Thursday, October 9, 2008

Musical Prophesying

Last night, my reading of the Bible took me to the last chapters of 1 Chronicles. The following passage stood out to me:
David, together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals. ... The sons of Asaph were under the supervision of Asaph, who prophesied under the king's supervision. As for Jeduthun, from his sons...under the supervision of their father Jeduthun, who prophesied, using the harp in thanking and praising the Lord. As for Heman.... All these were sons of Heman the king's seer. They were given him through the promises of God to exalt him. ...All these men were under the supervision of their fathers for the music of the temple of the Lord, with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the supervision of the king. Along with their relatives--all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord--they numbered 288. Young and old alike, teacher as well as student, cast lots for their duties. 1 Chronicles 25:1-8 NIV
Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun were Levites. The tribe of Levi had been chosen by God to be the people who took care of the tabernacle (later the temple) and all that happened there. Who served in the temple wasn’t dependent on interest or abilities but simply by lineage. If you were a descendant of Levi, your primary occupation was related to the worship of God, each clan with its own role. If you were from another tribe, regardless of your talent, you were out of luck—there were no jobs for you in the spiritual life of the nation, not even the job of temple janitor. If your clan was designated as singers, you couldn’t be a doorkeeper.

The list of levitical jobs is interesting: gatekeepers; treasury guards; keepers of the furnishings, flour, wine, oil, incense and spices; bakers of the holy bread; musicians; judges, scribes and so on. But we see from our passage above that the musicians were also assigned the job of prophesying. What’s the linkage? The New Testament calls prophesying a gift but it is a gift we’re all urged to seek. How can prophesying be an assigned job, what does music have to do with it and how does this apply to the church today?

What does it mean to prophesy? The Hebrew word used in the passage above is naba. This is the same word used to describe what was done by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, and the prophets in general. It is what Joel said would happen in the last days, later quoted by Peter as having been fulfilled on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. The word is also used when talking about false prophesying. So what does it mean? Strongs translates naba with variations on the word "prophesy" or to “be under influence of divine spirit.”

Growing up and for years as an adult, I thought prophesying meant telling the future, specifically about end times; it was something done only in Bible times or, perhaps, by a select few since then. I’m beginning to see how it is much more than that—it is a gift today’s Christians can and should use. What did the Old Testament prophets do? They spoke for God under the influence of his Divine Spirit. They were God’s mouthpieces through whom he gave both encouragement and admonition to his people. There weren’t just the odd one here or there; there were schools of prophets. People actually studied to become a prophet.

The commentaries I looked at in regards to prophesying in 1 Chronicles 25 suggest that the prophesying described here is different from that done by the prophets whose names entitle various books in the Old Testament but is it? Since the same word is used across the board, why would it mean something different in this one passage? I don’t think it does.

Prophesying, accompanied by musical instruments, brings to mind what I’ve seen and experienced in places like Kansas City’s International House of Prayer. The music is non-stop and it is in the context of music that words of God—often directly from Scripture—are spoken. The musicians are singing to God and as God speaks to them, they sing what they hear: encouragement, admonition, praise of God, and so on. I’m reminded of the scene in heaven described in Revelation where those gathered around the throne are constantly praising God.

I’m also thinking about the church I started attending this year. Our prophetic prayer meetings are a small version of the same thing: Gathering together and, under the influence of songs of praise to God, opening our ears to hear what God has to say to us and to the church as a whole. I haven’t seen another church do this but what else would one call a corporate relationship with God if it is not learning to hear God’s voice as a group and to interact with him?

Coming back to our passage, what do we learn about prophesying? It was a career. Certain men were set apart solely for this job (elsewhere in the Bible women were also named as prophets). It was a job based on lineage, not gifting (though God may very well have chosen to gift these particular family lines). It was accompanied by music. It was something they trained for. They all worked under supervision. Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun were supervised by the king and they supervised their sons. Young and old, teacher and student all were given prophesying duties. It was an integral part of the worship of God.

I’m no expert. I’m still trying to understand prophesy and its place in today’s Christian’s life and church but it seems to me that the implications of 1 Chronicles 25 should not be ignored.

Lord, please open my eyes, ears and heart to understand what you want me to know about prophesying. Give wisdom and insight to the leaders of my church and indeed of all churches. May we be all you want us to be and do all you want us to do, including prophesying. Your will be done. So be it.

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