THE PROPHET OF JUDAH
‘The prophet of Judah.’
1 Kings 13:1-25
The altar at Beth-el was an ill-omened altar. The shadow of ruin was on it from the first. On the very morning of its inauguration, when Jeroboam stood with the incense ready, an unknown prophet of Judah strode forward from the crowd—and what a thrill ran through the people! He seemed to see nobody, not even the king. His eye was riveted upon the altar. He cried to it, ‘O altar, altar!’ and foretold that a child should be born of the house of David who would offer on it the bones of its ministering priests. Then, as a sign that the word was from the Lord, the altar was rent, and the ashes on it scattered. Well for the people, as the ashes were drifted over them by the mountain breeze, had they thought that ashes were the symbol of repentance! Jeroboam was furious; he pointed to the intruder; he cried to his retinue to seize him. But in that instant his outstretched and pointing arm was withered, and was only healed at the prophet’s intercession. Then the unknown herald disappeared, refusing all kingly offers of entertainment. And the Lesson concludes with the pitiful tragedy that opened in disobedience and closed in death. Two centuries later the altar was rent again. Then came Josiah, who ‘stamped it small to powder,’ and who took the bones of the priests out of their sepulchres, and burned them there. So was fulfilled ‘the word of the Lord, which the man of God proclaimed.’
Now let us note three lessons here.
I. The same temptations will come back again.—This unnamed prophet was tempted by the king, and he had the strength and courage to be firm. God had bidden him accept no hospitality, and he was true to the bidding of his Lord so far. No doubt he felt the strength of having conquered; there was something of the glow of victory upon him. He could lay aside his spiritual armour now, and take a little ease under the oak tree. And it was then, just when he seemed victorious, that the same temptation leaped back on him again. The battle with self and ease had to be refought, and he had slackened his grip upon his sword. It was the very temptation meeting him again that he was congratulating himself on having conquered. I think the man was lost, because he won. Now that is a lesson in temptation. Satan is rarely content with one assault. He sometimes lets himself be beaten in the first, just to get us at greater advantage in the second. Never cease watching. Beware of that oak tree. The time has not come to be pleased with our little victories. Some day we shall sit under His shadow with great delight. But to-day our Lord is saying to us, ‘Watch!’
II. Mark how others may be ruined by our falsehood.—When the old prophet went after the prophet of Judah, he told him that the Lord had bidden him come. This was not an invitation from the king; it was an invitation (he said) from the King of kings. But, says the scripture, he lied unto him. Now what was the purpose of that lie I hardly know. There was all manner of treachery behind it. The old prophet would be a poorer man for ever, for having taken God’s name in vain like that. But what I want to note is, that the brother-prophet was ruined by that lie. It was that lie that led him into danger; it was that lie that cost him his life. Learn, then, that in every falsehood we are doing certain injury to others. Some one suffers, be quite sure of it, every time you tell a lie. Not only for your own sakes, but for others’ sakes, determine, whatever it costs, never to deceive. We serve others just by being true.
III. This is the main lesson—our safety lies in simple obedience.—The prophet of Judah was a true prophet of God. God had honoured him by giving him this work. Still more, God granted him the power of working miracles—the altar was rent and the king’s hand restored. Surely with all these gifts and signs of favour the prophet might think himself tolerably safe? Yet spite of them all, what a terrible end he came to—and all because of disobedience. Learn, then, that our gifts may be our danger; our talents or genius may be our peril, if we ever think that in the strength of these we can dare be disobedient to God. It is the brightest and the cleverest—it is those whom God has dowered most liberally—it is they who are often tempted to be careless, and to take their ease under the oak tree. God teaches us that gifts are no safeguard. The brightest must obey just like the dullest. For the little genius, as for the little dunce, there is only one road to safety and to happiness. It is to obey God unswervingly.
‘The penalty was very severe; but it was necessary. Else Jeroboam might have argued that he was not a true prophet, and that the word which he spake as God’s would not stand. The prophet’s death for his disobedience must have been an awful message to the king. If a man of God was not spared, how should he fare? If judgment begins at the house of God, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear? Remember, too, that death is not the worst calamity that can befall; spiritual deterioration is worse.’
THE DISOBEDIENT PROPHET
‘And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the Lord came unto the prophet that brought him back,’ etc.
1 Kings 13:20
I. Consider what was the mission or work of this prophet of Judah.—Jeroboam, like many a statesman since his time, looked upon religion, not as the happiness and strength of his own life, but simply as an instrument of successful government. He saw that if, after the separation of the ten tribes, Jerusalem should still continue to be the religious centre of the whole nation, sooner or later it would become the political centre too. The prophet was to Jeroboam what Samuel was to Saul after the victory over Amalek. He announced God’s displeasure at the most critical moment of his life, when an uninterrupted success was crowned with high-handed rebellion against the gracious Being who had done everything for the rebel. The prophet placed the king under the ban of God. It was a service of the utmost danger; it was a service of corresponding honour.
II. Consider the temptations to which the Jewish prophet was exposed in the discharge of his mission.—It was not difficult for him to decline Jeroboam’s invitation to eat and drink with him. The invitation of the old prophet was a much more serious temptation, and had a different result. This old prophet was a religious adventurer who had a Divine commission and even supernatural gifts, yet who placed them at the service of Jeroboam. He wanted to bring the other prophet down to his own level. Looking at the sacred garb, the white hairs, of the old prophet of Beth-el, the prophet of Judah listened to the false appeal to his own Lord and Master, and he fell.
III. Notice the prophet’s punishment.—By a solemn, a terrible, irony the seducer was forced to pass a solemn sentence on his victim. If the sterner penalty was paid by the prophet who disobeyed, and not by the prophet who tempted, this is only what we see every day. The victims of false teaching too often suffer, while the tempter seems to escape. The lesson from the story is that our first duty is fidelity to God’s voice in conscience.
(1) ‘No gifts could save this prophet from his ruin when once he left the pathway of obedience. He was a man of God inspired for a great work—there was given to him the power of working miracles—he was courageous and thoroughly in earnest—he had said in his heart “Here am I, send me”—yet darkness fell on him, and all was lost, spite of his calling, and all his gifts and graces, because he disobeyed the will of heaven. That is a lesson for the brightest boys, and for the girls who are beautiful or gifted. Are we not tempted to think, if we are finely dowered, that God will forgive us for a little liberty? But for the genius, as for the dullest brain, there is only one path to peace and power and safety, and that is to walk in God’s commandment, and strive to be obedient to His will.’
(2) ‘The prophet turned from the stir and throng of Bethel to the solitude of the road that led to Judah, and it was then, in the very flush of victory, that he was tempted again, and yielded to temptation. Many an army has been put to flight in the hours that followed on some great success. They became careless—they grew secure and easy—and all unexpectedly they were assailed again. And as it is with armies, so with men. It is a glad and a good thing to be victorious. But the season that follows on a moral victory is often a season that is big with danger. That is what Paul means when, writing to the Ephesians, he bids them “having done all, to stand.” This prophet had “done all” that God had laid on him, yet having done it all, he failed to stand. There is danger when the breaker lifts its head and with a wild thunder dashes on the shore, but not less dangerous is its retreat, as it moves back again into the deeps.’
(3) ‘The vital importance of this prophet’s work is to be found not only in his message, but in the fact that he was called to utter it when the kingdom of the north was in its infancy. Now in such circumstances would you not have thought that the name of the prophet would have been written large? Would you not have expected it upon the page of scripture, so to be held in perpetual remembrance? Instead of that we do not know his name, nor his home, nor his father or his mother—he is just “a man of God out of Judah.” Do you remember what Milton calls the desire for fame? He calls it “the last infirmity of noble minds.” Some of the greatest things the world has known have been done by men whose names are in oblivion.’
‘After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way.’
1 Kings 13:33
‘After this thing,’ viz., such a succession of miracles and prophecies as we can hardly find elsewhere in the Bible.
Jeroboam saw four or five miracles together, and yet turned not from his evil way.
I. He had two warnings—the rent altar, and the withered hand. We have had many more—nay, many more than two all of us have neglected. We have been ill and vowed to do better on recovery. But with the danger, all the good resolutions have vanished.
But Jeroboam had not only a warning in his withered hand, he had another in the destruction of his altar. And we, too, have had warnings enough in others as well as in ourselves.
II. But notice again, all the warnings Jeroboam had were not in anger.—One was in mercy. His withered hand was made whole at the prayer of the prophet. And he had some good feelings still, for he offered hospitality and a reward to the man of God from Judah. If Jeroboam had only obeyed the words of the prophet, that would have been his true reward—the crown and glory of his journey.
III. See what Jeroboam’s sin was, and what the message was.—His sin was in diverting his people from worshipping at Jerusalem, to worship the golden calves at Dan and Beth-el. Worldly men would have called it a clever device. The Holy Spirit called it a sin. Eighteen times we read these fearful words: ‘who made Israel to sin.’
IV. His sin, even so far as this world was concerned, was a miserable failure.—He lost the next world, and he did not even gain this. So it is very often with those who break God’s commandments. It very often happens that from those who do not seek God’s kingdom first, the very things which they do seek first, and for which they give that up, are taken away. And in the old prophet’s death that evening Jeroboam had a more fearful warning still. That was the worst sign of all. How suddenly Jeroboam was destroyed! Like Pharaoh and Balaam. To have so many chances, and yet to miss them all! Think, then, when you are tempted to take counsel how you may please yourselves even at the risk or certainty of breaking God’s law—think and fear, lest your own end should be like that of Jeroboam, ‘who made Israel to sin.’
Dr. J. Mason Neale.
(1) ‘Experience should have taught Jeroboam. He had the warning of Solomon’s example. Prophecy and promise ought to have held him to a right course. He had the distinct utterance of Ahijah to guide him. His own observation should have told him that every promise of God is conditional. But all was in vain. Jeroboam descends to history with the infamous character of being emphatically the man “that made Israel to sin.”’
(2) ‘The cause of Jeroboam’s conduct was not weakness of character, but rather, on the contrary, the obstinacy with which he pursued what his soul desired, and which was the mainspring of all his actions, i.e. the resolve to keep himself on the throne at any cost and under all circumstances, and not to come under the dominion of the hated house of David and Judah again. The petition to have his hand restored was only the effect of momentary fright; when this passed, instead of listening to the man of God, he tried to bribe him and win him over, and the whole transaction left no trace behind it. He is a type of those usurpers who have no other aim in life than to gratify their ambition and love of power, and whose apparently good and noble actions are only the fruit of this passion.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 1 Kings 13". Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent