Bible Study Tools / Leadership

Leadership Training Schools From the Bible

by UNC Contributor

God shepherds His people by a consistent approach. Here is an illustration of how God has often provided Schools of Leadership for His people.

When wicked Queen Jezebel decreed death to Elijah, he fled into the wilderness. He was nurtured by angels as he walked to Horeb and took refuge in a cave. There God spoke with him directly. “And behold, the Word of Jehovah came to him, and He said to him, What are you doing here, Elijah? (1 Kings 19:9 MKJV). Elijah’s answer was: “I alone, am left. And they seek to take my life away” (1 Kings 19:10). Twice Elijah gives the exact same answer to God’s repeated question – that he alone was left. Then God instructs the prophet about several future tasks, along with the statement: “Yet I have left seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth which has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18). How do we reconcile Elijah claiming he alone was left, with God saying there were 7,000 faithful within Israel?

Searching the context for background we can see that there really is no contradiction. We can also discover how God provides leadership development for His people, even in the midst of a pagan, apostate environment.


Consider this man Obadiah. Here was a highly influential man who ‘feared the Lord greatly’ (1 Kings 18:3/13), yet was Ahab’s palace administrator. Obadiah’s name, “servant of Yahweh,” indicates his righteous character.

Ahab could scarcely have been ignorant of Obadiah’s faithfulness to God. It might indicate to a degree that Ahab’s worst deeds sprang less from his own free will and more from the evil counsel and imperious requirements of his wife.

Rulers often want a man of celebrated honesty, industry, and ingenuity; one in whom they can trust to remain above palace intrigue and deceit. As Joseph with Potiphar and Daniel with Nebuchadnezzar, so, too, Obadiah remained uncorrupted by Ahab. These righteous men weren’t influenced negatively by their unrighteous national leaders. In his high public profile role, Obadiah had taken one hundred of the faithful prophets and hidden them, fifty to a cave, and daily fed them. This was after Jezebel had killed some. Surely he ran a great risk at being found out. So, we find Elijah was not the only faithful one! Obadiah says later that he had reported to Elijah his action in saving one hundred of the prophets (1 Kings 18:13). When God states there are 7,000 who hadn’t bowed to Baal, we can understand that Elijah meant he was the only one publicly still confronting Ahab and Jezebel. Everyone else had gone into hiding from Jezebel’s purge.

What the biblical account tells us is that there were a number of prophets and ordinary people faithful to God in Elijah’s day. What was instrumental in keeping them faithful? Now unfolds the story of the schools of the prophets, or perhaps we can term them schools for training leaders.


Various scriptures give us tantalizing references to them. Our first glimpse comes during the ministry of priest and prophet Samuel. He was notable as God’s agent to anoint both Saul and David. However, another legacy of his may well have been the foundational beginning of a school of prophets. Although no direct Biblical statement tells us the manner of their living in groups or their organization, is it reasonable to deduce that many appear to be in company with one another. Is it similarly reasonable to infer a progression of development from Samuel through into Elisha’s day?

Often ‘servants’ knew where the ‘man of God’ lived. When Saul is looking for his father’s strayed animals, it is his servant who is aware of how to reach Samuel (1 Samuel 9:6, 9). We find Saul is met by a ‘company of prophets’ (1 Samuel 10:10-11), and the people query whether he had now joined them. We would assume there was some sort of organization or administration of these groups. When David later flees from Saul he heads for refuge with Samuel at Ramah. The biblical record tells us that a group of prophets were prophesying and that Samuel was “standing as leader over them” (1 Samuel 19:20-21).

Jumping ahead to Elisha’s day there is an intriguing account of three kings (Israel, Judah and Edom) allied against Moab, and taking a circuitous route, perhaps east of Edom to surprise Moab, but running out of water. In their dilemma it is one of the servants of the King of Israel who knows, somehow, that Elisha is nearby. Later Elisha is with the Shunammite woman up near Haifa at Mount Carmel. Here he is somewhere way south and east below Edom and a servant apparently is currently fully aware of his whereabouts (2 Kings 3:11).

So, is it reasonable to infer a progression from Samuel’s early ‘seer’ days to Elisha’s later building program when the ‘sons of the prophets’ had too small a facility to accommodate them all (2 Kings 6:1)? When we see isolated prophets emerge, as later with Nathan and Gad, to announce repeatedly the words of God to the kings under whom they served, might they also have been associated with a ‘company of prophets’? Various verses in Scripture could paint this picture.


At the anointing of Saul by Samuel we find a ‘group of prophets’ (1 Samuel 10:5/10). When we read of ‘a man of God’ or ‘sons of the prophets’ it is telling us that they were members of a special teaching and leadership class. ‘Sons’ does not refer to their ancestry but to their membership as part of the prophetic school of their day. From this school they were sent out under Divine inspiration to warn and witness as God directed. In Samuel’s day we find young David fleeing from King Saul and seeking refuge with Samuel at Ramah. Samuel takes him to Naioth and is described as the leader of this prophesying group of prophets (1 Samuel 19:18-20). Later in Ahab’s day we find ‘a man of God’ is directed to witness to Ahab, and ‘a certain man of the sons of the prophets’ also instructed to denounce Ahab’s actions (1 Kings 20:28-35).


By the time of Elijah and Elisha we find at least two groups of the ‘sons of the prophets,’ one in Bethel and the other in Jericho (2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7). God must have divinely indicated to Elijah that he was to be taken away and so before this departure Elijah visits the schools to say farewell. Here we find considerable numbers of ‘sons of the prophets’ at Bethel where one of the calves had been set up. And in Jericho which was rebuilt despite a curse upon it.

In Jerusalem and Judah the people had the privilege of Priests, Levites and a Temple service. In Israel, no such opportunity. So God graciously provided leadership training colleges where men were employed to teach the people how to worship God and to offer sacrifices. This maintained the Truth of God during times of apostasy. Jezebel provided the upkeep for her 400 priests of Asherah, while Ahab maintained 450 priests of Baal in the state religion of Israel (1 Kings 18:19). The righteous enjoyed no such official support, and they lived by trusting in God’s provision. We do not have any indication that Elijah or Elisha ever attended the temple in Jerusalem. These training schools maintained Godly worship within Israel, and Elijah prior to his departure now bids them farewell, after instructing, encouraging and blessing them.


The sons of the prophets apparently had awareness that their leader, Elijah, was soon to leave them. Either this insight is from Elijah himself, or perhaps God reveals it to them. On each visit to the schools they inform Elisha of this, both at Bethel (2 Kings 2:3) and at Jericho (verse 5). Elisha knows it full well and his blunt responses can be understood as not irritation but that his heart is dispirited at his mentor and leader soon to be taken away. Perhaps daunted by the weight of filling Elijah’s shoes, Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.

We find at Elijahs’s dramatic departure there are 50 “sons of the prophets” standing at a distance as witnesses to the event. Rather than taking a ferry across the Jordan, Elijah is moved to strike the river with the prophet’s outer garment. God parts the water, as He did through Moses with the Red Sea.

Elisha, now alone, is mocked in the popular sport of the day – poking fun at those who stand for God. This verbal abuse from young men from Bethel, the centre of idolatrous worship, was probably a result of Elijah’s denunciation of the prophets of Baal. The expression ‘bald head’ doesn’t necessarily refer to Elisha being bald, for it is a common epithet-even against people with a full head of hair. The call “go up, go up” is meant to mock Elisha as well as Elijah, taunting Elisha to go into the skies, as the youths had heard Elijah had done. Clearly, they don’t believe the story about Elijah, but their taint is mouthy scorn, suggesting Elisha has no real power as a prophet. God takes exception to the mob’s derision and has two she bears maul them (verses 23-25).


Because prophets are not on the payroll of the king, their livelihood depends on trust in God. On occasion it seems they had meagre provisions and a touching illustration is in 2 Kings 4. Here a destitute widow of one of the ‘sons of the prophets’ has a creditor threatening to put her two sons into servitude for unpaid debts. She has nothing in the house left and so she appeals to Elisha. What follows is the well-known wonderful miracle of the jar of oil repeatedly filling up until she had enough money to pay her debts, plus capital on which to live (2 Kings 4:7).

That ‘sons of the prophets’ were viewed as likely to be impoverished provides the excuse used by Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, in the story of Naaman the Syrian commander and his leprosy. When Elisha refused any payment for the dramatic healing from God, the temptation of considerable wealth was too much for Gehazi to resist. He chased after Naaman and gave the excuse that “…just now two young men of the ‘sons of the prophets’ have come to me from the mountains of Ephraim” (2 Kings 5:22). The implication being they were of course in need of welfare, so give some money for them. It was a deception and cost him dearly. But an interesting allusion to the likely survival problems for ‘sons of the prophets.’


During Elisha’s day their numbers outgrew their lodgings and we find them involved in a ‘building program.’ Their cutting down of trees for that purpose is intriguing with the loss of the axe head. It was ‘borrowed’ and we get the feeling they were so poor they needed to borrow sufficient tools (2 Kings 6). Now, let’s jump forward to our day in this illustration of God’s consistent provision.

How God has worked to teach and shepherd His flock in the past is invariably repeated in later times. When we come to Herbert Armstrong we find this same strong desire to establish a modern day version of a school of the prophets in Ambassador College. The building program in Elisha’s day reminds us of Ambassador’s building program over the years. And in recent years, the United Church of God has instituted the Ambassador Bible Centre! More recently, UCG has begun the process of relocation to provide an adequate leadership training facility for those who God calls to serve as pastors in His church.

Is there consistency here from the Spirit of God? I believe so. How positive and reinforcing is the constancy of purpose of God in shepherding, teaching and providing for His people!

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