The Young and Old Prophet
First Kings Chapter 13
13:1 “Prophets in the Old Testament were not only ‘king-makers’ but also ‘king-breakers’. Those the Lord sent to choose and anoint kings could also be sent to declare divine judgment” (Dilday p. 167). The prophet in this chapter is unnamed and simply called “a man of God”. “God did not permit the inauguration of Jeroboam’s first great feast at Bethel to proceed without prophetic protest” (Smith p. 473). The prophet actually arrives at the very moment that Jeroboam is arrogantly officiating as high priest of his own man-made religion. Note the prophet had come from Judah. Was this because no prophet or faithful prophet could be found in the northern kingdom?
13:2 The prophet cried against the altar, because it was unscriptural in the sight of God. With the precision that is often found in the Bible, Josiah, a man who would not be born for some three hundred years, was named as the instrument who would bring God’s wrath upon Bethel and its altar. The actual prediction is fulfilled in 2 Kings 23:20. “The time span between Jeroboam and Josiah was 291 years. But time means nothing to the One who inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15). He sees the future as clearly as the present” (Winters p. 105). “The man of God did not even hint at what would happen before Josiah’s day: that the kingdom of Israel would fall to Assyria because of her apostasy, and then as Assyrian power weakened, it would be possible for Josiah to extend the authority of Judah northward and to destroy the idolatrous sanctuaries there” (Vos p. 94).
13:3 As proof that this man was speaking from God, a sign was given. As in the New Testament, the miracles were proof that God was speaking through an individual (Acts 2:22; Hebrews 2:3-4).
13:4-5 Instead of listening and repenting Jeroboam tried to silence this prophet. He attempts to stop the prophet and thus also to obliterate the word of God. God immediately punished Jeroboam by causing his arm to wither. “Before any soldiers could act, Jeroboam’s hand froze in its outstretched position, paralyzed; and the altar ‘bust apart’ and the ashes scattered” (Vos p. 94). “In one dramatic act, God demonstrated that the sacrifice being offered was unacceptable; symbolized the ultimate overthrow of that altar; and humbled a proud king” (Smith p. 474).
13:6-10 Jeroboam now changes his tactics, and pleads for mercy, yet whatever softening of the king’s heart the request might imply, it was short-lived. He continued in disobedience until his death (33). This would be a good illustration of a worldly sorrow that does not lead to salvation (2 Corinthians 7:10). Jeroboam attempts to win the prophet’s favor by offering him food and a gift, but the prophet refused, he had his orders from God. Yet to this day, people continue to walk in the steps of Jeroboam in the sense that they can only think of honor and respect in monetary or earthly terms. Jeroboam thought that food and a reward would honor the young prophet and forgot that what God wanted was his repentance and obedience. First, prophets must not be for sale, and secondly, Jeroboam was an apostate (1 Corinthians 5:9ff). “Sharing in the meal would be a sign of close fellowship. This prophet was to leave no doubt that the God he served had repudiated the northern calf cult” (Smith p. 474). There is a lesson here: if a person will not repent, then there is really nothing else to talk about. Shooting the breeze with the king at the moment would make about as much sense as shampooing the carpet while your house is on fire.
13:11-13 While devout worshippers of God had immigrated to Judah (2 Chronicles 11:13-16), at least one old prophet remained in Bethel. It appears he had compromised himself, for God was not using him. In addition he will tell an outright lie to the prophet that had come from Judah. He may not have been attending Jeroboam’s idolatry but he appears to be very comfortable in Bethel. “If he were a prophet of God, he was certainly now derelict of his duties, neither contending against the calf worship at Bethel nor raising his prophetic voice in defense of the ancient order at Jerusalem. In addition, his sons appear to have actively practiced the sin of Jeroboam, being present and aware of all the events that had transpired at the altar” (Winters p. 108).
13:14-18 The old prophet lies to this unnamed prophet, and says that an angel had given him new information. “An angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord” (18). Does this sound familiar? Joseph Smith also claimed that an angel had spoken to him (Galatians 1:6-9). Here we learn that God does not contradict Himself and that He expects us to test those whose claim they are speaking for Him, with what He has said in the past (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1ff). And God is not offended when we test those who claim to represent Him (Revelation 2:2). Sincerely believing a lie does not make up for neglecting the truth, and neither does it make it the truth no matter how hard we believe it. There is an example of where the modern idea, “What is truth is what is truth for me” is found to be wanting. People will try to deceive us, and there are many people claiming that God is speaking through them today. God will allow us to believe a lie if we do not trust Him (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). “The unnamed prophet knew God’s command. He also knew that God does not contradict His own Word. So when a prophet said that an angel said that he could eat and drink in Israel, his heart should have detected the hiss of the Serpent (‘you shall not die’ Genesis 3:1ff) and his lips should have cried out, No!!” (Whitcomb p. 26).
So why did this young prophet trust the word of an old prophet in the northern kingdom instead of relying upon what God had originally said?
· Was it because he naively assumed that someone who professed to be religious always spoke the truth?
· Was he fooled by the age, experience or prestige of the old prophet, thinking “Well, he must be right seeing that he has spent more time studying the Scriptures than I have?”
· Was he under the illusion that he could not challenge someone if they claimed that God had indeed spoken to them?
· Did he forget that even prophets can lie and fall away?
· Did he forget that even Satan can use God’s professed servants?
· Notice that the young prophet was not taken in, nor intimidated by Jeroboam or his offers, but was completely fooled by an old prophet. The lesson here is that temptation is often most dangerous when it comes from someone who appears innocent and who appears to be on the same page as we are.
· Then there is the question of why the old prophet lied. Notice that he says, “I also am a prophet just like you” (13:18). Yet, that was not true either. The old prophet did not have the conviction or faithfulness of the younger prophet. Is there jealousy here? Is there a desire to be viewed as being faithful when one is not faithful? How many religious people will often say, “I am a Christian just like you!” when their life says the complete opposite. Notice that the old prophet was informed by his sons concerning everything that the young prophet had told Jeroboam, including the direct command from God not to eat (13:11). Yet his placed a higher priority on his own curiosity or social status than on what God had said, which probably reveals why God had not used him. Did he lie thinking that such a deviation would not be that serious? Was he like many religious leaders who no longer believe that God is going to act in exactly the manner in which the Bible describes?
13:20-22 God immediately pronounces judgment against the unnamed prophet. Because the man of God had disobeyed the full counsel of God, he would not be buried in the tomb of his father; this meant that he would meet a violent death along the way home (23-24). Many would argue that his disobedience was in such a tiny matter, after all had he not confronted Jeroboam, had he not obeyed 99% of what God had told him? Yet God judged him sternly. Remember, any command that God gives is important, or He would not have given it, and disobedience to any command of God, to any detail in any command, is a sin. In modern times some would argue that the important element in the command to this young prophet was to confront Jeroboam and whether he ate or drank is really a minor issue. Notice that the young prophet keeps faithfully what many would consider the important aspect of the command and yet he is judged for not keeping the entire command. We cannot divide a command into major and minor issues. Do not let anyone convince you that as long as you have warm feelings for God and generally do what is right that you can ignore the commands of God. One popular expression today is that “People major in minors”, but this expression does not fit well with this example. Even though the old prophet had lied to him, God still held this man accountable for believing a lie that contradicted His truth. How many people today are believing that baptism is not essential to salvation because some religious leader has told them so? Also note that God did not strike Jeroboam or the old prophet—rather He immediately punished the man who had previously been faithful.
13:23-25 “That this death was no accident is indicated by the peculiar behavior of the donkey and the lion, both of which simply stood near the corpse of the fallen prophet” (Smith p. 475). 13:26-32 The old prophet who had lied goes and retrieves the body and shows profound respect for the unnamed prophet by placing his body in his own grave. Apparently, the old man was now convinced that the predictions regarding the Bethel altar and other sanctuaries in the north would come to pass” (Smith pp. 475-476). Yet nothing is said about this old man turning to God, or repenting of his falsehood. There are a good number of people like this old prophet. They show some respect for God or His faithful servants, but it is too little, too late. In fact, the desire to be buried with the young prophet smacks of superstition. Maybe he thought that with his bones lying next to the bones of the young prophet that somehow he would be part of the resurrection of the faithful at the last day. Yet there is no inherent spiritual value in being buried next to someone who has been more faithful than ourselves. In fact, we learn a valuable lesson here. People in the world often give lip service to God, the Bible, the church or Christians, and they have convinced themselves that they are showing respect, but what they are actually showing is disrespect. Mourning over the death of a righteous man does little good if the one mourning never changes. It reminds me of relatives of Christians who praise the Christian at their death, but did little to support their efforts to serve God or were actually a temptation to the Christian while he or she was alive. Notice that the old prophet says, “Alas, my brother” (13:30), when the reality is that such men had little in common. If he was such a brother, then why had this man lied to him? “What an indictment this is against false teachers and their doctrines! Jesus described them as wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15-21). Paul warned of false teachers entering the church (Acts 20:28-32), gospel perverters (Galatians 1:6-11), and false prophets (2 Corinthians 11:13-15) (who looked like faithful and sincere members). Despite these warnings, many still contend, ‘It does not matter what one believes, just as long as he is sincere’. But it was a matter of life and death with this young prophet, and the same it true of us (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12; 2 John 9-11)” (Winters p. 109).