Prophesying With Instruments?
“I heard a preacher on television say he can ‘prophesy’ using his trumpet. Is that possible?”
An example of this activity is seen on the charismatic Web site New Zealand Prophetic Network in an article that asserts the following:
Holy Spirit ministry functions through many and varied means. One of the not so common today is that of musicians prophesying on their instruments: that is, the ability to play prophetically on their instruments in such a way as to release the anointing to the people…. This is the realm where musicians can play prophetically, whereby the anointed tune—even a new tune—can actually enable the Holy Spirit to interpret the feeling and/or message of the tune to our hearts. As we listen intently while the musician plays (can be singular or plural), we “pick-up” the heartbeat of God, and the theme of that heart beat is interpreted to us in the realm of our understanding. When that happens we can experience deep peace, joy, inspiration, even tears, as the Holy Spirit speaks. Yet no words have been spoken; only the playing of an anointed tune on an instrument.1
Those who make this claim seek justification for the practice in 1 Chronicles 25:1 which reads: “Moreover David and the captains of the army separated for the service some of the sons of Asaph, of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with harps, stringed instruments, and cymbals.” However, this claim is a misconception based on a faulty exegesis of the text. Even on the face of it, a trumpet or other mechanical instrument cannot “prophesy” since the word “prophesy” in Hebrew refers to speaking, i.e., articulating meaningful concepts via oral or written words.2 The only way a musical instrument can convey specific meanings is if it is used as a signaling device with a prearranged, mutually understood meaning attached to a specific tune or tones. Historically, armies have used trumpets and bugles to sound a particular movement by the troops—whether “charge,” “retreat,” “call to quarters,” etc. But the instrument itself has no intellectual content, meaning, or message inherent in the sound it is capable of making. Paul made this very point when he chided the Corinthian Christians for their failure to make certain that their tongue-speaking and prophesying was comprehended by the assembly. Noting that instruments are “without life,” even they must make sounds that are understood by those intended to be the recipients of the pre-decided message being conveyed (1 Corinthians 14:7).
When the Bible speaks of “prophesying with harps, etc.,” it is not suggesting that a harp can prophesy. Rather, the grammar of the passage makes clear that the prophesying is done by the human prophet who, in turn, is merely accompanied by the instrument. The word “with” in the NKJV flags this fact.3 It is made even clearer by a quick consideration of other English translations:
|1 Chronicles 25:1|
|prophesy||with||harps, stringed instruments, and cymbals||NKJV|
|for the ministry of prophesying||accompanied by||harps, lyres and cymbals||NIV|
|prophesied||to the accompaniment of||lyres and harps and cymbals||NABRE|
|to preach||and play||harps, lyres, and cymbals||NCV|
|prophesy||to the accompaniment of||harps, and lutes, and cymbals||WYC|
So why accompany a prophet’s message from God with musical instruments? History does not answer this question definitively. However, consider a couple of possibilities that do not contradict other plainly established biblical realities. First, perhaps the instruments were intended to capture the attention of the Israelites, who would have constituted a large assembled crowd, in an effort to announce the commencement of the proclamation of the prophet’s divine message. This circumstance would have been analogous to court musicians who herald the arrival of the king or queen—a “fanfare”—defined as “a short ceremonial tune or flourish played on brass instruments, typically to introduce something or someone important.”4 Second, since prophetic messages throughout the Old Testament are typically couched in standard Hebrew metrical verse, perhaps the instrumental accompaniment was intended to reinforce the rhythmic nature of Hebrew poetry. The Bible does not inform us as to the activities of scores of prophets that we know ministered to Israel by prophesying. Keep in mind that the predictive element of our English word “prophesy” is secondary and sometimes even nonexistent in Hebrew prophecy. The majority of Hebrew prophecy was simply inspired preaching in which the prophet instructed, rebuked, corrected, and challenged his hearers with regard to their misbehavior/misconduct. In such a case, the prophets were something like the roving minstrels of the Middle Ages who traveled around the countryside and from town-to-town conveying messages via poetry accompanied by their strumming on a lute.5 In this way, Hebrew prophets would have permeated Israelite society on a daily basis, reminding the people of their spiritual and moral responsibility to conform every day to God’s will. This very scenario seems to be what we find in 1 Samuel 10:5.6
In any case, when a televangelist in our day claims to “prophesy” simply by playing a tune on a trumpet or other instrument, he does so without biblical precedent for such claims. After all, instruments are “without life.”
1 Rodney Francis (2016), “Prophetic Ministry Through Musical Instruments and Singers,” NZ Prophetic Network, .
2 Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs (1906), The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000 reprint), p. 612; William Gesenius (1847), Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979 reprint), p. 525-526.
3 The Hebrew word for “harp” is kin-nohr (which is plural in the text) and has the inseparable preposition B= as a prefix which means “with.” Also in verse 3.
4 “Fanfare” in Angus Stevenson, ed. (2010), Oxford Dictionary of English (Oxford: Oxford University Press), third edition, p. 632.
5 Of course, the use of musical instruments to worship God according to New Testament Christian worship protocol is unauthorized. See Dave Miller (2007), Richland Hills and Instrumental Music: A Plea to Reconsider (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).
6 As further proof that the prophesying was distinct from the playing on an instrument, notice that Samuel informed Saul that God’s Spirit would come upon him and enable him to join in the prophesying. Obviously, that did not mean that Saul picked up an instrument and began playing it. In fact, Saul apparently could not soothe himself by playing an instrument, which provided the occasion for enlisting the instrumental skill possessed by David (1 Samuel 16:14ff.). See also 2 Kings 3:15. Observe further that no prophet could play a trumpet while simultaneously prophesying since the trumpet requires the use of the mouth and lips in order to play it—which would prevent the prophet from using his mouth in order to prophesy an intelligible message from God.
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