9

The Context

In 2 Kings chapter 3, the Kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom are gathered together (v.9a) to go against Moab (v.5-6). But in the hunt with their armies, they were running out of water (v.9b), such that the king of Israel was beginning to believe the three kings were to be delivered by YHWH to Moab.

So the king of Judah inquires if a prophet of YHWH is around, and the answer comes back that Elisha is (v.11). So the kings go to him, and then an exchange occurs where Elisha seems not too pleased to be inquired of by them, only acknowledging Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, the one who sought a prophet of YHWH, per vv.12-14 (NKJV, bolding added):

12 And Jehoshaphat said, “The word of the LORD is with him.” So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him. 13 Then Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother.” But the king of Israel said to him, “No, for the LORD has called these three kings together to deliver them into the hand of Moab.” 14 And Elisha said, “As the LORD of hosts lives, before whom I stand, surely were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not look at you, nor see you."

So Elisha then does something interesting (again, bolding added) and a prophecy comes (2 Kg 3:15-19):

15 "But now bring me a musician.” Then it happened, when the musician played, that the hand of the LORD came upon him. 16 And he said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Make this valley full of ditches.’ 17 For thus says the LORD: ‘You shall not see wind, nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you, your cattle, and your animals may drink.’ 18 And this is a simple matter in the sight of the LORD; He will also deliver the Moabites into your hand. 19 Also you shall attack every fortified city and every choice city, and shall cut down every good tree, and stop up every spring of water, and ruin every good piece of land with stones.”

The Question

Does the "him" (end of v.15) and "he" (beginning of v.16) refer to Elisha or to the musician?

That is, did Elisha call a musician so that the prophecy would be delivered by that musician (but obviously by Elisha's "blessing" so to speak, since he is the one who called for him) instead of directly by Elisha or did the musician simply, in some unexplained way here, play a role of causing Elisha himself to prophesy under these circumstances through the playing of music?

The reasons why I question this at all are:

Against being the musician (so in favor of Elisha)

  1. Contextually, Elisha was the prophet sought for by the kings to get an answer from.
  2. Contextually, related to #1, Elisha is a recognized prophet within Scripture, so it seems probably he is the one doing the prophesying here.
  3. Historically, Elisha is a well known prophet of Scripture, so that also points more to his being the messenger.

Against being Elisha (so in favor of the musician)

  1. Contextually, Elisha did not really want to have anything directly to do with the king of Israel's errand.
  2. Contextually, since Elisha made the call for the musician, this would likely alleviate any doubts the kings might have had from a prophecy coming from the musician. That is, they would likely see Elisha's "blessing" on the message spoken, since he is the one who called for the musician, and take that message as if Elisha had given it himself. (This is significant, because if true, it takes all the three reasons above for why Elisha might be intended and essentially nullifies them, for Elisha's prophetic authority would be seen as "approving" of the musician's message since Elisha was the one who called for him.)
  3. Contextually, no other reason is given why the musician is called for (he does not call for one in any other story of his prophesying, e.g. 2 Kg 4:1-7).
  4. Grammatically, the nearest antecedent to "him" and "he" is the musician.
  5. Historically, there are other isolated instances in Scripture where those not normally prophetic do prophesy (often in association with prophets). Consider:
    • The elders (Num 11:25-27)
    • Saul before becoming king (1 Sam 10:5-13); interesting to compare to the passage in question here, as there, the prophets themselves played the instruments (is there an implication that the musician was a prophetic student of Elisha?)
    • Messengers from Saul and again Saul (1 Sam 19:24)

The above logic is why I am questioning the intent and form of the wording of the passage with respect to determining who delivered this prophecy.

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  • 2
    I think it is pretty clear from the above verses that it was Elisha that prophesied. There is no need to believe that it was the musician that prophesied, for how would Elisha affect the state/consciousness of the simple musician?? Rather it was Elisha who prophesied by going into an ecstatic state. In order to achieve this, Elisha had to summon the musician so that he would dance and shake until he would go into a trance-like state and this is when the spirit of the Lord rested upon him. Music was actually a pretty common method used in the ANE to induce a prophetic state.
    – Bach
    Jul 26 '17 at 0:43
  • @Bach the text does not state Elisha affects the musician, it says "the hand of the LORD came upon him." So if the musician is the one prophesying, it is because God chose to use him for that at that time. And nowhere does it state of Elisha (1) that he went into an ecstatic state (you are reading into the text there) or (2) that he did a "dance and shake." I'll add some further reasoning as to why there is a question here as to who is prophesying.
    – ScottS
    Jul 26 '17 at 17:33
  • Scott i'm not saying that the text is saying that. I'm merely pointing out that to conclude that the musician prophesied based on the fact that Elisha's name is not mentioned there would be erroneous. If that would've been the case the author would've added that the musician prophesied since it is an unusual phenomenon. From the lack of information we can assume that it was Elisha.
    – Bach
    Jul 26 '17 at 18:07
  • "@Bach the text does not state Elisha affects the musician, it says "the hand of the LORD came upon him." So if the musician is the one prophesying, it is because God chose to use him for that at that time." Scott i agree the text does not say that, "you" said that. You wrote that he "oversaw" the musician so to speak.
    – Bach
    Jul 26 '17 at 18:10
  • @Bach: Part of my addition shows that, under purely normal grammatical rules, the author did say the musician prophesied, since the last antecedent to the "him" and "he" is the musician. Now context can warrant a "jump" to a prior antecedent when that is clear, but the question here relates to how "clear" is that. And you misunderstood my reference to Elisha's involvement if the musician is the one prophesying, he is not "affecting" the musician, but rather sanctioning his message by the fact that he called for him. This relates to my added point #2 for possible things favoring the musician.
    – ScottS
    Jul 26 '17 at 18:15
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Who prophesied in 2 Kings 3:16-19, Elisha or the musician?

Another way to solve the mystery is to recognize the sensus plenior within. This is a prophetic reference to John and Jesus ministering together.

Mt 11:17 And saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned unto you, and ye have not lamented.

Three kings searched for water, Christ as fully God found the land to be desolate (no word of God).

He was to be delivered into the hand "of his Father" (Moab).

Elisha (God is salvation) of Shaphat (god has judged) represents the salvation of God through the judgement of Christ. He removed the ax (judgement) from the stream (water/word).

After the minstrel and the dirge (bad prophecy) there is the utter destruction of the land (flesh) similar to the total consumption of the burnt offering.

The word (water) became life (life is in the blood).

The son of the king was offered as burnt offering v.27

In this case, the dirge came from Elisha, but even the dirge of John proclaimed life through theWord (Christ).

Ultimately, Elijah and Elisha, John and Jesus, speak of Jesus alone. He preached repentence, judged us by his perfect obedience in the midst of temptation, putting us to shame, and provided life through his blood.

2
  • Are you into Semiotics Bob.
    – user20490
    Dec 1 '17 at 22:58
  • Only from the back door. I do what I see the NT authors do.
    – Bob Jones
    Dec 3 '17 at 23:30
0

In the New Living Translation the verse is as follows

Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I wouldn’t even bother with you except for my respect for King Jehoshaphat of Judah. 15 Now bring me someone who can play the harp.”

While the harp was being played, the power of the Lord came upon Elisha,

It seems like an issue with translation. It would be an odd ocurrance in the old testament for someone other than a prophet or insignificant to have prophesied. The music was most like needed to effect Elisha, maybe in a similar fashion as in 2 Kings 3:14

Some of Saul’s servants said to him, “A tormenting spirit from God is troubling you. Let us find a good musician to play the harp whenever the tormenting spirit troubles you. He will play soothing music, and you will soon be well again.”

Listening to music could have been used to get into the required spiritual state.

1
  • Thank you for your attempt to answer this question (and apologies for not responding sooner). However, the New Living Translation is making an interpretation by adding "Elisha" in v.15, as the original Hebrew text uses pronouns (like the NKJV parallels), and hence the ambiguity that led to my question. So at best, the NLT example just means the interpreters of the NLT believed Elisha was the referent. As to someone prophesying that is "insignificant," my point #5 noted that such does occur (though I did not give examples, so I probably should add some).
    – ScottS
    Aug 21 at 18:06
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Perhaps one cannot answer this question definitively due to the ambiguity of the pronoun referent. The best we can do is make an educated guess based on logic. The strongest argument for it being the musician is the grammatical one of the nearest antecedent. All other arguments favor Elisha. Let’s look at your 5 supposedly in favor of the musician.

  1. By calling the musician, Elisha was still involved in accomplishing the king’s errand. If he didn’t want anything to do with it, he could have refused to come rather than call in a musician to prophesy. He got involved for the sake of Jehoshaphat.
  2. Again, there is not much difference between whether he blesses a prophecy or prophesies himself. The kings would still value hearing from Elisha rather than some unknown musician.
  3. A possible reason is the music helped him overcome his reluctance to help the king of Israel and helped him get into the mental state of hearing from God. If a musician is called and not a prophet, it is safe to assume that he is called to play music and not prophesy especially when a powerful prophet is present.
  4. True, but the story revolves around Elisha, not the musician.
  5. Sure, God can do anything but we can’t assume anything specific unless it is made clear. There is no compelling reason to believe that God would speak through someone other than the principal prophet of Israel on such an important occasion.

In sum, there is no real good reason to believe that the prophecy was delivered by anyone other than the main protagonist of the story. If it were important that the musician was the one who prophesied, it would likely have been made more clear. We can conclude with reasonable confidence that the prophet Elisha prophesied.

-1

This is actually simpler to solve that the English translations make it. For example, the BSB renders 2 Kings 3:15 as:

But now, bring me a harpist.” And while the harpist played, the hand of the LORD came upon Elisha

But I would very literally translate this as:

now bring me a playing [one]. It occurred that [when] the playing [one] played, the hand of YHWH came upon him.

So, what is the antecedent of "him"? It must be a noun and the "the musician" is actually not a noun here but only a verb participle. Therefore, the antecedent of "him" is the noun in the previous verse, namely, "Elisha".

Most versions must render the verb participles as nouns which muddies the waters as far as the antecedent of "him" is concerned, and so they supply it and thus (correctly) render the pronoun, "Elisha". For example:

  • NIV, NLT, BSB, CSB, etc.
2
  • I don't believe this is nearly as "simple" as you make it to be. The Hebrew term is a verb participle (not particle), and as a participle, it can (and they often do) function as a noun. So since it matches number (singular) and gender (masculine), מְנַגֵּ֑ן (musician, harpist, one playing, etc.) can be the referent of the personal pronoun "him" as much as Elisha is. Otherwise, I wouldn't have bothered to ask the question.
    – ScottS
    Sep 1 at 23:12
  • @ScottS - my apologies, I will correct the spelling mistake.
    – Dottard
    Sep 1 at 23:51

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