Prophetic Singing in God’s Church

I have mentioned before about how my ministry is nothing like what I initially planned. It seems to me that God has closed all of the doors I wanted to open for myself and opened completely different doors. This is exactly what we see playing out as we read the story of Saul’s anointing and appointment as king over Israel. I would run into the doors I wanted to walk through before stumbling through the doors God actually opened. Before I walked through each door, I wondered if that was actually where God wanted me to be. With every step, even though I lacked faith, God would confirm His calling on my life. We are going to see this in Saul’s life as well.

There are many people who wonder whether or not they are doing what God wants them to be doing, where God wants them to be, or serving in the correct church and in the way that God wants them to be serving. Has God revealed to us our specific callings? How does He confirm those callings?

1 Samuel 10:1-16

Then Samuel took the flask of oil, poured it on his head, kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you a ruler over His inheritance? When you go from me today, then you will find two men close to Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah; and they will say to you, ‘The donkeys which you went to look for have been found. Now behold, your father has ceased to be concerned about the donkeys and is anxious for you, saying, “What shall I do about my son?”’ Then you will go on further from there, and you will come as far as the oak of Tabor, and there three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you, one carrying three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a jug of wine; and they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from their hand. Afterward you will come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is; and it shall be as soon as you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and a lyre before them, and they will be prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man. It shall be when these signs come to you, do for yourself what the occasion requires, for God is with you. And you shall go down before me to Gilgal; and behold, I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings. You shall wait seven days until I come to you and show you what you should do.”

Then it happened when he turned his back to leave Samuel, God changed his heart; and all those signs came about on that day. When they came to the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them.

It came about, when all who knew him previously saw that he prophesied now with the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”

A man there said, “Now, who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place. 

Now Saul’s uncle said to him and his servant, “Where did you go?” And he said, “To look for the donkeys. When we saw that they could not be found, we went to Samuel.”

Saul’s uncle said, “Please tell me what Samuel said to you.”

So Saul said to his uncle, “He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.” But he did not tell him about the matter of the kingdom which Samuel had mentioned.

God’s instructions for Saul (v. 1-8)

Then Samuel took the flask of oil, poured it on his head, kissed him and said, “Has not the Lord anointed you a ruler over His inheritance? When you go from me today, then you will find two men close to Rachel’s tomb in the territory of Benjamin at Zelzah; and they will say to you, ‘The donkeys which you went to look for have been found. Now behold, your father has ceased to be concerned about the donkeys and is anxious for you, saying, “What shall I do about my son?”’ Then you will go on further from there, and you will come as far as the oak of Tabor, and there three men going up to God at Bethel will meet you, one carrying three young goats, another carrying three loaves of bread, and another carrying a jug of wine; and they will greet you and give you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from their hand.

As Samuel declared to Saul what was on God’s mind, he confirmed that God has anointed Saul a ruler over God’s own inheritance, Israel. We notice, here, that God clarifies Israel is His own inheritance. Ultimately, God is preparing this throne within His creation for Himself. Jesus Christ will be born and will forever sit on this throne that is being created in Israel through Saul. Saul, himself, will not inherit Israel. Israel is clearly identified as God’s own inheritance. 

God is giving some instructions to Saul through Samuel. As Saul travels home, it will be a spiritual pilgrimage for him. Through the things that Saul will experience, God will confirm His calling upon Saul’s life. Samuel is foretelling exactly the path that Saul will take and exactly the experiences that Saul will have while on this path that has been prepared by God and declared by God through Samuel.

On this pilgrimage home, Saul will pass by the oak of Tabor (Genesis 35:8) and enter Bethel, a town in the northern region of the land allotted to the tribe of Benjamin. Bethel is a name that means “Dwelling House of God,” and received its name when Jacob (who would be renamed Israel) dreamed of God renewing his promise in Genesis 28:19). In Bethel, there was a high place, a place of worship that many cities had, and Saul would encounter three men going up to the high place to offer a peace offering (described in Leviticus 7:11-17 and Numbers 15:1-13). The peace offering was an offering of praise and thanksgiving and was the same type of offering we saw Elkanah present to God with his family in the opening verses of 1 Samuel. They will give Saul two out of the three loaves of bread they are carrying, which means Saul will be included in their worship of God, their peace offering to Him.

This gives us a clue as to what kind of praise Saul will be caught up in. It will be praise of thanksgiving. Through 1 Samuel so far, we have seen offerings of thanksgiving and of lament. We have also seen illegitimate and insincere praise. 1 Samuel is a book full of praise through both offerings and song. We have seen that there is praise that honors God and praise that dishonors Him. The type of praise Saul will be caught up in will be joyful, honoring to God, and full of thanksgiving.

Afterward you will come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is; and it shall be as soon as you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and a lyre before them, and they will be prophesying. 

After Saul meets these worshippers, he will meet prophets who are coming down from the high place, the place of worship in Bethel. They will be playing music with multiple instruments and will be prophesying with the music. What? Now, the topic that the text presents us with, here, can be a confusing topic because there are so many people and churches that have extrapolated this out to mean something that is never described in God’s Bible. The narrow definition of prophecy in cultural Christianity today doesn’t necessarily represent the Biblical definition, which is broader. What does it mean that these people will all be parading, playing their instruments, and prophesying? What kind of prophets will these be? I will simply give you God’s explanation of this text through His Bible.

We know from our study of 1 Samuel so far that these prophets are not people who hold the Old Testament prophetic office. Samuel is the first and, at this point in God’s story, the only one who holds this office. This office, like the throne, will finally and forever be held by Christ alone. That is one type of prophet through the Scriptures. The second type of prophet that we see in the New Testament is the preacher or teacher of God’s word. The word, prophet, literally means “one who speaks God’s word.” Prophecy doesn’t necessarily refer to the act of foretelling the future. It simply means that someone is proclaiming God’s word. The third type of prophet is seen in this text. It is the singing prophet. The first singing prophet we see is in Exodus 15:20. Miriam, who was a Levite and Moses’ cousin, led the women in playing their instruments and dancing in celebration. The singing prophets were always Levites. Since we don’t want to take this text and read into it what is not there, we will look to a place in Scripture where the function of the singing prophet is described. King David will establish this position in 1 Chronicles 15:16-22:

Then David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their relatives the singers, with instruments of music, harps, lyres, loud-sounding cymbals, to raise sounds of joy. 

So the Levites appointed Heman the son of Joel, and from his relatives, Asaph the son of Berechiah; and from the sons of Merari their relatives, Ethan the son of Kushaiah, and with them their relatives of the second rank, Zechariah, Ben, Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed-edom and Jeiel, the gatekeepers.

So the singers, Heman, Asaph and Ethan were appointed to sound aloud cymbals of bronze; and Zechariah, Aziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah and Benaiah, with harps tuned to alamoth; and Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed-edom, Jeiel and Azaziah, to lead with lyres tuned to the sheminith. Chenaniah, chief of the Levites, was in charge of the singing; he gave instruction in singing because he was skillful.

Levites, the priests, were appointed as the leaders of Israel’s music ministry. They would play with a variety of instruments. They would be loud. They would play music that was joyful, celebratory. The chief of the Levites was in charge of the singing because he was skillful and able to give instruction in singing to the other singing Levites and to the nation of Israel. To see what kind of music they were singing, those things that were considered to be the songs of the singing prophets, all we have to do is read through the Psalms. We learn that this music coming from the singing prophets was not chaotic. People were not receiving random words from the Lord. It was skillfully written, composed, and planned. It was a Levite, one whose function was to teach the whole counsel of the Law (Deuteronomy 33:10), who was leading the music of the nation. This means that, by God’s own decree in His instruction to the Levites in His Law, even the music of the nation was to be a teaching of His explicit word. We have expository teaching. God’s instruction is also that we have expository music.

While the Old Testament prophetic office is eternally filled by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2), both the preaching prophet (priest) and the singing prophet have their New Testament counterparts. Click here to see more about the preaching prophet in the New Testament. Concerning the singing prophet, we look to Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:17-21 as key texts.

Colossians 3:16

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

The singing of the church has to do with thanksgiving and the substance is the word of Christ richly dwelling within us. Through this music, we get to teach and admonish one another with wisdom. The content of this singing is the Psalms, the hymns, and spiritual songs. This is God’s plan for music in His church. In a world which we get so caught up with our preferences, we miss out when God shares His preferences, and He does. The music of His people is to be His own word. We are to sing the Psalms. We are to sing doctrinally sound hymns. We are to be writing new doctrinally sound music. Music in God’s church accomplishes what a sermon accomplishes- teaching, admonishment, and thanksgiving to God. God has a plan for church music like He has a plan for preaching and teaching. We should not neglect one or the other like so many are in the habit of doing.

Ephesians 5:17-21

“So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”

Here we see the same instruction for the New Testament church. This is normative. We are to understand God’s will, which is described for us in His word. When we are filled with the Spirit, we sing the Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, making melody with our hearts to the Lord with thanksgiving. Every person is to participate in this sort of prophesying. When we see the instruction to prophesy in the New Testament, singing is one of the things being referred to along with instructing one another by teaching God’s word.

So, in the text we see a few principles for church music according to God’s own desire.

  1. The spiritual gift of music is a form of prophecy in the Old and New Testaments.
  2. The text points us to seek theologically trained, skilled, and Holy Spirit gifted pastors to lead church music.
  3. The text indicates that the normal mood of church music should be joyful, upbeat, and incorporate multiple singers and types of instruments- this is how the Psalms were sung.
  4. Next to the preaching of God’s word, which is the preeminent ministry of the local church, church music incorporates God’s words and is our proclamation to one another and our confession to God- making it almost as important as the spirit-filled preaching and teaching of the church and requiring almost as much time in the study of God’s word, in prayer, and in preparation; preparation that includes skillfully instructing others.
  5. It’s a full-time job and should be a priority for the church because God gives this instruction. We need teaching pastors and elders. We also need music pastors and elders. Local churches usually shift between two extremes. Either the body settles for mediocre preaching in favor of what it perceives as good music or for mediocre music in favor of what it perceives as good preaching. We want wholistic ministry. We want every aspect of what we do to be honoring to God.

This is how Scripture describes these Levites coming down from the high place parading with celebratory music and prophesying, or singing the word of God.

Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man. 

The Spirit of the Lord will come upon Saul mightily? Like we see in Ephesians 5, it is only by the enabling of the Holy Spirit that we can rightly praise God. Our lyrics can be doctrinally sound. Our composition can be artistic. Our execution can be skillful. What causes Saul to prophesy with the singing prophets is the enabling of the Spirit. This is the one thing that enables us to participate sincerely in the praise of the church body. The descending of the Spirit upon Saul actually causes him to be changed into another man. The Holy Spirit works out the same effect in the true worshippers of our God- those who worship in Spirit and in truth.

It shall be when these signs come to you, do for yourself what the occasion requires, for God is with you. And you shall go down before me to Gilgal; and behold, I will come down to you to offer burnt offerings and sacrifice peace offerings. You shall wait seven days until I come to you and show you what you should do.”

God confirms that the offerings we will see are peace offerings, that this will be praise, and that Saul is to wait for the Lord.

God’s confirmation of Saul (v. 9-13)

Then it happened when he turned his back to leave Samuel, God changed his heart; and all those signs came about on that day. When they came to the hill there, behold, a group of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him mightily, so that he prophesied among them.

It came about, when all who knew him previously saw that he prophesied now with the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What has happened to the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?”

A man there said, “Now, who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

When he had finished prophesying, he came to the high place. 

Saul’s anointing was accompanied by confirming signs, one of which was that he began prophesying with the prophets. By this gifting, according to God’s mercy and grace, Saul started to be recognized by the people as a prophet. As God is preparing us for places of service, He gifts and confirms at His good pleasure and in His good timing.

God will get us to where He wants us to be. This is the providence that we talked about last week. When we are there, God will confirm this for us in some way- though it won’t necessarily look like Saul’s confirmation. God establishes us according to His own will and mercy. He shuts the doors that He does not want us to walk through.

Saul’s report (v. 14-16)

Now Saul’s uncle said to him and his servant, “Where did you go?” And he said, “To look for the donkeys. When we saw that they could not be found, we went to Samuel.”

Saul’s uncle said, “Please tell me what Samuel said to you.”

So Saul said to his uncle, “He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.” But he did not tell him about the matter of the kingdom which Samuel had mentioned.

Saul did not share about God’s calling on his life. In fact, he ignored it. Later in the story, he will hide from it. I know that I fought God. Most of us do. My prayer is that we simply surrender to His plan and go where He wants us to go, even if we first have to slam into a few doors before we figure it out.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply