While they were sitting at the table, the word of the LORD came to the old prophet who had brought him back. 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.’ ” (1 Kings 13:20-22, NIV).
1 Kings 13 tells a strange and tragic story. God sends a prophet from Judah to condemn king Jeroboam’s idolatry and leading the northern tribes of Israel into the worship of other gods. Jeroboam, who was worshipping at the alter he had set up in Bethel, pointed at him and ordered him seized, but his hand immediately shriveled up and he could not move it, and the alter he was worshiping at split in two. At first it looks like he might have got the message that he needed to repent and asks the prophet to pray that his hand would be healed. Showing what it means to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8, NIV), the man of God intercedes on his behalf and God heals the king’s hand. Then Jeroboam invites the prophet back to the palace for a meal and a gift. If God would not let him capture or kill him, perhaps he could kill his reputation by making it appear that the man of God was really his friend and supporter by doing so. But the prophet replies,
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. 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.'” (1 Kings 13:8-9, NIV).
On his way back he is met by an old prophet from Bethel who had heard what had gone on and found out which way he was going home. This prophet invites him back to his house for a meal, but again the man of God refused repeating what he had said to the king, 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’ (1 Kings 13:16-17, NIV).
This is where it gets interesting.
The old prophet answered, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the LORD: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.'” (But he was lying to him.) So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house (1 Kings 13:18-19, NIV).
While they were eating together, the old prophet tells the man of God that he should not have disobeyed what God told him by stopping and eating and drinking in Bethel and that he would die and not be buried at home. And indeed that is what happens, the man of God is attacked by a lion who kills him; his body is found by the old prophet and buried in Bethel (1 Kings 13:23-30).
What is the point of this story? What are we supposed to take from it? As I was re-reading this chapter in my devotions this morning, here is what I believe God shared with me:
Lessons from Jeroboam. Jeroboam is confronted by a prophet whom he knows speaks God’s word and whom he knows was sent from God to tell him that he was sinning in doing what he was doing because his hand was shriveled at his attempt to hurt him, healed when the man of God prayed for it to be healed, and saw his alter split in front of him as the man of God had said. But even with all these miraculous signs, he was not deterred. In fact he got worse. All the arguing and miraculous signs in the world are not enough to change a man’s heart. The heart cannot be changed from without, it can only be changed from within. Our job is to witness truthfully to what God has said and done and to faithfully do what He has given us to do, not to judge our success or failure on how people respond—favorably or not. That is up to God.
Lessons from the old prophet from Bethel. He lied to the man of God telling him that he had heard from God to get him to come and eat with him. Then he actually does hear a message from God about him. God does not only speak through people who are scrupulously obedient and faithful to Him. If that were the case, He wouldn’t be able to speak through many people would He? Our love for God should be moving us to live in faithful obedience to Him, but our sin does not keep God from working through us.
Lessons from the man of God from Judah. Satan is always at work to get us to doubt, to turn away, and to disobey. When Jeroboam asked him to dinner, he saw it for what it was and refused. So Satan changed his tactics and appeared to him as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) in the guise of one of God’s prophets. This is often how Satan works today. “Jeroboams” are easy to see for what they are, but “deceitful prophets from Bethel” not so much; and there are many more of them in life. We need to be familiar with God’s word, confident in His will for us, and prayerful in all we do, lest we end up being fooled as the man of God was.