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The Man of God and the Old Prophet

In 1Kings 13, there is a story of two men who were both inspired of God but also guilty of sin.  Neither of these men is named in this chapter, but they are described respectively as "a man of God" and "an old prophet."  Their story may seem inconsequential in the big picture of the Scriptures, but it is actually filled with valuable lessons.  Therefore, let us briefly summarize the story and then garner the lessons.

The man of God was sent by the word of the Lord from Judah to Bethel to prophesy against the altar there.  Jereboam, the first king of the northern tribes of Israel, had set up a golden calf and an altar at Bethel so that the people would worship there instead of Jerusalem (1Ki. 12:25-33).  When the man of God prophesied, Jereboam said, "Seize him," but his hand was "dried up so that he could not draw it back to himself" (1Ki. 13:4).  The altar at Bethel also split in two according to the prophecy.  When the man of God prayed for Jereboam, his hand was restored.  Thus, the onset of this story describes a powerful and glorious victory for the Lord through the man of God.

The man of God had been commanded by the Lord not to eat bread, drink water, or return by the way which he came to Bethel.  When Jereboam invited him to his own house for refreshment and a reward, the man of God adamantly refused.  However, when an old prophet heard of what the man of God had done, he came to the man of God and invited him to have bread and water.  Again, the man of God refused, but the old prophet lied and said that he received a commandment through an angel to bring the man of God back to his house for bread and water.  Therefore, the man of God consented to go with him.

When the man of God had eaten and drunk in the house of the old prophet, the word of the Lord came to the old prophet and condemned the man for his disobedience. When the man of God left upon his donkey, a lion met him on the road and killed him.  The old prophet heard of the man's death, and he understood that the Lord had sent the lion.  He then went and found the man's body on the ground with the lion and the donkey standing beside it.  He brought the man's body back to Bethel for burial and mourned his death.

Perhaps the most outstanding lesson to learn in this story is this: do not accept the word of any man over the word of God.  The man of God knew God's commandment, and he strictly obeyed it until the old prophet lied and claimed to have a contrary revelation from God. The man of God failed when he trusted the old prophet rather than abiding by what he knew from God's word. Likewise, we will fail if we accept the words of men who teach contrary to the Scriptures.  "All Scripture is inspired of God" (2Tim. 3:16) and has been confirmed (Heb. 2:3-4) so that we can know what the word of God is.  Even when trusted men teach us, we must insist that they comply with God's revealed word.  If they will not, then we must reject their teaching regardless of who they are or what they claim.  Consider this dire warning: "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed" (Gal. 1:8).

Another lesson to consider is that no one is exempt from the wrath of God.  The man of God in this story was a champion for the Lord at Bethel.  He had boldly faced the king on behalf of the Lord and won a powerful victory.  Even so, this did not prevent him from being subject to God's wrath for disobedience.  From man's perspective, it may seem unfitting that God's champion should be found dead on the road near the place where he won the victory.  From God's perspective, the man had disobeyed Him and treated Him as unholy, and the punishment was fitting to demonstrate God's righteousness.  Let us learn this lesson well, for judgment will begin with the household of God (1Pet. 4:17-18).  We will not escape judgment just because we claim to be Christians, but rather it will only be for faithful obedience to Christ (John 3:16-18, 36; 5:24).

We should also see in this story that words have consequences, so we must be careful about what we say.  The Scripture does not say why the old prophet lied to the man of God, so we can only speculate about his motivation.  However, it seems unlikely that the old prophet foresaw or intended the death of the man of God.  "Death and life are in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21), and the lying tongue of the old prophet led to the man's death.  Our tongues are also capable of doing great harm even when we do not intend it. Therefore, we must be careful about our words, including those so-called "little white lies" that may appear harmless.

Just as the word of the Lord had equipped the man of God with all he needed at Bethel, so also the Scriptures now equip today's man of God for every good work (2Tim. 3:16-17).  This story from 1Kings 13 equips us with a knowledge of God's expectations and the dangers of contradicting His word.  Therefore, let us heed these lessons and all that God has said in His holy word.

Stacey E. Durham




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