David and the Holy Spirit in Psalm 51:11

QUESTION: How did King David receive the Holy Spirit?

ANSWER: This question is probably suggested by Psalm 51:11, where David as king prays to God, “Do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” This indicates that when he is saying this prayer, he does have the Holy Spirit in some way. How did he receive the Spirit in the first place?

We must understand that in the Bible people can “have the Holy Spirit” in two very different ways. On the one hand, we may speak of the EQUIPPING presence of the Holy Spirit. This means that some people have received the Holy Spirit for the purpose of being empowered for service. I.e., God wants a certain person to be able to perform some work or to carry out some responsibility in a way that will help to fulfill some purpose of God here on earth. This is what we sometimes call “spiritual gifts,” or “gifts of the Spirit.” The Spirit comes upon that person in order to equip or empower him or her for service in his kingdom.

These gifts can involve miraculous powers (e.g., being able to work miracles, to speak in tongues, to speak inspired messages from God—1 Cor. 12:28), or they may involve just an enhancement of natural abilities (such as teaching, leadership, or showing mercy—Romans 12:7-8). Also, the Holy Spirit came upon people for this purpose of empowerment both in Old Testament times and in New Testament times. Many individuals among Old Testament Israel were so empowered, including all the prophets and judges, and including at least some of the kings of Israel. This is where David comes into the picture. When God chose David to replace Saul as king over Israel, the prophet Samuel anointed him with oil, “and the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13). This is when he received the Holy Spirit.

This empowerment by the Spirit is NOT directly related to salvation. In Old Testament times the Holy Spirit came upon individuals for empowerment for service, but not for salvation. When David received the Holy Spirit at the time he was anointed to be king, this did not affect his salvation status. (He probably was already saved at this point.) Not all saved people had the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in Old Testament times, and even someone who was not saved could have the Spirit in this sense (e.g., the pagan prophet Balaam, Num. 24:2).

So what was David praying in Psalm 51:11? We must remember the occasion that prompted this prayerful psalm, namely, David’s adulterous episode with Bathsheba (see 2 Samuel 11 & 12). Here in Psalm 51 he is inspired to write about his own heart-felt repentance for this sin. One thing he is concerned about is that God might punish him for this sin by removing him from his position as king over Israel, and even by no longer using him to write inspired songs of praise (i.e., psalms).

David knew that he had received the empowering presence of the Spirit as recorded in 1 Samuel 16:13 (see 2 Sam. 23:2). He also knew that when God rejected Saul as king, “the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul” (1 Sam. 16:14). Knowing these things, in Psalm 51:11 David prays that God would not do the same thing to him that he had done to Saul. I.e., he prays that God would not withdraw the equipping presence of the Spirit from him, thus effectively ending his service to God. His concern has nothing to do with the saving presence of the Holy Spirit, because this was something no one had or even knew about in Old Testament times.

Now, on the other hand, there IS such a thing as the SAVING presence of the Holy Spirit. In this case, some people have received the Holy Spirit for the purpose of being empowered for holy living. This did not begin until the day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2; it is one of the great blessings associated with the Messianic age and the Church of Jesus Christ. The individuals who receive this presence of the Spirit are those who obey the gospel (Rom. 10:16; 2 Thess. 1:8), as announced by the apostle Peter beginning in Acts 2:38-39 (see Acts 5:32).

In this case the Holy Spirit does not “come upon” a person to empower him or her for service; rather, the Spirit “comes into” a person and indwells his very life and body (Rom. 8:9-11; 1 Cor. 6:19). The immediate result of this indwelling of the Spirit is the beginning of the second aspect of the “double cure” of salvation, which involves the inward change of a convert’s very heart. This is the one-time event called “regeneration” (see Titus 3:5), and also being “born again” (see John 3:5).

The ongoing result of this indwelling of the Spirit is the continuation of this second aspect of the double cure, namely, “sanctification.” The Spirit continues to dwell within the Christian’s life for the purpose of giving him or her the spiritual power to overcome sin (Rom. 8:13) and to live a holy and virtuous life (Eph. 3:16; Phil. 2:13). (See my books on the Holy Spirit for more information on this aspect of the Spirit’s work: The Holy Spirit: A Biblical Study; and Power from on High: What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit.)

It is impossible to overemphasize the magnitude of the blessing God has bestowed upon us Christians by giving us this indwelling presence of his Holy Spirit. We should indeed pray that God will never withdraw his Spirit from us in this sense, which could happen if we were to truly “fall from grace” and lose our salvation by ceasing to trust in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

But this is NOT what was going on with David in Psalm 51. He did not even have this saving presence of the Spirit in the first place, since this is something that did not begin until the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. He was indeed praying for God’s help in being cleansed of his sinful ways, as in verse 10; but he was also praying for God not to cast him aside as prophet and king, as in verse 11. In this latter case he was praying for God not to remove the equipping presence of the Spirit from him, which he had received in 1 Samuel 16:13.

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David and the Holy Spirit in Psalm 51:11 — 3 Comments

  1. I agree with your statement made here. My daughter called me yesterday with the question: What happens to the indwelling Holy Spirit when a person falls away and then later returns to Christ. She is a minister’s wife and they are studying the H.S. when a woman asked the question. I gave her II Timothy chapters 2,3,4.I do not have time to write my explanation, but if you have time to comment, it would be appreciated.

    Also, have you finished your research about Calvinism? If so, send me the cost and I plan to order it.

    • We are not told what happens in the case of falling away, nor are we told what happens when such a person repents and returns to the Lord. We can only speculate about it. I approach it the same way we would approach forgiveness of sins. When a person falls from grace (Gal. 5:4), he or she forfeits forgiveness of sins and is once more under condemnation to eternal punishment. I infer that in that case God also withdraws the gift of the Holy Spirit. I this person repents and returns to the Lord, he or she will come back under the forgiveness of God. Likewise in this case I infer that the Spirit will then be re-bestowed upon that person. The Calvinism material is not ready for publication.

      • I was thinking of II Timothy the 3rd chapter and the 16th verse that the teaching included rebuking and correcting so that it could be for those who have fallen away but, they are now present to hear the message. The ones who would not be there would be the ones listed in 3:2-4. They had been Christians because of verse 5 says they “have a form of godliness but deny its power.” Verses 6-9 continues about these people but says in verse 8 “who far as the faith is concerned are rejected”. Thus the Spirit in rejecting them would leave them.

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