“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” Joel 2:28-29
I want to us to see this promise in the broader sweep of the bible story:
- The Spirit anticipated in the prayer of Moses.
- The Spirit promised through the prophet Joel.
- The Spirit given through the Lord Jesus Christ
The Spirit Anticipated in the Prayer of Moses
God heard the cries of his people, who were slaves in Egypt, and through many miracles he brought them out and made a covenant with them: “I will take you to be my people and I will be your God” (Exodus 6:7).
God led them through the desert, on their way to the Promised Land, providing manna, food given from heaven sufficient for every day. But God’s people were not happy (Number 11:1).
You get the feel of the complaining: “O, that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at” (Number 11:4-6).
Moses gets to the point where he has just about had enough of these people who are so difficult to lead: “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me?”
“Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers” (Numbers 11:11-12)? Moses must have had a really bad day at the office!
The Lord is very compassionate towards him, and he tells Moses to gather 70 men from among of the elders of Israel: “I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone” (Numbers 11:17).
So now through the wonderful promise of God Moses has some helpers. But the people complained about the helpers! The Spirit had been given to two men, Eldad and Medad (Numbers 11:26), and they were prophesying.
But the people complained, and Moses gives this marvelous answer: “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them” (Numbers 11:29)!
Here are these people who profess faith and bear the name of the Lord: They are habitual complainers, self-absorbed, thoroughly ungrateful for the blessings of God that they continue to receive every day. But putting godly elders over them didn’t solve the problem.
I am guessing that Moses spoke the words of verse 29 with a huge sigh: “The only hope for this crowd would be if God gave his Spirit to every single one of them. If they were all filled with the Spirit, they wouldn’t be constantly complaining, self-absorbed, and ungrateful! If only…”
It’s like going into an area with great poverty and saying, “If only they were all millionaires! But that’s never going to happen.”
In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit was given to some, not all. God poured out the Spirit on some people who were called to particular tasks.
The list is in many ways surprising, and I think encouraging:
Craftsmen (Bezalel) Exodus 31:1-5
Judges (Othniel) Judges 3:7-11
Warriors (Gideon) Judges 6:33-35
Prophets (Messengers of Saul) 1 Samuel 19:18-21
Kings (David) Psalm 51:11
There was a kind of aristocracy of the Spirit. The Spirit of God was poured out on a chosen few.
The Spirit Promised Through the Prophet Joel
“It shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” Joel 2:28-29
Here is something completely new that is being promised at this point in the bible story. God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. All people! Not a privileged few. All of God’s people!”
Joel spells out what this means: “Sons and daughters:” The gift of the spirit will not be limited by gender. “Old men and young men:” The gift of the Spirit will not be limited by age. “Servants:” The gift of the Spirit will not be limited by social status. Notice what God says will happen when the Spirit is poured out:
Your sons and daughters shall prophesy
To prophesy is to be prompted by God to speak the right word at the right time in the right way. Many of you know about this from your own experience. Someone said something that was exactly what you needed to hear, and you knew that God had brought this about.
You sit in a meeting and there is long discussion, then some wise person who has hardly said a thing says, “Well, it seems to me that the nub of the issue is this, and so it would be wise for us to do that….” Everyone knows that what has been said is right and good, and then we wonder, “Why didn’t you say that half an hour ago?”
This is not a gift that belongs to a few people, as if it was their possession. The whole point is that every person who has received the Spirit is in a position to do this with the help of God. But God uses people who walk most closely with him in this kind of way most often.
Lloyd Ogilvie, who was chaplain to the United States Senate and a distinguished pastor, says:
The most dynamic one-to-one evangelists in my congregation are those who ask for and receive the gift of prophecy. They do not have canned monologues to bore people. Rather, they know how to listen, to care, to empathize with love. The Spirit gives them insight about what to say, timing for when to say it, boldness to be honest, personal and incisive in helping people to respond.
Your old men shall dream dreams
Hope-filled seniors! This has to be a work of God’s Spirit, because as we get older, it’s easy to become more negative. We’ve all met people like that, and none of us wants to be like that.
Life moves away from us as we get older, and it is easy to slide into self-pity, and feel that nothing will ever be as good as when we were doing it.
But here we have hope filled seniors, older saints dreaming dreams!
When the most senior people in the church have great confidence in what God can do on earth, and great anticipation of what God has prepared in heaven, it is one of the great evidences of the pouring out of the Spirit.
Your young men shall see visions
Mission-focused young people! Again, this has to be a work of God’s Spirit because when we are young our natural tendency is to be taken up with what’s cool now.
Life comes towards you when you are young—new music, new media. You are the target audience, and it just keeps coming at you. It’s easy to be completely consumed by it all.
But here are young people who see through all this. For them eternal things matter. They see beyond the flashing screen. They see through the trivia and shallowness that is like an ocean all around them. They have a passion to glorify God, and to make a difference in the world.
You say, “How’s that possible?” It’s only possible by the outpouring of the Spirit of God. Like William Carey they “expect great things from God and attempt great things for God.”
I’m not hip. I don’t talk cool. But God may be raising you up with a passion reach to reach the people around you with message of the gospel. There are hope-filled seniors behind you, praying for you, and they’re saying, “Go for it!”
The Spirit Given through the Lord Jesus Christ
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. Acts 2:1
“They” is a reference back to Acts 1:15 where we are told about a company of 120 believers—not just the apostles, the whole congregation.
“And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:2-4).
What does this mean? God gave these believers the ability to speak spontaneously in languages they had never learned. They didn’t have language training or Rosetta Stone™.
The significance of this was that there was a large crowd in Jerusalem of people from every nation under heaven (Act 2:5). When people gathered, they heard the 120 believers all speaking different languages at the same time. It must have sounded quite chaotic.
But as each of the people listened carefully, they realized that someone was talking their language, and of course, the natural thing was to gather around them. Think about the group of people that God has gathered around you this week.
When Peter gets up and speaks to the crowd, he says, “This is what was uttered through the prophet Joel… ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’” (Acts 2:16-17).
This is the Tower of Babel in reverse. At Babel the people were separated by the judgment of God when he confused their language. But here God is drawing people together through the speaking of different languages.
Think about how different these people are from the crowd in the time of Moses. The congregation in the desert was taken up with complaining, but the congregation in the city was taken up with, “telling… the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11).
The congregation in the desert was self-absorbed. The congregation at Pentecost was God-intoxicated. The congregation in the desert was ungrateful. The congregation at Pentecost was filled with praise. The difference is overwhelming. What must Moses have thought when he looked down from heaven and saw this? “At last!”
Imagine going to a church and overhearing the conversations going on around you; it is mostly ungrateful, self-absorbed, and complaining. They profess to be Christians, but their speech betrays them.
Now suppose that the next Sunday you go to another church where the people are God-intoxicated, filled with praise, proclaiming his mighty works. Which one would you conclude is the real church?
I look at my own life and I see too much complaining, and there is too little gratitude. I find myself saying, as one who has the Spirit—every Christian has the Spirit, “Lord, I need a greater outpouring of your Holy Spirit in my life.”
How did this remarkable outpouring happen? What caused it? Why did it happen in Jerusalem? Why on the day of Pentecost?
To answer that question, Peter, speaking about Jesus, tells the story: He was “attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs” (Acts 2:22). He was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (2:23). “You crucified [him]” (2:23). “God raised him up” (2:24).
“This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:32-33).
The Bible speaks of the Spirit being sent by the Father and by the Son (Ephesians 3:14-16, Luke 24:49). The outpouring of the Spirit happens when the work of Christ is complete, and the Son, as the advocate of these people, is at the right hand of the Father. The Spirit is poured out on those who look to him in faith and walk with him in obedience.
How can I know more of the Holy Spirit in my life?
Give more of yourself to God
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1
God cannot fill what he does not have. He fills what is given to him. Present your body, your life as it is in this world. Give it to God! And do it in the light of God’s mercy—in light of the cross and God’s grace.
Ask God to give more of himself to you
I [pray that you may]… know the love of Christ that passes knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:19
The way to seek more of the Spirit is to come to the One whose completed work on the cross and triumphant resurrection from the dead led to the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost. Christ is the one who has the Spirit without measure. He is the giver of the Spirit into the lives of his people.
The Apostle Paul prayed that Christians would be filled with all the fullness of God. When did you last pray like that?
I want to end today with a story: Early in my ministry, I began to feel a profound need for more of God’s Spirit. I still do, and I hope I always will.
I felt the weight of Christ words: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). How hopeless is the work of preaching and pastoring and leading, unless God should breathe upon it and give it life.
I had some preaching heroes back then, and I still do now. There was one man in particular whose preaching had been a great blessing to me. There was an anointing on his ministry, and I wanted that.
One day I was at a conference in which he was one of the speakers. It was a group of about 100 people, mostly pastors, and we were there for three days. I decided I would ask this man to pray for me. I think I felt that if he prayed for me, something of what I admired in him might rub off on me.
We sat down, and I told him about the hunger in my soul. “I want more of God’s Spirit,” I said. “Will you pray for me?” He paused and said, “You know where he comes from.” It was the only time someone has ever refused to pray for me. And he was absolutely right to do so!
He discerned that I was looking to him as if he was the giver of the Spirit rather than Christ, and he gave me the best advice anyone could have given: “Go to Christ! You know where he comes from.” That’s what I have tried to do, and that’s what I am still doing, and what I plan to continue doing until the day when faith is turned to sight.
What about you? God says to us, “Be filled with the Spirit.” What do you know of this? Do you have a desire for more of this? Are you someone who is filled with thanksgiving and praise or are you filled with grumbling and complaining? When did you last ask for this?
“O, fill me with thy fullness, Lord, until my very heart o’erflow!” 
 Lloyd Ogilvie, Mastering the Old Testament, p.244
 Frances R. Havergal, from the hymn, Lord, Speak to Me, 1872
© Colin S. Smith
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