence. Out of this point came this article. Remember, ruach is the Hebrew word for wind, breath or spirit which includes the Holy Spirit. We had just made the point that ruach is the power of the Holy Spirit to perform miracles in the Old Testament (and the New Testament for that matter) such as the Red Sea parting (Ex. 14:21), an axe head floating (2 Kings 6:6) or a young boy being brought back to life (1 Kings 17:22 ). However, ruach also includes how the Holy Spirit engages with His creation in a personal way, namely with human beings. This includes, in an indirect manner, through His providence.

"Ruach is the power of the Holy Spirit to perform miracles"

Providence is not a word used in Scripture but like the word “Trinity,” it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In comparing it to God’s sovereignty (this word does exist in Scripture), John Piper defines sovereignty this way, “ [It is God’s] right and power to do all that He decides to do (see Job 42:2; Is. 46:10).” [1] He then defines “providence” as God’s “wise and purposeful sovereignty.” [2] In other words, it is God providing (hence the name) for His sovereign will, which is to say, it is the application or outworking of God’s sovereignty. It is God exercising His power to bring His sovereign will and plans to fruition. 

The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 offers this definition of providence: “The almighty, everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were, by his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth with all creatures and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things come not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.” [3]

And where have we learned His power comes from? His Holy Spirit. This is to say, God’s holy ruach is what hardened Pharaoh’s heart to not let the people go, directed Joseph’s life so that he could “preserve many people alive (Gen. 50:20),” crowned a Jewish Esther queen over Persia and Media “for such a time as this (Esther 4:14),” thus keeping the Jewish nation from being annihilated, and governed the events of Naomi and Ruth’s narrative so that Ruth would marry Boaz giving birth to Obed, “the father of Jesse, the father of David (Ruth 4:22),” thus preserving the Messianic line.

There’s a New Testament passage that helps us to understand how the Holy Spirit executes God’s providence. At the beginning of Acts 16, Paul and company are on their second missionary journey travelling through Derbe to Lystra where he picked up Timothy, and then headed to Asia when in Acts 16:6 the Scripture says, “They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.”  This is because God wanted them to go to Macedonia instead. Though we’ve acknowledged there are some differences in the way the Holy Spirit worked in the Old Testament from the New Testament (or more accurately from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant), I don’t believe this is one of them. Just like the Holy Spirit accomplished God’s providence in the New Testament, He did so in the Old.

"Just like the Holy Spirit accomplished God’s providence in the New Testament, He did so in the Old."

I would also add that visions and dreams from God are also by means of the Holy Spirt. We read in Ezekiel 11:24 “And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God to the exiles in Chaldea. So the vision that I had seen left me.” There's also an example of this in Revelation 1:10 when the apostle John records, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like the sound of a trumpet.”

As theologian Sinclair Ferguson summarizes the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament, “...the divine ruach is precisely that of extending God’s presence into creation in such a way as to order and complete what has been planned in the mind of God…the Spirit of God is the executive of the powerful presence of God in the governing of the created order.” [4]

Books for further study
  • The Holy Spirit by Charles Ryrie
  • The Holy Spirit by Sinclair B. Ferguson
  • The Holy Spirit by John Owen
  • The Gospel According to John by D.A. Carson
  • Understanding Spiritual Gifts by Robert Thomas
  • The New Covenant Ministry of the Holy Spirit by Larry D. Pettegrew
  • Strange Fire by John MacArthur
  • The Charismatic Challenge by John Napier


[1] - accessed 11/8/23

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ferguson, Sinclair B., The Holy Spirit. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1996. P. 21.