1 Kings 13

This is among the most tragic stories found in the Old Testament, yet through its tragedy there are some valuable lessons to be learned in how God deals with a person, in this case a prophet, who trips up and yields to temptation.  This whole incident reminds us of a small piece of advice Paul gave the Corinthians—

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!  (1 Corinthians 10:12)

There are a number points about this unnamed prophet that demand our attention:

1.  He was a true man of God, verse 1

By the word of the LORD a man of God came from Judah to Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make an offering.

Bethel was located some 12 miles north of Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah.  Bethel was part of Israel, the northern kingdom and frequently throughout Kings and Chronicles the Lord communicated to the kings of both kingdoms in this manner.  We learn something disturbing right away about the spiritual state of the northern kingdom:  there were no men of God living in it at this time; the Lord had to import a prophet from the southern kingdom in order to deliver a message of impending judgment upon Israel because of its idolatry.

This is always God’s way:  awful judgment is always preceded by an adequate warning.  Some people see only an angry and avenging God in the Old Testament, yet here we see a perfect example of His mercy.  He warned Jeroboam that judgment was coming and both he and his people had time to repent.

This prophet was no mere man; he was a man of God and a man from God who was moved by the Word of God to make the perilous journey northward to deliver a terrible message to a King.

This prophet was no false prophet; he was a genuine prophet, mightily used by God.

2.  He was a man of courage, verse 2

He cried out against the altar by the word of the LORD: “Altar, altar! This is what the LORD says: ‘A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.’ “

His message was delivered in a curious way.  It was really a message directed at the heathen altar, proclaimed in a loud voice, even while the king stood by listening.   Notice what was condemned and what was not:  the altar was condemned, the king was not.  But Jeroboam was the one leading in the false sacrifices and so it was personal message to him; the judgment to come was a judgment that he himself brought about.

The message must have chilled the king to his bones.  At some point in the future, a prince of the House of David named Josiah would come and burn the bones of Jeroboam’s priests on that same altar, rendering that altar useless.  The fulfillment of this prophecy is found in 2 Kings 23:15—20; a time period of some 300 years later!  In fact, the prophecy won’t come to pass until after the northern kingdom had fallen to Assyria.   God hated Jeroboam’s false religion so much, that even after the nation was utterly destroyed, which itself was a judgment from God, God would come back and, using a Godly king from Judah, defile that altar.  Apparently it was still being used by those inhabiting the area once occupied by the long-gone northern kingdom.

It took courage to deliver such a message!  God’s Word is very often full of comfort and love, but sometimes it is a word of terrifying judgment.  Such is the case here.  Preaching a message not likely to be well-received by its listeners is rarely fun and will certainly not win the preacher many friends, but sometimes people need to hear the hard message from the Lord.  This man was full of God’s Word and full of courage.

3.  He was a man of power, verse 5

In order to drive home the truthfulness of his prophecy, this unnamed prophet offered a sign:  the altar would be split apart and its ashes poured out on the ground.

Also, the altar was split apart and its ashes poured out according to the sign given by the man of God by the word of the LORD.

This was a truly awful sign.  According to regulations, those ashes were to be carefully gathered up and removed so as not to desecrate the area (Leviticus 1, 4, 6).  By pouring them out on the ground and by splitting Jeroboam’s altar open, God basically told Jeroboam that He was invalidating the king’s “new” religion.

“Signs and wonders” always accompany the proclamation of God’s Word, even down to this very day.  God’s Word is powerful when it is uncompromised—

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.  (Hebrews 4:12)

A question many of us need to ask ourselves is this:  if signs and wonders are not accompanying our preaching and testifying about God, is God really working through us?  Mark 16:17—

And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues

The sign of the broken altar, as well as his withered hand, not only served to confirm God’s Word, but also served to change Jeroboam’s attitude toward the prophet from antagonism to respect.  The king was convinced that this prophet from Judah was the genuine article, and so he invited the man to come and eat.

4.  He was a man of self-denial

After praying for the restoration of the king’s hand—he was a man of prayer, too!—the king asked the prophet to stay for dinner.

The king said to the man of God, “Come home with me for a meal, and I will give you a gift.”  (verse 7)

The king’s offer was not an unusual one.  It was a long walk back home for this prophet.  While we cannot see into Jeroboam’s heart to discern his motives, this prophet clearly was not a man easily manipulated.  He was determined to stay focused on what God wanted—

For I was commanded by the word of the LORD: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came.  (verse 9)

Nothing the king could offer him would entice him to stay and eat.  God actually gave the prophet three orders:  he was not to eat, he was not drink, and he was not to return home by the same road he took on his way there.

5.  He let his guard down, verses 11—22

This incident with the old prophet of Bethel has been given several different interpretations.  Some scholars see the old prophet as the first false prophet of the northern kingdom.  They see him as going along with the king, using his blatant lie to discredit the man of God.

Others see this old prophet, not as a false prophet, but as a weak old man who failed to take a stand against Jeroboam’s false religion.  When he heard about what the true man of God had done, it is likely the old prophet wanted to be encouraged by and have fellowship with him. So he used a lie, which God would never condone, to get the prophet to come home with him.

It is likely the old man’s motives were pure, though his actions were not.  But of interest is how the man of God responded to the old man—

The man of God said, “I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. I have been told by the word of the LORD: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way you came.’ ”  (verses 16, 17)

Why didn’t he just say “no?”  He owed this old man no explanation.  In fact, his response to Jeroboam’s offer is also interesting—

But the man of God answered the king, “Even if you were to give me half your possessions, I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water here.”  (verse 8)

Why would he say that?  Did he seriously think the king would offer him half his possessions?  Or did he seriously hope the king would make such an offer?   It could be we are given a glimpse into this man’s character, which was clearly flawed since he was taken in by the old prophet far too easily.  And it could be we are given a glimpse into the nature of this man’s relationship to God.  Perhaps he carried out God charge out of duty and because God commanded him to do so, and not out of conviction.

At any rate, the man of God disobeyed God’s wishes and went home to eat with the old prophet.  During the meal, a remarkable thing happened—

He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, “This is what the LORD says: ‘You have defied the word of the LORD and have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you. You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore your body will not be buried in the tomb of your ancestors.’ ”  (verses 21, 22)

The old man really was a prophet!  And despite his lie, God still spoke through him, condemning the man of God from Judah.  A lot of Bible readers are troubled that God would speak through such man.  But why wouldn’t He?  If God only spoke through perfect men, there would have been no prophets!  What’s more troubling is the man from Judah’s response to this word from the Lord—

When the man of God had finished eating and drinking, the prophet who had brought him back saddled his donkey for him.  (verse 23)

He just sat there, finishing his meal!  The awful word from God didn’t seem to faze him at all.  He didn’t ask for forgiveness.  He didn’t ask the old prophet to intercede for him.  He finished his meal and then went on his way.

6.  Unintended consequences

The word of the Lord came to pass quickly.  As the man of God was returning home, he was killed by a lion.

As he went on his way, a lion met him on the road and killed him, and his body was left lying on the road, with both the donkey and the lion standing beside it.  (verse 24)

The old man eventually found out about what happened, and when he went to see for himself, we read this remarkable verse—

Then he went out and found the body lying on the road, with the donkey and the lion standing beside it. The lion had neither eaten the body nor mauled the donkey.  (verse 28)

Surely the fact that the body was intact and that neither the lion nor the donkey strayed away was an unmistakable indicator that what happened was indeed of the Lord.  One would think that all these “signs” would have somehow influenced King Jeroboam, yet the exact opposite happened.

Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways, but once more appointed priests for the high places from all sorts of people. Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places.  This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth.  (verses 33, 34)

Here we see the surprising, unintentional consequences of one man’s disobedience of the word of the Lord:

  • The old prophet was now convinced that the religion of Jeroboam was truly wrong and evil and that it would be destroyed in time.
  • King Jeroboam, once impressed with the man of God from Judah, was now emboldened in his sin and completely disregarded what he was told.

The lessons of obedience and disobedience are stark:

  • Obedience to God’s will may bring us into difficult and dangerous places;
  • Obedience confronts us with situations where it may be difficult to discern right from wrong, good from evil;
  • Obedience can turn into disobedience quickly when we let our guard down;
  • Disobedience will bring punishment regardless of how faithful we have been in the past.

Don’t let what happened to the man of God happen to you, because it can happen to anybody.

(c)  2010 WitzEnd

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