Vol. 4, No. 7
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Fundamental to understanding The Schools of the Prophets is understanding the usual way in which the Bible employs the term prophet. Typically today, we first think of the word prophet meaning "3:one who foretells future events:predictor."1 While it is true that sometimes prophets foretold the future, reception of new revelation was not a daily occurrence, but an extraordinary event even during miraculous eras. Primarily, a biblical prophet was "one who utters divinely inspired revelations,"2 irrespective of when and by whom those revelations were received. Outside of receiving new revelation, a prophet in the Bible was essentially comparable to what we know as a preacher. "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins" (Isaiah 58:1). "And the LORD hath sent unto you all his servants the prophets, rising early and sending them; but ye have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear" (Jeremiah 25:4).
Ezra illustrated this facet of being a prophet in Nehemiah 8:1-8. (Ezra is described as being a "priest" and a "scribe" also.)
"And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel. And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose ... And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up ... caused the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading" (emphasis added, ler).
Verse 8 summarizes the primary task of God's preacher in every age irrespective of by what terms we call him. A prophet or a preacher resorts to Scripture for the text of his message and explains it so that his auditors can more easily understand divine revelation and how it applies to them. Consequently, the apostle Paul instructed Timothy the evangelist to "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Timothy 4:2). The apostle also quoted Isaiah, applying the duty of a prophet to New Testament preachers.
"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report? So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:13-17, emphasis added, ler; see also Isaiah 52:7; 61:1; Nahum 1:15).
The schools of the prophets, then, were ancient counterparts to what the world commonly calls seminaries or what we might also refer to as theological colleges or schools of preaching. This correlation is not lost on contemporary theologians. Several denominational schools either incorporate the phraseology School of the Prophets3 into their institutional names or make the comparison between their organizations and the schools of the prophets.4 Clearly and more aptly, our schools of preaching stand in place of the ancient schools of the prophets, with the exception that today we neither receive new revelation nor predict future events.
The schools of the prophets existed as early as the inauguration of the united kingdom of Israel. The first biblical intimation of the schools of the prophets occurs in relationship to Samuel's anointing of Saul to be King (1 Samuel 10:1-13). Though there had been prophets before Samuel (i.e., Enoch, Jude 14-15; Abraham, Genesis 20:7; Moses, Deuteronomy 34:10), the existence of schools of the prophets is associated with Samuel and noteworthy prophets who followed him. "Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days" (Acts 3:24). Further, Samuel (the last judge, a prophet and a priest) presided over the schools of the prophets in his day. "And Saul sent messengers to take David: and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as appointed over them, the Spirit of God was upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied" (1 Samuel 19:20, emphasis added, ler). Hence, circumstantial evidence attributes the beginning of the schools of the prophets to Samuel.
There is a void of biblical reference to a divine prescription for the establishment of schools of the prophets. The schools of the prophets apparently did not come into being as the result of divine mandate. Rather, the schools of the prophets were a divinely permitted expedient or bona fide means of accomplishing the God-ordained duty of instilling divine law in the people of God (Deuteronomy 4:1, 9; 1 Samuel 12:23). Further, it is evident from the lack of divine censure (at a time when God expressed displeasure about other matters, 1 Samuel 8:7) that the establishment of the schools of the prophets did not violate divine law. Similarly today, schools of preaching, though not stipulated in Scripture, are an expedient means of satisfying the responsibility to teach others who can teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).
The schools of the prophets were sorely needed when established to disseminate God's Word to the children of Israel overall and to their civil and religious leaders, too. Likewise, the counterpart to the schools of the prophets are sorely needed today for the masses as well as social, political and religious leaders. Anciently, neither the Aaronic priesthood nor the Jewish kings, but the prophets of God alone were those upon whom God could rely to represent him as well as his statutes to the Jews.
Occasion of forming such schools is to be found in the decline of the priesthood under Eli and his sons and the utter absence of the sanctuary in the times of Elijah and Elisha, thus furnishing the faithful with places and means of edification; and in the advantages that would naturally arise from association, in bringing the young men under the influence of their elders, who were under the powerful influence of the Holy Spirit, thus uniting them with their spiritual fathers in fighting for the honor of Jehovah.5
... [T]he schools of the prophets grew up out of a pressing need. They grew up in that part of Israel that later apostatized under Jeroboam I; they grew up where departures were more predominant; and they grew up when the nation of Israel was at a very low ebb spiritually, politically, and economically.6
There were schools of the prophets in Gibeah (1 Samuel 10:5), Ramah (1 Samuel 19:18-24), Bethel (2 Kings 2:3), Jericho (2 Kings 2:15) and Gilgal (2 Kings 4:38). McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia places this Gibeah in the tribe of Benjamin (1 Samuel 13:15).7 Gibeah was just north of Jerusalem, not far from Ramah and Bethel. The precise location of this Ramah is unknown though some maps place it halfway between Jerusalem and Bethel. "There are four sites proposed for Ramah today: Ramallah, 13 km N of Jerusalem; Beit Rama, 19 km NW of Bethel; Er-Ram, the Ramah of Benjamin; and Nebi Samwil. There still remains some uncertainty."8 Bethel was about 12 miles north of Jerusalem. The city of Jericho is 16 miles east of Jerusalem near the Jordan River and just northwest of the Dead Sea. Easton's cites three Gilgals in Canaan with the Gilgal where was one of the schools of the prophets being in the hill country of Ephraim about eight miles north of Bethel.9 All of the schools of the prophets were located relatively close to each other on either side of a line dividing the northern kingdom of Israel from the southern kingdom of Judah. They were positioned, it seems, to provide equal accessibility to both Jewish kingdoms, both of which urgently needed the calls to repentance issued by the prophets of God.
Samuel was associated with the schools of the prophets in Gibeah and Ramah, the latter also being the hometown of Samuel (1 Samuel 7:17). Later, Elijah and Elisha were associated with schools at Bethel, Jericho and Gilgal. Samuel, Elijah and Elisha, at different times, served as headmaster over the schools of the prophets; Unger's places the passing of the "mantle" from Elijah to Elisha in 846 B.C. (2 Kings 2:1-15).10 Serving in that capacity, one was known as "father" (1 Samuel 10:12; 2 Kings 2:12) or "master" (2 Kings 2:3, 5; 6:1-7) to the schools of the prophets. These two terms portray the parental-like affection and devotion on one hand and the role of a revered teacher of younger men on the other hand. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul was both to his converts and especially to the young evangelists Timothy and Titus.
Hundreds of men attended these schools of the prophets, who were known as "sons of the prophets" (1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7, 15; 4:1; 4:38; 5:22; 6:1), "children of the prophets" (2 Kings 9:1-10) or 'servants' of the prophets (2 Kings 4:12; 5:20; 6:3, 15; see also 1 Kings 19:21; 2 Kings 3:11; 4:1). Obadiah rescued 100 prophets from the murderous Queen Jezebel and hid them in caves (1 Kings 18:4). There were at least 50 "sons of the prophets" at Jericho (2 Kings 2:5-7) and 100 "sons of the prophets" at Gilgal (2 Kings 4:38, 43). Characteristically, these disciples of the prophets were young men (2 Kings 5:22; 6:17; 9:1-4), at least some of whom were married with children (2 Kings 4:1). Elisha and 100 men ate together dining hall style at Gilgal (2 Kings 4:38-43). Single students lived in dormitories, which on one occasion at Jericho they helped enlarge (2 Kings 6:1-7). The sons of the prophets derived their livelihood variously through agriculture (1 Kings 19:19) and freewill gifts (1 Samuel 9:7-8; 2 Kings 4:42); in addition, they were capable of lumbering and building construction, as they demonstrated in enlarging their school at Jericho (2 Kings 6:1-7).
The caliber of the sons of the prophets can be safely ascertained as they stood in stark contrast to the Jews at every level (commoner, priest and king), who by the ministry ascribed to the prophets they were intended to reform with the Word of God. In other words, the sons of the prophets were everything that their wicked countrymen were not. Evidently, they treasured God's Word and the old prophets who proclaimed it so that they: (1) practiced righteousness and were morally good themselves, (2) maintained a heartfelt earnestness with which they determined to serve God, (3) humbly submitted themselves to the older prophets to guide them, (4) wholly rejected idolatry and worshipped God faithfully, (5) exchanged material wealth as the goal of their lives for sometimes impoverished commitment to godly service (2 Kings 4:1-7), (6) were honest toward fellow men and reverent toward God, (7) moved with unfailing confidence in God and his Word, (8) were those most upon whom God could rely in their age, (9) acknowledged the importance of preparing themselves for greater service, and (10) recognized the urgent need for faithful and capable prophets of God to rescue God's people from apostasy. The sons of the prophets were eager to learn and pliable. Further, the sons of the prophets were mature enough to be family men, having wives and children (as already noted). They were responsible enough to be commissioned for important tasks of delivering a message of divine condemnation to kings (1 Kings 13:1-32; 20:35-42) or of anointing a king (2 Kings 9:1-10).
The curriculum of the schools of the prophets included the Law of Moses (Ezra 7:10) and music (1 Samuel 10:5) and equipped them to instruct the nation in godliness. Further, God ordinarily selected his vessels of prophetic revelation from among the sons of the prophets. Amos remarked with astonishment that he, not a son of the prophets, was drafted by God to be a prophet and the recipient of divine revelation. Elisha was elevated from among the sons of the prophets and anointed to be headmaster of the schools of the prophets in place of Elijah (1 Kings 19:16).
These young men were taught not only the rudiments of secular knowledge, but they were brought up to exercise the office of prophet, "to preach pure morality and the heart-felt worship of Jehovah, and to act along and co-ordinately with the priesthood and monarchy in guiding the state aright and checking all attempts at illegality and tyranny."11
In these schools young men were educated under a proper master in the knowledge of religion and sacred music (1 Sam 10:5; 19:20), and were thereby qualified to be public preachers, which seems to have been part of the business of the prophets on the Sabbath-days and festivals (2 Kings 4:23). It would seem that God generally chose the prophets whom he inspired out of these schools. Amos, therefore, speaks of it as an extraordinary case that though he was not one of the sons of the prophets, but a herdsman, "yet the Lord took him as he followed the flock, and said unto him, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel" (Amos 7:14,15). That it was usual for some of these schools, or at least for their tutors, to be endued with a prophetic spirit, appears from the relation of the prophecies concerning the ascent of Elijah, delivered to Elisha by the sons of the prophets, both at Jericho and at Bethel (2 Kings 2:3,5).12
The work of the prophets exceeded the capacity of one, two or even a handful of God's prophets. The prophets, like Moses (Exodus 18:13-26), needed help to accomplish the mission to which God assigned them. Hence, the schools of the prophets addressed that incapacity. The very existence of the schools of the prophets also stood in opposition to competing schools that schooled throngs of false prophets in idolatry and faulty prophesying; King Ahab had 450 prophets of Baal, 400 other idolatrous prophets (1 Kings 18:19) and 400 lying prophets (1 Kings 22:6). Besides withstanding the counterfeit prophets, the prophets of God, including the sons of the prophets, served as spokesmen for God. Whereas the function of the priest through animal sacrifices, etc. represented the people to God, the prophet represented God to the people. Further, kings typically resorted to the counsel of the prophets, though sometimes kings preferred the counsel of lying prophets (1 Kings 22:5-8). These prophets were God's Old Testament preachers, who like their modern counterparts, preach the Word with urgency despite sometimes opposition and facing apostasy, yet anticipating a crown of reward at the end of time (2 Timothy 4:1-8). They and we preach in the cities, in the villages, in the country settings; they and we preach the Word of God in private from house to house and publicly.
Eventually, the schools of the prophets became part of the problem that initially they were established to counter. Idolatrous and false prophets plus a wicked citizenry put aside the laws of God with their idolatry, false ways and ungodliness. However, as time passed, the schools of the prophets essentially set aside the laws of God, too. They generated interpretations and customs respecting the Law of Moses that they perceived were on par with or above divine revelation (Matthew 15:1-9). These schools persisted to the first century and are discernible in references to "sons" (Luke 11:19) and "children" (Matthew 12:24-26) of the Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-33) and referred to as "scribes" (Mark 3:22; 7:5) or "lawyers" (Luke 11:45-52).
More characteristic of Biblical usage is the employment of the word "son" to indicate membership in a class or guild, as in the common phrase "sons of the prophets," which implies nothing whatever as to the ancestry, but states that the individuals concerned are members of the prophetic guilds or schools. In the New Testament the word "sons" (huioi) in Luke 11:19, rendered "children" in Matt 12:27 the King James Version, means, not physical descendants, but members of the class or sect; according to Mt the Pharisees, who were attacking Christ.13
From Ezra onward notable scribes or lawyers are mentioned, who not only applied themselves to the faithful observing and handing down of the letter of the law and of the Scriptures but made the contents of Scripture their special study. They especially applied the law of Moses to the practical duties of life and also gave decisions in doubtful cases (Matt 2:4; Luke 2:46). Thus a complete system of casuistry, founded on the law, was gradually formed for all the relations of life. This was orally transmitted by the scribes (which see) and their associates; and as the "tradition of the elders" (Mark 7:5) was ranked on an equality with, and eventually above, the written law of Moses.14
Coffman also makes a correlation between the adversaries to the Messiah in his New Testament ministry to the schools started by the prophet Samuel, which at that time and for many years afterward were prophetic advocates for the then future Messiah.
Regarding the school of the prophets which appears at Nairoth, which had been founded and organized by Samuel, we probably have in this the beginning of that class of persons known in later ages as "the scribes" of Israel. In fact, "The Chaldee Paraphrast calls these prophets 'scribes'; and doubtless these persons educated in Samuel's schools held an analogous position to that of the scribes in later days."15
In conclusion, a minority of souls in any era faithfully serves God (eight souls on Noah's ark, 1 Peter 3:20; narrow gate and way, Matthew 7:13-14). In Elijah's day, only 7,000 souls had not adopted idolatry in the northern kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 19:18). Not many people remained faithful and even fewer (hundreds) dedicated themselves to the tutelage of the headmasters in the schools of the prophets. In every age, then and now, God needs adequately prepared 'prophets' to represent him as well as his Word to the people. This requires persons who are especially dedicated and are prepared to mentor students who are equally dedicated to preparing themselves for lives of service before God. Teacher and student alike must have unfailing confidence in the divine inerrancy and sufficiency of the Word of God. Both must recognize the Bible as the final, absolute standard of authority in religion. "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God ..." (1 Peter 4:11).
Anciently, the schools of the prophets were a good work -- as long as they remained true to the Word of God. Today, 'the schools of the prophets' (alias, schools of preaching, including West Virginia School of Preaching) are a good work -- as long as they continue to be true to the Word of God. There are great needs in our nation, the world and our brotherhood that schools of preaching can help address by educating young men in the Word of God and sending them forth. Send us dedicated men and their families; give them your moral and financial support. Please pray for them, for those who endeavor to increase their knowledge in God's Word, and for the elders and congregations who make the 'schools of the prophets' possible today.
God "ordained" or 'gave' the prophets to his people the Jews; "Then the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations" (Jeremiah 1:4-5, emphasis added, ler). Likewise, God has appointed or given his preachers to the house of Israel and to the world, today. I close with God's call to Ezekiel:
"And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me. And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day. For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD. And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house,) yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them" (Ezekiel 2:1-5, emphasis added, ler).
May we go "among them," armed with the Word of God!
1 Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, (Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated) 1993.
3 School of the Prophets Prophetic Ministries Tabernacle (Ft. Worth, TX) http://www.propheticministries.org/page10.html; School of the Prophets, Zoe Ministries (NY, NY) http://zoeministries.com/schoolop.htm; School of the Prophets, Capital Christian Center (Boise, ID) http://www.nocomp.org/Teaching.htm; School of the Prophets, Foundation Ministries International (Richmond, VA) http://www.fm-i.org/schofmin.htm; School of the Prophets, Ministry of the Watchman http://www.ministryofthewatchman.com/school.html; School of the Prophets, Mormon Church http://beardall2000.com/dc/ch23.html; School of the Prophets, Liberty Church (Marietta, GA) http://www.libertychurch.org/SpecialtyMinistries/P.Pres.htm
4 Bethany Bible College and Seminary (Dothan, AL) http://www.bethanybc.edu/seminarydegree.htm; Vanderbilt Divinity School (Nashville, TN) http://www.witherspoonsociety.org/vanderbilt_divinity_school.htm
5 The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, (Chicago, Illinois: Originally published by Moody Press) 1988.
6 Turner, Rex A., Sr., "Samuel: The Father of the Schools of the Prophets," Sound Doctrine, Summer, 1992, 17-19.
7 McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia, Electronic Database, (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft) 2000.
8 The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.
9 Easton, M. G., M. A. D. D., Easton's Bible Dictionary, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1996.
12 McClintock and Strong Encyclopedia, Electronic Database, (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft) 2000.
13 International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database, (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft) 1996.
15 James Burton Coffman Bible Study Library, (Abilene, TX: ACU Press) 1989.