Worship and Prophecy
Many Christians, as well as the world, believe that the word "prophecy" means only one thing: foretelling the future.
Prophecy in our society forms headlines in tabloids and newstands. Palm readers and fortune tellers advertise in newspapers and the internet. Doomsday prophets are discredited every year.
But the Bible describes prophecy as a gift of God, meant for the building up, encouragement and consolation of Christians.
How can we reconcile the tawdry, false image of prophecy in our society, with the high place of honor in which Scripture places it?
Does prophecy always mean foretelling the future?
Can prophecy be communicated in ways other than by preaching or speaking?
Essential facts about inspired, genuine prophecy:
- Prophecy is one of four types of inspired communication: Prophecy, Revelation, Knowledge and Teaching.
- Prophecy can mean to speak OR sing by inspiration.
- Prophecy communicates truth, whether in prediction or simple discourse.
- That which distinguishes true prophecy from false prophecy is the source: God.
- The test of true prophecy: fulfillment.
- Although it can be faked, inspired prophecy causes the prophet's appearance to reflect the passion and power of God's Holy Spirit.
- Prophecy is powered by God but controlled by the prophet.
- Without inspiration, prophecy can go terribly wrong.
- True, inspired prophecy continues to today.
- Inspired prophecy proclaims the mighty works of God, whether fulfilled in the past or the future.
- Inspiration provides the truth, and the effectiveness, of the message.
- Prophecy builds up, encourages and consoles Christians.
Prophecy Through Music
"David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals." 1 Chronicles 25:1 (ESV)
PROPHESIED: naba (to prophesy, to speak or sing by inspiration, in prediction or simple discourse) and nabi (a prophet or inspired man)
The text uses two related words together, which we translate as "prophesied". Literally, the verse reads: "...the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, the prophets who prophesied".
The essential idea contained by these two words is that of inspiration, whether in prediction or simple discourse. The words do not necessarily mean the act of foretelling the future, although they may.
In the days of the exodus from Egypt, the Jews were in a desolate wilderness, surviving on manna alone. An intense craving for new food grew in the hearts of a large group of people. They wept and complained, wishing for meat, fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic...food they enjoyed even while slaves in Egypt.
The complaining expressed an attitude deeply opposed to worship, and God became angry.
Moses felt the heat of God's anger, and his heart also expressed a low opinion of God. Moses accused God of spoiling everything, leading them all into a wasteland with little care or compassion. Moses had no idea how to satisfy the hunger of the people, giving little thought to the unlimited power and provision that God had demonstrated in the past.
Neither Moses nor the people were moved to worship God.
God's response was to inspire the elders of Israel, seventy men listed as leaders under Moses.
"Then the Lord said to Moses, - Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone." Numbers 11:16-17 (ESV)
Moses witnessed the inspiration of these elders:
"Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it." Numbers 11:25 (ESV)
"Prophesied" is the same word used in Chronicles 25:1.
What did the elders prophesy? The text does not say explicitly, but it most likely was the orginal message given to Moses:
"Say to the people, - Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the Lord, saying, Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt. Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, Why did we come out of Egypt?" Numbers 11:18-20 (ESV)
The inspiration of God on these men must have been obvious to all. The people could see a startling difference when the Spirit ceased to rest upon them. The inspiration was temporary, but awesome while it lasted.
The effect of God's inspiration was not limited to the large group of elders gathered around the tent. Two other elders had remained in the camp. When God's Spirit rested upon the group of elders, these two men also began to prophesy. The inspiration was sudden and startling, even to the people far from the tent and the large group of elders.
"Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, - Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!" Numbers 11:26-27 (ESV)
From this account of prophetic inspiration, we can make some general applications to worship:
- Prophecy is the proclaiming of a message from God.
- Prophecy is by supernatural inspiration of God.
- Prophetic inspiration is outwardly observable.
The sudden and indisputable effect of inspiration by God is seen in King Saul:
"As soon as you come to the city, you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre before them, prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will rush upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. Now when these signs meet you, do what your hand finds to do, for God is with you." 1 Samuel 10:5-7 (ESV)
Saul "turned into another man" under the inspiration of God. Notice also that prophecy can be sung, as well as spoken.
"The Spirit of God rushed upon him, and he prophesied among them. And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, - What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?" 1 Samuel 10:10-11 (ESV)
Saul was still recognizable as himself, but the effect of inspiration was obvious and startling, even to those who had no knowledge of what had happened previously.
Inspired prophecy in song emphasizes thanksgiving and praise to God. The men organized by David for worship "prophesied with the lyre in thanksgiving and praise to the Lord." 1 Chronicles 25:3 (ESV)
Although inspiration is entirely at the will of God, the communication of that inspiration can be organized and scheduled:
"They were all under the direction of their father in the music in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under the order of the king. The number of them along with their brothers, who were trained in singing to the Lord, all who were skillful, was 288." 1 Chronicles 25:6-7 (ESV)
Without inspiration, prophecy can go terribly wrong.
"What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless? They did not say, - Where is the Lord who brought us up from the land of Egypt, who led us in the wilderness, in a land of deserts and pits, in a land of drought and deep darkness, in a land that none passes through, where no man dwells? -
"And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and its good things. But when you came in, you defiled my land and made my heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, - Where is the Lord?' Those who handle the law did not know me; the shepherds transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.
"Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water." Jeremiah 2:5-8,11-13 (ESV)
"And the Lord said to me: - The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds." Jeremiah 14:14 (ESV)
How can a true prophet be distinguished from a false prophet?
"The prophets who preceded you and me from ancient times prophesied war, famine, and pestilence against many countries and great kingdoms. As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes to pass, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet." Jeremiah 28:8-9 (ESV)
Only through accurate documentation can prophecy be authenticated. The original message from God must be accurately remembered and compared with current events.
In other words, the Holy Bible must be often read and taught from generation to generation, guarding against errors and ignorance, continually comparing God's Word to current events. This allows us to recognize false prophets.
Bottom line: Inspired prophetic messages, whether spoken or sung, must be consistent with God's Word, the Holy Bible.
Biblical, inspired prophecy continues to this day:
"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Joel 2:28-32 (ESV)
The apostle Peter cited this same passage:
"Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
"And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Acts 2:14-21 (ESV)
Peter connected inspired prophecy with the filling of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.
"Suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts 2:2-4 (ESV)
The crowd of worshippers, all from different nations and speaking different languages, were amazed and astonished:
"We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." Acts 2:11 (ESV)
The inspiration of God was apparent because none of the prophets could have known the foreign languages that they were speaking. The message, however, was simple and clear: the mighty works of God.
The essential idea of prophecy is speaking, or singing, the truth about God. Inspiration allows the message to be effective.
PROPHESY: propheteuo (to foretell events, to divine or speak under inspiration); from prophetes (a foreteller, a "prophet" or inspired speaker"; from pro ("fore", in front of) and phemi (to show or make known one's thoughts, to speak or say); from phos (luminousness); from phao (to shine or make manifest, especially by rays)
The Greek word that corresponds to the Old Testament word for prophesy emphasizes the prediction or foretelling of events. But the context of the passage in Acts that ocurred on Pentecost involves the fulfillment of events foretold centuries before. In other words, the Holy Spirit filled the Christians with inspiration to speak of events that had been prophesied centuries earlier: the works of God.
Thus, prophecy involves speaking, or singing, the truth of God's Word, whether foretold and fulfilled earlier, or still yet to be fulfilled.
Again, the essential idea of prophecy is speaking, or singing the truth about God, whether in prediction or not.
"Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up." 1 Corinthians 14:1-5 (ESV)
UPBUILDING: oikodome (architecture, a structure, confirmation); from oikos (a dwelling, a family) and doma (an edifice, a roof); from demo (to build)
ENCOURAGEMENT: paraklesis (imploration, hortation, solace); from parakaleo (to call near, invite, invoke); from para (near) and kaleo (to "call", properly aloud); from keleuo ("hail", to incite by word, order); from kello (to urge on)
CONSOLATION: paramythia (consolation); from paramytheomai (to relate near, to encourage or console); from para (near) and mythos (a tale, fiction, "myth"); from myeo (to initiate, to teach); from mysterion (a secret or "mystery"); from muo (to shut the mouth)
GREATER: meizon (larger); from megas (big)
Inspired prophecy builds up the Church, creating structure, making a dwelling place for Christians. It confirms their relationship with God as His children, with Jesus as His Bride.
Inspired prophecy encourages the Church, calling them her near to Christ, urging her on to desire and treasure God.
Inspired prophecy consoles the Church, the Holy Spirit coming near to each individual Christian's heart, ministering quietly but deeply.
Paul describes those who prophesy as being greater or larger than those who speak in tongues. The comparison does not imply a different value, but a different audience. Prophesy speaks to the entire Church, while speaking in tongues is individual, mysterious prayer to God.
"Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching?" 1 Corinthians 14:6 (ESV)
Paul distinguishes prophecy from three other forms of communication, yet all four are beneficial to the church.
REVELATION: apokalypsis (disclosure); from apokalypto (to take off the cover, to disclose); from apo (off) and kalypto (to cover up)
KNOWLEDGE: gnosis (knowing or knowledge); from ginosko (to "know")
TEACHING: didache (instruction); from didasko (to teach); from dao (to learn)
"Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church." 1 Corinthians 14:12 (ESV)
All four types of communication: prophecy, revelation, knowledge, and teaching, are essential for building up the church, and they are inspired by God's Holy Spirit.
Prophecy reveals truth that is yet to be completely fulfilled, yet even in the present time it builds up, encourages and comforts Christians.
Revelation reveals truth that God has purposely hidden until the proper time.
Knowledge reveals truth that would be impossible for others to know.
Teaching analyzes truth, revealing elements and steps toward practical application.
Prophecy Under Control
"In church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written,
"By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.
"Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you." 1 Corinthians 14:19-25 (ESV)
Inspiration is by God's Holy Spirit, over Whom we have no control whatsoever. Yet, Paul urges Christians to use their reason to choose what and how to communicate the truth that only God can reveal. The truth is from God alone, yet we use our minds to shape how that truth is communicated. Paul says to shape the communication to fit the audience.
"What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace." 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 (ESV)
"The spirits of prophets are subject to prophets."
This cannot refer to men controlling the Holy Spirit.
"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:8 (ESV)
No man can control the Holy Spirit, any more than any can control the wind.
SPIRITS: pneuma (a current of air, breath or breeze, a spirit, the soul, vital principle, disposition, angel, daemon, God); from pneo (to breathe hard, breeze)
"Spirits" is a general term that can describe simple movement of air or the soul, or even God Himself.
Jesus blessed "the poor in spirit", promising them a kingdom of heaven. In this instance, spirit refers to the essence of the person. In all that mattered, "the poor in spirit" lacked everything while still here on earth, yet faith in Christ promises complete satisfaction in God.
Jesus healed a 12-year old girl, "and her spirit returned". The human spirit is that which sustains life, the essential force that motivates and moves a person.
When Paul says that "the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets", he is referring to the essential core of the person being in control of what and how something is said. God alone provides the truth, but men and women choose how to shape the communication of that truth, although God remains sovereignly in control of all details of all life.
DECENTLY: euschemonos (decorously); from eu (good) and schema (a figure, a mode or circumstance, an external condition); from echo (to hold)
ORDER: taxis (regular arrangement, fixed succession, official dignity); from tasso (to arrange in an orderly manner, to assign or dispose)
Inspired prophecy can be seen as a wonderful sharing of the divine and human. God alone reveals truth to those He chooses. His Holy Spirit dwells within, side by side with my spirit, encouraging and urging and consoling, giving me the power and the desire to share that truth with others, communicating in accordance with my personality and talents, with the goal of building up the Church.
All glory to God!