From The Signs of the Times, June 22, 1882
By Ellen G. White
The institutions of human society find their best models in the word of God. For those of instruction in particular, there is no lack of both precept and example. Lessons of great profit, even in this age of educational progress, may be found in the history of God’s ancient people.
The Lord reserved to Himself the education and instruction of Israel. His care was not restricted to their religious interests. Whatever affected their mental or physical well-being, became also an object of divine solicitude, and came within the province of divine law.
God commanded the Hebrews to teach their children His requirements, and to make them acquainted with all His dealings with their people. The home and the school were one. In the place of stranger lips the loving hearts of the father and mother were to give instruction to their children. Thoughts of God were associated with all the events of daily life in the home dwelling. The mighty works of God in the deliverance of His people were recounted with eloquence and reverential awe. The great truths of God’s providence, and of the future life, were impressed on the young mind. It became acquainted with the true, the good, the beautiful.
By the use of figures and symbols, the lessons given were illustrated, and thus more firmly fixed in the memory. Through this animated imagery the child was, almost from infancy, initiated into the mysteries, the wisdom, and the hopes of his fathers, and guided in a way of thinking and feeling and anticipating, that reached beyond things seen and transitory, to the unseen and eternal.
From this education many a youth of Israel came forth vigorous in body and in mind, quick to perceive and strong to act, the heart prepared like good ground for the growth of the precious seed, the mind trained to see God in the words of revelation and the scenes of nature. The stars of heaven, the trees and flowers of the field, the lofty mountains, the babbling brooks, all spoke to him, and the voices of the prophets, heard throughout the land, met a response in his heart.
Such was the training of Moses in that lowly cabin home in Goshen; of Samuel, by the faithful Hannah; of David, in the hill-dwelling at Bethlehem; of Daniel, before the scenes of the captivity separated him from the home of his fathers. Such, too, was the early life of Christ, in the humble home at Nazareth; such the training by which the child Timothy learned from the lips of his “mother Eunice, and his grandmother Lois,” the truths of the Holy Writ.
Further provision was made for the instruction of the young, by the establishment of the “school of the prophets.” If a youth was eager to obtain a better knowledge of the Scriptures, to search deeper into the mysteries of the kingdom of God, and to seek wisdom from above, that he might become a teacher in Israel, this school was open to him.
These institutions were missionary seminaries, designed to maintain a higher standard of morals and religion at a period when the deplorable condition of degeneracy and corruption called loudly for such reformatory effort. The aged Eli had dishonored the Lord by his neglect to restrain and control his children. These degenerate sons called license liberty, and under the cover of their holy office practiced the most debasing sins. The character of these men as leaders of the nation, indicates clearly the state of things existing at that time. Had Eli restrained his excessive fondness for his sons, and performed his duty to them as a father and a priest, theirs had been a nobler life and a happier fate. They might have been an honor to their father, the crown of the nation, and the guardians of the sanctuary. But their crimes had polluted the ordinances of the Lord, and corrupted his people. To prevent the moral degeneracy from becoming universal, he resorted to a speedy and powerful remedy. Divine justice destroyed the father and the sons.
Then amid the moral darkness there shone forth once more the light of purity and holiness and truth. The chosen leader was a youthful Levite, whose infant years had been guarded by a faithful, praying mother, whose boyhood had been unsullied by the surrounding corruption. Samuel was now invested by the God of Israel with the threefold office of judge, prophet and priest. Placing one hand in the hand of Christ, and with the other taking the helm of the nation, he holds it with such wisdom and firmness as to preserve Israel from destruction.
By Samuel, the schools of the prophets were established, to serve as a barrier against the widespread corruption, and to promote the moral and spiritual welfare of the youth. These schools proved a great blessing to Israel, promoting that righteousness which exalteth a nation, and 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, they were imbued with wisdom from above, as well as richly endowed with intellectual treasures. 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.
In Samuel’s day there were two of these schools—one at Ramah, the home of the prophet, and the other at Kirjath-jearim, where the ark then was. Two more were added in Elijah’s time, at Jericho and Bethel, and others were afterward established at Samaria and Gilgal.
The pupils of these schools sustained themselves by their own labor as husbandmen and mechanics. In Israel this was not considered strange or degrading; indeed it was regarded a crime to allow children to grow up in ignorance of useful labor. In obedience to the command of God, every child was taught some trade, even though he was to be educated for holy office. Many of the religious teachers supported themselves by manual labor. Even so late as the time of Christ, it was not considered anything degradable that Paul and Aquila earned livelihood by their labor as tent-makers.
The chief subjects of study in these schools were, the law of God with the instructions given to Moses, sacred history, sacred music, and poetry. The manner of instruction was far different from that in the theological schools of the present day, from which many students graduate with less real knowledge of God and religious truth than when they entered. In those schools of olden time, it was the grand object of all study to learn the will of God and the duties of His people. In the records of sacred history, were traced the footsteps of Jehovah. From the events of the past were drawn lessons of instruction for the future. The great truths set forth by the types and shadows were brought to view, and faith grasped the central object of all that system, the Lamb of God who was to take away the sins of the world.
The Hebrew language was cultivated as the most sacred tongue in the world. A spirit of devotion was cherished. Not only were students taught the duty of prayer, but they were taught how to pray, how to approach their Creator, how to exercise faith in Him, and how to understand and obey the teachings of his Spirit. Sanctified intellects brought forth from the treasure-house of God, things new and old.
The Spirit of God was signally manifested in these seminaries, in prophecy and sacred song. Upon one occasion a company of prophets met Saul at the “hill of God,” not far from Gibeah, with psaltery and tabret, pipe and harp. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, these men were prophesying and praising God with the music of instruments and the voice of song. The Spirit of the Lord and his converting power came also upon Saul, and he prophesied with them.
The art of sacred melody was diligently cultivated in those schools of the prophets. No frivolous waltz was heard, nor flippant song that should extol man and divert the attention from God; but sacred, solemn psalms of praise to the Creator, exalting His name and recounting His wondrous works. Thus music was made to serve a holy purpose, to lift the thoughts to that which was pure and noble and elevating, and to awaken in the soul, devotion and gratitude to God.