Baptism With the Holy Spirit Midrash: Isaiah 4:2-6
By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective
As we read through the First Testament, we find the Holy Spirit in Genesis 1:2 hovering like a dove over the waters. We read much about the Spirit, including an incident regarding King Saul who had a Pentecost-like experience in I Samuel 10:9-11 (ESV):
When he turned his back to leave Samuel, God gave him another heart. And all these signs came to pass that day. When they came to Gibeah, behold, a group of prophets met him, and the Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”
Indeed, the New Testament doctrine of the Baptism with the Holy Spirit and the supernatural manifestations at Pentecost has a strong Old Testament foundation. In Isaiah 4:2-6, we read:
In that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and honor of the survivors of Israel. And he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, when the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy. There will be a booth for shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.
In Luke 3:16, we read a likely Midrash:
John answered them all, saying, ‘I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.’
The baptism prophesied by John was likely based upon First Testament passages like the Isaiah verses cited above; this is not to say that direct communication from God to John did not take place (John 1:33), but I am suggesting that John would have understood that communication as based upon passages like Isaiah 4:2-6. Devout Jews who preached and taught were so fluent in the Scriptures that the terminology associating the Holy Spirit with fire would have immediately been mentally indexed back to the Isaiah passage.
The prophecy in Isaiah seems most literally understood as referring to Israel as she enters the Millennium. Yet the concept is applied in a less literal sense and at a nearer time to the remnant of believers in Yeshua (Jesus) we call “the invisible church” (all truly saved people – in contrast to congregations in which some know the Lord and some do not).[i]
So what can we learn about the current baptism of the Spirit experienced by all true believers in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:9, I Corinthians 12:13)?
Note some the similarities between the experience of the church and the Isaiah passage.
First, the Messiah (Branch) comes and is received. This will be true of all the survivors of Israel at the end of the Great Tribulation when the Savior reveals Himself to the people of Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:1-14 and Romans 11:26). Yet it is currently realized in another sense for those who have received him (John 1:11-12). This includes a dual “remnant,” namely believing Jews (Romans 11:4-5) and believing “grafted in” gentiles who draw life from faithful Israel’s roots (Romans 11:13-21, John 4:22b).
Second, it is this remnant (so translated in the LXX) that is called “holy” and tends the land so it bears fruit; the New Testament frequently emphasizes the holiness of the believer and uses the “fruit” theme for the Holy Spirit’s work in the believer (Galatians 5:22). Although this Isaiah passage should be understood as referring to physical fruit, it need not be exclusively understood in this way. New Testament writers, I believe, expand upon the idea of fruit and carry it into the spiritual realm. A spiritual application in no way diminishes the literal, physical application. It is a case of both/and, not either/or. I cannot prove this, but am suggesting it.[ii]
Third, the Holy Spirit’s purifying flames cleanse this remnant within. This act is pictured as both a “washing away” and a purifying by flame. This is a bit perplexing, as we tend to distinguish between the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (which is seen in the Old Testament as “circumcision of the heart,” Deut. 30:6) and his “engulfing” also known as “baptism” (at least, that is my suggestion). This probably means that the Holy Spirit will regenerate the remnant (4) and then “baptize” the remnant (5). This allows that the Holy Spirit has always been known as a Spirit of “fire,” but that his baptism (not his fire) is the new manifestation evidenced originally on The Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The one already known as “The Spirit of Fire” would baptize all believers into one body (I Corinthians 12:13), thus fulfilling Jesus’ prayer that all believers would be one (John 17:21) by the Spirit he had promised (John 16:7-15).
Fourth, the cloud of smoke (easily associated with God’s Shekinah, although that particular later word is not used in the Old Testament itself) and pillar of flame represent God’s special presence, protection, and power (Exodus 13:21-22). In addition to these, the Spirit’s “baptism” (we import the New Testament term because we are postulating that the idea of Spirit baptism derives itself from Isaiah 4), we note the “canopy.” For now, suffice it to say that this imagery speaks of being completely ENGULFED, and by extension, we might say completed IMMERSED (baptized) by the Holy Spirit.[iii] Thus, the New Testament believer, in a spiritual sense, is now living out the fulfillment of Isaiah 4 even as we await a future, more literal fulfillment of this passage when the Messiah returns to reign.
Fifth, the imagery of fire is seen once again in Acts 2 where “tongues of fire” set themselves above each one being Spirit-baptized. The Spirit of God not only purifies us with regeneration (as he always has), but also engulfs and empowers us so that we are led, like the children of Israel in the wilderness, by a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.
Sixth, we might even suggest a special presence of the Spirit (Matthew 18:20 extends the concept to the Son) upon our assemblies, an Old Testament term that corresponds well to the New Testament concept of individual congregations (Revelation 2:1-3:21).
As mentioned in the introduction, we are addressing only selected highlights of Isaiah 4:4-6. I am convinced that much New Testament teaching is based upon an expansion of this text in the Jewish tradition of Midrash. I hope this brief article stimulates your mind and heart to ponder the real meaning of Spirit baptism based upon this foundation.
[i] Since I subscribe to “Progressive Dispensationalism,” my interpretive framework advocates the frequency of double fulfillment. This means that we can often find a near, less literal fulfillment in the church age and more literal distant fulfillment in the Millennial Kingdom. Just as the literal furnishings of the Temple have spiritual implications for the believer but were still literal furnishing (Hebrews 10:1), so prophecy that is first fulfilled spiritually does not negate its more literal future realization. We might picture the Law and Prophecy as on both ends of a line while their spiritual aspects are centered during the church age. Alternatively, we can think of a mirror image.
[ii] As the “Midrash Detective,” I admit to using a deductive approach; I begin with a hypothesis and then see if it seems to fit. This is an imperfect science, and I do not hide that some of my suggestions may miss the mark. The reader must decide.
[iii] In I Corinthians 10:1-4, Paul the Apostle uses a similar way of thinking to refer to baptism. Whether he has Spirit or water baptism in mind is a matter of debate, but, because he foresees a foreshadowing of communion in the same passages, most lean toward interpreting Paul as referring to water baptism. Remember, the children of Israel never got wet during the Exodus. Still, the idea of being surrounded and being immersed (baptized) seems to be correlated. The text reads, “For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”