Saul Among the Prophets

What was Israel’s worship like outside the Temple? Some intriguing clues are seen in the bands of prophets and their ecstatic worship. I wish we knew more about it. I read a bit on the subject lately, as follows:

In the Westminster Theological Journal, 56:2, John W. Hilber writes:

The function of prophetic bands is also unclear. The description in 1 Sam 10:5–13 portrays a group descending from worship at Gibeah and prophesying with musical accompaniment, whom Saul joins as the Spirit of God comes upon him and initiates him into the prophetic band. Later, Saul would again be inducted into a band, located this time at Ramah, and fall naked prophesying (1 Sam 19:18–24). Perhaps in a similar way, David led the worship of Yahweh when he danced naked before the ark (2 Sam 6:5, 12–20). Thus, the prophetic worship established by David had precedence in the prophetic bands of his day. In 1 Kgs 20:35 the formal title “sons of the prophets” designates such bands.18

As in the days of Samuel, such groups were associated with specific locations (Bethel, 2 Kgs 2:3; Jericho, 2 Kgs 2:7; 6:1; Gilgal, 2 Kgs 4:38) and often served under the ministry of a master prophet (2 Kgs 2:15–16; 4:1, 38; 6:5; 9:4). Even though they were subordinate to a master prophet of greater authority, they were agents of formal prophetic oracles, received revelation of future events, and themselves spoke with great authority (e.g., 1 Kgs 20:35–42; 2 Kgs 2:3, 5; 9:1–13). Amos’ disclaimer presumes that either a prophet or a son of prophet could be expected to speak an oracle from God (Amos 7:14). The number of these subordinate prophets was at times considerable. The remnant alone after the slaughter by Jezebel numbered 100 (1 Kgs 18:4).

The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 9:3 (Summer 1966) says:

Lack of information also shrouds the example of Saul and his messengers in 1 Sam 19:18–24. Saul’s falling prostrate day and night suggests an element of involuntary control. But this was probably only part of the prophetic behavior, since the text is silent regarding any prolonged prostration of Saul’s messengers who also prophesied, and since their behavior mimicked that of Samuel and his band (1 Sam 19:20). If the prophetic procession of 1 Sam 10:5–11 is a similar phenomenon, then music and dancing might be a partial description. Music and prophecy are regularly associated, although whether that constitutes ecstatic behavior remains to be seen. David’s leaping and dancing before the ark may be called ecstatic, yet it appeared to be at his own volition (2 Sam 6:21–22). It is significant that ecstatic prophesying on this occasion did not exclude verbal praise.  So, the phenomena in Numbers and 1-2 Samuel may have been exuberant praise, more or less spontaneous, the emotive energy and verbal content of which was sponsored by the Spirit.

The second is I Sam. 10:1–13. This instance concerns similar prophesying activity by Saul following Samuel’s indication to him that he would be Israel’s new king. Samuel also told him of several events in which he would be involved on his home-ward journey after leaving Samuel. Among others, Saul would meet a “band of prophets” coming down from “the high place with’ a number of musical instruments, and they would “prophesy” (mithnabeʾim); also that “the Spirit of Jehovah” would then “come mightily upon” him so that he too would prophesy (hithnabbitha) and be “turned into another man.” These events occurred as predicted.

The third is I Sam. 19:18–24. This instance also concerns prophesying by Saul who was now king. He had recently sent three different groups of messengers to apprehend David who had fled from Saul and gone to Samuel at Ramah.  All three groups met Samuel standing head over a band of prophets who were prophesying, and the result was that the messengers, each time, joined with these in this activity. Finally Saul himself went. But while yet on the way, he experienced the “Spirit of God” coming upon him and he “prophesied” (yithnabbeʾ) also. Later, after coming to where the others were, he further removed some of his clothing and lay in an apparent stupor the rest of that day and the following night.

 18 Observing that this is the first occurrence of the phrase “sons of the prophets,” E. J. Young suggests that the switch to this title implies a closer tie with a spiritual father than existed in the days of Samuel (My Servants the Prophets [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952] 92). However, the question about Saul’s being the new “father” to the prophetic band in 1 Sam 10:12 (cf. 2 Kgs 2:12) and Samuel’s presiding over the band in 1 Sam 19:20 implies continuity between the phenomena in the days of Samuel and Elijah.

23 This is not to say that all participants in a procession were the source of oracles. For example, if even one individual among the group served as a source for verbal content and the rest followed antiphonally, then all might be said to prophesy. Someone joining this band through the impulse of the Spirit might be said to prophesy because he acted and sang with the band. There is no evidence for this, but these speculations should demonstrate that the possibilities are broader than usually admitted in the discussions.

5   The text says that David came to Samuel at “naioth in Ramah.” Naioth means “dwelling.” Since Samuel’s group of prophets also was there, this “dwelling” may have been the building in which the school of these prophet’s met.


My Current Scripture Reading

For my Scripture reading last year I read Deuteronomy over and over. This year I am attempting to dig into the Wisdom books. I have been reminded that the road to Christian maturity is one of meditation on God’s Word, a constant approach and re-approach to the same texts, seeing them through the lens of Jesus and His Church.

I don’t have the discipline right now to follow a lectionary style of reading every day and I don’t want to launch out on another read the entire Bible project. So in these overly busy years I want to try and focus in on something that I can benefit from by repetition. I also want to feel some freedom about where I read, because I tend to feel very rigid about starting in one place and proceeding on until the end, not hopping around. I am trying to break away from the feeling that I should constantly be reading the lectionary or doing Genesis to Revelation on a cycle.

Part of the problem with my Scripture reading is that I find myself addicted to reading news and social media throughout the day every day. I need to drive a stake through those habits so that I can spend more time reading quality material and less on passing fancies. Lent might be a good time to try and change those habits.

The Petrine Office

This is me thinking out loud. The prominence of Peter in the New Testament is striking, but it does not mean what the modern RCC says it means. So what does it mean? I’m not sure. The famous passage from Matthew 16 says:

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

It looks to me like Jesus is addressing Peter, not everyone. Peter features prominently in the Gospels and the early part of Acts. He is given a lot of attention. His post-Resurrection restoration by Jesus is portrayed at length. Why? Why the focus on him?
Peter was flawed, he was not infallible, he made mistakes.
He was not in charge of the church in Jerusalem.
Paul says Jesus appeared to him first of all.
A party in Corinth claimed to be of him.
He led the church in the earliest days.
Peter was the rock, the leader of the early Church, but it was leadership in council, a conciliar model. He was not even first among equals, but one of perhaps a triad of leaders.
I believe that he did go to Rome.
The NT cannot possibly lay obedience to the See of Rome on believers as a necessity.
Jesus built the church on Peter in some sense.
The gates of hell did not prevail in some sense.

Queen Elizabeth on the Scriptures

She wrote this in probably 1576 or later in her copy of the Epistles of St Paul:

I walk many times into the pleasant fields of the Holy Scriptures, where I pluck up the goodly green herbs of sentences by pruning, eat them by reading, chew them by musing, and lay them up at length in the high seat of memory by gathering them together, that I, having tasted thy sweetness, I may the less perceive the bitterness of this miserable life.

New Covenant Scribes

Last week I read something Jesus said that puzzled me, it is in Matthew 13.51-52 where he finishes a string of parables and told the disciples:

Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.

Typically when Jesus is talking about scribes, it is not in a positive light. But here, he is taking about scribes trained for the kingdom. What did he mean? I asked around and Jeff Meyers said:

I think it’s important to remember that the apostolic calling was fundamentally about scribal work. They were called to write out the Scriptures for the new world, especially what we call the four Gospels. They understood this, if we read Acts 6:2, 4 correctly. This is not about them “preaching.” It’s them “attending to the Word.” The word “preaching” is not in the text. It’s about the “service of the Word.” They collaborated as “scribes” to insure that the words and acts of the Messiah were quickly recorded as founding documents for his new kingdom. Acts 6 is not about “preachers” and “deacons,” even if it might be applied to modern ecclesiastical issues like that by abstracting from the passage the wisdom of a “division of labor.”

Of course, the “service of the Word” also includes speaking the Word, as they do in the book of Acts.  But Acts 6 and Luke 1:2 point to more than proclamation.

I was thrilled to hear this! It makes perfect sense to me and it accords with what Jesus said. Further, Jesus later says:

Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.

One of the categories of people who Jesus sends to doomed Israel is scribes! It stands to reason, as Jeff wrote, that the process of writing the Scriptures happened early, contra what many recent scholars might think. Also, the early Deacons saying they should not wait tables to attend to scribal work accords will with the role of a scribe as described in Jesus ben Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 38.24:

A scholar’s wisdom comes of ample leisure;

if a man is to be wise he must be relieved of other tasks.

If the work that these New Covenant scribes performed was anything like the Old Covenant scribes, then we have some idea of what it consisted of.  Michael Fishbane writes extensively about the subject in his book, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel. He says (with Hebrew terms excluded by me):

The technical title ___, meaning ‘scribe’, first appears in connection with the royal council established by King David at the outset of the United Monarchy (2 Sam. 8: 16-18~20: 23-25), and appears in similar listings preserved for the dynasties of King Solomon (1 Kg. 4: 1-6), King Joash (2 Chron. 24: 11-12), and King Hezekiah (2 Kg. 18: 18, 37). The the [scribe] appears as a stable component of the high royal bureaucracy for at least 300 years, from the beginning of the tenth to the seventh century BCE. However, the relative position of this court officer in these listings varies, and his relationship to the ___, ‘recorder’ or ‘secretary’, is unclear. As the priests, war commanders, major-domos, and tax officials noted in these lists were the heads of specialized sub-bureaucracies serving the royal administration, we may surmise that the ___ of these texts was the overseer of a diversified scribal network.
Regrettably, no biblical sources describe the training of ancient Israelite scribes. It may be assumed, however, that the skills taught in their various guild centres and schools (cf. 1 Chron. 2:55) enabled those scribes to serve a variety of administrative and state functions. Some served the military and aided in conscription (2 Kgs. 25: 19~Jer. 52:25); others, Levites by lineage, served as overseers of the priestly rotations (1 Chron. 24: 6), or provided administrative services to the Temple and its upkeep (2 Chron. 34: 13; cf. Neh. 13: 13); and still other scribes served in the royal court, providing the king with diplomatic skill and sage wisdom. Trained in the forms and rhetoric of international diplomatic correspondence, and thus kept abreast of internal and external affairs, many of these court scribes–as individuals and as family guilds–were directly caught up in religious and political affairs affecting the nation as a whole. Particularly exemplary of such involvements are the activities of the Shaphan scribal family during the final decades of the Judaean state. In other cases, the professional court scribe was primarily a sage counsellor–a repository of traditional wisdom. Just such a personage was Jonathan, an uncle of King David, who was ‘an adviser __, a man of understanding __ and a scribe ___’. There is no reason to doubt that this combination of traits reflects an authentic pre-exilic tradition, despite its unique articulation in the relatively late Book of Chronicles. What is certain, at any rate, is that this formulation draws from an international courtier vocabulary. […] The technical and official nature of this description is confirmed by the fact that Ezra the priest, the great teacher of the post-exilic restoration, is also called a __ ___ (Ezra 7:6). The fact that Ezra’s title already occurs in Ps. 45:2 as a frozen idiom suggests that this designation was known in the pre-exilic period as well, and was not simply a contemporary title conferred upon him by later historians.
In addition to their service in regional, national, and international capacities, ancient Israelite scribes were tradents of texts. Indeed, this activity was a constitutive characteristic of the ancient Israelite scribal class. Thus, in addition to copying texts, Israelite scribes were also responsible for maintaining, transmitting, and collating literary record. […]
Details related to the scribal activities of collating, entitling, and indexing literary records can be deduced from a variety of biblical data. A general indicator of such activity is the recurrent references in the Books of Kings and Chronicles to the archives or records of the Northern and Southern kingdoms from which the ‘historical’ report is excerpted or derived (e.g. 1 Kings 11:41, 14:19, 29, 15:7, 23; cf. 1 Chr. 9:1; 2 Chr. 9:29, 12:15, 13:22, 20:34, 24:27, 27:7, 32:32). Such historical archives were maintained by court archivists or other guardians of the historical traditions. Some scribal practices may be deduced from the annotations to the priestly regulations found in the Books of Leviticus and Numbers. These records have both superscriptive titles (e.g. Lev. 6:2, 7, 7:1, 11) and summary colophons (e.g. 7:37-38, 11:46-7, 12: 8, 15:32-3, Num. 5:29-31, 6:21), which are well evidenced in other ancient Near Eastern documents. Moreover, like the latter, these biblical regulation were often collated into short series or collections, for example the laws of sacrifice in Lev. 1-7 or the various laws on purity and impurity in Lev. 11-15. Such annotations and collections, found in legal and prophetic literature, only make sense as formal conventions of an established scribal tradition.

Fishbane, Michael A. 1988. Biblical interpretation in ancient Israel. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Clarendon Press. Pages 25-27.

So it seems that the scribal profession was continued, purified and renewed, in the New Covenant.

RSV Rebound

I just received the second of two of my Mom’s Bibles that I had rebound. It is a Revised Standard Version published by Thomas Nelson. My Dad gave it to her for Christmas of 1969. It had a white cover that of some type of leather. I believe she used to keep it inside a zip cover that she had and used throughout the time I was growing up. It had completely deteriorated externally in the past 41 years. Mom has marked up the interior every which way, but it is in decent shape.

I had the folks at Mechling rebind it again, and I chose a black goatskin. They don’t have white and I didn’t want it anyway. I also asked them to remove some paintings that were in various places and which I thought made it seem a bit tacky. I think the finished product is very nice and has restored it to usability for decades to come. My pictures of it really aren’t the greatest, but I am trying to show the before and after.

Proving the Bible to Unbelievers

We have loads of apologetics books, websites and speakers out there, many of whom try to prove that the Bible is the Word of God. Calvin says this is essentially a waste of time:

But it is foolish to attempt to prove to infidels that the Scripture is the Word of God. This it cannot be known to be, except by faith.

The Omniscient Biblical Narrator

I was recently looking over some of what Meir Sternberg wrote about the omniscient narrator in the Bible. Today I read the account of Ahab and Naboth in I Kings 21 and it brought Sternberg to mind again. The narrator of the account has access to Ahab’s conversation with Naboth, Jezebel’s conversation with Ahab, Jezebel’s letters to the elders and nobles of the city, and Elijah’s condemnation of Ahab. How can this be? We are never told of course.

The omniscient viewpoint is often used by the writers of the Bible and we often think nothing of it as we read. Perhaps later writers had access to sources around Ahab, or perhaps God simply revealed all of it to Elijah or a scribe of Elijah’s. Who knows? The Bible is very quiet about its method of composition and we can’t really peer behind the scenes with any confidence.

Against Antinomianism

A central characteristic of the churches and of modern preaching and Biblical teaching is antinomianism, an anti-law position. The antinomian believes that faith frees the Christian from the law, so that he is not outside the law but is rather dead to the law. There is no warrant whatsoever in Scripture for antinomianism. The expression, “dead to the law,” is indeed in Scripture (Gal. 2:9; Rom. 7.4), but it has reference to the believer in relationship to the atoning work of Christ as the believer’s representative and substitute; the believer is dead to the law an an indictment, a legal sentence of death against him, Christ having died for him, but the believer is alive to the law as the righteousness of God.

– R.J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, 2-3


Cambridge Cameo – Unchanged

I was admiring these photos of the Cambridge Cameo Reference Bible (KJV) when it occurred to me that my Mom’s Bible [that I just had rebound] is also from Cambridge. I wondered how much the layout might be different from edition to edition. Mom’s was printed in the 1970’s, 30 plus years ago. What I found is that there seems to be no difference at all. The typesetting is the same, the notes are the same, the page numbers are the same, etc. Look at the pictures below, first of the new edition, then of my Mom’s edition: