1 Kings 13:1 By the word of the Lord a man of God came from Judah to Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make an offering.
Since the northern kingdom departed from true religion, God could have turned his back on them. Instead, he reached out to his people through a series of prophets. The first one is not named, but is simply called a man of God.
As Jeroboam stood by the altar he made, the man of God from Judah began to speak. Altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you (1 Kings 13:2).
This man risked his life by interrupting a religious service led by King Jeroboam. He mentioned a future king, Josiah, who would demolish the altar built by Jeroboam (2 Kings 23:15). Josiah ruled in Judah, about three hundred years after Jeroboam, and did what the man of God foretold. Telling the future is easy for God because he knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
1 Kings 13:3 That same day the man of God gave a sign: This is the sign the Lord has declared: The altar will be split apart and the ashes on it will be poured out.
To show that his distant prophecy would be fulfilled, the man of God foretold something that would happen that very day. The man of God was being a nuisance, however, so Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar and said, Seize him! Immediately the hand he stretched out shriveled up, the altar split apart, and the ashes poured out—just as the prophet foretold.
The prophet was clearly speaking for God, so the king asked for his hand to be restored. As soon as the prophet prayed, the king’s hand was healed. We might expect the king to abandon his false religion, and lead God’s people in true religion. Instead, he tried to bribe the man of God with a gift. If he could win the prophet’s support, it would add credibility to the king’s religion.
Jeroboam added stubbornness to his many other sins. He determined his course of action, and would continue at any cost. Even when God made his will clear, Jeroboam refused to change.
But if we condemn Jeroboam, we must also condemn ourselves. There is an obstinate streak in all of us. Even when God’s will is clear to us, we often go against it. All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people (Isaiah 65:2), said God. Jeroboam was wrong to be stubborn, and so are we.
1 Kings 13:11 Now there was a certain old prophet living in Bethel, whose sons came and told him all that the man of God had done there that day.
The old prophet’s sons appear to have been at the sacrifice and witnessed the events. They knew their father would be interested, so they quickly brought him the news. The old prophet wanted to meet the younger man of God, so he mounted his donkey and went after him. Then he invited him home to eat.
The younger man of God was hungry, and would have gone home with the old prophet, but God had told him not to eat or drink in that place. 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 (1 Kings 13:18). But the old prophet was lying.
He probably wanted to spend time with the younger man of God, and to hear everything God was saying to him. Everyone lies a little, so what could possibly happen? The younger man of God believed the older prophet and went back to his house. But while they were sitting at the table, the word of the Lord came to the old prophet.
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 13:21-22).
Many families owned a burial place near their home, but those who died away from home were usually buried where they died. The old prophet was telling the younger man of God that he would not make it home that day.
This is a very strange story, but it reveals the low level of godliness even among the religious leaders. The king was leading a false religion, the old prophet was a liar, and the younger man of God allowed himself to be deceived to satisfy his appetite—all on the same day!
Godly leaders are a gift to the church, but even the best fail both privately and publicly. In fact, there has only been one leader with a perfect record. I always do what pleases [my Father] (John 8:29), said Jesus. He alone can always be trusted.
1 Kings 13:23 When the man of God had finished eating and drinking, the prophet who had brought him back saddled his donkey for him.
It must have been a strange parting. They both knew God, and were able to hear his voice. The older prophet must have felt terrible, and the younger man of God must have felt foolish. He began the journey home, but did not get very far before he was killed by a lion. The older prophet buried him, and asked to be buried in the same place (1 Kings 13:31).
Perhaps the reason neither man is named is because they both fell short of what God required. [A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), wrote Paul. This is why we need to be saved. If even the prophets fell short, how much more do we? Whoever hopes to arrive in heaven based on their own record will be very disappointed. But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:21), said Peter.
Reflection and Review
How do we know all the Bible’s prophecies will be fulfilled?
If Jeroboam knew he was wrong, why didn’t he change?
What do the man of God and the old prophet teach us about religious leaders?