Education in Israel – Part 2 – Schools of the Prophets.
“10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10.
The first time the term ‘Schools of Prophets’ appear is during the days of Samuel. In these schools were the children of Israel to receive advanced training to fit them as leaders of the nation and teachers of nations.
“If a youth desired to search deeper into the truths of the word of God and to seek wisdom from above, that he might become a teacher in Israel, these schools were open to him. The schools of the prophets were founded by Samuel to serve as a barrier against the widespread corruption, to provide for the moral and spiritual welfare of the youth, and to promote the future prosperity of the nation by furnishing it with men qualified to act in the fear of God as leaders and counselors. In the accomplishment of this object Samuel gathered companies of young men who were pious, intelligent, and studious. These were called the sons of the prophets. As they communed with God and studied His word and His works, wisdom from above was added to their natural endowments. The instructors were men not only well versed in divine truth, but those who had themselves enjoyed communion with God and had received the special endowment of His Spirit. They enjoyed the respect and confidence of the people, both for learning and piety.” Patriarchs and Prophets pg. 593.
That this is the case is readily shown from the records of the Book of Daniel in the account of the Hebrew captives at the courts of the King of Babylon. Indeed this book, written for us living in the last days, has valuable instruction on the principles of Education for God’s true remnant people. We shall briefly touch on these but shall treat them in detail in the subsequent article.
When King Nebuchardezzar captured Jerusalem for the first time, “the king spake unto Ashpenaz the master of his eunuchs, that he should bring certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes; Children in whom was no blemish, but well favoured, and skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science, and such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans.” Daniel 1:3,4.
“No blemish” and “well favored.” This would require that they should be physically sound, well built, and symmetrical.
The words translated “wisdom,” “knowledge,” and “science,” in verse 4 — Hebrew daath, madda, and chokmah — are closely related, though the second is an extension of the first, and the third an extension of the second.
The word translated “wisdom” signifies “knowledge, understanding, and intelligence.” It implies the faculty to discern what is valuable knowledge, and the ability and capacity to acquire such knowledge.
The word translated “knowledge” relates to “the mind or thought,” and implies knowledge acquired by thinking and application.
The word translated “science” signifies “skill, dexterity, sagacity, shrewdness, ability to judge;” and is well translated in our word “science,” which signifies “skilful in knowledge.” It implies a selected and systematized knowledge.
Therefore the requirement of King Nebuchadnezzar in the selecting of these youth was that they should be physically sound and symmetrically built; and that, mentally, they should be —
- Skilful in discerning what is valuable knowledge, and skilful in the ability to acquire such knowledge;
- Cunning in the acquisition of knowledge by thinking and application; and —
- Understanding how to correlate, classify, and systematize the knowledge which they had the faculty to discern was valuable knowledge, and which they were cunning in gathering.
And they must have “ability” in all these things. What they knew was not to be mere head-knowledge; but they must have the faculty of observation and adaptation so trained that what they had learned could be practically applied in their experience in every-day affairs. They were to have such ability, such every-day common sense, as would enable them to use their knowledge to practical advantage in the common things of daily life, so that they would be practical men wherever they were; so that they could adapt themselves to any circumstances or situation, and be the master and not the slave of either circumstances or situation.
Daniel and his three colleagues passed the examination that qualified according to the King’s requirements. Where did they get the education that enabled them to pass the King’s requirements?
Where did they obtain an education which made them “skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science;” and which gave them “ability” in all these things? – without hesitation it can be answered, “The Schools of the prophets”, the divinely established schools in Israel. Scriptures testifies that at the time of captivity, there was such a “college’ or “school of the prophets” in Jerusalem.
In the eighteenth year of King Josiah, King of Judah, which was only fifteen years before the captivity of Daniel, there is a clear record of such a school. When King Josiah gave the command to repair the temple of the Lord, and while the people were going about in this work, Hilkiah the High Priest found a book of the law of God. They brought this book and read to the King.
“19 And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the law, that he rent his clothes.
20 And the king commanded Hilkiah, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Abdon the son of Micah, and Shaphan the scribe, and Asaiah a servant of the king’s, saying,
21 Go, enquire of the Lord for me, and for them that are left in Israel and in Judah, concerning the words of the book that is found: for great is the wrath of the Lord that is poured out upon us, because our fathers have not kept the word of the Lord, to do after all that is written in this book.
22 And Hilkiah, and they that the king had appointed, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college:) and they spake to her to that effect.” 2 Chronicles 34:19-22.
Here was in Jerusalem a college or a school in which dwelt a prophetess. And it is clear that the schools earned the name “ School of Prophets” because a prophet dwelt among them and was under God the head of the school. This can be revealed in other instances:
“20 And Saul sent messengers to take David: and when they saw the company of the prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as appointed over them, the Spirit of God was upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied.” 1 Samuel 19:20. Here Samuel was the head of the school as appointed by God.
Again we find in 2 Kings 6:1 “And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us.” In this case, Elijah the man of God is head over this school of the prophets.
Thus in three schools of prophets widely separated in ages, first in the age of Samuel, the second one in the age of Elisha, and the third one in the age of Joshua, just before the capture of Jerusalem by the king of Babylon. And in each instance a prophet was dwelling in the school. These three passages were written to give us information as to the schools of the prophets. They show why these schools were called schools of the prophets. They show also that the college, or school, in Jerusalem, in which dwelt Huldah the prophetess, was a school of the prophets as certainly as was the school where dwelt Elisha the prophet or Samuel the prophet.
It was, then, in a school of the prophets, in the Lord’s school, and in the system of education of the Lord’s designing, where Daniel and his three companions obtained the education of which we read in Dan. 1:4, — the education which made them “skilful in all wisdom, and cunning in knowledge, and understanding science,” and which gave to them such “ability” in all these that they were able to pass successfully the examination required for entrance into the royal university of Babylon.
The training in the Schools of the Prophets
What was taught in the schools of the prophets? To know this is to understand the meaning of Christian education, and what should be taught in the Lord’s schools always. The records on this subject are in the Bible and are written for us “upon whom the ends of the world are come”.
Daniel and his friends were “skillful in all wisdom, cunning in knowledge and understanding in science”. This education was acquired in the college or school of the prophets in Jerusalem. So we know that wisdom, knowledge and science was taught in these schools.
Music and poetry
One of the subjects taught in the schools of the prophets was music, instrumental and vocal. This we know from the fact that the first time that we meet any of the students of such a school, they have “a psaltery, and a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp, before them;” (1 Samuel 10:5) and they were playing with such spirit, and with such power in the Spirit, that the man who then personally met them was drawn to God and converted. Thus all the circumstances show that this was trained, harmonious music, played by the students of this school. And this is plain evidence that music was taught in the schools of the prophets.
Since the schools of the prophets flourished in the days of Saul and David, it would not be surprising if David gained some of his musical skill there as well as on the hillside tending sheep, for poetry and music formed part of the course of instruction in these schools. Indeed his music, as a poetic gift has never been surpassed in history. Poetry was an essential accompanying to the teaching of music and the songs of worship of which their music was composed. One writer says that “Greek poetry is beautiful, Hebrew Poetry is sublime”.
Another thing that was taught there was work, or “manual training” as it would be called to-day. This we know from the record of these schools in the time of Elisha: “And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us. Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan, and take thence every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell. And he answered, Go ye. And one said, Be content, I pray thee, and go with thy servants. And he answered, I will go. So he went with them. And when they came to Jordan, they cut down wood.” 2 Kings 6:1-4.
This shows that in these schools work was taught, and the love of it, because when the school building became too small the students requested that they themselves build a larger one. They did not resort to contracting the work to somebody else, but instead they themselves said “Let us go ….. and let us make us a place.”
And they loved the work, they could borrow tools such as the axe which fell in the river. And the principal of the school, Elisha himself accompanied them in this work, for he was there cutting wood when the axe fell in the river.
Sadly modern worldly education shuns manual labor, and many a student finishes university without an idea of how a tomato plant looks like. It is indeed education in ignorance, which we must work to rid ourselves. How many graduate students are idling at home, simply because they cannot seek for work in manual labor? How many daily beg for bus fare, from their parents and guardians, who would not want to soil their hands in useful labor? The Lord designed for man to till the soil and use his hands to fend for food. This was for both to benefit him in keeping his body in good health, and also as a source of sustenance. The concept of white-collar office jobs is a creation of the twentieth century, where all youth are passed through the conveyor belt of worldly education, the education of vanity, folly and ignorance, and expected not to soil their hands in manual labor. This evil we must rid our youth if we are to follow God’s design for true education.
Health and Temperance
Another thing that was taught in the schools of the prophets was temperance — healthful living. This is shown by the fact that Daniel and his companions refused the king’s dainties and royal food, and the wine which he drank, and asked for a simple fare, a vegetarian diet. Dan. 1:5, 12-16. That they were taught this in the school of the prophets which they attended is plain from the fact that this was a thoroughly grounded principle with them. And that such was the diet in the schools of the prophets is taught by the fact that in that school, in the time of Elisha, even when “there was a dearth in the land,” Elisha, giving directions to prepare food, said, “Set on the great pot, and seethe pottage.” And in following this direction, “one went out into the field to gather herbs.” 2 Kings 4:38, 39. When herbs were gathered in response to the ordinary direction to prepare food, and this when “there was a dearth in the land,” surely this is strong evidence that a vegetarian diet was the regular diet in the school. This is confirmed by the further fact that “there came a man from Baal-shalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the first-fruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full cars of corn in the husk thereof. And he [Elisha] said, Give unto the people, that they may eat.” Verse 42. Here was a man bringing a present of provisions to the principal of the school, and he brought only food from the vegetable kingdom.
All this is evidence that a vegetarian diet was the diet of the students and teachers in the schools of the prophets; that this temperate way of living was a part of the instruction; and that temperance was so inculcated as to become a living principle in the lives of the students.
In working for this chosen people, God cured physical infirmities with the same ease that he healed a sin-sick soul; and with the laws for spiritual growth were given directions for the preservation of health. Every priest was likewise a physician, and the laws concerning the use of simple, healthful foods, proper breathing, ventilation, the use of disinfectants, the bath, etc., were familiar to all who read the statutes of Jehovah.
Today vegetarian diet is seen as an option. Indeed so much has the devil brain washed this generation that many people are killing themselves daily with forks and knives, as they imbibe the diet of Babylon. Many are the diseases and deaths that are unwarranted because modern man refuses the original diet given by the Creator. It is surprising that even the medicine being taught in schools of today is curative medicine. It has little or no focus on preventative measures, ways of avoiding disease. Many diseases today and resultant deaths are simply shrugged of as life’s unpredictable events, and never as a result of the poor lifestyle choices of the modern generation.
We are called to have a heath reform in order to offer our bodies as living sacrifice. God cannot accept a diseased weak offering just because we cannot give up the habits learnt in Egypt and Babylon. We must make a determined effort to let go of the fleshpots of Egypt and in stead search for the pure foods offered by God at creation, if we are to keep our minds clear and our bodies healthy in readiness for service at His vineyard.
“The physical as well as the religious training practiced in the schools of the Hebrews may be profitably studied. The worth of such training is not appreciated. There is an intimate relation between the mind and the body, and in order to reach a high standard of moral and intellectual attainment the laws that control our physical being must be heeded. To secure a strong, well-balanced character, both the mental and the physical powers must be exercised and developed. What study can be more important for the young than that which treats of this wonderful organism that God has committed to us, and of the laws by which it may be preserved in health?
And now, as in the days of Israel, every youth should be instructed in the duties of practical life. Each should acquire a knowledge of some branch of manual labor by which, if need be, he may obtain a livelihood. This is essential, not only as a safeguard against the vicissitudes of life, but from its bearing upon physical, mental, and moral development. Even if it were certain that one would never need to resort to manual labor for his support, still he should be taught to work. Without physical exercise, no one can have a sound constitution and vigorous health; and the discipline of well-regulated labor is no less essential to the securing of a strong and active mind and a noble character.
Every student should devote a portion of each day to active labor. Thus habits of industry would be formed and a spirit of self-reliance encouraged, while the youth would be shielded from many evil and degrading practices that are so often the result of idleness. And this is all in keeping with the primary object of education, for in encouraging activity, diligence, and purity we are coming into harmony with the Creator.
Let the youth be led to understand the object of their creation, to honor God and bless their fellow men; let them see the tender love which the Father in heaven has manifested toward them, and the high destiny for which the discipline of this life is to prepare them, the dignity and honor to which they are called, even to become the sons of God, and thousands would turn with contempt and loathing from the low and selfish aims and the frivolous pleasures that have hitherto engrossed them. They would learn to hate sin and to shun it, not merely from hope of reward or fear of punishment, but from a sense of its inherent baseness, because it would be a degrading of their God-given powers, a stain upon their Godlike manhood.” Patriarchs and Prophets Pg. 601.
We have so far covered half of the syllabus of the Lord’s schools, the Schools of the Prophets. Many today have the false impression that modern Education is superior to that of the people of Bible times. This is the same error that Eve fell into when she though that God had withheld some important wisdom that she could find under the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
In God’s educational plan was t be found sound principles for living in this life and the life of the hereafter. God never intended that the Israelite nation enquire of the methods of the heathen. Previously we learnt that education includes skills knowledge, values, beliefs and customs. The Bible expressly prohibits us from learning the customs of the heathen.
“29 When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land;
30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.” Deut 12:29, 30.
It is my prayer that as we study the science of education, the significance of obtaining true education, the Holy Spirit shall en our eyes and enable us to make the rich choices, avoid the pitfalls of that have ensnared many who have gone before us, and be protected from the enemy’s schemes that he has brought upon the generation living in the last days.
“7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Proverbs 1:7.
Have a blessed week.