1 Kings Chapter Thirteen
1 Kings 13
Jeroboam's sin reproved. (1-10) The prophet deceived. (11-22) The disobedient prophet is slain, Jeroboam's obstinacy. (23-34)
Commentary on 1 Kings 13:1-10
(Read 1 Kings 13:1-10)
In threatening the altar, the prophet threatens the founder and worshippers. Idolatrous worship will not continue, but the word of the Lord will endure for ever. The prediction plainly declared that the family of David would continue, and support true religion, when the ten tribes would not be able to resist them. If God, in justice, harden the hearts of sinners, so that the hand they have stretched out in sin they cannot pull in again by repentance, that is a spiritual judgment, represented by this, and much more dreadful. Jeroboam looked for help, not from his calves, but from God only, from his power, and his favour. The time may come when those that hate the preaching, would be glad of the prayers of faithful ministers. Jeroboam does not desire the prophet to pray that his sin might be pardoned, and his heart changed, but only that his hand might be restored. He seemed affected for the present with both the judgment and the mercy, but the impression wore off. God forbade his messenger to eat or drink in Bethel, to show his detestation of their idolatry and apostacy from God, and to teach us not to have fellowship with the works of darkness. Those have not learned self-denial, who cannot forbear one forbidden meal.
Commentary on 1 Kings 13:11-22
(Read 1 Kings 13:11-22)
The old prophet's conduct proves that he was not really a godly man. When the change took place under Jeroboam, he preferred his ease and interest to his religion. He took a very bad method to bring the good prophet back. It was all a lie. Believers are most in danger of being drawn from their duty by plausible pretences of holiness. We may wonder that the wicked prophet went unpunished, while the holy man of God was suddenly and severely punished. What shall we make of this? The judgments of God are beyond our power to fathom; and there is a judgment to come. Nothing can excuse any act of wilful disobedience. This shows what they must expect who hearken to the great deceiver. They that yield to him as a tempter, will be terrified by him as a tormentor. Those whom he now fawns upon, he will afterwards fly upon; and whom he draws into sin, he will try to drive to despair.
Commentary on 1 Kings 13:23-34
(Read 1 Kings 13:23-34)
God is displeased at the sins of his own people; and no man shall be protected in disobedience, by his office, his nearness to God, or any services he has done for him. God warns all whom he employs, strictly to observe their orders. We cannot judge of men by their sufferings, nor of sins by present punishments; with some, the flesh is destroyed, that the spirit may be saved; with others, the flesh is pampered, that the soul may ripen for hell. Jeroboam returned not from his evil way. He promised himself that the calves would secure the crown to his family, but they lost it, and sunk his family. Those betray themselves who think to support themselves by any sin whatever. Let us dread prospering in sinful ways; pray to be kept from every delusion and temptation, and to be enabled to walk with self-denying perseverance in the way of God's commands.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on 1 Kings》
1 Kings 13
 And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the LORD unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense.
Man of God — An holy prophet.
By the word, … — By Divine inspiration and command.
 And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men's bones shall be burnt upon thee.
The altar — And consequently, against all that worship.
O altar — He directs his speech to the altar, because the following signs were wrought upon it.
Josiah — Which being done above three hundred years after this prophecy, plainly shews the absolute certainty of God's providence; and fore-knowledge even in the most contingent things. For this was in itself uncertain, and wholly depended upon man's will, both as to the having of a child, and as to the giving it this name. Therefore God can certainly and effectually over-rule man's will which way he pleaseth; or else it was possible, that this prediction should have been false; which is blasphemous to imagine.
The priests — The bones of the priests, 2 Kings 23:15,16, whereby the altar should be defiled. How bold was the man, that durst attack the king in his pride, and interrupt the solemnity he was proud of? Whoever is sent on God's errand, must not fear the faces of men. It was above three hundred and fifty years ere this prophecy was fulfilled. Yet it is spoken of as sure and nigh at hand. For a thousand years are with God as one day.
 And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the LORD hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.
Gave a sign — That is, he then wrought a miracle, to assure them of the truth of his prophecy.
 And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Bethel, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him.
Put forth, … — To point out the man whom he would have the people lay hands on.
The altar — Where it was employed in offering something upon it.
Dried up — Or, withered, the muscles and sinews, the instruments of motion, shrunk up. This God did, to chastise Jeroboam for offering violence to the Lord's prophet: to secure the prophet against farther violence: and, that in this example God might shew, how highly he resents the injuries done to his ministers, for the faithful discharge of their office.
 And the king answered and said unto the man of God, Intreat now the face of the LORD thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again. And the man of God besought the LORD, and the king's hand was restored him again, and became as it was before.
Thy God — Who hath manifested himself to be thy God and friend, in a singular manner; and therefore will hear thy prayers for me, though he will not regard mine, because I have forsaken him and his worship.
Besought — To assure Jeroboam, that what he had said, was not from ill-will to him, and that he heartily desired his reformation, and not his ruin.
Restored — Because he repented of that violence, which he intended against that prophet, for which God inflicted it: and that this goodness of God to him, might have led him to repentance; or, if he continued impenitent, leave him without excuse.
 For so was it charged me by the word of the LORD, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest.
For so, … — My refusal of thy favour, is not from any contempt, or hatred of thy person; but in obedience to the just command of my God, who hath forbidden me all father converse or communication with thee.
Eat nor drink — In that place, or with that people. Whereby God declares, how detestable they were in God's eyes; because they were vile apostates from the true God, and embraced this idol-worship, against the light of their own consciences, merely to comply with the king's humour and command.
Nor turn — That by thy avoiding the way that led thee to Beth-el as execrable, although thou wentest by my special command, thou mightest teach all others, how much they should abhor that way, and all thoughts of going to that place, or to such people, upon any unnecessary occasion.
 Now there dwelt an old prophet in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel: the words which he had spoken unto the king, them they told also to their father.
A prophet — One to whom, and by whom God did sometimes impart his mind; as it is manifest from verse 20,21, and one that had a respect to the Lord's holy prophets, and gave credit to their predictions: but whether he was a good man, may be doubted, seeing we find him in a downright lie, verse 18. And altho' an holy prophet may possibly have continued in the kingdom of Israel, he would never have gone from his own habitation, to dwell at Beth-el, the chief seat of idolatry, unless with design to preach against it: which it is evident he did not; his sons seem to have been present at, and, and to have joined with others in that idolatrous worship.
 And he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the LORD, and hast not kept the commandment which the LORD thy God commanded thee,
Cried — With a loud voice, the effect of his passion, both for his own guilt and shame, and for the prophet's approaching misery.
 But camest back, and hast eaten bread and drunk water in the place, of the which the LORD did say to thee, Eat no bread, and drink no water; thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers.
Shall not, … — Thou shalt not die a natural, but a violent death; and that in this journey, before thou returnest to thy native habitation. But is it not strange that the lying prophet escapes, while the man of God is so severely punished? Certainly there must be a judgment to come, when these things shall be called over again, and when those who sinned most and suffered least in this world, will receive according to their works.
 And it came to pass, after he had eaten bread, and after he had drunk, that he saddled for him the ass, to wit, for the prophet whom he had brought back.
Saddled for him — But, it is observable, he doth not accompany him; his guilty conscience making him fear to be involved in the same judgment with him.
 And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him: and his carcase was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it, the lion also stood by the carcase.
Slew him — "But why doth God punish a good man so severely for so small an offence?" His sin was not small, for it was a gross disobedience to a positive command. And it cannot seem strange if God should bring his deserved death upon him in this manner, for the accomplishment of his own glorious designs, to vindicate his own justice from the imputation of partiality; to assure the truth of his predictions, and thereby provoke Jeroboam and his idolatrous followers to repentance; and to justify himself in all his dreadful judgments which he intended to inflict upon Jeroboam's house, and the whole kingdom of Israel.
 And he went and found his carcase cast in the way, and the ass and the lion standing by the carcase: the lion had not eaten the carcase, nor torn the ass.
He found, … — Here was a concurrence of miracles: that the ass did not run away from the lion, according to his nature, but boldly stood still, as reserving himself to carry the prophet to his burial; that the lion did not devour its prey, nor yet go away when he had done his work, but stood still, partly to preserve the carcase of the prophet from other wild beasts or fowls, partly, as an evidence that the prophet's death was not casual, nor the effect of a lion's ravenous disposition, but of God's singular and just judgment; and consequently, that his prediction was divine, and should be infallibly accomplished in its proper time; and partly, as a token of God's favour to the deceased prophet, of whose very carcase he took such special care: thereby signifying, that although for wise and just reasons he thought fit to take away his life, yet his remains was precious to him.
 And he laid his carcase in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother!
His grave — So that threatening, verse 22, was fulfilled; and withal, the memory of his prophecy was revived and preserved among them, and his very carcase resting there, might be a witness of their madness and desperate wickedness, in continuing in their abominable idolatry, after such an assurance of the dreadful effects of it.
They — The old prophet and his sons, and others, whom common humanity taught to lament the untimely death of so worthy a person.
Alas, … — Which was an usual form of expression in funeral-lamentations.
 And it came to pass, after he had buried him, that he spake to his sons, saying, When I am dead, then bury me in the sepulchre wherein the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones:
When I am dead, … — Tho' he was a lying prophet, yet he desired to die the death of a true prophet. Gather not my Soul with the sinners of Beth-el, but with this man of God: Because what he cried against the altar of Beth-el, shall surely come to pass. Thus by the mouth of two witnesses was it established, if possible to convince Jeroboam.
 For the saying 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, shall surely come to pass.
Samaria — That is, of the kingdom of Samaria; as it was called, though not when this fact was done, yet before these books were written. Samaria was properly this name of one city, chap. 21:1, but from hence the whole kingdom of Israel was so called.
 After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest of the people priests of the high places: whosoever would, he consecrated him, and he became one of the priests of the high places.
After this — That is, after all these things: the singular number put for the plural; after so many, and evident, and successive miracles.
Made again — He abated not so much as a circumstance in his idolatrous worship.
Whosoever — Without any respect to tribe or family, or integrity of body, or mind, or life; all which were to be regarded in the priesthood.
 And this thing became sin unto the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off, and to destroy it from off the face of the earth.
Sin — Either, an occasion of sin, and means of hardening all his posterity in their idolatry: or, a punishment, for so the word sin is often used. This his obstinate continuance in his idolatry, after such warnings, was the utter ruin of all his family. They betray themselves effectually, who endeavour to support themselves by any sin.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on 1 Kings》
13 Chapter 13
He put forth his hand.
The prophecy against Jeroboam and its attendant circumstances
I. All human power and skill engaged against God will wither. The hand of man is the bodily mark of his superiority to the animal creation; it represents his power and skill. It is the bread winner of the body. By its skilful use he imitates the works of God in nature, and by its means he sends down his thoughts to posterity. Jeroboam’s outstretched hand was the type of all human opposition to God’s rule, especially the opposition of the rulers of the world. Its withering was the exposition of “No weapon formed against thee shall prosper” (Isaiah 54:17); “He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh” (Psalms 2:4, etc.)
II. Physical blessing is of more importance to the ungodly man than morality of character. Christ’s teaching is, “If thy hand offend thee, cut it off “ (Matthew 18:8), count no earthly loss worthy of a thought compared with an injury to the spiritual life. (Outline from Sermons by a London Minister.)
As the man of God from Judah so nobly refuses Jeroboam’s royal hospitality, I am reminded of Lord Napier. On one occasion his lordship was sent down to Scotland by the Queen on a royal errand of review and arbitration between a great duke and his poor crofters. The duke, the administration of whose estate was to be inquired into, was good enough to offer his lordship his ducal hospitality for as long as the royal session of review lasted. But Her Majesty’s Deputy felt that neither his Royal Mistress nor himself could afford to be for one moment compromised, or even suspected, by her poorest subject; and therefore it was that his lordship excused himself from the duke’s table, and took up his quarters in the little wayside inn. “At any rate, you will come to the manse,” said the minister, who was on the crofter’s side. “Thank you,” said Napier. “But in your college days you must have read Plutarch about Caesar’s wife. No, thank you.” And his lordship lodged all his time in the little hotel, and went back to his Royal Mistress when his work was done, not only with clean hands, but without even a suspicion attaching to her or to him. “Come home with me and refresh thyself.” But the man of God said to the king, “If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee.” So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Bethel. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
Now there dwelt an old man in Bethel
The nameless prophet
This passage forms part of a very remarkable narrative.
The miraculous element is so prominent that certain critics would have the chapter expunged from Holy Scripture. The natural and the supernatural are closely interwoven, as are the woof and web of a fabric, and the destruction of either would be the practical dissolution of the whole; indeed, nowhere is this more manifestly true than in the life and death, in the resurrection and ascension, in the works and claims of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Who was this bold prophet? Josephus identified him with Iddo, the seer; but the statement is merely conjectural. The man must remain nameless, as he is left in this chapter.
I. The message delivered by this nameless prophet.
1. Its divine origin is expressly asserted in the second verse: “he cried . . . in the word of the Lord.” This is a remarkable phrase. It is not said that he cried the word of God, but that he cried “in” it--as if his message were the sphere in which he lived, the atmosphere he breathed. Nothing could more forcibly suggest the source from which all religious teachers draw their power. It is the consciousness of having a Divine message, the sureness of a Divine call, the confidence that what they have to say is “the Word of the Lord,” which is the sign of the true prophet.
2. The definite nature of this message deserves attention. The very name of the avenger, Josiah, is mentioned, though it was 300 years before he was born; and it was distinctly foretold that idolatrous priests would be slain on the altar erected in defiance of God, and that the site now being set apart for heathen worship would be defiled and dis-honoured by the bones of the dead. Centuries elapsed before the fulfillment of this threat, but it came at last, and came at the appointed time, proclaiming to all future ages this solemn truth, which it is madness to ignore: “the wages of sin is death.” God’s punishments are never arbitrary. They are the legitimate issues of the crime or vice they belong to. The sinner is destroyed by his own sin. And this is in harmony with all that we know of God’s works. Science is showing the links between cause and effect with ever-growing clearness and certainty; and the doctrine of evolution reveals that limbs may perish by disuse or may be developed by necessities of life in new surroundings. This is true everywhere, not least in the punishments and privations threatened in Scripture, here and hereafter.
II. The courage he displayed. His boldness it is not easy to overrate. It was the consciousness the prophet had that he was God’s messenger that gave him this heroism. It was this which prepared Moses to dare the wrath of Pharaoh, this which nerved Elijah to stand alone face to face with the prophets of Baal; this which enabled Peter and John undauntedly to face the Sanhedrim; and this which made Ambrose, and Knox, and Luther, and Zwingli types of a truer heroism than any field of battle has revealed.
III. The safety of the prophet was assured, and credentials of his commission were given, when the altar was suddenly cleft in twain, and all the ashes poured out. We see nothing incredible here, or in many other miraculous signs mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. Supernatural signs are surely the legitimate evidences of a supernatural revelation. They are simply the assertion of the supremacy of the spiritual and unseen over the material and visible; and if we really believe that the things seen were not made of things which do appear, we need not be incredulous when evidences of the existence of these are given. Among the phenomena of Nature, we all know that a mountain may be still and silent for ages, villages cluster around its base, men toil and children play on its sides, and they have no suspicion that it is volcanic; but at last the subterranean fires may burst out, and just as that force, long hidden, asserts itself within the limits of half-known law: so it may be, so it has been, within the limits of unknown law. Our Lord Jesus Christ boldly said of His own miracles: “If ye believe not Me, believe the works,” the works which modern admirers of His moral teaching would rule out of court!--and the apostles put the resurrection of Christ, which some would explain away, into the very forefront of Christian evidences.
IV. The temptation he resisted, to which our text alludes. Jeroboam failed in the use of violence; but, nothing daunted, he sought to overcome the messenger of Jehovah by craft. Doubtless there are many who have had such conflicts and conquests. Tempted to sin, you have replied: “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” Sitting among the sinners, when you could not avoid them, you did not approve their mockery even by the faintest smile. Able to win wealth and position, you resolutely refused to stoop to do what you knew was base and false. In such hours of triumph I would entreat you most vividly to remember, and most humbly to acknowledge, that the victory came only through Him that loved you, or you may ultimately experience the fall which came to the prophet after his first victory was won.
V. The second temptation, which we must not overlook, was successful and fatal. It came from an “old prophet,” who lived near by, who approached his fellow-servant when he was tired, and who, professing to have received message from God, induced him to enter his house in Bethel, and thus to disobey the command of the Lord. If it be asked why this temptation succeeded, while that of Jeroboam failed, we should attribute it to the self-complacence and self-confidence engendered by successful resistance to the king, and to the sense of false security which generally succeeds in a crisis of peril. Evidence of this is seen in the fact that he rested under a terebinth, instead of pressing homeward, as he had been told to do.
1. Learn from this that the conquest of one evil often leads to an assault from another.
2. Learn also that it is a perilous thing to linger in a scene of temptation, though for a time we may have to go into it in order to do God’s work. If this prophet had not rested, instead of hurrying forward, he would not have been overtaken before he crossed the border line of safety between the two kingdoms.
VI. The trifling disobedience which brought about so terrible a retribution. It seemed a very small offence to go home with a brother prophet for pleasant, and perhaps profitable, intercourse. But there was no doubt about the will of God in this matter. An act may seem as trifling as that; and yet it may involve a momentous principle. It was a small thing for Eve to take the fruit of the tree; but it was an act of direct disobedience, and therefore brought death into the world, and all our woe. It is in what we call trifles that God tests our obedience and love. (A. Rowland, B. A.)
The penalty of disobedience
It may seem, at first sight, that the prophet was hardly visited for breaking such a commandment as this; and yet we may remember that Adam brought death on himself and us all by an act of disobedience much akin to this; for he was commanded not to eat, but he did eat: why should any of his children fare better, especially when sinning like this prophet, to whom the word of God came not as to other men, immediately into his heart from the Holy Spirit of God? He grieved the Holy Spirit. But though he did not sin wilfully, but was most artfully tempted into his sin, God’s justice could not spare him; an example must reeds be made of the punishment of faithlessness in so high a commission- Such is the example: now how does it concern the Christian?
1. The Christian is a prophet, for he has the gift of the Word of God and of His Holy Spirit, and the revelation of the world to come. And his profession is to protest and struggle against the corruption of the world, against which he must denounce the wrath of God which cometh on the children of disobedience.
2. As the prophet had the commandment given him, “to eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that he came,” that is, to have no fellowship with the sinners whose idolatry God had sent him to denounce, so the Christian has a special injunction on this head; it has been given him both in the word of his Saviour, and in the example of his Saviour. We must not as Christians eat and drink by the way; we must not waste our precious time and heavenly substance in the carnal enjoyments of this life; but we must go on the way which God hath pointed out to us, without turning to the right or to the left for refreshment, for if we do, then we are out of His way, then we are in the forbidden habitations of sin; still less must we return by the same way that we came.
3. The prophet was tempted by a false brother; and even so are Christians tempted by false brethren, and persuaded by them to sit down to the meat and drink of sinful indulgence, and to return by the same way that they came, going backward, though at a much quicker rate, through the same steps that they have come forward in the Christian race.
4. And whom did God choose to pronounce sentence of death upon him? His very deceiver. And is not this continually the case? Is not the tempter into sin often the very first to reproach the tempted with his sin, and to mock at him when it is beyond remedy? Is he not often the first to open his eyes to his real state, and laugh at him? This is the way of Satan, the grand tempter of all, and therefore the way of his children also. Thus sin is felt by the tempted as the sting of death indeed!
5. And now see the end: a lion met the prophet in his way and slew him. And is there no lion ready for the faithless Christian too? Yes; the lion is at the door ready for all the unwary, gaping upon them with his mouth, staring upon them with his eyes, on the crouch, and ready to spring at the first favourable moment, and rend and tear the soul in pieces.
6. If God could visit with such strict justice the disobedience of a man who was tempted to believe that he was obeying God, how will He visit those who yield to temptation with the clear knowledge that they are disobeying God, and hearken to men who they know cannot be prophets of God, as was the man to whom this prophet listened, but are evidently prophet of Satan. (R. W. Evans, B. D.)
The prophet’s temptation and fall
Holy Scripture gives some terrible warnings as to the power and danger of temptation. Notably, the fall of men of God through temptation. This narrative is such a warning. Brings before us--
1. Generally, the subject of temptation.
2. Specially, temptation.
I. Temptation promptly repelled.
1. Plain command had been given to this “man of God” (verse 9). But no reason assigned. This is in keeping with many positive obligations of God’s law..
2. King Jeroboam desires him to act in opposition to God’s command.
3. He understands it, resolves, acts. He turns away from it (verse 10). Like Joseph (Genesis 39:9-12). Learn--our real safety is to flee from temptation.
II. Temptation feebly resisted.
1. Again the same temptation comes: but not now from standpoint of the world, of open enmity with God. A seeming prophet is tempter (verses 11-15).
2. The man of God feels some inward desire to comply with the temptation. There is hesitation In his resistance; he says, “I may not,” and therefore “will not.” Learn--
III. Temptation yielded to.
1. For third time same temptation assails him, and with additional inducement. Satan becomes as an “angel of light,” his emissary assumes the position of a minister of God (verse 18). This case resembles Satan’s quotation of Scripture (Matthew 4:3; Matthew 4:6).
2. The man of God is deceived by the insidiousness of the lie.
Conclusion--Two passages in the New Testament sum up and enforce the whole subject:--
2. Galatians 1:8.
The disobedient prophet, and the liar, masked in the angel-face of truth-The first and last phase of the evil one
I. The mission of this man of God to Bethel is a most important one. He is entrusted by his heavenly Master with unfolding the Divine judgments to King Jeroboam, on account of his great sin in making the lowest of the people priests of the high places, and in consequence also of his open and zealous patronage of the most abominable idolatry.
1. The time of the prophet’s arrival at Bethel. It happened when Jeroboam stood at the altar to burn incense. To face a guilty monarch and unveil the Divine denunciations threatened on account of his rebellious conduct, is by no means an easy task.
2. The mode of address. He addresses himself not to the guilty monarch, but as if he wished Jeroboam to feel he had forfeited the honour of being addressed like a rational agent, the prophet accosts the inanimate altar, that altar by which the king now usurpingly stood to burn incense. “O altar, altar!” he cries, not in his own name, but in the name of that God who sent him, “Thus saith the Lord.”
3. The matter of the prophet’s address. Now it is well worthy of remark, that though this predicted king is so particularly mentioned by name, none of the kings of Israel thought fit to assume the name, until the real and good Josiah himself appeared as the executor of all the vengeance of a righteous God against sin. This name was given by the wicked Manasseh to his son quite undesignedly, a name which was to be the terrible watchword of the downfall of idolatry practised by Manasseh and Jeroboam: it was a name given by Manasseh to his son, in spite, as it were, of Manasseh himself, in diametrical opposition to Manasseh’s policy
II. Regard his test of obedience. The man of God having executed in a bold and faithful manner the grave commission on trusted to him, is preparing to take his departure, when Jeroboam, anxious it would appear to render the man of God some recompense for his kindness in having petitioned the Majesty of Heaven to restore his hand, approaches him with the friendly invitation. The prophet having manfully, by the grace of God, resisted the temptation of the king’s invitation, is already on the way back to Judah, the way pointed out by the Lord for him to take. But although he has resisted one temptation and got apparently clear of Bethel, he is not yet safe. We are never secure while we are pilgrims and travellers in this world, which is not our rest, against the varied and constant assaults of Satan’s temptations; as soon as one temptation is overcome, another is ready to overtake us on life’s road; which teaches us ever to be watchful and prayerful.
III. The prophet’s disobedience, and its result. How does the faith of the man of God now stand against this tremendous trial? He, who had a little previous so triumphantly combated the temptation to eat bread and drink water at a royal table, now, alas! totters in his obedience, and listens to the unlikely lie of an aged prophet, sanctioned, as he diabolically pretended, by an angel’s revelation, and consents to return with him. The most dangerous form temptation can assume, is that of a lie, disguised in the mantle of truth, uttered by the ravening wolf clad in the sheep’s clothing. By the snares of this temptation, the prophet now fell into the labyrinth of disobedience. It is Satan’s master temptation. By this truth-gilded lie our first parents fell, and sin and death entered into the world. The devil put on a goodly outside, entered into the then attractive serpent, approached our unsuspecting mother in that so sleek form, and led her to fail in the first great test of human obedience, which was to be the proof of man’s love, the eating of the forbidden fruit. The man of God, disobedient to the Divine command, accompanies the old prophet back to Bethel. There, dead to the fearful consequences of what he is doing, he refreshes the exhausted body at the board of hospitality. Swift indeed, and signal is the punishment inflicted on the man of God, and some may think the punishment severe; but the disobedience of the prophet in eating bread and drinking water was aggravated by the circumstances under which it was committed. Learn a lesson from this sorrowful circumstance, which Jeroboam failed to learn, even the lesson of obedience to the Word of God. Keep only in the track pointed out by that Word, though an angel from heaven might tell thee to do contrary to its Divine message to thy soul. Obey its every precept, small or great. (R. Jones, M. A.)
The disobedient prophet
We have in this account a very striking illustration of the truth enunciated by the Apostle James, the Lord’s brother, at the first council at Jerusalem, namely, that “known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18). The prediction uttered by the man of God against the altar at Bethel was not fulfilled for the space of 360 years; and yet, when the time fixed in the counsels of Omnipotence arrived, not one thing failed of accomplishment of all that he had declared should come to pass. Now, this truth may afford comfort to all who love and fear God. Many of God’s people, when they hear of the overflowings of ungodliness and unbelief, may be almost inclined to think that God hath forgotten His gracious promises, and that He will in truth shut up His loving-kindness in displeasure. But they may chide away their unbelieving fears as David did: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God” (Psalms 42:1-11.). But I must point out a few lessons of instruction which this portion of holy writ may furnish us with.
1. And, first, it may teach us that, whenever God hath plainly declared His will, no grounds of supposed expediency, and no less fully authenticated declarations, however they may profess to proceed from Him, should ever induce us to depart from it. This we may learn both from the conduct of Jeroboam, as well as from that of the man of God. And, assuredly, we have abundant examples of its danger. We know that the Jews, who lived at the time when our Saviour was upon earth, are accused by Him of making void the law of God by their traditions; and even to the present day, by listening to the same fallacious guide, though they nominally admit the Divine authority of the Old Testament scriptures, they fritter away all their most important requirements. But how, it may be asked, does it arise that men can satisfy themselves to pay any attention to such a pretender? And the answer is, because, like the old prophet, it comes forward with a bold assertion of its Divine authority, though with as little regard to truth as he displayed. Tradition, among the Jews, professes to be an interpretation of the law given by God to Moses, and transmitted through elders, prophets, and wise men.
2. Another lesson to be learned from what is here recorded is that we cannot judge of a man’s eternal state from the way m which he may be taken out of this world. A man of God sins; and within a few hours a lion slays him: the lying prophet that seduced him lives on, and goes to his grave in peace; yea, wicked Jeroboam continues his idolatrous worship, and treads upon the grave of his reprover. What shall we make of this? Doubtless such events teach us that there must be a judgment to come, when all these seeming inequalities will be corrected, and when rewards and punishments will be dispensed with impartial justice and unerring wisdom. At present God’s people are chastened; but it is that they may not be condemned with the world; whereas the ungodly and the profane are in many instances unpunished.
3. A third lesson which may be learned from this narrative is, not to be induced heedlessly to follow any guide, whatever may be his pretensions, or whatever his apparent sanctity. The Apostle John gives the following caution: “Beloved, believe hot every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). And, if such advice was needful in apostolic times, much more is it required now.
4. The last lesson which I would point out to you as derivable from this passage of Scripture is, that no command of God is to be lightly regarded, and that the nearer people are to God the more certainly will their transgressions be punished. Implicit, unquestioning obedience has been in all ages the characteristic of God’s most eminent servants. (T. Grantham.)
The disobedient prophet of Judah
The fate of the prophet of Judah has always been deemed a hard one. That it should be so is by no means surprising. We should certainly expect so striking a punishment to have been inflicted upon a very different kind of person. And it is that very circumstance which makes it the more important that we should look into the case. To sum what may be said for him, it comes to this:
On the character of the man of God that came from Judah
Now, in order to come to a right understanding of the conduct of “the man of God which came from Judah,” and to appreciate the error of which he was guilty, and for which he suffered; it will be necessary to remember how critical were the circumstances under which he was called to act; how extensive and sacred were the interests which were, more or less, to be involved in the discharge of his mission to Bethel. He came on an express mission, to denounce the apostasy of the times. He came to confront the very author of all this mischief as he stood by the altar of his own pride; to tell him, and his benighted worshippers, of their blasphemy and iniquity; to prophesy the day, when God s signal vengeance should be poured on the altar at which they so blindly knelt; when one of His anointed servants, of the kingly race of David, should fearfully purge that land of its crimes; should destroy the houses, and all the priests of the reigning idolatry, and bum the very reliques of their bodies on the altars of their profane worship. Nothing, therefore, could have been more important, nothing more full of trust, than the mission of him who was thus sent from Judah to Bethel. His instructions must have been of the most solemn kind; and we have reason to know that they were in all things express and minute. Now, in reviewing the conduct of the prophet, we are fur. Dished with a key to a right apprehension of its error, and the cause of its signal punishment. In the outset of his conduct, when the temptation was manifest, and the snare but clumsily laid, he acted in every respect with fidelity and decision. Here, then, it becomes a natural question,--in what had the great guilt of the man of God consisted? True, he had disobeyed the Divine command; but was not the force of that command in a manner cancelled by what the old prophet professed? Could the prophet of Judah have judged that his aged brother was lying to him? if not, wherefore this great and summary punishment? The answer to this is that the “man of God” ought so to have judged. He should have remembered, that on the one part he would be obeying his Maker, whose will he fully knew; on the other, he would be listening to a mere mortal, whose truth and authority he did not know, but which he even had good reason to suspect. Against the dictates of conscience, and calm judgment, he yielded to the latter; and therefore brought himself under the displeasure and condemnation of his God. In such times of apostasy and disbelief as those, slight actions assumed the importance of great ones; especially if depending on the known will of God. The prophet of Judah was placed in a conspicuous and important pest; and it was essential that his conduct in it should be signally marked. As to the punishment itself, we only know that it affected the body; not a word do we know of the destiny of the soul. Lessons--
1. What God has commanded and sanctified, can be no trifle. If it be but a particle, a tittle of His will, it is enough. The least compromise on our part may tend to evil that we know not of; and our only safe and right course is in simple, implicit obedience.
2. Again, we must be always on our guard against the effect of any apparent sanctity in profession. “I am also a prophet as thou art,” was the rock on which the prophet of Judah foundered. Let us not be so deceived. We know where to look for God’s revealed will; we know where to look for its authorised interpretation and enforcement.
3. Finally, looking at the example in a more general point of view, let it teach us the peril of all dalliance, vacillation, and delay. Let us not be found sitting under the wayside oak; loitering on the world s highroad. We cannot toy and idle as we pass, in a region of contamination and guilt. Wherever there is one thoughtless, vacant, indifferent to his everlasting salvation, that man is first marked for a prey by his eternal foe. (J. Puckle, M. A.)
The disobedient prophet
I. The great professional and spiritual eminence of this young prophet who came out of Judah. He belongs to that great company of men and women of all ages and countries who have contributed much to the service of God, much to the well-being of their fellow-creatures, while on earth. It is only remembered what they did and not who they were. But as to his high standing among his fellows there can be no question.
1. This would appear, first of all, from the Divine mission with which he was entrusted.
2. And the high character and capacity of the nameless prophet of Judah appears, secondly, from the manner in which he discharged his mission.
II. And now came his trial. Now, it is natural to ask, what was the old prophet’s motive in taking so much trouble to induce the younger man to do what was wrong? Was the old prophet a false prophet of the type which a few years later abounded in Israel during the ascendency of the Baal-worship? Were his sympathies really on the side of Jeroboam and the new religion of the Egyptian calf, and did he think anything fair if he could only ruin the courageous young man who, on an occasion of such capital importance, had covered both the upstart religion and the upstart king with such great and public discredit? This is what has been thought by some eminent authorities, but it cannot easily be reconciled with the Sequel of the history: for how should a false prophet be entrusted with the message announcing to the prophet of Judah the punishment of his transgression? How would a prophet who was opposed to the whole mission and work of the prophet of Judah have insisted on giving him honourable burial in his own grave? Once more, if the old prophet were at heart on the side of Jeroboam and the calf worship, how are we to explain his confirming the prediction of the prophet of Judah, about the coming destruction of the altar at Bethel? It is impossible to suppose that the old prophet was other than a true prophet of God, who had settled at Bethel. And here we must observe that this old prophet, although a true prophet, was evidently a person with no keenness of conscience, with no high sense of duty. There he was, settled at Bethel, witnessing the triumphant establishment of the new idolatry and of the false, uncommissioned, intrusive priesthood. It does not appear that he had the heart to say a word against the profane proceedings of Jeroboam, while yet he had no hesitation about claiming heavenly authority for a message which he knew was solely dictated by his own wishes. He was evidently an easy-going old prophet, not embarrassed by scruples when he had an object in view, and the appearance on the scene of a younger man, conspicuous for the courage and energy in which he himself was personally deficient, would naturally have affected him in a double manner.
III. See here a tragical instance of the misuse of authority. The prophet of Bethel had the sort of authority which accompanies age and standing. It is an authority which comes in a measure to all who live long enough; it is an authority which belongs especially to fathers of families, and to high officers in Church or State, to great writers, to conspicuous philanthropists, to public eminence in whatever capacity. It is a shadow of a greater and unseen authority which thus rests upon His earthly representatives, and invests this or that creature of a day with something of the dignity of the eternal. What can be more piteous than when, with deliberation or thoughtlessly, it is employed against Him whose authority alone makes it to be what it is? What more lamentable than when the old make truth and goodness more difficult of attainment to those who look up to them, or when, like this prophet of Bethel, they deliberately allure youth into the paths of sin, by appealing to its simple confidence in the wisdom of riper years, or to its reverence for a claim to teach, which would speedily disappear if the world at large were to join them in undermining loyalty to God’s commands? Ah! there are prophets of Bethel in all ages. This disposition to discourage high and generous ideals of duty which have not presented themselves to an older generation, or still worse, have been neglected by it, is not unknown in the history of the Christian Church. A great movement may have taken place, in which God the Holy Ghost has placed before a generation of younger men a higher conception of what God’s truth and God’s service really mean than had occurred to their predecessors. It is always possible, or more than possible, that in a movement like this men will make mistakes, and that such a movement is all the better for the restraining, steadying, guiding influence of authority. But when authority, instead of guiding, discourages, instead of making the best use of the sacred fire--of which, after all, there is not too much in the world--sets to work deliberately to extinguish it, the consequences are disastrous.
IV. The prophet of Judah, who had braved death and had rejected royal courtesies at the altar of Bethel, fell when tempted by the old prophet. It may be thought that the younger prophet sincerely believed his own instructions to be cancelled by the alleged message of the angel to his older brother at Bethel. A moment’s thought would, should, have told him that this could not be. He knew that God had spoken to himself; he knew that God does not contradict Himself. He might have been embarrassed for the moment by the confident story of the old prophet about the angel, if he did not suspect, as he might well have suspected, that all was not right, and that there was dishonesty somewhere. When any of us know certainly one piece of the Divine will, we simply have to act upon it, let others say what they may. No earthly authority can cancel, or suspend, or dispense with a duty which is perfectly clear to our own conscience. It has been maintained that the punishment awarded to the prophet of Judah was a disproportionately severe punishment. He forfeited his life, men say, not for committing murder, not for committing adultery, but only for eating bread in a particular place. After all, the command to abstain from eating and drinking at Bethel was not a moral precept, it was only a positive precept. But there are times when positive precepts assume high moral importance, and there are persons upon whom the observance of positive precepts exerts, or may exert, the very highest obligation--persons in whose ease a precept positive assumes a distinctly moral character. (H. P. Liddon, D. D.)
I. His general character--“The man of God.” The designation itself may serve to denote, in those to whom it refers:
1. Their special employment.
2. Their special qualifications. As God engaged them in His work, so He furnished them for it.
3. Their eminent devotedness.
II. His Temptation (verses 11-18). This temptation was--
1. In suitable time and circumstances.
2. By a suitable agent;--an old prophet. Venerable through age,--a prophet in garb and appearance,--and professing a direct and special revelation (verse 18.)
III. His Fall. Here we must blame--
1. His unwatchfulness.
2. His easy credulity and compliance.
3. His positive transgression.
IV. His Punishment. (Sketches of Sermons.)
The disobedient prophet
I. He discharged a truly heroic duty and then failed to do a most ordinary one. Jeroboam was not in the mood to listen to a prophet from the land of Judah. There was a breach at that time between Israel and Judah, and he did not desire that breach to be healed. He was full of the pride of his newly-acquired power as king over Israel, and full of envy and of hatred of the rival kingdom of Judah. He had established religious services at Dan and at Bethel, so that his people might not need to go up to Jerusalem. We may do the truly heroic deed in some great crisis of our life and show that we are ready to die rather than be disobedient unto God, and yet in the manifold trials and duties of our daily life we may fail to cherish the spirit and reveal the mind of Christ. It is the little duties, the trivial cares, the small disappointments and vexations of our daily life which most severely try our faith, and it is in these that we are most in danger of doing dishonour to our Lord.
II. This man of God very nobly resisted one temptation and then was overcome by a second and more subtle temptation.
III. This prophet is an example of those who come almost to the close of life with honour and then end it in shame. How often do we find that towards the evening of life men yield to temptation which covers them with shame and which mars the whole of the glory of their life! Dr. Dale once said that special sermons were often preached for the benefit of the young, but it was equally needful to give special counsel to men of mature age, for the temptations which assail men when the fires of youthful enthusiasm have died away, are often more perilous and more deadly in their effect than those which attack the young. (G. Hunsworth, M. A.)
The fatal result of disobedience
I. The success of the prophet.
1. His sudden disappearance. History is silent regarding his birth, education, and family; his very name is concealed--simply, “The man of God, who came from Judah.” Travellers tell us that the river Jordan, after springing out of the mountains of Anti-Lebanon, runs underground for miles, and then rushes forth suddenly, a strong, transparent current, and meanders towards the Dead Sea. Even so the early history of this prophet runs through the dark tunnel of silence, unseen by mortal eye; but at Bethel he rushes forth into public life with suddenness and force, and it is easier to imagine than describe the effect of his unexpected appearance both upon the king and populace. It was a moral ambuscade.
2. His stern honesty. When he arrived on the scene of action he did not shrink from his duties, but proclaimed his message as a man who felt the awfulness of his position.
3. His forgiving temper. Instead of taking advantage of the misfortune which befel the apostate king, the man of God prayed that his hand should be restored.
II. The transgression of the prophet. Under our changing western sky, we have often seen the sun shining brilliantly in the morning, and at noon its smiling face was veiled by dark clouds. So the morning of this man’s life was successful and promising, but soon and suddenly the meridian splendour of his character became tarnished by the clouds of misfortune. The best of men have their faults.
1. His indecision of character. Indecision is great blemish in a man’s character--a crack through which the steam of resolution escapes--and an impediment in his way to accomplish any heroic deed.
2. That temptation is strongest when it comes in the guise of friendship. This renegade prophet enticed him into the net by false pretensions. Are we not troubled by these false prophets in modern times? Yea, they are found in the pulpit and under it, and yet they will not leave religion alone, but persist in offering strange fire upon the altar of God, like the sons of Aaron, and will, like them, receive their reward.
III. The judicial death of the prophet. The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. His death shows--
1. That disobedience is a great sin.
2. Once a man steps off the path of duty he is out of the path of safety. We hear people often complain of Providence, whereas their misfortunes arise from their own folly. All the trouble which comes from God to meet us, He gives strength according to the days to bear and to conquer them; but the troubles that arise from perverse temper and wilful caprice in us, we cannot make God responsible for them, and so we must carry or drag them ourselves. Duty is like the “magic circle “ of the old magicians--all that was inside it was perfectly safe, but all that was outside the ring was liable to be destroyed. Duty likewise is a magic circle--whilst we are inside destruction is impossible.
3. God showed mercy in judgment. Though the lion was permitted to slay him, he was not allowed to feast upon the dead body. Natural historians say that the king of the forest will not attack anything except when hungry. In this case we are not positive whether he was hungry or not, but we are told this much, that “the lion had not eaten the carcase nor torn the ass.” Cruel animal! “hitherto shalt thou come, and no further.” The man of God had a burial; the prophet of Bethel performed the ceremony, and pretended to mourn, saying, “Alas, my brother!” Nations and families often profess to weep after those whom they had ill-treated in their lifetime. (W. A. Griffiths.)
The law of obedience
Because the dead leaf obeys nothing, it flutters down from its bough, giving but tardy recognition to the law of gravity; while our great earth, covered with cities and civilisation, is instantly responsive to gravity’s law. Indeed, he who disobeys any law of Nature flings himself athwart her wheels, to be crushed to powder. And if disobedience is destruction, obedience is liberty. Obeying the law of steam, man has an engine. Obeying the law of speech, he has eloquence. Obeying the law of fire, he has warmth. Obeying the law of sound--thinking, he has leadership. Obeying the law of Christ, he has character. The stone obeys one law, gravity, and is without motion. The worm obeys two laws, and adds movement. The bird obeys three laws, and can fly as well as stand or walk. And as man increases the number of laws that he obeys, he increases in richness of nature, in wealth and strength and influence. Nature loves paradoxes, and this is her chiefest paradox--he who stoops to wear the yoke of law becomes the child of liberty, while he who will be free from God s law wears a ball and chain through all his years. Philosophy reached its highest fruition in Christ’s principle. “Love is the fulfilment of the law.” (N. D. Hillis, D. D.)
Disobedience in one point
Does it make any difference where the murderer’s knife touched me? Whether in the face, or on the arm, or over the heart? He may say that he only touched one part. Yes, but it was I whom he attacked; he only touched one part, but he was guilty of injuring the whole body, for it was the whole body that received the shock and felt the pain. Does it make any difference where Prussia strikes in her war on France? Whether at Strasburg, or Metz, or Fontainebleau, or Epernay? She might say, “Oh, I have only taken one or two cities.” Yes, but France is a unit, and her government is one body; so that wherever Germany strikes, whether a petty village, or a railroad, or a fort, or a city, she means to strike death to the heart of France. So is the law of God one body, containing the outspoken will and nature of the Lord. If you treat it with violence at any point you strike a blow at the whole government, the very throne itself of God. The law of God is a perfect sphere, and if you mar or disfigure it at all, you mar and disfigure it as a whole, and strike a blow at its whole symmetry and beauty. We all understand this unity of government. If a master makes rules for his pupils, and a pupil offends purposely against the least of them, he opposes his teacher. If my father has certain rules for my guidance, I need not break them all in order to array myself in opposition to him, for on the very least of them I may confront and oppose his authority; and in disobeying one rule of the house, I dispute my father’s just right to enforce the remainder. So with the law of God. Disobedience even in one point is the man in his entire nature against God in His entire nature. (F. F. Emerson.)
He said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art.
Truths about conscience
I. Conscience, of itself alone, is not a sufficient guide for life. Every night, set in the front of the locomotive as it dashes on through the darkness, gleam the rays of the headlight, piercing the gloom for a mile ahead. So, say many, man is himself luminous. Surround him with whatever darkness, and at once it is pierced and thrust aside by a blaze of inherent radiance. But neither Scripture nor experience sustains such notion. Yet conscience is a guide for life. Still, simply in itself conscience is not a sufficient guide for life. For, conscience does not possess the power of origination. It cannot make right right, or wrong wrong. It is only our power of recognising the distinction already made, and as eternal as the heavens. And, just as a blind eye cannot distinguish between night and day; just as a guide-board wrongly written may send the wearied and famished traveller from the warmth and help of home; so may a blinded, misinformed conscience lead toward wrong instead of toward the right. And therefore, if a man would do the right, he must not only follow his conscience, but he must follow a conscience educated into a knowledge of a higher law; of a standard higher than itself; a conscience conformed and bending to some exact and supremely reigning rule. This, then, is the all-important question--where may the conscience find such enlightenment and education? The answer is immediate. In the Bible and especially in the character of Christ, standing out from the pages of the Bible, gathering up into Himself the vigour of its law, the loveliness of its mercy, the winningness of its invitation. God manifest in the flesh is the real standard and education for the conscience.
II. Learn the danger of making feeling, rather than an enlightened conscience, the test for life. Feeling is not to rule. Conscience, educated by the Divine command and teaching, is always to rule.
III. Learn the danger of a conscientious error. It is no less error. It is not less surely sin. The prophet was conscientiously deceived. That did not hinder the Divine retribution. It does make all difference what a man believes. It does make all difference if a man conscientiously hold to what is false. God has not only given conscience; He has also given light for conscience. It is a man’s duty to hold his conscience in the light which God has given. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
The way of the tempter
I. That the tempter of our race assails the best of men. The man who now became the victim of temptation was no other than a prophet of the Lord. He was Heaven’s appointed delegate. While in this world we are on the tempter’s ground. His agencies thickly play around us, and try us in every point of our character. If invulnerable in one part we are tried in another. Through them the best of men have been overtaken in faults. Once they turned the meek Moses into a creature of stormy wrath; the spiritually minded David into a hideous adulterer; the bold indomitable Peter into a contemptible coward. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”
II. That the tempter of our race invariably acts through the agency of man. How did the tempting spirit appear to this prophet of Judah now? Not in the form of a serpent, as he appeared of old in Eden, nor in the form of an angel, but in the form of a man. The devil comes to man through man--acts on man by man. Look for the devil in man. Man is the tempter of man. The fact that man is the tempter of man shows:
1. The moral degradation of human nature. Man has become the tool of Satan. The false religionists, the hypocrites, the infidels, the blasphemers, the carnal, what are they? The instruments of the devil, to seduce and corrupt their fellow-men. Who shall destroy his works? There is One who can, and to Him we look, and in His all-conquering strength we trust. The fact that man is the tempter of man shows:
2. The necessity of constant watchfulness. In social circles be ever on your guard; be cautious as to the companionships you form, as to the books you read, as to the guides you follow.
III. That the tempter of our race always assumes the garb of goodness. The temptation came to this “old prophet” not only through a man, but under the garb of piety.
O that deceit should steal such gentle shapes!
The fact that the tempter ever assumes the garb of goodness teaches:
1. The latent sympathy with virtue that still exists in human nature. If men had a natural sympathy with error as error, wrong as wrong, the devil need not disguise himself so. All the mis-showings, hypocrisies, hollow pretensions, in this false world, are a practical homage rendered to that sympathy with virtue and truth which still exists in human nature. The devil himself appeals to this in order to succeed. The fact that temptation works under the form of goodness teaches:
2. The importance of cultivating the habit of looking through appearances. “Things are not what they seem.” Every man “walketh in a vain show.” Brush off the varnish and examine the wood; ring the coin and test it; melt the metal and ascertain its worth. Believe no man because he says he is a prophet; trust no man because he says he is a Christian; yield to no man because he professes to love you.
IV. That the tempter of our race generally becomes the tormentor of his victim. This tormenting conduct of tempters is:
1. A matter of necessity. A tempter is a sinner, and no sinner has any consolation to offer to a sinner.
2. Prophetic. It shows what must be the case for ever. The response of every appeal in the future world of misery, of the infidel to his agonised disciple, of the seducer to his tormented victim will be “What is that to us? see thou to that.”
V. That the tempter of our race once yielded to may accomplish our ruin. In the physical fate of this prophet we are reminded of two things:
1. The course of justice. That dead carcass lying in the wayside is an eloquent homily against sin. In it the voice of justice declares, with telling emphasis, that compliance even with the most plausible temptation is a sin, and that sin even in a good man, and a true prophet, must be punished. In the physical fate of this prophet we are reminded of:
2. The interposition of mercy. The ravenous lion, contrary to his instincts, instead of devouring his victim, stands over it as a kind guardian. Justice made that lion do so much, but mercy restrained him from doing more. Mercy triumphs over judgment. The philosophy of all human history is symbolised here. Justice goes with nature. It was the nature of the lion to destroy. Mercy interrupts the course of justice. It was contrary to the nature of the lion to guard rather than devour its victim.
VI. That the tempter of our race is compelled to do homage to the virtue he has assailed. There is not a being in the universe, even the prince of tempters, that is not bound by the laws of conscience to respect the virtue he seeks to destroy. (Homilist.)
Disguises of sin
It is said that a few years ago a detachment of forty Russian soldiers--part of an advanced guard of reconnoitrers--crossed the Yalu river, Korea, to an island in the middle of the river, and there changed their costume, so that they might appear as civilian settlers instead of military invaders. This is said to have been one of the many features of the invasion of Korea compelling the recent strife between Japan and Russia. So sin and error often come in friendly guise, when their intention is very aggressive and destructive. We need much Divine wisdom to recognise the cunning devices of our enemies.
Evil under the guise of good
Sir Charles Follett, the chief of H.M. Customs, speaking on the clever tricks of smugglers says: “We have had many extraordinary dodges come under our notice. For instance, innocent looking loaves of bread, when accidentally examined, were discovered to have every particle of crumb removed from them, and the inside crammed with compressed tobacco. This is only one example of manifold specimens of cunning to bring in prohibited goods.” How cunning is our great enemy to bring into our souls his contraband. Evil thoughts, desires, and deeds, covered with the most innocent and harmless-looking excuses; so that we need the wisdom from above if we are not to be unmindful of his devices. (H. O. Mackey.)
And it came to pass as they sat at the table.
The two erring prophets
1. If the word of God has spoken, the vision or the interpretation which essentially contradicts it cannot be followed without destruction. Nothing short of a real, well-attested revelation could have furnished a better excuse for departing from the word of the Lord; and yet for departing he was slain. Here a lesson Is written as it were on the arch of heaven, and hung out for a warning to all generations, not to depart, on any pretence, from the plain word of God. Whatever He has said we must believe and obey, and an angel from heaven must not be allowed to contradict it. We may compare Scripture with Scripture to ascertain what He has actually spoken; but that being determined, we must suffer neither our own reasoning, nor the authority or reasoning or ridicule or glosses of others to weaken our confidence in any revealed truth. Men act over again the part so strongly condemned in the history before us. They leave the plain revelation of God for another guide more congenial with their feelings. At the suggestion of others who set up pretensions to superior knowledge, or at the sole instance of their own depraved hearts, they depart from truth and duty in defiance of the plain prescriptions of God’s word. Let them beware. These paths lead “down to death,” and these “steps take hold on hell.” The Almighty God will rend them like a lion, and there shall be none to deliver. All this becomes more credible when we see, as we do in the account before us:
2. That it is some selfish and sinful bias which leads men to forsake the wool of God for fables. In the present ease it is most plain by what influence and by what process of mind the man of God came to believe the fatal lie. It was under the spur of an appetite awakened by long abstinence. Pressed with hunger and fainting with thirst, in a sultry climate in the heat of the day, no sooner was the sound in his ear that God had released him from the burdensome restraint, than he rushed to the conclusion that so it was. He opened his ear to hear the refreshing tidings, as he would his parched lips to receive the cooling draught. Any one can almost see the operations of his mind, who has ever studied his own. That selfish desire of personal gratification,--that impatience under the restriction of a burdensome command,--predisposed him to fall in with the suggestion, and to believe (for he doubtless did believe) that God had released him from the prohibition. How easily do men believe what they wish should be true. No man ever went over from the revelation of God to believe a lie, without being led by a selfish and sinful bias.
3. We perceive in this history how men, and even prophets, will lie to draw others from the pathway of the Lord. The Jewish priests and Roman soldiers equally conspired to cheat the world, by a deliberate lie, out of that infinitely important fact on which the whole Gospel rests. Every revival of religion brings out confessions of this sort. The religion of these several classes is a religion supported, not by their reason, but by their passions. So it was with the religion of Jeroboam.
4. It may be our duty so to bear testimony against errors and vices, as to refuse to eat or drink or associate with those on whom they are found. And when the evil is so great as to call for this marked condemnation, no feelings of courtesy ought to turn us aside from the course of duty; nor ought such a withdrawment to be stigmatised as uncharitableness or bigotry. All this is fully supported by the history before us.
5. We learn from the history before us that strong resistance of temptation will not screen us from death if we are overcome at last. This man of God made a noble stand against the temptation by which he fell. When men have long resisted temptation and are overcome at last, they are prone to raise some excuse from the resistance they have made. But there is no excuse. The virtue of their past resistance is annihilated. They have sinned, and the sentence is out that they must die.
6. Seducers are often made the instruments of punishing their own victims. The old prophet, after decoying the man of God to his house and table, is made the organ of the terrible denunciation against him. The tempter becomes the instrument of punishment. In sin and sinful things is found the punishment of sin. If you touch what is polluted, it will thrust you through with a dart.
7. From this illuminated section of Divine providence we learn that good men, when they transgress, are often more severely punished in this life than the wicked. Instead of being protected by the sanctity of their profession, their nearness to God, the dignity of their office, or any services they may have rendered, they frequently receive a double portion of the cup of trembling. But there is another reason why, under certain circumstances, God punishes His children in this life more than others. When their sins are public, it behoves Him to wipe off the aspersion thus cast upon Himself.
8. This piece of history affords a specimen of the complexness of God’s providence, and particularly the extensive effects which are sometimes connected with the punishment of His people, beyond the immediate ends of the chastisement. In the case under consideration, the immediate ends in view were to disown the communion which the prophet had held with idolaters, and to show those idolaters God’s abhorrence of sin, and His unalterable deter-ruination to punish it on whomsoever found. But besides these ends, the miraculous death of the prophet for disobeying what he had publicly declared to be a part of his instructions, furnished irresistible proof of his Divine mission, and of the truth of the prediction which he had hurled against the altar of idols. By his death also his body was left at Bethel, where his sepulchre, with a broad and legible inscription, hard by the temple of idols, daily delivered anew the same denunciations of heaven, and proved a standing testimony against the idolaters.
9. God corrects His children “in measure,” and does not let loose all His wrath, but in the midst of “wrath” remembers “mercy.” Thus always does He break the stroke by which He chastises His children; and when the end of the infliction is answered, He opens to them a Father’s heart. And at last, when for sin He has sunk them in death, He will set himself down to guard their dust until the last morning bids it rise. (E. D. Griffiths, D. D.)
And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him.
A sharp punishment accords
But, surely, to be slain by a lion on the way home was a much too sharp punishment for taking one’s supper with a prophet and an angel; uneasy conscience and all. But then, “some sins,” says that noble piece, the Westminster Larger Catechism, “receive their aggravation from the persons offending; if they be of riper age, greater experience in grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, and as such are guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others.” The very case, to the letter, of the man of God out of Judah. The sublimity of his public services that morning had henceforth set up a corresponding standard for his private life. And this is one of our best compensations for preaching the grace of God and the law of Christ. Our office quickens our conscience; it makes the law cut deeper and deeper into us every day; and it compels us to a public and private life we would otherwise have escaped. Preaching recoils with terrible strokes on the preacher. It curtails his liberty in a most tyrannous way; it tracks him through all his life in a most remorseless manner. Think it out well, and count the cost before you become minister, or an elder, or a Sabbath School teacher, or a young communicant. Yes, it was surely a little sin, if ever there was a little sin, to sup that Sabbath night at an old prophet’s table, and that, too, on the invitation of an angel (A. Whyte, D. D.)
And when the prophet that brought him back from the way heard thereof.
On the character of the old prophet of Bethel
The most careful review of this man’s conduct does not make it easy to comprehend it; nor, indeed, do we know enough about him to satisfy us in pronouncing decidedly on the subject. Still there are circumstances in his history which do throw light on certain points of his character; and give them sufficient distinctness for us to apprehend a drift in them, and see an instruction which they convey to us. The first circumstance I would notice, is what we find in the twenty-third chapter of the Second Book of Kings; where we read, at the eighteenth verse, that the relics of him who was buried by the side of the man of God, are stated to be “the bones of the prophet that came out of Samaria.” He was originally of Samaria, the capital of his country; and now, in his old age, we find him removed to Bethel; the very mount of corruption, the temple of sacrilege, the very throne and stronghold of that “son of Nebat,” who had so fearfully “made Israel to sin.” Wherefore was he there? Had he gone there in grief and dismay at the doings of his prince, to remonstrate against and correct them? Had he gone, in jealousy of zeal and affection for the honour of his God and his Church? Alas! no; he could have gone with no such wish or object as this, or it would not have required God’s special mission of one of His prophets from Judah, to declare the violated truth before king, and priests, and people at Bethel! It is too clear that the old prophet must have been, at least, a consenting party to the doings which had made Israel an abomination in the sight of God. He must have even preferred the new order of things under this spiritual revolution of Jeroboam, or he need not have remained where they must day after day have done violence to his habits, and shocked his principles of religion.
1. That the burden of causing this misery and sin was mainly to be laid to the old prophet’s charge, there can be no doubt whatever. Although the delinquency of the man of God was great, the guilt of his aged brother was greater far; the former, indeed, yielded unjustifiably to temptation, but the latter assumed a part fit only for the malice of Satan himself. Our blessed Lord spoke with His characteristic monitory expression, when He joined the character of “a liar and a murderer” together; and pointed out to certain of the Jews that their “father the devil” had been “a destroyer from the beginning, because he abode not in the truth, and there was no truth in him.”
2. The next thing we should observe, is the singular faith and courage of his conduct, after he had been forced to announce his own victim’s punishment, and after the result of his treachery had broken, in its dreadful reality, upon his mind. Compunction and remorse evidently seized upon his mind, when he set forth upon the sorrowful errand of bringing back to an honoured burial, and a deep mourning, the man whom he had hurried to this untimely end. He saw and acknowledged the finger of God in this thing.
3. Moreover, it is evident that he must by this time have become touched with the truths which God had proclaimed by the mouth of His servant, and the richly earned vengeance in store for the crying sins of Israel. For, according to the words of our text, he solemnly forewarned his sons of the certain accomplishment of “the saying which was cried by the word of the Lord against the altar in Bethel, and all the houses of the high places which were in the cities of Samaria”; this, said he, “shall surely come to pass.” And that there was repentance in the after-conduct of the old prophet; and that God was mercifully pleased to look upon it with a pitying eye, there is some ground for hope in the issue of the event, as it came to pass in God’s own time. For when Josiah had accomplished the Divine vengeance on all the abominations of Bethel; had deposed its priests, broken clown its high places, and defiled its altars; and was in the act of taking the dead from the sepulchres on the mount, and burning them on the altars of the former sin; we read that he religiously spared “the sepulchre of the man of God that came from Judah”; and that they let his bones alone, together with “the bones of the prophet that came cub of Samaria.” A signal act of mercy this, on a day of severe and general retribution!
1. I need scarcely say that this example directs its first and broadest rebuke against all such as would ever knowingly and wilfully oppose and pervert the truth. This is a species of guilt so monstrous and offensive in the eyes of God and man; so merely malicious in its whole drift, and policy, and endeavour; that one would think it needs only to be noted, to be at once shunned and abhorred. It was the first origin of all corruption and misery on the face of God’s pure and perfect creation; the cause of man’s degradation, and the cursing of the earth for his sake: by it “sin entered into the world, and death by sin.”
2. But further, there is a modification of the old prophet’s sin, into which we may sometimes fall, without at all going to its full extent. We are apt to be enamoured of our own particular views of what we are pleased to think is truth; to cherish these, and to propagate these, without sufficient warranty for their sound and solid foundation in what is right. (J. Puckle, M. A.)
The grave and its epitaph
“Bury me,” said the remorseful old man to his sons standing in tears around his miserable death-bed, “bury me in the same grave with the bones of the man of God out of Judah.” And the old prophet’s sons so buried their father. And an awful grave that was in Bethel, with an awful epitaph upon it. Now, suppose this Suppose that you were buried on the same awful principle--in whose grave would your bones lie waiting together with his till the last trump to stand forth before God and man together? And what would your epitaph and his be? Would it be this: “Here lie the liar and his victim “? Or would it be this: “Here lie the seducer and the seduced”? Or would it be this: “Here lie the hater and him he hated down to death”? Or would it be this: “ Here lie the tempting host and his too willing to be tempted guest”? Or, if you are a minister, would it be this: “Here lies a dumb dog, and beside him one who was a crowded preacher in the morning of his days, but a castaway before night”? Alas, my brother. (A. Whyte, D. D.)
Jeroboam turned not from his way.
Jeroboam: a character study
Jeroboam had decidedly a fine start with a flattering prospect of success, a rare opportunity for excelling both temporally and spiritually. There was the promotion of the king, and by God the conditional promise of kingship, together with His guiding, protecting, and counselling presence. Permanent regnancy for himself and his children after him. Hence, having God to begin with, and God’s unfailing promise to rest on, provided he fulfilled the conditions, what could he have better, what more? A grand Start! A splendid chance to march to the coveted goal of success on the very threshold of an untried life enterprise. But every fair morning does not end in a cloudless eventide; neither does every such beginning as Jeroboam had culminate in continuance in well-doing. The start may be the best part in a man’s life. It was so with Jeroboam.
1. There was manifest distrust of God. Evidently he had forgotten God’s promise to be with him and to establish his house and kingdom.
2. This distrust of God led to departure from God. Leaning to his own understanding, he resolved to build two altars and to make two golden calves, and place one of them at Bethel, and the other at Dan, the extreme points in his kingdom.
3. Another point which strikes us in this man’s history is his despising Jehovah’s warning and servant. These histories of the Bible repeat themselves in the lives around us to-day. There are many men to whom God has given a good start in life. They have been blessed with an auspicious entrance into the world, with social and religious environment most favourable and helpful, God-fearing parents, a religious training, a comfortable home, good education, business tact, common-sense views of life, and men, and things, and, above all, with Heaven’s call to fellowship and godliness. Each has started right, with high aims and noble purposes. Public favour has greeted them, success has blossomed in their path of enterprise and effort, until, by sweat of brain and brawn of muscle, and the smile of Providence, they have taken a steady and straight course to wealth and position. But, as in the case of Jeroboam, temporal prosperity has been followed by spiritual degeneracy. A going up in the world has resulted in a going down in grace. Such persons, however, are not left without warning. God’s ministers are commanded to prophesy against them. This is done, though it provokes anger and brings disfavour. Faithfulness ofttimes forfeits popularity and position, but it ensures the “Well done” of God. To rebuke sin in high places, to tear the mask from the face of the hypocrite, to denounce a man’s pet idol--indifference, intemperance, or impurity--is like touching gunpowder with a lucifer. You must expect an explosion if not an expulsion. Persecution in some form will hound you; but fear not, for He who has said, “Touch not My anointed and do My prophets no harm,” covers you with His wings, and smites your persecutors with the rod of judgment.
He wastes their strength and withers their health.
1. Learn from this study of character the influence of one life.
2. Learn, too, the danger of attempting to injure God’s true servants. “Whoso toucheth you, toucheth the apple of My eye.”
3. Lastly, beware of the developing power of evil. The seedlings of sin finding congenial soil grow into a harvest of woe. The rill of evil first, the river of corruption at last. Jeroboam went from bad to worse. Slighting God grew into abandonment of God. Worship through the medium of symbols became rank idolatry. No man intends to become a drunkard when he lifts the first glass to his lips, but he takes the beginning step towards it. The possibilities of sin--the resources of wrong-doing pent up in every man’s nature--no mind can gauge, no tongue can tell Safety alone lies in salvation from sin, salvation through the cross--full, free, eternal (J. O. Keen, D. D.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》