READIN’, ‘RITIN’, ‘RITHMATIC, DANCE AND PROPHECY.
And what did you learn at school today?
The Schools of the Prophets
So! Can a person be taught how to be a prophet? Well! There are “born prophets,” and there are definitely “made prophets.” There are Elijah’s, and there are Elisha’s.
At the very time where the divinely raised series of Judges was about to give way to a new dispensation, where a king would be installed by the popular cry, followed later by the royal familial succession, something strikingly new, incredibly contemporary to twenty first century Christianity, and remarkably creative in Samuel’s day, was birthed. Needless to say, under God’s inspiration it was Samuel’s idea. Surely nobody else would have believed their ears if they had heard such a word from God. A sparkling new phenomenon emerged among the spiritual charismatics in Israel, facilitated and conceptualised by the son of Elkanah and Hannah of Ramah himself. We are talking of the, “Schools of the Prophets”. The first one, presumably, being held in Samuel’s home, the Naioth. This, the earliest form of, “regular prophecy,” and, “potential prophets,” is often referred to as “nabism” for reasons we shall explain. (Nabi is anglicised Hebrew, meaning “prophet.”)
It was an aspect of the religious and spiritual life of Israel that the people either loved or hated. It was loved by the Godly. It was despised by those that had things to hide, or were just plain sinful. Where some detected only heathen frenzy in the early prophetic schools, others saw the stirring of forces belonging to the essence of worship and deep relationship with Yahweh. Some saw in the schools of trainee prophets, people being clothed upon by the Spirit of God. It was the stirring of God’s Spirit in a person’s life, encouraged and cultivated in a manner hitherto unknown, even though it had been seen in the life of Moses’ sister Miriam (Read what happened with har immediately after Israel had walked through the Red Sea as on dry land). The worship system outlined in Leviticus was solemnly silent. The noise of music was not heard in the approaches to the Tabernacle, except for moments of euphoria when God’s hand had been seen by all moving on behalf of his people. It was of the Spirit and in the Spirit for those years in the wilderness, for it was all done in the shade of the pillar of cloud in the hours of daylight, and in the light of the pillar of fire in the dark hours of the night. So, there was no dead religion to begin with. Miriam, it would seem, was a “Nabi” in practice.
The peculiar feature about nabism, as described in First Samuel is that of what writers refer to as, “group ecstasy.” Though ecstatic experiences, it would seem, were familiar among the Seers, these were things of which the early worship of Yahweh, i.e. prior to Samuel’s time, knew nothing. Miriam’s prophetic song on the shores of the Red Sea over the Egyptian military cadavers is the only vague suggestion of something similar during the earlier days of Israel’s history. Whether the music and the frenzy came with the birth of a movement that started in a fiery explosion of spirituality, and settled down later to a regular burning flame without the frenzy, I am not sure. Surely there is absolutely nothing in scripture to suggest that Samuel received God’s word in anything but a calm and natural frame of mind, and in a normal physical disposition. One gets the general impression that most of Samuel’s words came in the middle of the night, as his first revelation did. The supernatural intercourse between God and Samuel is presented to us in scripture as if it was two old friends intimately chatting.
The prophet Samuel developed a,”School of the Prophets,” and was, as we shall see from later chapters, fully aware of the music, the dance and the frenzy that brought the scholarly groups of prophets to their reception and delivery of God’s word. It signified a profound change in the whole dynamic of spiritual life within Israel. God was doing something new amongst the people. The first wave of charismatics had come into existence. It was something new, totally different and clearly, of the Spirit of God.
As a twenty-first century pentecostal/charismatic with deep interest in, and a strong inclination towards prophecy, I feel somewhat perturbed at the “group frenzy” aspect of these early days of the schools of the prophets. Prophecy, I assert, does not in any way need frenzy. New Testament prophecy is never inferred as conjoined to frenzy or even requiring anything but a quiet receptive spirit. But musical inspiration, dance and so called, “frenzy,” is definitely how these students of Samuel started in the realm of the prophetic (The word “frenzy is used by scholars and commentators, it is not really the word used in the Bible). The passage in which a “hebel” (i.e. “School” or “Band”) of prophets (nabim) is mentioned for the first time in Israelite history, also notes that a group of them were coming down from a place of sacrifice (1 Sam 10:5). Religious, sacrificial sites are later also recorded as sites where the prophetic schools operated, e.g. Jericho (2 Kings 2:5), Gilgal (2 Kings 4:38), and Ramah (1 Sam 19:18). So we are hemmed in to conclude, by the plain logic of the biblical text, that the Schools of the Prophets, were totally orthodox Jewish worshippers, touching and hearing God via His own Spirit and Word, and not primarily via the sacrificial system and the priesthood, yet clearly not denying the sacrificial system of things. It was a fascinating innovation of the Spirit of God through Samuel’s genius. I am convinced that the music, dance and “frenzy” were all connected with the group dynamic of worship, and conceivably (and this is my unsubstantiated opinion) because the disciples of Samuel were youthful, energetic and lively.
The point must be made that the contemporaneous heathen cults of excitation with the aid of narcotics, and of physical self torture was, and is, totally alien to Jewish custom and tradition. Such a practice would definitely not have been in Samuel’s tenets of the faith. Yet, whatever was happening in the ecstatic energy and excitement of the groups of prophets was not hysteria. Perhaps it was a way in which the prophets in training loosed themselves from their own intellectual and human restrictions in order to be abandoned to the Spirit of God. I say this in as much as I would vehemently want to deter any would be prophet of God from doing the same today.
It’s the word frenzy that makes me shudder. “Energy,” “excitement,” and “rythym” I like better. Music,I love. Give me more of it. Dance is lovely both to enter into and to watch – as long as it is inspired by the Spirit of God. The word “frenzy,” however, suggests the loosing of one’s sense of reason. Perhaps it would be better if writers started to refer to, “the release in the Spirit that fell on them through the full expression of worship in the dance.” Frenzy? I think I reject no matter how commonly non-charismatic/pentecostal commentators use the word.
We cannot despise or put aside the fact that there is one well attested element of Israelite traditional worship which could easily turn into ecstasy, and was and still is a normal and accepted as a, “valid,” mode of worship. I refer to what I believe is referred to in Jewish circles as, “the sacred dance,” that took place – and still does – on special occasions of joy and victory. It is clear that this religious and deeply spiritual manifestation of dance was practised by the nabim with particular abandon, and that music and song played a great part in enlivening and heightening the intensity of the prophetic Spirit that fell upon them. There is plenty of evidence in the Old Testament that the religious spontaneous dance was accompanied by singing and musical merrymaking (2 Samuel 6:5: Isaiah 30:29: Psalm 25:6: Psalm 118:27. All the verses I have listed here are very much post Samuel.) What we are talking about is something that became established as a norm, initially via the oversite and encouragement of the prophet Samuel.
The state of ecstasy, or “the release of the Spirit that fell on them through the full expression of worship in the dance,” caused the subjects within the dance to be set free from normal physical empirical lines of thought opening their human spirits and revealed the presence of a higher kind of knowledge and insight. They then spoke in and of the Spirit of God. This is the very definition of prophecy. This demonstrated that their release was not so much for the dissolution of normal consciousness, but very much to facilitate an endowment of higher power, and a consciousness of the presence of the Spirit of God. The Nabi became the proclaimer par excellence, not only as the people who raised the act of praising and calling upon his God to its highest degree, but, as the speaker empowered by God to reveal His hidden will. This was received and accepted as the loftiest worship of Yahweh, in virtue of which, the Nabi became the man in whom the word of Yahweh resided. David worshipped Yahweh “with all his might.” Chew on that phrase and all it suggests. It is hardly simply singing a meaningful hymn with one’s hands in one’s pockets. David’s example suggests dance, energy, excitement, pleasure, revelling in the knowledge of God, and an alignment with the Almighty. God give us more of it.
Once the basic features of the earliest prophetism is properly appreciated, old controversies re prophetics as a theme, appear in a new light. It is impossible to subsume it under any religious category, classifying it in terms of such pairs of opposites as physical versus moral, or, psychic versus spiritual. The decisive factor in any assessment must rather be its position in the totality of the religious scene at this time of Samuel’s life, and how this particular development brought individuals, and ultimately the nation to a purer relationship with God, and set people, as individuals, free.
This new dimention of experience with God and the reception of God’s word via the Nabim took many manifestations. It is easily demonstrable from scripture that group ecstasy affords no grounds for supposing that its practitioners and adherents are to be regarded as, “Religious Officials,” Levites or functionaries of a lofty religious position. It is an unjustifiable simplification of the Old Testament narrative to classify Nabism as a whole, as a type of official, “Man of the Cloth,” status. In the Old Testament, apart from these schools, the prophet was, generally speaking, a “loner.” Although it is stated that Ezekiel was a priest, and it is thought by some that Isaiah was of royal blood, nevertheless their moving in the “office” of prophet was completely distanced from the priestly or royal functions that they were involved in. Think of Elijah or here in our present primary focus with Levitical Samuel.
How little the appeal to individual passages affords conclusive proof of the religious “official “function of the Nabim, is brought out with especial clarity in the case of Elijah building an altar on Carmel. The erection of the “Yahweh” altar is an unmistakable expression of the exclusive sovereignty of the God of Israel over the contested area. No more is it possible to demonstrate a firm, “officially” religious connection in those guilds of nabim who lived a community life, than to prove that individual prophets were in conventional “religious” offices or functions, even though it is true that their colonies show a connection to important sanctuaries. It should be noted that in all the thirty passages of scripture in which priest and prophet are closely coupled, they all come from either Jerusalem, or the southern kingdom of Judah after the division of the original Nation State. Where the word of God was sought, there were prophets named and unnamed who spoke the word of God.
Any discussion of this issue must take into account the ancient Israelite concept of Ruach (Spirit or breath), which is presented as the force behind the nabim. By this, Jewish Rabbi’s refer to the sudden, almost erratic move of the Spirit of God in a Nabi. Again, Elijah is the best example. Anyone Elijah’s day, who seriously considers the suddenness of power that fell on, or rose up in a nabi cannot but have considerable misgivings about regarding the men who depended on this gift of grace, and who were guided by it in such unpredictable ways, as “religious officials.” The general perception and acceptance of the Nabim, throughout all of Old Testament history, seems to assume that they were simply inspired charismatic characters who, by human analysis, may speak at any time God thought necessary.
If then these mediators of the Spirit of Yahweh did in fact contract firm connections with particular sanctuaries, it should be seen as a domestic deviation from their ordinary mode of free living, dictated by peculiar local and historical circumstances, which nevertheless still left room for the continued existence of independent prophetic guilds and individual wandering prophets. Because they were “schools” of prophets, the suggestion is that “students” or “scholars” were actually “junior prophets” and therefore not yet qualified or fully established in those things that a prophet needed to be established with.
There is more than one piece of evidence to suggest that the ecstasy was not felt to be a disruptive foreign concept in the body of the religion and worship of Yahweh, but a new impulse bestowed by God Himself. In the Canaanite religious frenzy, the demonic manifestations were alien and ungodly entities entering the body of the Shaman. It was the struggle against the religion of Canaan and the proclamation of the will of Yahweh which united these “junior,” “student” prophets of God, who in all other ways were so very different from the idolatrous demon worshippers of Canaan.
The generally acknowledged dress of the nabi was the hairy mantle 1 Kings 20: 38: 2 Kings 1:8: Isaiah 20:2. Whenever a nabim has his dress explained in the Bible, that is exactly how they are attired.
This “movement” was something of crucial importance in the new things that God was doing in Israel through the life and influence of Samuel. The most prominent exponents of nabism in the time of Samuel, David and Saul bear witness to their participation in the the national struggle for the purity of life and worship of Yahweh. It cannot be denied that the rise of group ecstasy, precisely in the midst of the frightful time of national crisis, was no accident. It was undoubtedly Samuel’s teaching and impartation of what he had learnt and what he had experienced that had birthed this entire stream – nay- a gushing river of spirituality. David was a prophet. The biblical description of his dancing before the Lord as he brought the Ark into Jerusalem for the first time is demonstrative of the whole issue we are talking about. Although we need to add that we are not told that David prophesied in his dance, we should note that the vast majority of David’s contribution to the body of prophecy in the Bible came through his singing and music, many of which refer to dancing, jumping, clapping and whirling.
The distinction from mystical ecstasy may, in general, be accurately summed up by designating the prophetic experience as, “concentration and meditative ecstasy focussed purely on Yahweh,” in opposition to, “fusion ecstasy” (i.e. being infiltrated by a demonic or alien entity to gain control of something or somebody). Israel knew nothing of the prophet’s being able to thus gain mastery over God and force his way into the divine world. Ecstasy as discovered by Samuel’s prophetic schools, with all its consequences, derived itself from a direct eruption of divine power, namely God’s Ruach, which overwhelmed a man and took him as a conscious and willing servant. The Elijah accounts give the impression that its’ operations tended towards the enigmatic and capricious, rather than the Spirit in any way being at the Prophet’s beck and call. It is Yahweh’s Spirit that enters into a man, and, in the days before Christ and Pentecost, it was only a repeated temporary experience – or so it would seem. Even the greatest of men of God can only have a share in the miraculous powers and superhuman knowledge because of the entry into himself of the wondrous living Spirit of God over whom Yahweh alone has ultimate direction. Prophets and prophecy are somehow touching God’s omniscience in their insights, visions, pictures, directions, predictions and declarations. In both Testaments it is graphic, directive, wonderful and intrinsically holy.
I believe Samuel realised that his gift was desired by God to be the regular “bread and butter” of the life of those who would lead God’s people, which in his day centred on the, “church,” that was Israel. As much of his gift as he could impart to others, he would do. I am sure that Samuel wanted more people, with a gift similar to his own, to be permeating Israeli society with an ear to God, as well as a mouth for God.
These schools affected the development of Yahweh worship and the future of the nation of Israel profoundly. Prophets seem to have become, dare I say, almost common place. The word, “Seer,” became more generally used to mean anybody who had connections and manifestations with the spiritual realm, whether divine or demonic. The term prophet was used as the generations passed, instead of Seer, and was firmly set in the psyche and daily usage of the people of Israel. The prophets that surrounded David, and spoke to later kings were commonly from the prophetic schools. Samuel birthed a means for the word of God, as he himself received and perceived it – a word for the “now and the “here” – to be flowing and accessible for the masses. The impact was to be profound, extremely far reaching and very wonderful.
Saul, David, and, at the beginning, Solomon, had words from those prophets who were given access to the royal courts. The son of Solomon started his reign surrounded with young advisors. No prophets are said to have been present or invited by King Rehoboam of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. This was undoubtedly one of the keys to the decline of Israel and the general dive of spirituality in Israel’s Northern kings. Prophets saw the division of the kingdom coming and said so, and they were still not called in by any king or queen of Israel after the northern throne was initiated.
We will see other things later, but the birth of the schools of the prophets in Israel, in Samuel’s day was utterly huge in its significance. It was clearly a God idea.
In my own experience I have visited many churches where a wise, sedate and serene pastor, often elderly – but not always, would, in a quiet and undemonstrative way lead the people of a church into worship where dance, shouts of triumph and whooping were common place and very real in terms of spirituality. In talking with members in churches of this calibre, I have found that often the exuberant and demonstrative worship commenced within the church when the, “sedate,” pastor arrived. My assumption is that many pastors, no matter how “sedate” they may be externally, carry an anointing for such worship in their hearts and impart their spirit to the people. Old age, or physical frailty may inhibit the outward expression, but ministers communicate what is in their hearts. This phenomena, this syndrome of group dynamics in worship is exactly what I believe happened in the life and experience of Samuel. The cool, calm, serene prophet of God, senior in years as well as in experience and prophetic gifting, communicated to his disciples or students what he carried. And what he carried was wild, giant and dangerous. Thus the schools of the prophets came into being.
They continued, as far as we can read right through to the days of Elisha. By Isaiah’s day the schools seem to have become part of the institution, and full of drunks and false prophets. By that time the function of the schools was finished. The days of the individual giant dangerous writing prophets had arrived.
- The Prophetic Imperative for the Conception, Birth and Life of Israel. (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)
- Preface (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)
- You Cannot be Serious! Samuel who? For what? (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)
- No Greater Love Than a Mother Laying Down Her Son (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)
- Prologue (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)
- First Prophet? Samuel? (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)
- The Teaching Concept We All Hate, Don’t Want to Know About and Stick Our Fingers in Our Ears When We Hear It. (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)
- How to Reverse a National Mess (lannononsamuel.wordpress.com)