When I first read 1 Kings 13:1-34, I was frustrated. With each additional reading, I became more frustrated. God gives so many people second-and- third-and-fourth chances, but this poor guy gets one. And it’s not even his fault. Well, not much. He just lets down his guard for one teensy, weensy minute.
Throughout the entire chapter, this prophet is referred to as a “man of God.” No name. Just “a man of God.” Obviously, he’s done something right. As the story unfolds, this man of God travels from Judah and confronts King Jeroboam who is setting up worship at the altar at Bethel, defying God’s decree that there would be only one altar—in Jerusalem.
The man of God is there to rain on Jeroboam’s idol-worship parade and prophesies that one day a descendent of King David named Josiah will sacrifice priests on that altar. (This came true 340 years later.) For proof, “the altar will split in two.” As one who hates David’s dynasty, the enraged king points to the prophet and commands his attendants to arrest him. Immediately the king’s arm shrivels up and the altar splits apart. This is no minor detail. Proper ritual required the sacrificial ashes be disposed of in a “clean” place (Lev. 4:12; 6:10-11). Contact with the ground nullified the sacrifice. Big trouble for the king.
I can only imagine Jeroboam’s horror. He begs for the man of God to intercede to the Lord to restore his hand. God answers his prayer.
So far, the man of God has lived up to his name.
In return, the king invites the prophet to his palace for a meal and a gift. The man of God answers 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.’” The man of God obeys and takes another road home. Clearly, he desires to follow God’s directive.
Word spreads, and an old prophet in the area hears from his sons about the miracle at the Altar of Bethel. He saddles his donkey, chases after the man of God, finds him under a tree and invites him to return for a meal. The man of God reiterates what he has told the king.
The old prophet answers, “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 returns with him and shares a meal.
Do you have the same questions I have? How was Prophet #1 to know he is being deceived? Why did Prophet #2 go to such efforts to seduce this man of God? Was it so he could brag to his friends that a celebrity had been in his house?
Trust me, there are no answers to these questions. All I know is, at this point I’m really ticked off at Prophet #2.
Let’s pick up in verse 20: “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, “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.’”
No apologies. No “I’m so sorry.” No “I’ve really screwed up this time.” No “Lord, take me in this man of God’s place.” Nothing (except prophesying his visitor’s doom).
See why I find this frustrating?
If you’re needing a little more frustration, just wait until next week when we will look at the rest of the story.