Is the “Presence” of God in Exodus 33:14 the Holy Spirit?

Question: Exodus 33:14 refers to “My Presence.” Is that the Holy Spirit? How about Numbers 11:17? I thought the Holy Spirit didn’t “show up” until after Jesus’ ascension.

Answer: It is possible that the “Presence” of God that He says will go with Moses and the people is the Holy Spirit. Because God is a triune being, that is, He is one being made up of three persons, each equal to the other because each possesses the divine essence or nature, He is always operating as three persons. When Yahweh (the personal name of God in the Old Testament) says His presence will go with Moses, it is quite possible, perhaps likely, that He means the Holy Spirit (as opposed to the Father or the Son) will go with them. It is possible that He means the Son will go with them. We are somewhat in the dark about this because the Old Testament revelation was not clear as to which person was doing what at all times. This is because it was not made clear that God was triune in person. There are certainly hints of that throughout the Old Testament, but it is left to the New Testament with the coming of the Son in human nature to fill out that truth for us.

The reference in Numbers 11:17 to God taking the Spirit that is upon Moses and putting it on the other leaders and officials is likely a reference to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we speak of a “spirit” of prophecy or the “spirit” of an event, by which we mean the overall attitude or controlling perspective. But in this passage it seems to make more sense to identify the Spirit who gave Moses his abilities to lead as the one who is being given to the other leaders to make them competent to lead as well.

The coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost does not indicate that the Holy Spirit was not “around” before this. We are told that he was hovering creatively over the deep in Genesis 1:2. The Day of Pentecost marks the era of a new level of operation of the Spirit in line with the kingdom promises made in the Old Testament that are beginning to be fulfilled in the church.

Randall Johnson

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2 thoughts on “Is the “Presence” of God in Exodus 33:14 the Holy Spirit?

  1. My pastor preached on something along these lines just this week. I thought I’d look something up. To me, it seems anachronistic to think that the writers of the book of Exodus would have a theological construct close to the Trinitarian Christian conception of the Holy Spirit.

    • Of course you are right. As I said in my article, “the Old Testament revelation was not clear as to which person was doing what at all times. This is because it was not made clear that God was triune in person. There are certainly hints of that throughout the Old Testament, but it is left to the New Testament with the coming of the Son in human nature to fill out that truth for us.” But just because the author of Exodus, Moses, did not have a trinitarian construct when he wrote does not mean that God did not act out of that trinitarian reality. He is triune and the three persons do act out their responsibilities in the redemptive plan and are acknowledged simply in the Old Testament as, for example, God’s Presence, or the Angel of Yahweh, etc. We can look back and make some determinations as to which person was the one involved at the time. For example, John says in John 12:37-41 that it was Jesus whom Isaiah saw seated on the throne in His temple.

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