Psalm 145:17 - The LORD is Righteous in All His Ways, and Holy in All His Works.
In 1 Kings Chapters 13 we read the peculiar story of a prophet who was sent by the LORD, to curse an altar that Jeroboam, king of the northern kingdom of Israel, had set up. God had raised-up Jeroboam as a judgement against King Solomon – and his idolatry in later life (after having been influenced by his foreign wives). Jeroboam believed that unless the Northern Kingdom had its own places of worship, it could never truly be an independent kingdom from the Southern Kingdom (Judah) since all the Israelites travelled to Jerusalem for the feasts. As a result, Jeroboam made two golden calves, telling his people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem; behold your gods, O Israel, that brought you up from the land of Egypt” (1 Kings 12:28 – NAU).
Jeroboam set one of the gold calves at Bethel and the other at Dan (cf. New Testament Caesarea Philippi, see Matt. 16:13-20). As a divided nation, the northern kingdom of Israel started practising idolatry from the beginning – with their first king. With his golden calves and altars established Jeroboam instituted feasts (holy- days) for his kingdom. It is at this point, dedicating the altars and burning incense that we are introduced, in 1 Kings Chapter 13, to God’s prophet, an unnamed man of God.
Jeroboam was standing by one of the altars he had made when the man of God arrived and cursed the altar. Jeroboam objected and reached his hand out against the man of God and his hand shrivelled, but the man of God interceded on behalf of Jeroboam and his hand was restored. The man of God had been given explicit instructions from God, “You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came” (1 Kings 13:9). Though initially obedient to God’s instructions, the man of God was tricked by another “prophet” into disobeying the Lord. Subsequently, the man of Godcame under God’s judgement for his disobedience and was killed.
Nothing is said in Scripture about the prophet who deceived the man of God? Not a single word is made in regard to his deception, not a single rebuke for his lies: the man of God died, and the deceiver (the other “prophet”) lived. Is this not a travesty? Is this not unjust and unfair? Let us look deeper. Read 1 Kings 13- 1-34.
Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, while Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense. He cried against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’” Then he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign which the LORD has spoken, ‘Behold, the altar shall be split apart and the ashes which are on it shall be poured out.’”
Now when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” But his hand which he stretched out against him dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. The altar also was split apart and the ashes were poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD.
The king said to the man of God, “Please entreat the LORD your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.” So the man of God entreated the LORD, and the king’s hand was restored to him, and it became as it was before.
Then the king said to the man of God, “Come home with me and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward.”
But the man of God said to the king, “If you were to give me half your house I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water in this place. For so it was commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came.’” So he went another way and did not return by the way which he came to Bethel.
Now an old prophet was living in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the deeds which the man of God had done that day in Bethel; the words which he had spoken to the king, these also they related to their father. Their father said to them, “Which way did he go?” Now his sons had seen the way which the man of God who came from Judah had gone. Then he said to his sons, “Saddle the donkey for me.” So they saddled the donkey for him and he rode away on it. So he went after the man of God and found him sitting under an oak; and he said to him, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?” And he said, “I am.”
Then he said to him, “Come home with me and eat bread.”
He said, “I cannot return with you, nor go with you, nor will I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. For a command came to me by the word of the LORD, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water there; do not return by going the way which you came.’”
He said to him, “I also am a prophet like you, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.’” But he lied to him. So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house and drank water.
Now it came about, as they were sitting down at the table, that the word of the LORD came to the prophet who had brought him back; and he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Because you have disobeyed the command of the LORD, and have not observed the commandment which the LORD your God commanded you, but have returned and eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which He said to you, “Eat no bread and drink no water”; your body shall not come to the grave of your fathers.’”
It came about after he had eaten bread and after he had drunk, that he saddled the donkey for him, for the prophet whom he had brought back. Now when he had gone, a lion met him on the way and killed him, and his body was thrown on the road, with the donkey standing beside it; the lion also was standing beside the body. And behold, men passed by and saw the body thrown on the road, and the lion standing beside the body; so they came and told it in the city where the old prophet lived.
Now when the prophet who brought him back from the way heard it, he said, “It is the man of God, who disobeyed the command of the LORD; therefore the LORD has given him to the lion, which has torn him and killed him, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke to him.”
Then he spoke to his sons, saying, “Saddle the donkey for me.” And they saddled it. He went and found his body thrown on the road with the donkey and the lion standing beside the body; the lion had not eaten the body nor torn the donkey. So the prophet took up the body of the man of God and laid it on the donkey and brought it back, and he came to the city of the old prophet to mourn and to bury him. He laid his body in his own grave, and they mourned over him, saying, “Alas, my brother!”
After he had buried him, he spoke to his sons, saying, “When I die, bury me in the grave in which the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones. For the thing shall surely come to pass which he cried by the word of the LORD against the altar in Bethel and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria.”
After this event Jeroboam did not return from his evil way, but again he made priests of the high places from among all the people; any who would, he ordained, to be priests of the high places. This event became sin to the house of Jeroboam, even to blot it out and destroy it from off the face of the earth - 1 Kings 13:1-34
To many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, God’s judgment against His prophet (the man of God) in 1 Kings 13 seems unjust and unfair. Shouldn’t the other old prophet have been judged? After all, he was the one who lied and deceived the man of God. Is God’s judgment here wrong? Is God being petty and unjust in the handing out of justice? No, not at all. God is never petty or unjust!
We must remember that priests are man’s representatives to God; and it is for this reason we should be thankful to have Christ Jesus as our Eternal High Priest – making intercession for us. Prophets, on the other hand, are God’s representatives to man. True prophets, God’s prophets, are to have the greatest respect for God and His Word. They MUST be obedient. They are God’s representatives – they are NOT to misrepresent God by being disobedient, nor misinterpret God’s Word(s); and it is for this reason that the penalty for false prophets (in Old Testament law) was so severe (see Deut. 18:20-22).
Who’d want to be a prophet? Not even God’s true prophets relished the idea. Consider Amos who was sent by God to Bethel to prophecy against King Jeroboam II (around 760BC), and after being rebuked by “Amaziah, the priest of Bethel”(Amos 7:10) he said to Amaziah, “I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet; for I am a herdsman and a grower of sycamore figs.” (Amos 7:14) Amos sought no ministry, had no training, was not a member of any guild of professional prophets; God called this herdsman – who remained a herdsman – to be a prophet and he was obedient.
The idea that half of the televangelists on TV today (be that free-to-air or cable) are true prophets, God’s prophets, is laughable. God’s kingdom is NOT of this world (John 18:36) – these charlatans and their money- grubbing ways are entirely fleshly and worldly. God’s prophets are Not For Profit (c.f. 2 Kings 5, in regard to Elisha and Naaman)!
The man of God in 1 Kings 13 was truly one of God’s prophets: he went where God told him to go, did what God told him to do, and said what God told him to say. So where did he go wrong? Why, or how, did the old prophet deceive him; and why God’s judgment?
Who was this other prophet, the “old prophet ... living in Bethel”? Was he a prophet? 1 Kings 13 says he was – but whose prophet was he? The Scriptures do NOT say he was a “prophet of the LORD” or a “prophet of God”; in fact the Scriptures seem hazy on the subject. Was he a prophet of some other god, a false god? Was he one of Jeroboam’s prophets? Maybe he was a false prophet who could be bought, or a prophet whose services could be purchased. Maybe he was a prophet of God – in his younger years – but having settled in Bethel, maybe this prophet had settled for whatever was now happening in the world around him – a politically correct prophet. We do not know – but there are indicators that something was amiss.
The old prophet’s sons had been present when Jeroboam was dedicating the altar and burning incense. That they were able to convey to their father, the old prophet, what had transpired and what had been said is proof of this? If they were at the altar then were they merely observers, or were they participants, or were they priests of the altar? Irrespective of their role at Jeroboam’s altar, it is the action of the old prophet on hearing what transpired that we should note. Why did the old prophet inquire of the path that the man of God took? Why did he go after him?
The old prophet’s deception did NOT start when he met the man of God; it started when his sons told him what had happened. It would seem that the old prophet was NO prophet – or at least certainly not God’s prophet. The old prophet’sintent was to bring the integrity of the man of God into question (which would bring the word to Jeroboam [which he no doubt did not believe] into question).
We must note carefully that verse 11 – at the end – says, “the words which he had spoken to the king, these also they related to their father.” It wasn’t just what happened at the altar, it wasn’t just the cursing of it, the withering of Jeroboam’s arm, the fulfilling of the curse on the altar, the prayer of the man of God for Jeroboam, and Jeroboam’s healing that the sons told their father, it was “the words” that he spoke to Jeroboam that they told him.
The old prophet knew before meeting the man of God that the Lord had commanded him to, “eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came” (v9). What better way, therefore, to bring the integrity of: the man of God, his prophetic ministry, and/or the Word of God which he had proclaimed, into question than by getting the prophet to wilfully disobey God. All false prophets hate to be proven false – what better way for him to be vindicated as a prophet than by a true man of God falling. But how could he convince the man of God?
The old prophet described himself as “a prophet like you” (v18) and said that an “angel” spoke to him “by the word of the LORD”. Not only was this man a prophet like the man of God – but an angel had specifically given him this message to disregard what God had previously said. How more legitimate might a statement be! What a con.
The old prophet’s use of “angel” must be discussed. We must not apply a modern understanding to this word, for angel in the original Hebrew is the word malak – and just means messenger. Understanding this, we can see that the old prophetdid consult angels (i.e. messengers) – but they certainly were not “of the Lord”. His messengers were his sons. The old prophet used the man of God’s source – the LORD – as a false source for his lie. Such a lie is reminiscent of the Serpent’s deception of Eve in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say...” (Gen 3:1, NIV).
No Inquiry of the Lord
We may wonder why the man of God fell for this deception. Why didn’t he check with the Lord if what he was being told was true? This kind of deception, after all, was nothing new. Consider the covenant that Joshua made with some inhabitants of the land – when God had told Israel that no such covenants were to be made. Read Joshua 9:3-6.
When the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, they also acted craftily and set out as envoys, and took worn-out sacks on their donkeys, and wineskins worn - out and torn and mended, and worn-out and patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and had become crumbled. They went to Joshua to the camp at Gilgal and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a far country; now therefore, make a covenant with us.” - Joshua 9:3-6
Joshua did make a covenant with the people of Gibeon (who were Amorites, c.f. 2 Sam 21:2), and Scripture expressly says that the men of Israel, “...did not ask for the counsel of the LORD” (Joshua 9:14b). Unfortunately, no one is immune from being on the receiving end of deception. But, what we do, or don’t do, in the face of deception (no matter how truthful it seems) may go on affecting us (as it did with Israel in regards to the Gibeonites).
True Prophecy in the Mouth of a Non-Prophet
At the end of 1 Kings 13 we read that, “After this event Jeroboam did not return from his evil way, but again he made priests of the high places from among all the people; any who would, he ordained, to be priests of the high places” (v33). The deception worked. The integrity of the prophet seemed to have been sufficiently called into question that Jeroboam continued on with his sinful practices, in spite of his hand shrivelling up and only being restored through the intercession of the man of God. But back to the story.
Whilst the man of God was at the old prophet’s house eating (in opposition to the instructions he had received from God) the old prophet TRULY prophesied. Given the old prophet’s apparent lack of objection of his sons participating in Jeroboam’s idolatry, I would suggest that he wasn’t a real prophet in the first place. I would suggest that this prophecy was the first REAL prophecy he had ever given. And as such, this prophecy was not only a word for the man of God but – no doubt – it was a revelation of and by God for the old prophet that not only was the man of God a real prophet, but the man of God had indeed said to Jeroboam what he had been commanded to say. This would also have been a revelation to the old prophet that he had tricked the man of God into rebelling against the Lord.
After the man of God was killed (as the old prophet prophesied he would be), the old prophet had him laid in his grave, and he cried, “Alas, my brother!” (v30). This is a cry of a man who NOW recognises the man of God as a man of God – and what he had done to contribute to his death. The old prophet also gave instructions to his sons for his body to be laid next to the man of God when he also died (whenever that might be). This is an act of recognition, of association, of remorse, and repentance. God showed, through the old prophet’s word of prophecy, that the man of God was truly a man of God, and truly a prophet – a representative of God.
The old prophet assured his own sons of this fact, and assured them that the prophetic words of the man of Godconcerning the altar and high places in Samaria would come to pass (1 Kings 13:32). No more would the old prophet be aligned to Jeroboam – he had turned; he had changed direction himself and not gone the way he came. He repented.
Everyone dies – there are no exceptions. So, though the old prophet did NOT die as result of his deception – death would eventually catch up with him. True prophets, God’s prophets, real men of God, however, have to live to a higher standard, a higher calling, a more stringent obedience. We may not like it, we may say it seems unfair, but we are talking about God’s standard for His Man, His Representative; the one to whom He spoke and gave explicit instructions.
God’s Word will judge us all. Even Christians are not immune from the judgment of God in regard to attitudes and obedience.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world. - 1 Corinthians 11:27-32
Like the man of God we all need to follow God’s commands, but unlike the man of God we (well, “me” at least) fortunately are not prophets. I imagine that the televangelists of today are happy about this too (though they think they are prophets). And just like Jeroboam, the false prophets of today continue on with their own plans and schemes for what they deem to be reasonable, “Christian”, “godly”, worship, practice and living.
There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. - Proverbs 14:12
We can and should all learn from the prophet’s judgement.
About The Author
B. MICHAEL BIGG, and his wife, Kathryn, came out of the Word-Faith movement. Michael has a concern for the preaching of the truth (or lack of it) in many of today’s churches. He has a desire to assist in the education of the elect and reaching the lost. Brett works in the Information Technology (IT) industry.