Examine these contexts and note what we learn about the Holy Spirit:
Othniel – Judges 3:10
The Spirit comes upon Othniel and he “judges” Israel. We do not know exactly what the Spirit did to / for Othniel but immediately after the text says the Spirit of the Lord came over him, the text says, “When he went out to war, the Lord gave Cushan-risha-thaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand.”
In this particular case, I would suggest that the Spirit empowered Othniel with wisdom and knowledge, battle skills he needed to subvert and overthrow the enemy. Then, the land of Israel had rest for forty years.
Following Othniel, there is no reference to the Spirit coming over the next few judges: Ehud, Shamgar (who killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad – 3:31. We might guess that this was done through Spirit-endowed strength, agility, prowess, etc but the text does not say so), or Deborah (who is called a “prophetess” in 4:4). It is not until we get to Gideon that the Spirit appears on the scene once again…
Gideon – Judges 6:34
This time, the enemy is the Midianites whom Israel has served for seven years. The people cry out to God and, first, God sends a prophet (6:8) to warn Israel that it was due to their disobedience that they had fallen into the hands of their enemies.
God gave Gideon some signs to show that God would be with him and then God gave him the first commission: pull down the altar of Baal which Gideon’s own father had put up. Gideon found the courage to do just that. The enemies of Israel, the Midianites and the Amalekites assemble to make war against Israel (vss 33).
It was at that point that the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon. Gideon blows a trumpet and assembles a massive army from the tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. We see in 7:3 that Gideon assembled an army of 32,000 men. What, exactly, the Holy Spirit did to / for Gideon, we do not know. Perhaps He only inspired Gideon to blow the trumpet and assemble the men for war. We might do well to suggest that the Spirit gave Gideon wisdom and knowledge to carry out the battle that he would fight.
Jephthah – Judges 11:29
So the next time the Spirit shows up on the scene is in the case of Jephthah. In verse 12, Jephthah tries to make peace through diplomacy with the Ammonites and we have an extended speech from Jephthah from verse 12-27 but in verse 28, the text says that the king of the sons of Ammon disregarded the message which Jephthah sent him.
It was then that the “Spirit of the Lord” descended upon Jephthah so that he passed through the territory, assembling his forces. He makes this infamous vow which we will pass over and in verse 32, the text says that Jephthah fought against Ammon and the Lord gave them into his hand. He had a tremendous success with them, verse 33.
Again, we do not know exactly what the Spirit did to / for Jephthah but we might surmise that He empowered Jephthah with wisdom and knowledge he needed to assemble these men for battle and then to lead them to victory. It would be clear that the victory was the Lord’s, not Jephthah’s.
Samson – Judges 13:25; 14:6, 19; 15:14
The Holy Spirit is actually mentioned four times in the Samson story. His mom makes the Nazirite vow which Samson was also supposed to fulfill (13:3-5, 7, 13-14). The boy is born in verse 24 and he grows up and the Lord blesses him, in what way we are not told everything but the next statement says that the Spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan. The verb “stir up” means to cause trouble. So, what did Samson do here? Did he terrorize the Philistines? Did he kill them? That would be likely but we are not told.
The next time the Holy Spirit comes over Samson is in 14:6, when a lion came to attack Samson. Here, the Holy Spirit comes on Samson “mightily,” the verb means to “penetrate, to force entry into, to make something / someone successful.” It is clear here that the Spirit empowered Samson with supernatural strength, perhaps even courage.
Following Samson’s riddle that he gave the Philistines, they persuaded Samson’s wife to give them the answer. When they tricked Samson, verse 19 says again the Holy Spirit came upon Samson “mightily” and he went down to Ashkelon and killed thirty Philistines so he could take their belongings, including the changes of clothes to fulfill his bet he made with the Philistines.
The last time specific reference is made to the Holy Spirit in Samson’s life is in 15:14. The men of Judah want to turn Samson over to the Philistines to protect themselves so Samson allows them to bind him with ropes. Once he was in the Philistine camp at Lehi, the text says that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him mightily (same verb), so that he broke the ropes as if they were flax melted in fire. He then took the jawbone of a donkey and killed a thousand men. Again, we see that the Holy Spirit gave Samson supernatural strength, prowess in battle, perhaps wisdom and knowledge that would allow him to succeed in his skirmish with the Philistines.
It is interesting that there is no further reference to the Holy Spirit in the life of Samson, throughout chapter 16 in the incident with Delilah. We do see that “the Lord” had departed from Samson in verse 20, once his hair had been cut and he had violated his Nazirite vow. I assume this means the Holy Spirit left him.
What conclusions might we draw from this brief study?
- In different moments of Israel’s history, the Holy Spirit gave men (and a woman) supernaturally endowed wisdom, knowledge, skill in battle.
- There were a few times when men (and a woman) prophesy.
- The Spirit did not stop men from sinning (cf. Jephthah).
- The Spirit could leave an individual.