The Bible presents us with a strange story in which Saul meets a group of prophetic musicians. As he comes in contact with them, the Spirit of the Lord rushes upon Saul and he is turned into another man (1 Sa 10:5-6).
Now we have to ask some questions here because the beginning of the book of 1 Samuel told us that, “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision” (1 Sa 3:1). Following this statement, Samuel is called to prophesy and some time later we see a whole group of prophets rise up with Samuel at the head (1 Sa 19:20).
Something new is happening in 1 Samuel—something that we haven’t quite seen before that is going to effect the kingdom of Israel throughout the foreseeable future. For now on, kings will have prophets who speak to them and try to keep them in line with God’s vision. These prophets will be God’s mouthpiece and they will operate within the religious society, just like the priests do.
But where did they all come from? We know the story of Samuel’s calling, but what about everyone else’s? Here are a few possibilities.
Samuel was strong enough of a prophet to know when God wanted him to declare a divine appointment over someone. We see this in the story of his first meeting with Saul (1 Sa 9:15-16). And so we’re given the possibility that just as Samuel knew to choose Saul for the role of king, perhaps he knew what people he needed to choose for the prophethood. This wouldn’t be that unusual, given that God told Elijah exactly who was to replace him as a prophet, as well as what king was supposed to replace the king of his time (1 Ki 19:16).
Or perhaps God appointed these people as prophets by speaking directly to them, just as He spoke straight to Samuel. Or perhaps they were appointed to the task before they were even born, like Jeremiah was (Jer 1:4-5).
Since we are left to fill in the blanks as to where this school of prophets came from, we have to admit that divine appointment is perhaps the most viable option. But it is not the only option we have to consider.
In my opinion, it is not entirely unthinkable that an Israelite might see what Samuel is doing and eagerly desire to do the same. Is not the desire to prophesy deep within many of us? And if there was one man who was bringing the voice of God back to God’s people, wouldn’t some of us flock to him? Wouldn’t we be hungry to study under him and ask to learn from him? Wouldn’t we be desirable of his prophetic anointing whether we had it ourselves or not? Wouldn’t some of us want to work in his ministry, even if we knew that in the end that God would never anoint us to prophesy?
If so, wouldn’t such a person probably make for a good prophet? Or is their personal desire to be a prophet actually the background work of God calling them into the role? Maybe we’re looking at this all backwards.
We at least know by the time of the New Testament that we are supposed to pursue the gift of prophecy. This may come across as shocking to many, but Paul told us to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor 14:1)—in fact he says it twice in the same chapter (1 Cor 14:39). Paul’s implication is that some Christians cannot currently prophesy, but should desire that they might be given the gift so that they can do so.
Make no mistake, you can’t work yourself up into a prophetic gifting—it can only be given by God. But a prophet being given a spiritual gift because of their pursuit towards it is still God choosing the prophet, and so perhaps there is some merit to this idea.
It seems God sometimes gives families similar appointments. After all, Philip had four daughters who all prophesied (Ac 21:9) and when Amos was told to prophesy, he replied, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son” (Amos 7:14)—seemingly implying that prophets were thought to often come from prophets, just as priests came from priests. In today’s society we see this occasionally happen with pastors. I myself am a third generation pastor and I often wonder if this has to do with a call on my family. Likewise, many of us pick up the trade of our families and are therefore familiar with the idea.
And when you think about it, why wouldn’t God be willing to work throughout the generations of a family in this way? If training is involved to learn the prophetic (as we just considered) then what better person to train than a child of a prophet? The prophet would be able to educate their child about how prophecy works from a young age.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that a child of a prophet will be a good prophet. After all, Samuel’s own children “did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice” (1 Sa 8:3). Likewise, many pastor’s kids today are notorious for running far away from God.
In the end, however, out of the all the ideas proposed so far, the concept that prophets descend from prophets is on the weaker side. While Amos’ declaration that he is not “a prophet’s son” certainly causes us to wonder, this expression takes on a different meaning when we put it in context with the whole Bible. The “sons of prophets” is an expression especially used in Elisha’s time to refer to a guild of prophets.
And so here we find that while it’s enticing and somewhat plausible to follow the idea of prophets begetting prophets, it’s not quite as fluid a concept as we thought. Rather, we may think of head prophets as “fathers” (1 Sa 10:11-12) of sorts and the “sons of prophets” as those who fall under their leadership.
We might also speculate that there were already prophets in Israel seeking after God, but not hearing Him very clearly. If this was the case, perhaps they began to follow Samuel as they saw God had clearly raised him up to be a mega-prophet of sorts. After all, the Bible tells us that “Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord” (1 Sa 3:19-20).