Saul Among the Prophets
1 Samuel 10:1–16
1st & 2nd Samuel Lesson #039
January 26, 2016
“Our Father, it is a wonderful privilege we have to know You. We know You because of Your grace—that You took the initiative from eternity past to plan a perfect salvation for us that would involve sending Your Son to enter into human history and to go to the Cross to pay the penalty for our sins. That is exceptional news, great news, that we can have eternal life.
Though we live in this horrible pit that has been corrupted by sin, we know that one day it will be redeemed, that we will be with You, and there will no longer be any sorrow, tears, pain or suffering because all of these things will have passed away. But in the meantime, we are to learn about You and learn how You provide for us and how You sustain us to learn of Your integrity.
We pray that we will not lose sight of that - that this is to be our primary mission. And we need not be distracted by the cares and the vicissitudes of life that we face every day. We pray that we might keep our focus on You. In Christ’s name, Amen.”
Open your Bible with me to 1 Samuel 10. We are continuing in this second section with Saul. This is one of those fun passages that I like to study because it is one of those passages that if you are reading through your Bible, if you are following the Bible challenge, like Ray Mondragon’s, I think you ought to be almost through with Exodus 10. You are going to run into a few things here and there, and even in Exodus, where it may cause your eyebrow to go up just a little bit. You wonder what in the world does that mean (?).
This is one of those passages. When you hit it, you really wonder what in the world does that mean (?). It just seems to not fit with certain other things that you know about prophets and prophecy. It is important for you to be aware of that. We will get into this. It is the episode with Saul among the prophets. There is a similar situation in 1 Samuel 19.
- 1 Samuel 1–7—Samuel is the focal point.
- 1 Samuel 8–15—We see the rise of Saul.
- 1 Samuel 16–31—We see the decline of Saul and the rise of David at that same time.
These events that we are studying are all taking place down here around Ramah . This is Samuel’s hometown. And just south of Ramah is Gibeah, which is Saul’s hometown. North of there is Bethel, which later on will be a major site in Old Testament history. This is almost like a ridge line. In fact, the major highway in Israel today goes right up this route past Bethel, Shiloh, all the way up to Shechem and further north.
Just to familiarize you a little bit with what is going on here, that is the background. This is where Saul has been led by the Lord, working behind the scenes, not overtly. God did not say, Saul you need to go to Ramah and meet Samuel. But God worked providentially in the background through various circumstances.
The she-asses that were owned by Saul’s father wandered off. Saul was sent on a mission to find them. He could not find them no matter what he was doing. But God was using that to bring him into Ramah.
In the previous lesson in 1 Samuel 9, we saw how God worked through His servant. Saul was ready to go home. But his servant knew that Samuel lived in the area, and suggested that they seek him out as a man of God that might be able to give them some guidance.
The fact that Saul is ignorant of Samuel, ignorant of Samuel’s presence in Ramah, when Samuel is the most significant leader in Israel at the time, is the first foreshadowing of the fact that Saul is spiritually uninterested. He is spiritually ignorant and dense. That is going to play out in a couple of different ways as we go through the passage.
In terms of the structure, what we have looked at in the beginning, is that the Lord is selecting and anointing Saul to be king over Israel.
- This is the first part of this subdivision between 1 Samuel 9–15. In this first subsection, the Lord is selecting, identifying for Samuel who the one will be who will be the first divinely appointed ruler of Israel. Last time we looked at 1 Samuel 9:1–27.
- This time, in 1 Samuel 10:1–16 we will see how the Lord directs Samuel to anoint Saul, and then confirms that appointment through the changes to Saul and how Saul will fall in with this group of prophets.
This is really an odd situation. A lot of things come out as we study this and think about what happens here.
I want to pick up with 1 Samuel 9:27. If you recall, as we finished up 1 Samuel 9, they had spent the night. They rose up early in Ramah, 1 Samuel 9:26, and at the dawning of the day, Samuel went to call Saul.
Saul is sleeping up on top of the house. This would have been the coolest place to sleep. Often in the warm periods of the year, heat rises and the upper room would be a warm place to sleep. The upper room was usually a guestroom. Often in the summer they would sleep up on the roof.
I remember when I was a little boy, my grandmother had a lake house up on a lake just outside of Gonzales, Texas. This house was probably built back in the 1930s. It had a very large screened-in porch, and there were probably six or seven chaise lounges that would fold down into a bed on the porch. From the late spring to the early fall, when we would go out there, we would end up sleeping out there. There were ceiling fans, and that is how you kept cool at night.
I remember back before air-conditioning, often when it was really sticky and warm at night, my mother would soak a sheet in water and wring it out to slightly damp, and you’d go to sleep under that. Evaporation is a cooling process, so that would cool you off at night. That is how old-timers, before all this modern technology, would survive the warm humid summers in Gulf Coast Texas.
So Saul was sleeping up on the roof. Samuel calls him to wake-up and come down. They left, and as they were going down to the outskirts of the city, Samuel says in1 Samuel 9:27, “Tell the servant to go on ahead of us.” That is going to leave Samuel and Saul alone. The servant goes on ahead. And Samuel says to Saul, “But you stand here awhile, that I may announce to you the word of God.”
We read in 1 Samuel 10:1, “Then Samuel took a flask of oil and poured it on his head, and kissed him and said: ‘Is it not because the Lord has anointed you commander over His inheritance?’ ”
A couple of things that we need to observe here:
After the servant goes on ahead, Samuel says to Saul that he has something to tell him. He said, “you stand here awhile, that I may announce to you the word of God.” This is the Hebrew word shama, the basic verb in the qal stem, the basic stem of any verb. It means “to hear” or “to listen,” but in the hiphel stem this is a causative stem. It means “to cause to hear” or “cause to listen.”
Basically what Samuel is saying is, “I want to cause you, Saul, to listen to this. I want to give you a message.” This is an important word because as we get down into the core of this section, and we are talking about Saul, he runs into these prophets who are singing. It says that Saul prophesied among the prophets.
Our frame of reference when we read this is that prophecy is announcing the Word of God. We think, from our background, that a prophet is an individual who has been gifted by God, who is going to speak as God’s spokesperson to the people.
If you come to the Word of God from some background—and many who are from liberal backgrounds, who do not necessarily have a trust in the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s Word, and many who have been influenced by subjective mysticism miss this, because they are immediately reading something into the text that is not there—this shows us that the role of the prophet was not mystical. It is not ecstatic.
Ecstasy has nothing whatsoever to do with how God reveals Himself to His people in any dispensation. I had one pastor one time make the comment that ecstasy would be normative in the Millennial Kingdom.
Ecstasy is not normative at any time because ecstasy is the modus operandi of paganism. It is subjectivism and mysticism. It has never characterized a biblical prophet.
- A biblical prophet is communicating information revealed to them by God to the audience God intends them to give it.
A biblical prophet does not change its meaning when you get into the Millennial Kingdom.
We get this mentality that somehow there is something that is like the theme to Twilight Zone. There is something weird going on. It is mystical. If you start with the text of Scripture, you will not find that.
When in the life of Samuel, in these eight chapters, have we ever gotten a sense that Samuel, functioning as a prophet, is going into some kind of a trance state, some ecstatic state, or some kind of mystical irrational state from God?
God objectively spoke to Samuel.
Remember when Samuel was a little boy and he is in the tabernacle, and God speaks to him? Samuel talks back to God in a rational, logical conversation. This is not some sort of trance like mysticism that you see, for example, among the plains Indians at the time of the American west in the 19th century.
Now I love reading. There is a great book that came out a couple of years ago, Empire of the Summer Moon, dealing with the Comanches. Great book. Tremendous book. It was all about the Comanches and the wars against the settlers in Texas. It specifically focused on their great war chief Quanah Parker.
It just so happened that the very first person that I worked for after I got out of college and was teaching in Channelview, running an in-school suspension class, it was under the authority of the counseling department. I had this short round red-headed Irishman named Gene O’Quinn who was my boss, except that Gene took after his father. His mother was the youngest daughter of Quanah Parker.
Gene O’Quinn was an interesting guy. He had all these pictures of his grandfather in the office. He said, you know, all these pictures were taken the same day. All the chiefs in the tribe had been sitting around in the peyote tent chewing on the peyote button. Chief Quanah was the first one to get it. He would chew it and chew it and chew it. He would get the most of the hallucinogenic drug. Then he would give it to the next guy. It would go all the way down the totem pole to the lowest guy in the hierarchy.
Gene said that if you look closely at those pictures, you will see that he is just as spaced out and as high as he could be. You can see that glazed look in his eye.
That is mysticism. That is going into an altered state of consciousness in order to somehow get in touch with the divine, get in touch with God, or whatever it is you want to call it. That is what they did, but that is paganism.
That is not what biblical prophets did.
This shows us, as an example of what I will say when we get down to that section of passage, Samuel’s methodology. He is not dancing. He is not taking drugs. He is not getting high. He is not getting into an altered state of consciousness. He is not trying to get Saul to come along with that. Samuel says, “Let me cause you to hear. Let me announce to you. Let me communicate to you the message of God.”
- It is rational.
- It is thought out.
- It is everyday communication.
Samuel explains to Saul that God has chosen him to be the king of Israel. Samuel takes the flask of olive oil, pours it on his head, and kisses him showing great respect and grace orientation to God’s choice. Samuel says, “Is it not because the Lord has anointed you commander over His inheritance?”
The word that is translated “anointed” is the Hebrew word mashach, which is converted into a noun as mashiach, which is where we get the anglicized form messiah, that means simply someone who is anointed, or appointed to a task.
It does not mean necessarily that the person is a believer, although I think Saul was a believer. But the mashiach does not necessarily indicate someone who is a believer. We have run into this word before.
In 1 Samuel 2:10, interestingly enough, the verb is only used two times prior to this:
In Leviticus 7:36, Israel is anointed by God. They are appointed to a specific mission as a priest nation to all the nations.
And in Numbers 7:1, there is furniture that is anointed. That is non-personal.
Anointing is not too dissimilar from a word study on holy, kadosh/qadosh. If a vessel, a bowl, a wooden box can be “holy,” then it does not have a connotation at its core that relates to its relationship to God. That is why “holy” does not refer to moral purity because it is applied to a lot of inanimate objects that cannot be moral or immoral. They are simply set apart to the use of God.
Anointed is the same thing. It is appointed to be used by God for a specific purpose. Anointing does not say anything one way or the other about the spiritual status of the person that is anointed. But we see it used with reference to “The Messiah” in two places:
- 1 Samuel 2:10, the last verse in Hannah’s psalm: “Those who contend with the Lord will be shattered; against them He will thunder in the heavens. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; and He will give strength to His king …”
That is in parallelism to the phrase, “He will exalt the horn of His anointed,” where through divine inspiration and through her own meditation on Scripture, Hannah has connected the dots between the birth of Samuel and the ultimate arrival of God’s Messiah-King.
- In 1 Samuel 2:35 at the end of that chapter when an unnamed prophet came to Eli, this unnamed prophet announces God’s will, God’s statement that “I will raise up for Myself a faithful priest ...”that would be Samuel … “… who will do according to what is in My heart and in My soul; and I will build him an enduring house, and he will walk before My anointed always.”
Again, this is a reference to The Messiah-King. These are subtle illusions in 1 Samuel 2.
A verse where this word mashiach is used and applied to a non-Jew in the Old Testament is Cyrus. I have heard some people say that because he is stated as God’s“anointed” that Cyrus must have been saved. He might have been saved, but not on the basis of this verse.
Being anointed or appointed to a divine task does not mean you are saved or unsaved. It just means that God chose Cyrus for a specific mission. That was to send the Jews back to the land, to authorize their return to the land. This was a prophecy given in Isaiah 45:1 some 100 years plus, almost 200 years before Cyrus was present on the earth.
Isaiah 45:1, “Thus says the Lord to Cyrus His anointed, whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut.”
Samuel, after anointing Saul, which shows that he is appointed to a specific task, to rule Israel, then gives him specific instructions. Why does he give these instructions?
He gives these instructions because the “anointing” is a very private ceremony. Remember, he told the servant to go on ahead. It is just Saul and Samuel.
A principle that I have been trying to drill into y’all all the way through this, because it shows the error of mysticism, is that God does not speak in private without giving an objective public validation of what He does in private.
This happened to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus—that this is a private experience where the Lord Jesus Christ speaks to Saul of Tarsus, and Saul becomes a believer. But it is confirmed because God said for Paul to go into Damascus, and you are going to meet a man named Ananias. He is going to restore your sight. There is objective validation and verification of something that otherwise could have been simply a subjective psychological experience.
Trust me, critics of Christianity come along all the time and say that is all it was: that Paul had a subjective psychological experience due to his guilt complex from having murdered so many Christians. But that denies the rest of the evidence in the text.
What happens now in 1 Samuel 10 is that God through Samuel gives Saul instructions so that there will be objective evidence validating the private act of anointing, showing to the nation that Saul is indeed God’s choice to rule the nation.
1 Samuel 10:2, “When you have departed from me today, you will find two men by Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah ...” This was just down the road from Ramah. “… and these two men will say to you …”
I want you to notice something here. When we talk about biblical prophecy, this is not about the kind of prophecy that you go to when you see the house where it says: “Spiritual Readers,” “Spiritual Advisor,” “Tarot Card Reader,” Palm Reader,” where you go in and you get somebody who is very intuitive and makes several guesses, reads your body language, makes certain guesses, and makes you think that they have really figured out what is going on in your life.
The gullible and the easily duped are just convinced that this person is able to tell their future, but those situations are always couched in very general-type terms.
Unlike biblical prophecy that is very precise. In fact, there are passages like the passages we saw in Isaiah 45:1. Almost 200 years prior to the arrival of Cyrus on the historical scene, he is identified by name by Isaiah the prophet.
We have the same kind of thing happening in 1 Kings where this unnamed prophet comes up to Jeroboam. Jeroboam is sacrificing to a false god as he is setting up these false altars at Bethel and in Dan. This unnamed prophet says that a king named Josiah will come. He will destroy this altar. That again is not for another 200 years plus, and Josiah comes.
There is specificity in biblical prophecy that goes beyond people like Nostradamus and all these other quacks that people go to saying there are other people who make prophecy. Not like the Bible.
In 1 Samuel 10:2 Samuel says there are going to be “two men.” Not three men, not one man, not a man and a woman, but “two men by Rachel’s tomb.” That is how you can identify them. They will tell you that the donkeys are okay. Those she-asses are just fine. You do not need to worry about them anymore. Your father is not worried about them anymore. They have been taken back and everything is fine. You can go on about God’s mission without worrying about your other tasks.
1 Samuel 10:3, “Then you shall go on forward from there and come to the terebinth tree of Tabor.”
Go back to the map
By the way, that is the name of the assault rifle that the Israeli army uses, the Tabor. It is spelled tabor, but the way you pronounce it is tavor. The b is pronounced like a “v.”
It is probably a village that is nearby. I do not think that Saul would have been going as far north as Mt. Tabor.
1 Samuel 10:3, “… you will come to the terebinth tree of Tabor. There three men going up to God at Bethel ...” Bethel is very close. This would be the village that is there. Three men of God “going up to Bethel will meet you, one carrying three young goats,” not two, not an old one, not a ewe, “three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread,” not two, not three, not four, “and another carrying a skin of wine,” not two. See the specificity.
This relates to the doctrines of bibliology, inerrancy, and infallibility, the specificity of prophet, because if Samuel was wrong in any detail, it is the death penalty. He does not get the chance to say “oops, I just kind of misread the leaves. One got under the cup a little too far. I said three, and it should have been four.” He is right on the target because according to Deuteronomy 13 and 18, if he is wrong it is the death penalty.
Samuel goes on to say in 1 Samuel 10:4–5, “And they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you shall receive from their hands.” They will keep one for themselves and give you two. “After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you come there to the city that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying.”
You have a small orchestra, a small ensemble that has been up at this high place worshiping God. But what happens is that we have got a view of prophecy that fits what Samuel said to Saul back in 1 Samuel 9:27–10:1 that does not fit this.
What does it mean that Saul is going to be prophesying with them? Later it will become proverbial that Saul is going to be numbered among the prophets.
We read in 1 Samuel 10:6–7, “Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you …” I want you to notice that it is not “in you.” The prepositions here in the Hebrew are very important. The Spirit of the Lord is going to “come upon you.”
This is from an external viewpoint. “The spirit of the Lord will come upon you and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you.”
If you will look at this from the vantage point of your background and the vantage point of our culture, then it looks like this is some kind of subjective, ecstatic experience—that this fits a pattern that we would see that is similar but different among pagan prophets and priests.
In fact, this is basically the contention of a number of liberal theologians that interpret this. This liberal scholarship has influenced a number of evangelicals. I have never really heard anybody else teach on this, but I was fortunate enough to have had a professor in seminary recommend an article by Leon Wood.
Leon Wood was a very well-known Baptist Bible teacher. He taught at Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary. He wrote a commentary on Judges and Daniel. I think he died in the 1970s. He was a very good thinker in terms of Old Testament studies. He wrote an article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society called “Ecstasy and Israel’s Early Prophets.” It was not a very long article. But he was so clear in his analysis of what was going on in Israel. He was making the case that what was going on in Israel among the prophets was not to be compared with the ecstatic operations of the prophets of the pagan religions.
Let’s just start with a couple of definitions to understand what ecstasy is:
1. First of all I am going to give you Leon Wood’s definition where he is talking about the different ways in which these prophets are described and analyzed:
“One is by ecstatic frenzy. In ecstatic frenzy the subject seeks to withdraw his mind from conscious participation in the world so that it may be open to the reception of the divine word.”
In other words, the individual is trying to clear out his mind. This is like Eastern mysticism as well. You empty your minds so that something will fill that vacuum, expecting that somehow if you empty your mind that you will come in touch with a divine message.
“To achieve that ecstatic state, poisonous gas may be employed ...”
There is a very famous place in Greece where the priestess would sit over this hole. The gases would come up. She would go into this altered state of consciousness. As a result of that she would actually speak in glossolalic, in ecstatic utterance. This kind of thing entered into the Greek culture by way of Asia Minor.
In Asia Minor you had the mystery religions of the Cybele and Attis cults and the Dionysian cult. As a result of that, this spread westward into Greece. It spread southward into what we would say now is Syria. But this is sort of a northern Canaanite type of culture.
It influenced the Phoenicians, Baal worship, and all of the fertility cults were influenced by this. It also spread somewhat eastward.
This was the idea: that poisonous gas might be employed, or arrhythmic dance. This would also happen in the Dionysian religion. The Maenads that were involved would dance. They would drink wine, because they are worshiping the god of wine. They would use wine to get into this altered state of consciousness. That is why you have to understand that background to catch what Paul was talking about in Ephesians 5:18, when he says, “Do not be drunk with wine.”
Paul is not talking about being drunk. That is how most people with no understanding of the background interpret that, which is understandable. But see, alcohol, wine, was being used in the worship of Dionysus in Ephesus, as well as over in Greece, as a way of getting into this ecstatic trance so that the god could enter into your body and could speak through you in ecstatic gibberish. That was thought to be the voice of God.
As you can understand, this is a background for understanding the confusion that occurred in Corinth over speaking in tongues. It was through dancing and through narcotics that the individual would lose all rational contact with the world and have this so called rapport with the spirit realm.
I am going to take you from Leon Wood’s definition to give you another definition that is very similar to that, which is found in the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible.
2. In the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible we read:
“The ecstatic prophet achieves a trance-like state by self-induced means. The most common devices used to achieve a state of ecstasy were musical instruments, such as the harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre [then they cite this passage] (1 Samuel 10:5).”
See, what they have done is gone to this view and assumed that what is happening in the Bible is the same thing that was happening in these other cultures. They go on to say:
“Among the prophets of Baal, self-flagellation was another means of inducing ecstasy (1 Kings 18:28, 29).”
Let me read what they say next from Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible:
“The kind of prophetic ecstasy was usually practiced by groups of prophets (1 Samuel 10:5), and such ecstasy was contagious.” [That is how they are going to explain what happened to Saul. It is “contagious.”] “And when Saul met a band of such prophets, the Spirit of God came upon him and he too began to prophesy, a phenomena which occurred repeatedly to various messengers sent by Saul on a later occasion (1 Samuel 19:20–22.) Then Saul also prophesied in his ecstatic behavior described in 1 Samuel 19:24).”
What is going on here? What we see is you have to ask the chicken and the egg question:
- If you believe the Bible, what came first, the chicken or the egg? The chicken.
You ask another question:
- What came first, biblically revealed religion, or these world religions of the ancient world, which came first? The biblical truth came first.
Even if the Bible is not written until 1400 BC, what Moses is writing down in 1400 BC is not something that evolved from polytheism, from animism and spiritism to polytheism and eventually to monotheism, and all of a sudden Moses has this great new insight. That is what I was taught in Western Civilization many years ago in college. That is what is still taught.
That is the world’s view of the evolution of world religions. It does not believe that the Bible is an objective, historical revelation of God, Who created the heavens, the earth, the seas and all that is in them, to man. It is man’s recording of his religious experiences. That is liberalism. This dominates liberal scholarship.
Their starting point is an anti-supernatural bias.
For them, when they look at history, they see that in the area of modern Turkey or Asia Minor, in the period from 1000–2000 BC, this kind of mystical trance-like behavior developed. It influenced the Greeks, Canaanites, Phoenicians, and the Syrians to the south, and it enters into Israel’s history at that point, so that Israel develops these prophets that really are following the MO, modus operandi, of the pagans.
These liberals are seeing that there is no difference. The Jewish prophets are not any different from the other prophets. They just have a higher moral standard as a result of the Mosaic Law. We always have to question this kind of thinking. This is their basic viewpoint.
Leon Wood has a quote here from an article called “Prophecy” in a book called Record and Revelation, by an Old Testament scholar of a previous generation. This book was published in 1938. This is how they describe what is going on in 1 Samuel 10:
“These persons are pictured as moving through the land in rather wild bands, chanting in loud voices, and making ecstatic inquiry for people upon request. The people are thought to have accepted them as holy because they did conduct themselves in this manner, considering their ability to achieve the ecstatic state a badge of their authority.”
This is charismania transported back into the ancient world. It often went along with the fertility religions. Fertility religions were just the older and antiquated form of prosperity theology. It is like how do you want to be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous in an agricultural environment? You have got to somehow go placate the gods of fertility, which means that you go emulate sexual acts in the temples of Baal and the Asherah in order to try to get them to get the point of making the crops fertile. A very primitive idea.
It is easy to see how this happens when our starting point is our own experience. Then when we read something like this in the Bible, we read our experience back into what we read in the Bible. If you have seen something like this in other religions, then you just think, well the Bible is just doing what these other people did. No. These other people represent a degenerate form of what was originally practiced in relationship to God.
Another example of this that you will see is the example of 2 Samuel 6:14 talking about David dancing before the Lord. We read in 2 Samuel 6:14, “Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod.”
Two verses later we read in 1 Samuel 6:16, “Now as the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw king David leaping and whirling before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.”
If you grew up in a post-Elvis Presley rock-and-roll world, which I think applies to everybody in this audience, then when you read this, your frame of reference is what you did at a sock-hop, or what you did at a dance, or what you did just standing up at a rock concert in the 1980s or1990s.
You are just doing your own dancing and gyrating to the music without any regard to what anybody else is doing. You are just doing your own thing. It is purely a self-oriented form of dancing. There is no structure, no guidelines, and no organization. That is our frame of reference.
If you saw the film with Richard Gere of King David (an image I wish I could get out of my head) when he is interpreting this and he is dancing before the Lord, his ephod is more like a big diaper. He is out dancing and tumbling, gyrating, and all of this as his interpretation of this. But look at the verbs that are used:
- “dancing” before the Lord with all your strength, with all your energy.
- “whirling and leaping”
Whirling and leaping does not necessarily interpret to mean some sort of subjective free-form praise dancing. You would use those same words to describe Baryshnikov or Nureyev. You would use those same terms if you recently have been to the ballet. You could use those terms to describe any of the dances going on that are very structured and very disciplined and have order to them.
Even a lot of contemporary dance is also that way. It is very structured, organized, and orderly. It is not just whimsical and random. But people will read this into the text. This is a problem. We cannot read our experiences into the text. This is not how these cultures function.
What we have to do is look at the biblical evidence of prophets. How did prophets function? Do we have an image of irrational, ecstatic, trance-like conduct in the prophets that are mentioned in the Scripture?
Let’s run through some of the evidence:
1. The first thing we ought to look at, in terms of the evidence that would contradict this liberal view of ecstasy, is the evidence of Moses himself.
Remember, Moses is the preeminent prophet of the Old Testament. In Deuteronomy 18:15–18, he is the one who said there will be a prophet like me who will come. That is a messianic announcement of the future Prophet. Moses is the preeminent standard of a prophet. He calls himself a prophet.
In the Hebrew this is nabiy. Moses uses nabiy to describe himself and to describe the supreme preeminent Prophet of the Messiah who will come in the future. But when we look at the evidence of Moses he is not ecstatic.
- When did Moses ever go into a trance-like state?
- When does Moses go smoking dope, chewing the peyote button, or sniffing poisonous gas like the Oracle of Delphi?
- When does Moses do this kind of thing to bring on this altered state of consciousness?
Not only does Moses not do it at all, but if you look at Deuteronomy 18:9–14, he specifically warns the people against following the practices of the idolatrous nations around them—including all of their sacrifices and the way they approach their gods.
Moses is contrasting the way God spoke to him, and God’s relationship to him, a unique relationship where God spoke to him face-to-face, mouth-to-mouth as it is stated literally. It is totally contrasted. It is 180 degrees different from the methodologies of paganism.
Let me remind you of a couple of really basic obvious rules that seem to escape a lot of people. Someone once said that there is one thing about common sense. It is that it is not common. A lot of the reading of the text needs to be just common sense, but it is very uncommon because people are always trying to find something hidden in the text.
Moses speaks directly from God. He speaks in sentences. He does not speak in gibberish. He makes it very clear what he is speaking about, and he makes this contrast, 180-degree contrast, between what he is doing and what the pagans do. What we have in modern liberalism is that they want to blend the two. All religion is the same.
What happens is that if you have a presupposition that all religion is the same, and we all worship the same god? Do you know what happens? You know what the end result of that is? It is going on right now in Europe. You have roving bands of North Africans and Middle Eastern young males who are raping women left and right because in their view, to worship Allah means that these Christian women are just there for their own personal pleasure.
Yet, neither the news media or the politicians have the courage to tell us what is going on because it violates their deeply held presupposition that all religions are the same and Allah, Yahweh, and whoever you worship are all the same. There is no difference.
It is a religious ignorance that is going to self-destruct on western civilization. There is a radical difference in the Bible, in the Torah, between how God communicates through the Nevi’im, the prophets, and how the gods of the pagans work with their prophets.
Who is the first person who is identified as a prophet in the Bible?
The first person identified is identified by God as a prophet. It takes place in Genesis 20. In Genesis 20 we have a situation where Abraham has once again not been totally honest about his relationship with his half-sister Sarah, to whom he is also married.
When he comes into the Philistine city of Gerar, the Philistine leader’s name is Abimelech. That was probably his title. Abraham does not want to cause a problem because his wife is so beautiful. Abraham tells Abimelech that “this is my sister.”
Abimelech thinks that if this is his sister, then I will just make her part of my harem. He is going to bring her into his harem, but God is going to protect her womb because the Promised Seed is going to come through Sarah. God comes to Abimelech that night in a dream and basically threatens his life—that if you touch Sarah, you are going to die.
But in the process He says in Genesis 20:7, “Now therefore, restore the man’s wife;”talking about Abraham “for he is a prophet.”That he is a recipient of divine revelation, who will then pass it on to others.
- Where do we see Abraham using mind-altering drugs, hallucinogenic drugs?
- Where do we see him dancing around before the Lord trying to get into some sort of hallucinogenic state?
What we do see is God in His initiating grace, which I talked about Sunday morning—that we respond to God only because God initiates to us. We do not find God. God finds us. This is exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are not looking for God. When God shows up, what did they do? Did they run to Him and throw their arms around Him and say, oh, we really messed up? No. Adam and Eve ran and hid in fear.
God is the One who is seeking them out. We do not see that in Abraham. Abraham is the recipient of God’s initiation to seek out Abraham. Abraham has already believed in God. God is seeking him out to take him to another level in terms of His plan for Abraham, which is not related to his salvation. That is what happens with Abraham. You do not see that ecstatic evidence there.
2. The next time we see the word mentioned is in Exodus 7:1–2.
This is interesting because God is speaking here. Moses has said, “Lord do not send me to Pharaoh.” He is kind of whiny and to play up the stuttering part he is probably saying something like L-L-L-LORD, I s-s-s-stutter. And the Lord says, we will give you a spokesperson. He is going to be your brother Aaron. But you will be to Pharaoh like God, and Aaron will be to Pharaoh like your prophet. God gives us a really clear understanding here of the relationship between the prophet and the pharaoh:
Exodus 7:1, “So the Lord said to Moses: ‘See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet.”
The next verse tells us what a prophet does:
Exodus 7:2,“You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh to send the children of Israel out of the land.”
How does prophecy work?
It is just communication. “I am going to tell you what you are supposed to say. You will communicate it to Aaron and he communicates it to Pharaoh.” It is basic communication. There is nothing there that indicates some sort of trance-like state, getting into an altered state of consciousness, or anything else like that.
3. The next example is an interesting one because it throws your whole paradigm and the normal Christian paradigm of a prophet completely screwy.
This is in Exodus 15:20–21. Miriam, Aaron’s and Moses’ sister.
Exodus 15:20–21, “Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took the timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances.”
This sounds more like 1 Samuel 10 than the other examples. There is music involved. There is dancing involved.
“And Miriam answered them: ‘Sing to the Lord.”There is singing involved. “ ‘… for He has triumphed gloriously! The horse and its rider He has thrown into the sea!’ ”This example of Miriam prophesying does not fit the other examples.
But is this ecstatic or is it something else?
Let’s keep looking.
Numbers 11 is one of the three passages that the pro-ecstatic crowd goes to support their position: Numbers 11; 1 Samuel 10; and 1 Samuel 19.
Certainly, Deuteronomy 18 does not fit their scenario, neither do the other passages.
This is a simple situation related to the seventy elders that Moses identifies. God gives him guidance in order to appoint them, so they will help to lead the nation. We are told:
Numbers 11:25, “Then the Lord came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him (Moses), and placed the same upon the seventy elders …”The Spirit of God is now going to be working through these seventy elders. “… and it happened, when the spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they ever did so again.”
It is evidence. What did they do, whatever that was? We will figure it out in a little bit. It has to do with authenticating their new position of authority, leadership, and the fact that it is the result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit of God.
There were two men of the seventy that did not make roll call. When it came time to form up, they were still sleeping in, so they are back in the camp:
Numbers 11:26, “But two men had remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them. Now they were among those listed, but who had not gone out to the tabernacle; yet they prophesied in the camp.”
Whatever that is, they are doing it back in the camp, and they kept doing it.
Numbers 11:27, “And a young man ran and told Moses, and said, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ ”
This young man thinks it is a problem because he says this can lead to a problem with your authority and insurrection. This did not, but insurrection is coming in the next couple of chapters in Numbers.
Numbers 11:28–29, “So Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, one of his choice men, answered and said, ‘Moses my lord, forbid them!’ Then Moses said to him, ‘Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!’ ”
Moses said this is not a bad thing. This is a good thing. But, what is this thing about prophecy?
In Judges 4:1 we have Deborah, a prophetess, like Miriam, a prophetess.
- But what in the world does Deborah do, other than go along with General Barak to defeat Sisera and the Canaanites?
- What does she do?
Judges 5:1, “Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day …”
This is like what goes on back in Exodus 15 with Miriam—singing to the Lord.
The next one to look at is Samuel. This is what Leon Wood says in his article.
“Samuel is repeatedly portrayed, and never shows ecstatic traits. Indeed, scholars who hold to the ecstatic idea for other prophets, readily assert that Samuel was of another type, the ‘seer’ (roʾeh)” [from the Hebrew verb raah, meaning “to see”].
But we saw earlier that “seers” were called that before. Later on they were called prophets. That is what the text explains. Leon Wood says:
“Seers, in contrast to prophets [according to the pro-ecstatic crowd], are said to have been quiet persons, waiting for inquirers to come to them. But moving through history further, we find the same, non-ecstatic manner of prophecy with Nathan (2 Samuel 7:2; 12:25), Gad (2 Samuel 24:11), Ahijah (1 Kings 11:29; 14:2–18), and others. Though not much is stated regarding any one of them, never are they depicted in a way to suggest any kind of irrational, ecstatic behavior to their prophetic activities.”
They are not mystical. Mysticism and ecstatics go hand and hand. So what is going on here?
There appear to be two different concepts or meanings going on in prophecy. So we will close with this, 1 Chronicles 25:1–3. Very few people read through Chronicles for their devotions. They get started and the first nine chapters are just name lists. They get bored and go read something more exciting, like Zechariah or Haggai.
1 Chronicles 25:1, “Moreover David and the captains of the army separated for the service some of the sons of Asaph …”
These are priests that are going to serve in the tabernacle worship and later in the temple. It is just called basic organization. We are going to divide everybody up into groups, and people are going to serve at different times in the tabernacle. There is going to be a structure. Everything is done orderly because God is a God of order.
He separates “the sons of Asaph, of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should …” What are they going to do? They are going to “prophesy with harps, stringed instruments, and cymbals.”
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel did not do that. What is going on here? They prophesy with musical instruments through an orchestra. This is not some sort of ecstatic rambling, somebody playing and doing a little impromptu musical reflection. They had a very well structured orchestra. This is listing some of the various instruments in the orchestra. They were skilled men performing their service.
1 Chronicles 25:2, “Of the sons of Asaph: Zeccur, Joseph, Nethaniah, and Ashareiah; the sons of Asaph were under the direction of Asaph, who prophesied according to the order of the king.”
This is not extemporaneous. This is planned according to the order of the king.
1 Chronicles 25:3, “Of Jeduthun, the sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattihiah, six, under the direction of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied with a harp to give thanks and praise to the Lord.”
This is where we get the meaning of the word “prophesy”—to give thanks and praise to the Lord.
Prophesy is not limited to communicating God’s objective Word of condemnation or judgment to Israel, but it is also related to giving thanks and praise to God.
When we look at 1 Samuel 10, we can read it with understanding. There is a group of prophets coming down from the high place. They have their musical instruments with them, and they were prophesying. They were giving thanks and praise to God. They were singing hymns, the psalms, to God.
1 Samuel 10:6,“Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them.”
You will start singing the psalms with them. You will be a part of their worship to the Lord.
“And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; God is with you.”
It goes on from there. This is what happens in 1 Samuel 19. It is not some sort of mystical trance where suddenly they start speaking in tongues or some kind of ecstatic revelation. They are expressing thanks to God and worshiping Him on the basis of the revealed truth that they have. That is what it means to prophesy.
- That is what is going on with Miriam. Miriam the prophetess is not a prophet in the sense of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Haggai, Zechariah, Amos, and all the others. She is composing hymns of praise to God.
- That is what Deborah did, composing hymns to God that had deep rich content and excellent music.
“Father, thank You for the opportunity to study these things this evening, and to help us to understand what Your Word says, that if we interpret Scripture in the light of Scripture we understand the uniqueness of Your Word. This is not like any other religion, because You are not a God like any other god. You are the God who created the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that is in them. You are the God that planned a perfect plan of salvation that would provide for the payment of the penalty of sin that we might have eternal life simply by trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior. Not by works, not by working ourselves up into some kind of revelatory situation, not by sniffing gas like the Oracle of Delphi, but by just reading and understanding Your Word through the ministry of God the Holy Spirit enlightening our souls to the truth and responding in faith alone. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”