A Cautionary Tale
1 Kings 13
Once upon a time an old prophet came across a corpse along the road. It had fallen victim to the lion who was still standing next to his prey. The lion had not eaten the corpse of the man and seemed to have no interest in the nearby donkey. So, the old prophet took up the corpse and brought it back to be buried in the family tomb.
This story in the Bible is not really about an old prophet, a corpse, a lion, and a donkey. It is about the “man of God” obeying the “word of the Lord”. In this chapter, the title “man of God” occurs fifteen times and the “word of the Lord” ten times.
The setting for this story follows the dividing of the United Kingdom of Israel into the northern ten tribes under King Jeroboam and the King of Judah. One of Jeroboam’s first acts was to build golden calves in the northern and southern parts of the land, so that the people would not return to Judah.
The Faithful Man of God
The young prophet was sent to Jeroboam as the king worshiped at his shrine in Bethel (13:1). The Mosaic law didn’t permit kings to serve as priests (2 Chron. 26:16–23). Jeroboam had changed the worship of Israel in 1 Kings 12.
This man of God spoke out to the altar not the king. He prophesied that one day Josiah would defile the altar. This prediction was fulfilled 351 years later by King Josiah (640–609). As proof of such, the altar was to be split in two as a sign from God (13:2,3).
When Jeroboam heard this, he commanded the prophet to be arrested as he pointed to the man of God. But God caused the King’s arm to wither. The prophet was not to be deterred from speaking the word of the Lord (13:4,5).
Jeroboam asked the prophet “pray for me” (13:6). The Lord graciously healed the Jeroboam’s arm. The king was more concerned about physical healing for his body than moral and spiritual healing for his soul. Even though he had witnessed three miracles in just a few minutes. The message should have been clear: first God is against his worship, God’s word will not be hindered; and God answers prayers.
▸ Perfect Obedience
Instead of repenting and praising God, Jeroboam invited the prophet home. But God told the man of God, “you must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came’” (1 Kings 13:8-9). God’s commandments were plain and simple: cry against altar, eat no bread, drink no water, and return not the same way (13:7-10).
The Unfaithful Man of God
▸ Delayed Return
For the man of God was “so far so good.” But, this faithful man of God became an unfaithful man of God. An old prophet in Bethel heard about his mission and found the young man resting under an oak tree by the road. He invited the young prophet home. However, he was told the same thing that was told to the King.
▸ Deceived by Lies
The old prophet earnestly desired to spend time with the man of God, so he lied (13:18). He claimed an angel spoke to him and said the young prophet should go home and eat and drink with the old prophet. If this prophet was speaking for God, why had God not used him instead to cry out against Israel? Perhaps God knew his lying heart too well. Why didn’t the young man of God inquire of God? Perhaps he put too much trust in this older prophet of God.
During dinner God came to the old prophet with a warning of coming punishment to the man of God for being “disobedient unto the Word of the Lord” (13:26). Partial obedience is not what God is looking for in a servant.
The prediction of the man of God’s demise came from the old prophet who lied to him (13:20-22). Kind of ironic, but God’s Word is truth no matter who says it. Remember God used greedy Balaam and the unjust Caiaphas to prophecy.
▸ Destroyed by a Lion
Just as the word of the Lord was fulfilled before the King, so the word of the old prophet was fulfilled that day. The man of God was killed by a lion on the way back to Judah. Notice the lion didn’t maul the body or attack the mule, and the mule didn’t run away. The miracle was the controlling of the instincts of animals (13:23-25).
▸ Died Without Making it Home
Although it seems unjust, the deceived dies and the deceiver lives Why did the man of God die? What did he do wrong? He perished because he had not remained faithful to the end (Prov. 14:12; 16:25). The old prophet buried him and wished to be buried with him. He cried out, “Alas, my brother”. He wept over the younger man’s death, even though he helped to cause it (13:26-31). What a tormented tomb. The liar and his victim. What if God buried us with the victims of our sin?
▸ Destiny of His Message
Notice the “man of God” story is sandwiched between the accounts of Jeroboam’s sin (1 Kings 12:25-33; 13:33-34). The king did not return to God. “He did evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of Jeroboam, and in his sin by which he had made Israel sin” (1 Kings 15:34). The old prophet declared the prophecy of the man of God would be fulfilled. He was confident of this because his own prophecy against the young prophet had come true. God’s spokesman may fail; God’s Word will not.
▸ Caution: God Hates Lying
The old prophet’s fooling the young prophet was to no one’s profit. God hates “a lying tongue” (Prov. 6:16,17). “I hate and abhor lying” (Ps. 119:163). All liars will go to hell (Rev. 21:8).
▸ Caution: Do Not Believe a Lie
Some who disobey God may argue, “it is not my fault. He deceived me with his lies.” So was Eve deceived by the lies of Satan, but she still sinned and was kicked out of paradise. The man of God was not ignorant. In fact, he repeated God’s instructions twice. Our legal system has a motto to that effect: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” So what if we hear contradictory commands? First of all, both commands cannot be right. Someone is lying or something has been misunderstood. Once God has spoken, any new word claiming to be from God must conform to the previous revelation of God or else it must be rejected as false. What does the Bible say I should do? “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1; see Gal.1:6-9). It is possible to believe a lie and be lost. We are responsible for what we believe (2 Thess. 2:10-12).
▸ Caution: Truth Is Always True
Regardless of the reasons or how unfair it might seem at the end of the day. The Word of God was what should have guided the man of God. God said He created the world in six days and man and woman of the sixth day. Evolution says man came to be by chance after millions of years. After all the arguments…all the debates are over…all the hypothetical situations are considered…all the experts consulted…all the emotional pleas that this is not right, at the end of the day God’s Word reads the same.
The Supreme Court recognizes homosexual marriage. God said marriage is only between a man and a woman (Gen. 2:18f; Lev. 18:18). After all the arguments…all the debates are over…all the hypothetical situations are considered…all the experts consulted…all the emotional pleas that this is not fair, at the end of the day God’s Word reads the same.
Man claims one can divorce for any reason. But Jesus said, “whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery” (Matt. 5:31-32). After all the arguments…all the debates are over…all the hypothetical situations are considered…all the experts consulted…all the emotional pleas that this is not fair, at the end of the day God’s Word reads the same.
Jesus said, “he who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16). But denominations teach that one is saved by faith only. After all the arguments…all the debates are over…all the hypothetical situations are considered…all the experts consulted…all the emotional pleas that this is not fair, at the end of the day God’s Word reads the same.
Remember, being faithful part of the time is not being faithful until death (Rev. 2:10).
– Daniel R. Vess