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.






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