The bands of prophets involved in these stories may have been spiritually minded men who rejected the godlessness of society and banded together to study God’s word, worship together and preach to the people. They came to be called prophets because they were used by God to preach impactful messages from God or to create inspiring songs of praise, often on the fly. At some point in time, there were schools for prophets (which I will discuss later) and, if such schools existed at the time of these incidents, the men in both of these stories may have been ”graduates” of those schools or still involved as students of those schools.


Before we get into the story of Saul and the school of the prophets, I need to explain something about the verb “prophesy” in the Old Testament. The word can mean “to speak under divine inspiration, to engage in ecstatic speech, to exhort or admonish with words from God,” and occasionally, “to make predictions about the future.” 

Ecstatic speech was a pagan practice, which, in its best-known instances, played itself out similarly to the oracles given at Delphi, Greece. People would wait in line for days or even weeks to get their chance to see a priest of the temple or shrine at Delphi. They would tell the priest their problem, their question, their concern, and then he would leave them to go see a certain priestess. This priestess spent her days on duty hanging over a crevasse in the rocks using a device similar to a sling or a hammock while intoxicating gasses came up out of that hole. She would get high on those gases and begin to utter gibberish. The priests who had come from hearing the people’s requests would write down a few phrases of what the priestess said, then they would leave her and go to a place where they could quietly work at writing out an interpretation of her non-sensical gibberish. Depending on who was requesting “the opinion of the gods,” the priest might wait a few hours or even a few weeks before speaking to the person or family who was waiting for the response. When he sent for them, he would give them his interpretation of the message the priestess had spoken while under the influence of the intoxicating gasses. Instead of just asking a priest for his advice, they used this priestess who was controlled by another influence because it lent more legitimacy to the process. They could easily convince the people that a god had spoken to her through the gasses.

I’m sure you can see how this would lend itself to priests making up whatever they wanted people to hear. Yet this was a key part of the secular understanding of the word prophecy at that time.


I am convinced that the Bible uses the verb prophesy in a different way than the nations around them. Whatever was uttered had to come from God, it could not originate with man and qualify as true prophecy. After all, the word means “a divinely inspired utterance.” Paul rules out nonsensical babbling by indicating that all languages have meaning and even other forms of communication using inanimate objects also have meaning (I Cor 14:6-12). He also points out that God does not unplug our brains so He can work, rather He does His work by engaging our brains (I Cor 14:15). Paul also indicated in several parts of I Cor 12 and 14 that the gifts of the Spirit were always given for the benefit of others, and were to be used in an orderly fashion (I Cor 14:33 & 40). The situation with Saul happened during the Old Testament era, but the ways God’s Spirit works have not changed. Therefore, the rules governing these things would have applied in Saul’s case as well.

The Old Testament and the New Testament explain each other.

The pattern for followers of God is that God leaves our minds engaged, even while He is using us to do His work. Even when John said “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day,” it is not necessary to assume that he was in a full-fledged state of trance and could do nothing, rather he was able to respond and interact to the vision shown him. However, a trance-like state is also possible due to emotions, a faulty belief system, drugs, poor health, and probably other things I am not aware of. We need to be careful about our assumptions regarding trance-like states and the working of God’s Spirit. I suggest that there is much less of a connection there than many people assume.


            Having said that God does not use tactics similar to the priests and priestesses at Delphi or any other nonsensical babble, I will now share the options for the meaning of prophesying that I think are open to us without violating anything in the rest of Scripture:

  • Genuine demonstrations of deep repentance and contrition. True repentance starts with God; it is not something we can create entirely on our own, although God does not do it all without us.
  • Enthusiastic worship which is out of character for the personality of that individual. This one is a bit weak because people can surprise us some times or choose to act in a way that is abnormal for them.
  • Spontaneous creation of poetry and music that goes together perfectly and has a powerful impact. This would be most obvious if the person were not musically inclined.
  • Teaching on how to apply spiritual truth to life that is so on-target and impactful to the hearers as to be obvious it is coming from God. We call this preaching. It is the impact on the hearers that marks it as coming from God.
  • Addressing something that the person would not have any knowledge of if it weren’t from God. We have to be careful with this one because it can sometimes be faked if a person is really good at finding information that others think they should not have access to. I repeat that none of the gifts of the Spirit of God can be used to make the individual look good; they should only be used to glorify God and help others.


During parts of the Old Testament era there existed something called the school of the prophets. What did they teach there? Did they teach people how to create ecstatic utterances? Did they teach them how to sound spiritual by doing strange things? I am convinced the answer is a resounding “no!” Instead I picture the teaching being centered around how to get closer to God, how to be a pure vessel that God can use as He desires, and how to be prepared for the working of God’s Spirit. It was the precursor to a good Bible college; it prepared the mind with teaching from the Bible and it also prepared the heart and soul for sacrificial service.

The fact that there was a school of prophets implies that there were burning questions and unspeakable burdens about what God was allowing to happen around them (usually oppression by foreigners) and what God wanted them to do. It was a mystery, and they were asking God to reveal the truth to them (His light, His Urim). The light of knowledge He gave them was a miracle; it was something they could not come up with on their own. This light/revelation was followed by practical teaching about how to apply that truth to one’s life.

The next lesson in Additional Subtopics about Tongues is WHAT DOES IT MEAN THAT KING SAUL PROPHESIED WITH THE PROPHETS?