Going Old School

As a student, I am interested in education. At the same time, I am so deeply uninterested in education.

My interest comes from the fact that education has everything to do with the trajectory of my life. At the same time, my utter disinterest comes from the fact that school is . . . school. Sorry, I’m not sure how else to describe it. School is something you just do. Why? Who knows; I’ve been at it for almost sixteen years. It’s not like I enrolled in 1st grade knowing what it was for; I didn’t even enroll myself in it.

Arriving at the college level, I have gone through a shift from “just do it” to “why do it”. Perhaps that comes as a result of educational fatigue—some would call it “senoritis”. Whatever it is, being so involved in education, I am now much more interested in the “why” than the “what”. I’ve known “what” it is all my life, but that only takes you so far until you begin to question everything you’ve ever done, and the purpose of why you’ve done it.

Thankfully, as a Christian, I have a place to look for all the answers in life: The Bible. There’s only one problem: the word “education” never shows up in the Bible, and the word “school” appears only once. On the most surface level, we could just assume that God has no ideas of what education ought to be. The other option is that we simply have to look a bit deeper.

In the Bible, there is only one institution that is comparable to that of our modern college. Generally, it is labeled as the “school of the prophets”. However, searching up “schools of the prophets” in the Bible brings up zero results as well. Finding these elusive schools feels something like a scavenger hunt. So, to begin our scavenger hunt, let’s start with this hint:

“In Samuel’s day there were two of these schools—one at Ramah, the home of the prophet, and the other at Kirjath-jearim. In later times others were established.”

It isn’t too hard to figure out what was going on at Ramah: Samuel, the prophet, lived there. But what was going on at Kirjath-jearim? Surely Samuel didn’t just place the school there because he liked the view.

If we look around the Bible for Kirjath-jearim, we find that during that time the ark of the covenant was placed there. From this, two elements are immediately associated with the schools of the prophets: (1) The prophetic gift and (2) the ark of the covenant. Put another way, the schools of the prophets were connected with God’s presence and His will. After all, what do Prophets do aside from revealing God’s will? And what does the Ark of the Covenant contain? The law of God which, summed up, is God’s will for your life.

From the first two, it appears that one key purpose of the schools was to place their students in direct contact with God. This is fundamentally different from the education of the world. At least when I think of education, the first thing which comes to mind is career – something that is useful for the earthly life, not necessarily the heavenly life. Sure, I still want to pay my tithe and go to church, but school is for getting a job, finding a house, buying a car, etc. It’s for my life here on earth.

If anything, I’m used to thinking of school as a place where I get to find my will for my life-not a place to find God’s will for my life.

If anything, I’m used to thinking of school as a place where I get to find my will for my life—not a place to find God’s will for my life.

The Bible seems to imply it should be otherwise.

So what about the other schools? Some more searching shows us that there were at least three other locations: Bethel, Jericho, and Gilgal. What do their locations tell us about the purpose of the schools?

Bethel was one of the locations where Jeroboam placed a golden calf to replace the sanctuary service in Jerusalem. Jericho was “one of the principal seats of idol worship” and had the worst forms of religion on Canaan before its destruction by Joshua. Later on, it was rebuilt during Ahab’s time for the restoration of idolatry. Gilgal, right at the beginning of Israel’s conquest of Canaan, was originally a place where a memorial was set up to commemorate the crossing over the Jordan river. Later, in the time of Judges, we see that the Angel of the Lord comes from Gilgal, but it soon becomes a place where idols are set up during Eglon’s reign.

All three of these locations are significantly associated with Israel’s apostasy. So why would God place schools nearby? Ellen White gives a clear explanation as to why such seemingly counterintuitive locations were chosen: “These schools were intended to serve as a barrier against the wide-spreading corruption, to provide for the mental and spiritual welfare of the youth, and to promote the prosperity of the nation by furnishing it with men qualified to act in the fear of God as leaders and counselors.”

There, she spells it out: The schools were meant to combat the corruption and apostasy that was spreading across Israel by training godly youth. 

We can see that God had a specific educational plan in Israel’s time. But at the end of it all, the real question is “Does it matter?” Does it really matter what ancient schools did some four-thousand years ago? I sometimes wonder that myself, truth be told. Why do I spend my time studying specifics of a bygone era—one that is perhaps outdated in its application? After all, don’t we live in the 21st century? Aren’t things different now? It’s not like we see little Baal statues sitting around in every corner anymore.

Granted, we may not see graven images lying around, but there are still many things that we pay our time, money, resources, and effort to. There are still things that replace God in having the highest priority in life. These make them idols—idols aren’t always “graven images”.

It seems to me that the circumstances in which God established the schools of the prophets are no different to that of today. 

So, maybe our schools are still meant to center around God’s presence. Maybe our schools are still meant to have a strong foundation of prophetic guidance. Maybe our schools are meant to combat apostasy and rebellion. 

Maybe the schools of the prophets are still relevant:

“The work done in our schools is not to be like that done in the colleges and seminaries of the world. In the grand work of education, instruction in the science is not to be of an inferior character, but that knowledge must be considered of first importance which will fit a people to stand in the great day of God’s preparation. Our schools must be more like the schools of the prophets. They should be training schools, where the students may be brought under the discipline of Christ and learn of the Great Teacher.”

How exactly do we create a “school of the prophets” in the 21st century? That is what we want to figure out together.

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