A Tale of Two Prophets

1 Kings 13:16-19 - The man of God said, "I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water in this place. I have been told by the word of the Lord..." 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 and drink water.'" (But he was lying to him.) So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house.

Read all of 1 Kings 12 and 13.

Do you want to read a really confusing Bible story? Read the tale of two prophets in 1 Kings 13! Rare is the Christian who reads 1 Kings 13 for the first time (or even the "nth" time) who doesn't wonder, "What's going on here?" Doesn't it seem a little unfair that God allowed His courageous and obedient young prophet to be tricked by an older prophet--and then killed by a lion as a result? The "worshipful feelings" that naturally flow from reading other chapters in the Bible are replaced by questions and feelings of disappointment when we read this unusual biblical narrative! Before we try to "sort out the loose ends" of this Bible story and draw out some lessons for today, let's look at the setting of this intriguing event.

A True Tale

In about 931 BC, the nation of Israel split into two separate kingdoms. For 120 years, under the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon, a united Israel had grown steadily in wealth, power and glory. After the death of King Solomon, however, economic and political factors led to the collapse of the unified kingdom, and two separate kingdoms were formed. Rehoboam, Solomon's son, became the king of the southern kingdom, which was called Judah and included Jerusalem and God's Temple.

Jeroboam I, who was not of the kingly line of David, became the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel. To help solidify his position in the northern kingdom, King Jeroboam instituted his own system of worship by setting up two idolatrous shrines with golden calf images! (See 1 Kings 12.) One shrine was established at Dan, in the far north of the kingdom, and the other was strategically located at Bethel, on the border with the southern kingdom of Judah. People in the northern kingdom, traveling south to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, would possibly be tempted to stop off at Bethel and try out the new form of "worship."

In addition, since God's true priests served at the Temple in Jerusalem and lived in Judah, Jeroboam made up his own priesthood from among his own people. These illegitimate "priests" were not from the tribe of Levi. And King Jeroboam declared his own religious feast day. Because of all this evil activity, Jeroboam I is known in sacred Scripture as "the king who caused Israel to sin" (1 Kings 14:16 and 15:30,34).

Soon after King Jeroboam's sinful religious system was set up, God sent a young prophet north from Judah to Bethel to pronounce judgment on the idolatrous form of worship. The prophet arrived at the precise moment that the king was offering incense on the false altar of the shrine of the golden calf! With amazing accuracy the prophet predicted that a future king, a descendant of David named Josiah, would burn the bones of Jeroboam's false priests upon this idolatrous altar. Sure enough, about 300 years later, the revival of good King Josiah of Judah swept north, and the idolatrous shrine at Bethel was torn down. 2 Kings 23:15-16 describes how the prophecy of judgment was fulfilled, exactly as the prophet from Judah had predicted.

To back up the authority of the prophecy, God had the prophet give an immediate sign to King Jeroboam. The altar split apart, and its ashes and incense were strewn about! When Jeroboam tried to have the prophet arrested, his outstretched hand and arm were stiffened and paralyzed.

After God, in His mercy, restored the king's hand, Jeroboam invited the prophet to come home with him for a little relaxation before returning home to Judah. Even though he was offered a reward, the prophet refused to be enriched or entertained by the wicked king. God had specifically directed His prophet not to delay or depart from his mission in any way, but to return home directly. However--an older prophet who lived in the Bethel area, having heard about the day's events, chased after the prophet from Judah and invited him to come home with him for some food and fellowship.

Because of God's specific directions for his mission the prophet from Judah refused the invitation, but when the older prophet insisted, the younger prophet was finally persuaded to turn back with him. The older prophet claimed that the Lord Himself had directed him to bring the younger prophet home, but the Scripture carefully points out that the older prophet was lying.

Now comes an unexpected twist in the "tale of two prophets." During dinner, the word of the Lord came to the older prophet, denouncing the disobedience of the younger prophet! As a result of his disobedience, the younger prophet was killed by a lion on the road home to Judah! The lion did not devour the man or kill his donkey, but rather stood guard over his body, which was a sign to everyone that this was not an "unlucky accident" or the natural activity of a hungry beast of prey!

When the older prophet heard of the younger prophet's fate, he retrieved the body, mourned the prophet from Judah, and gave him an honorable burial in his own grave. Furthermore he confirmed that the prediction of the younger prophet would take place, and he asked his sons, when he died, to bury his own body next to the prophet from Judah.

We know from Romans 15:4 that the tale of two prophets was "written for our instruction." What possible application can we draw from this unusual story? Let's look at three unmistakable lessons.

Lesson for Unbelievers

The lesson for unbelievers is quite obvious and straightforward: When the Lord gives you a chance to change your ways and get into a proper relationship with Him, don't miss the golden opportunity! In 1 Kings 11:38 we read that before King Jeroboam came to power, God gave him a golden opportunity. Speaking through the prophet Ahijah, the Lord said, "If you will walk in My ways and do what is right in My eyes by keeping My statutes and commands, I will be with you." But Jeroboam ignored this message from the Lord, and actually defied and demeaned God by inventing his own false system of worship!

In His grace, the Lord gave Jeroboam another opportunity to repent and turn from his evil ways, and to correct his heart attitude and actions. The Lord sent the young prophet from Judah to confront Jeroboam. The mission was timed precisely so that King Jeroboam would hear the word of the Lord directly. After his hand and arm were suddenly paralyzed in the presence of the powerless "god" he had created, Jeroboam couldn't deny that this prophet was from the true and all-powerful God. And when his withered hand and arm were perfectly restored, Jeroboam knew that God had shown mercy to him. What a golden opportunity for Jeroboam to admit his guilt, renounce the false system of worship, give his heart to the Lord and turn the northern kingdom of Israel back to God! But King Jeroboam I missed his opportunity.

What about you? Maybe you're a skeptic of the Bible, or you simply don't believe that there's a really a God to whom we all must answer. Maybe you think that the God of the Bible is unfair or unjust in some way. How many opportunities has God given you to change your ways and recognize Him and His claims on your life?

Maybe you're a religious person. So was Jeroboam! But he had created a god in his own image! Is that your problem? Maybe you have turned away from the true God to a less demanding "religious experience." Maybe you believe you are following God, but you actually have "cut and pasted" the Bible in order to create a "god" which fits into your desired lifestyle and philosophy in place of the true God of the Bible! Why not admit the possibility that you may be wrong? Take the opportunity that God is giving you to repent right now. Turn to Him before it is too late!

Lesson for Older Christians

In the tale of two prophets, most likely the older prophet was a believer in the true God, and was not directly a part of Jeroboam's false system of worship. But rather than stir up trouble for himself by speaking out publicly against King Jeroboam I, or moving south to Judah as others had done, he remained in Bethel, retaining his local prestige as a "retired prophet." Rather than "rock the boat," he went along with the system for his own selfish purposes. Perhaps he was like one of the 7000 silent believers who lived in the idolatrous northern kingdom in Elijah's day. (See 1 Kings 19:18.)

But when the younger prophet from Judah boldly denounced the king and his false system of worship, the older prophet was stirred into action. Unfortunately that action was not channelled in the right direction. Maybe the older prophet was miffed that God had left him on the sidelines--even though his passive lifestyle and lack of commitment had made him unsuitable for God's use as a messenger. Maybe he had an exaggerated notion of his own importance as a prophet in the Bethel area. Maybe he was jealous of the youth of the prophet from Judah. Whatever the case, the older prophet lied to the younger prophet. Hemisdirected him--and actually persuaded him to disobey the Lord's will!

What a lesson for older Christians today! Older and mature believers have a responsibility to encourage younger believers to follow the will of the Lord for their lives. But sometimes improper words of guidance from older Christians can mislead--or even manipulate--younger believers. This is a very serious sin, because it may cause younger believers to miss the Lord's calling for their lives!

Sometimes the problem may be that the older Christian is sincerely mistaken in his or her counsel, but sometimes the improper advice is rooted in jealousy. Sometimes its source is disappointment or bitterness that the Lord has asked a younger Christian to get a job done, and has passed over the older Christian--even though the older Christian may have become spiritually unsuited for the job. Sometimes older Christians hinder the leading of the Lord and the proper zeal in the younger generation because they fear a loss of their own prestige or power or influence in the local church!

Are you an "older," more mature Christian? God has called you to guard and lead younger believers. Be very careful that you don't hinder or interfere with the Lord's direction in a younger Christian's life and calling. It's possible for a gifted and spiritual young believer to be led away of the will of God by the misguided counsel of an older Christian. Sincerely seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit whenever a younger Christian asks you for advice. Don't be too quick to give your "off-the-cuff" counsel in matters that may affect a younger believer for a lifetime. Before the Lord, examine the honesty of your motives. Be sure your words of advice are biblical and appropriate. Remember, the life of service of a younger Christian may depend on your mature, wise and biblical counsel!

Lesson for Younger Christians

This is the hardest lesson of all--not because the lesson is hard to see, but because properly discerning the will of God takes real spiritual sensitivity. Younger Christians must learn, first and foremost, to follow the will of the Lord (not the will of others) for their lives! Guidance from the Lord comes in a number of ways, including the counsel of older Christians. But as we've seen, it is possible for older believers to give guidance that looks like it might be from the Lord, but is not from the Lord!

If you are a younger Christian, be wary of counsel from an older Christian who says, "The Lord told me" what you should or should not do. This kind of advice could be a well-intended mistake--or it could be manipulation! In fact, be on the alert for danger when any Christian tries to direct you with a "the Lord told me..." statement!

The best advice for all believers is to evaluate what you believe the Lord is directing you to do, then let the Lord confirm His will in a number of different ways--including the counsel of many believers! Carefully select the older believers (plural!) that you consult. Make sure that these believers are living Christ-honoring lifestyles, and have a good knowledge of the Word of God.

The tale of two prophets is not an easy Bible story to understand. However, with a little meditation and reflection we can appreciate this portion of God's Word. Like all of Scripture, the tale of two prophets has valuable lessons for people today.

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