The Holy Spirit's ministry through individuals in the Old Testament was not the same as it was from the Day of Pentecost onwards. In the Old Testament He 'came upon' a few notable characters for particular reasons. Neither did He remain with those individuals throughout their lives. Just before His ascension into Heaven, the Lord Jesus Christ promised that the coming Holy Spirit would abide permanently with His followers. We speak of Old Testament characters being blessed by the Holy Spirit 'coming upon' them, this is very different from being 'baptised with (or in) the Spirit. He moved upon them, guiding, directing and encouraging for a specific purpose. For example, the story of Gideon illustrates the fact that the Holy Spirit came upon certain people to give wisdom or strength (Judges 6-7). It appears that He ministered through national leaders such as Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and the judges and kings, and the prophets. We will take a brief look at some Old Testament characters that were used by God in this way.
"And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?" (Genesis 41:38). Pharaoh obviously spoke the truth here, though it is doubtful that he realised the full significance of his words. The Holy Spirit gave Joseph wisdom that confounded the so-called wise men of his day. He interpreted Pharaoh's dreams, and was able to protect Egypt from the full ravages of the famine.
The Holy Spirit's ministry through Moses is clear to see as we read through the first five books of the Old Testament. It is Isaiah who reveals to us that the Holy Spirit was with Moses in a special way … "Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him? … As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD caused him to rest: so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name" (Isaiah 63:11,14). The Spirit of God gave Moses the strength, determination, and wisdom to lead the three million people of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. Judaism consider Moses to be the greatest man who ever lived, but it was the Holy Spirit who made him great.
God, through His Spirit, gave specifications for the building of the Tabernacle, its furniture, and for the garments the priests had to wear. Craftsmanship is good, but the men used to construct the Tabernacle had to be Spirit-led. Bezaleel was used by God as foreman over the work … "See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship." (Exodus 31:2-5). God does not use robots that follow His blueprints, instead He empowers those He chooses for specific roles with wisdom, understanding and ability.
"And the LORD said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him" (Numbers 27:18). Deuteronomy 34:9 informs us that Joshua was full of the "the spirit of wisdom." No wonder he became one of Israel's greatest leaders.
If we read the story of Samson in Judges 13-16, we will find that the Holy Spirit came mightily upon him during one of Israel's darkest eras. This tragic account reveals the fact that a person can be dynamically used by God but, because of sin, find his life go terribly wrong.
As the first of Israel's kings, Saul received a special anointing from God. The prophet Samuel, through inspiration of the Holy Spirit, said to Saul, "And the spirit of the LORD will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man" (1 Samuel 10:6). This is exactly what happened … "And when they came thither to the hill, behold, a company of prophets met him; and the spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them" (1 Samuel 10:10). Though he enjoyed the privileges of his office but soon rejected his responsibilities. Because of disobedience to God's clear commands we read that "But the spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him" (1 Samuel 16:14). He would turn from God and involve himself the occult, only to commit suicide (1 Samuel 31). Here is one who grieved the Holy Spirit away.
This study illustrates how the Holy Spirit worked through men in the Old Testament. There are many other characters such as David, Ezekiel and Daniel that were dynamically used by the Spirit of God. Maybe in your personal study you could investigate in what ways He ministered through them. Behind the accounts of these men's lives is the marvellous fact that God chose (and still chooses) to work with frail humanity. He could simply ignore us, yet He has chosen to work in and with us for His glory and our blessing.