If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Kings 13, Philippians 4, Ezekiel 43, Psalms 95–96. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read 1 Kings 13.
Jeroboam led the northern tribes’ rebellion from Judah and the Davidic king Rehoboam, but the northern tribes were still Israelites, still descendants of Abraham, still under the covenants God made with them. Therefore they should have continued to worship the Lord. The idols Jeroboam set up in 1 Kings 12 were designed to keep these northern tribes from re-unification with Judah. If the northern kingdom (which retained the name “Israel”) had its own king, its own capital city and its own religious centers, there would be no need to go to Judah and both areas would develop their own national identity over time. Although the Lord allowed Israel and Judah to separate in judgment for Solomon’s sins, he still required his people to live by his laws. He therefore sent a prophet “from Judah to Bethel” (v. 1) to confront Jeroboam and prophesy judgment on his altar of idolatry (vv. 1-3). Part of his prophecy was immediately fulfilled (v. 5); in addition Jeroboam had a personal demonstration that the Lord was in this word from the prophet when his hand suffered from some kind of paralysis and immediate atrophy (v. 4). Having lost the use of his hand, Jeroboam did ask the Lord for healing which he immediately received (v. 6). This kind of immediate demonstration of God’s power should have turned Jeroboam’s heart in repentance and faith; however, Jeroboam continued in unbelief and disobedience to the Lord’s laws (vv. 33-34). Unbelief does not come from lack of evidence for God; it is the default expression of our human hearts due to the fall. God can do many gracious things for us, but apart from God’s transforming, saving grace, we will persist in unbelief.
Speaking of people who were disobedient to the Lord’s word, the passage continues by focusing on the unnamed man of God who delivered these prophecies to Jeroboam and was the agent of these miracles (vv. 7ff). King Jeroboam, happy to have use of his hand again, wanted to fellowship with and reward this prophet (v. 7), but the prophet explained that God had given him clear instructions not to eat or drink in Israel or take the same route back to Judah (vv. 8-9). He refused Jeroboam’s dinner invitation and found a new route home, just as God had commanded (vv. 9-10). But when another man came along, an older man claiming to be a prophet himself (vv. 11-14), the younger prophet disobeyed God’s word to him and accepted the lie of the older prophet (vv. 16-19). Although the older man lied and deceived the younger man, God spoke through the older man and prophesied judgment for the younger prophet (vv. 21-22). The judgment the older prophet foretold was vague: “Therefore your body will not be buried in the tomb of your ancestors” (v. 22c). This was probably not welcome news, but it certainly did not sound like an immanent threat or a high price to pay for his disobedience. God did not delay, however, in executing this sentence as the younger prophet died before he even reached home (vv. 24-25). The older prophet completed the Lord’s word and buried his new friend (vv. 26-30). He even changed his estate plan and insisted that his children bury him with this younger prophet (v. 31) and affirming that his original prophecy to Jeroboam would be fulfilled (v. 32).
It is strange, isn’t it, that this older prophet would deliberately lie to the younger prophet, then be used by God to deliver the news of judgment against the younger man. Why would he tell such a lie? Was he so lonely in his service for the Lord that he would deceive God’s man for his own selfish reasons? And why was the older prophet not judged by the Lord for his lie? The scriptures do not answer these questions, nor do they tell us why the Lord bound the younger prophet by the seemingly arbitrary commands to not eat or drink or use the same route in Israel. What the passage seems to be telling us, however, is to be careful about our own obedience. It was hypocritical for the younger prophet to condemn Jeroboam’s disobedience then disobey the Lord himself. Yes, Jeroboam’s disobedience was much more serious than the younger prophet’s was. And, yes, it is true that the younger prophet was deceived by someone he thought he could trust and should have been able to trust. But the younger prophet had God’s clear word to him. He had already seen God confirm his word to Jeroboam so he should have taken God’s personal commands to him just as seriously. Furthermore, he should have known that God does not arbitrarily change his mind or his commands; the right thing to do, the wise thing to do, was to remain obedient to what God had told him despite a convincing word from a trusted older prophet. It didn’t matter if Jeroboam was the one issuing the dinner invitation (vv. 7-10) or if a trusted older prophet invited him (vv. 16-19), it was sin either way to disobey the Lord’s word. This is what we should cling to when someone we trust departs from God’s clear commands. It is always awkward and confusing to see someone we respect and admire sin or contradict God’s word, but if you walk with God long enough it will happen to you. The challenge in that moment is to cling to God’s word yourself instead of being disenchanted or falling into disobedience yourself.
One final thought: the younger prophet could have repented when he was confronted with his own disobedience. Why he didn’t repent is unknown to us; however, my understanding is that when God prophesies judgment he is giving his people the opportunity to repent. This is how we ought to receive confrontation, if it is biblical. Don’t ignore it, minimize it, make excuses for yourself, or try to refute it; embrace it as the Lord’s grace to keep you from greater sin and the consequences that come from sin. When verse 33 says, “Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways…” I think we are to understand that Jeroboam heard of the demise of this young prophet and the circumstances behind it. In other words, the younger prophet’s life and death were another illustration to Jeroboam of the danger of disregarding God’s word. Yet, despite all this, he did not repent. May God give us the grace to respond properly to his word in ways the men in this passage refused to do.
Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.