A very long time ago, a man named Moses was called by God to lead His people, Israel, out of slavery in Egypt. They left on the day of the Passover meal, and crossed the Red Sea three days later, just before God closed the sea over the Egyptian army.
That closure, at dawn on the third day (very likely the day of the week we now call Sunday), signaled the end of their captivity and a new life of freedom.
Seven weeks later (at least according to Jewish reckoning) God had gathered them at the foot of Mt. Sinai. In God’s own voice (amid frightening displays of thunder, lightning and fierce trumpet-like blasts) God called out his laws for the people of Israel to observe in the land He would give them. That set of laws is recorded in Exodus 20-23. They ratified their acceptance (as told in the next chapter) by a sacrifice involving the sprinkling of sacrificial blood, called “the blood of the covenant.”
Basically, if they honored and obeyed God and kept His laws, they would prosper and be blessed in the land He had given them. If they did not honor and obey them they would be exiled from their land and cursed even wherever they were scattered until they came back to God wholeheartedly. They would go from blessing to irreversible cursing.
He called Moses onto the mountain and etched that law onto two stone tablets – representing God’s copy and the people’s copy – and had Moses store them together in the Ark of the Covenant inside the Tabernacle made for God.
Centuries later, as the people of Israel and Judah moved further and further from following the God of their covenant, He sent prophets to tell them that God was going to send them into exile to far away lands as slaves to the non-Israelite nations around them. Afterwards, perhaps centuries later, He would gather them again from those nations and again enter into a covenant with them once again.
But this time the rules would be different.
This time they would do something they had not done wholeheartedly before: actually obey and honor God.
How would this happen? The prophet Ezekiel puts this way in Ezekiel 11:19
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
Somehow God would skip putting them onto stone tablets and would “write” His law on their “heart.” He would give them “a new spirit.” (We might translate that as a new “attitude.”)
The prophet Jeremiah, an older contemporary of Ezekiel, spoke of God entering into a “new” covenant with them (Jeremiah 31:31).
31 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them, ” declares the LORD. 33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Jeremiah adds the element of God’s forgiveness of all their sins. He also mentions that this “law written in their minds” will give them knowledge of who God is and what God is like. This “law” will also make them God’s people and enable Him to truly be their God.
Ezekiel notes, in his famous “valley of dry bones” prophecy (Ezekiel 37:1-14) )that God intends something truly radical:
11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’ ”
What a radical thing to say! God intends to put His own Spirit (!) into His people. If we take this passage literally, God gives His Spirit so that they can truly know that God has both spoken and done what He promised, including bringing people back to life!
(God had given Moses a small foretaste of what that may have been like in Numbers 11:4-35. Moses was complaining to God that the burden of leading Israel was too great for him to carry, so God tells him to gather 70 elders to the Tent of Meeting. He would put some of the Spirit that he gave Moses to the elders so that they would help Moses in his task. As God’s Spirit enters them, they begin to “prophesy,” an indicator of divine inspiration. The Spirit also chooses two elders who were not invited to the meeting. Moses is happy to include them in the group when he finds out. Moses even expresses the wish that all of the people of God might have access to the Spirit.)
Joel, another prophet, looks forward to the same culmination when he says (Joel 2:28-32):
28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. 32 And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls.
At some point in the future (from Joel’s perspective) God would put His Spirit on all people. Not just Israel. (If only Moses knew!)
The New Testament book of Acts records the reception of the Spirit of God, first on Jews (Acts 2), then on non-Jews (Acts 10). Why should God bother putting his Spirit in people who aren’t even part of the people of Israel?
God had promised Abraham that his “seed” (descendant) would bless all nations. And now the promise would be fulfilled when everyone who calls on “the name of the Lord” will be saved.
After Jesus died on Passover, and was resurrected that first day of the week (three days later at dawn, just like at the Red Sea crossing), the New Covenant “law written on the heart” was inaugurated at Pentecost.
Jeremiah had promised that those who have the Spirit will all know the Lord.
John 16: 7 Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8 And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10 of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11 of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. 12 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15 All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.
Knowing the Lord and having sin forgiven certainly implies a knowledge of how to live life properly before God.
Rom. 214 for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) 16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.
2 Tim. 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
Rom. 8:14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
(So why do we listen to teachers? Because Spirit-filled teachers impart to believers what the Spirit teaches them so that all may be blessed. Teaching is one of the many spiritual gifts given to believers by the Holy Spirit as He chooses. [1 Corinthians 12 and 14]).
We know that “Jesus” is the “name of the Lord” from the witness of the early disciples of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament.
The Spirit of God (a.k.a. “Holy Spirit”) is poured out on people of all nations, blessing them as promised to Abraham.
He teaches us about who God is, what God has done through Jesus, what Jesus continues to do in His church through the Spirit, and what Jesus will do at His return.