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JEROBOAM’S IDOLATRY REPROVED
1 Kings 13:4. And it came to pass, when King Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Beth-el, 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.
TO be raised to a situation of eminence and authority is generally thought a subject of congratulation: but if preferment be not accompanied with a proportionable increase of grace to fit us for it, it is rather to be dreaded than desired. Distinctions of every kind open a wider sphere for the exercise of our own corruptions, and too frequently become to the possessors of them an occasion of deeper condemnation. This is strongly illustrated in the case of Pharaoh, who was raised up to the throne of Egypt on purpose that he might have an opportunity of shewing all that was in his heart, and that God’s power might be displayed and magnified in his destruction [Note: Romans 9:17.]. In like manner Jeroboam was raised to the throne of Israel, not, alas! for any benefit either to himself or others, but for the ultimate augmentation of his own guilt and misery. Whilst in a humble situation, he was industrious, and trust-worthy [Note: 1 Kings 11:28.]: but when he was preferred to a higher post, he became ambitious [Note: 1 Kings 10:3-7.], turbulent, rebellious [Note: 2 Chronicles 13:6.]: and when he was placed on the throne of Israel, he drew away that whole people to idolatry; and has from that hour been never mentioned but with abhorrence, as the man “that caused Israel to sin.” In considering the account here given of him, we shall notice,
His unbelieving expedient—
Scarcely was Jeroboam raised to the throne, before he established idolatry throughout his dominions—
[Wishing to make the breach between Israel and Judah irreparable, he determined to cut off all intercourse between them; and to establish a worship of his own devising, that the people might not go up any longer to worship at Jerusalem. He knew that it would be in vain to prohibit religion altogether; but that to establish a false religion would be comparatively easy; since, if men have something wherewith to satisfy their own minds, they are not very scrupulous about inquiring what is agreeable to the mind of God. Having recently come out of Egypt, he introduced the idols that were there worshipped, even golden calves; and set them up in Dan, and Beth-el. One would have supposed that such an innovation would have shaken his throne to its foundation; but it seems to have created no uneasiness at all, nor to have produced one single remonstrance throughout the land. Do we not in this behold a true picture of human nature in every age and place? The worst of men must have some forms, by the observance of which they may satisfy their own consciences: but the easier and cheaper their religion is, the more suited it will be to their taste. To be told they need not comply with the self-denying commands of God [Note: 1 Kings 12:28.], will be agreeable to their corrupt hearts: “Master, spare thyself,” is to them a gratifying advice; and, wherever the Gospel is faithfully administered, the effect of this advice is clearly seen: the express commands of God oppose, in many instances, but a feeble barrier to the solicitations of carnal ease — — —]
To this he was instigated by unbelief—
[He was afraid lest his subjects, by going up to Jerusalem at the stated feasts, should be drawn away from him, and be induced to return to their former prince. Nor were these fears altogether groundless. The very exercises of religion would tend to convince them that they had sinned in casting off the yoke of Rehoboam; and the familiar intercourse which they would have with the other two tribes, would tend to reconcile their minds to the idea of being again united with them under one head. But Jeroboam was bound not to listen to any such considerations as these, because he had the express promise of God, that “his house should be built up, like the house of David [Note: 1 Kings 11:38.],” provided he would walk in the path of duty. This was a sufficient security to him, that the evil which he dreaded should never happen, whilst he remained faithful to his God. In God therefore he should have put his trust. But he gave way to unbelief, and sought for that in the violation of God’s commands, which was only to be obtained in the observance of them; yea, he madly sought the establishment of his throne by the commission of those very crimes which had subverted the throne of Solomon. This is a weakness to which even the best of men have yielded on some occasions: the great father of the faithful himself repeatedly denied his wife through fear, as Isaac also did; and Jacob gained by deceit and falsehood the blessing, which he could not wait to receive in God’s own time and way. But such unbelief, even in the smallest instances, is most sinful; and, in the instance before us, it brought the curse of God upon that whole people. Let us therefore guard against its influence on our hearts; for its suggestions are always evil, and its effects are uniformly destructive — — —]
His conduct, when reproved for this device, leads us to consider,
His vindictive wrath—
A prophet was sent from Judah to reprove him—
[God had decreed that the utmost indignity should be offered to the altar at Beth-el, where Jeroboam was now officiating in his own person. He had appointed the priests, and sacrifices, together with the sacred feasts, without any reference to the divine commands, having “devised them of his own heart:” and now he was warned before all the people, that the very priests who offered their sacrifices upon it, should have their own bones burnt upon it by a prince of the house of David, whose name was Josiah. Now it is remarkable that no king of the house of David had a son named Josiah, for the space of three hundred years; and that then it was a wicked [Note: 1 Kings 11:38.] king who so named his son: so far was man from making any attempt to fulfil this prophecy. But God had ordained that such an one should m due time arise; and that he should execute what was now foretold: and, as a certain pledge of its ultimate accomplishment, the altar was miraculously rent in the very presence of Jeroboam, and “the ashes that were upon it were poured out [Note: ver. 3, 5.].” This was humiliating to Jeroboam, not only on account of the indignity that should be offered to his altar, but because its being offered by one of the house of David was a pledge, that Judah should regain the ascendant, and thereby be enabled to execute the threatened judgments.]
This, instead of humbling him, incensed him in the highest degree—
[Instantly “he stretched out his hand to lay hold” on the prophet, determining probably to put him to death. Thus it is that the carnal heart is ever ready to rise against God. Men will insult God by every means in their power; yet, if reproved for it by a servant of the Most High, they account it an indignity, to be expiated only by the death of the offender. This was strongly exemplified in Jeremiah, and John the Baptist [Note: Jeremiah 26:7-8; Jeremiah 26:11; Matthew 14:3-5; Matthew 14:10.]: and indeed in every company we go into, we see the hand stretched out by wicked men against every one that dares to advocate the cause of God — — — Not that the servants of God are on this account to refrain from bearing their testimony against iniquity: they must do so wherever they are, without fearing the face of man, or regarding any consequences that may come upon them.]
This rage of his brought on him, what we are next to consider,
His exemplary punishment—
God instantly smote his arm, so that he could not pull it in again to him—
[On many occasions has God vindicated the cause of his afflicted people, and shewn himself the avenger of their wrongs. Ahab menaced Micaiah; but God cut him off, according to Micaiah’s word. Pashur smote Jeremiah, and put him in the stocks; but God “soon made him a terror to himself [Note: Jeremiah 20:2-4.].” In truth, God regards every thing that is done against his people as done to himself. When Paul was persecuting the saints, the language of Jesus to him was, “Saul, Saul, why persecutes! thou me?” We do not indeed expect that God will often interpose in the visible manner that he did in the instance before us; but he will record every thing in the book of his remembrance, and requite every man according to his works. Then shall it be seen, that, however contemptible the saints may now appear, “it were better for a man to have a millstone hanged about his neck and be cast into the depths of the sea, than that he should offend one of those little ones who believe in Christ.” “He that toucheth you,” says God, “toucheth the apple of mine eye.”]
Now was this proud persecutor constrained to ask for the prayers of him, whom he had just before endeavoured to destroy—
[Thus was Pharaoh reduced to seek the intercession of Moses: and thus are many amongst ourselves compelled in a season of adversity to desire the prayers of those very ministers, whom in time of prosperity they have reviled and persecuted. And happy will it be for those who find their error now, and have grace given them to repent of it: for assuredly they who will not humble themselves in this world, will be made monuments of God’s wrath to all eternity.]
Let nothing ever induce us to sin against God—
[The hope of preserving his temporal interests led Jeroboam into all his sins: and similar hopes are apt to produce the like baneful influence on us. But, supposing we should succeed, what can repay us for the loss of the divine favour? To adhere with steadfastness to the path of duty is our truest wisdom. Whilst faithfully serving God, we may safely leave events in his hands. If we suffer for well doing, we may console ourselves with this reflection, that to lose by virtue is infinitely better than to gain by sin. Our losses will be soon made up in the eternal world; but our gains will terminate in everlasting woe.]
If we have sinned at any time, let us be thankful for reproof—
[How thankful should Jeroboam have been to the prophet, who at the peril of his life declared the unalterable purpose of his God! So should all be who are reproved for sin. It is no pleasing task to denounce the judgments of God against sin or sinners: but it is necessary: and it is at the peril of his own soul, if the watchman forget to warn the citizens of their approaching danger. A necessity is laid upon God’s ministers; and woe be to them, if they neglect their duty! Let reproof then be ever welcome to you; and let all watch over each other with tender love, and inflexible fidelity.]
THE DISOBEDIENT PROPHET SLAIN
1 Kings 13:26. And when the prophet that brought him back from the way heard thereof, he said, It is the man of God, who was disobedient unto the word of the Lord: therefore the Lord hath delivered him unto the lion, which hath torn him, and slain him, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake unto him.
IT not unfrequently happens, that they who are enabled to maintain their steadfastness in more arduous circumstances, are surprised and overcome in situations of less difficulty. Noah and Lot, whilst living in the midst of ungodly men, were circumspect and exemplary in the highest degree; but when freed from those restraints, and enjoying repose in the bosom of their families, they fell, and greatly dishonoured their profession. The case of the disobedient prophet was not indeed to be compared with theirs in point of enormity: but, in withstanding greater temptations, and falling when his victory appeared complete, he exhibits another instance of human instability. Much indeed is to be said for him, because he was deceived: but his history affords a solemn warning unto all. In illustration of it we shall consider,
The character of the seducer—
Many have thought him to be a pious man: and certainly there are many features in his character which have a favourable aspect. He is called “an old prophet,” which intimates that God had made use of him in revealing his will to men. He expressed a very high regard for the prophet that came out of Egypt, and, with considerable trouble to himself, sought to enjoy communion with him. Beyond a doubt he was at that time inspired of God, because he confirmed with divine authority the prediction that had been delivered, respecting the burning of men’s bones on Jeroboam’s altar; an event that did not take place till after the expiration of three hundred years. When he heard that the prophet whom he had deceived was dead, he went boldly, and as it were in faith, up to the very face of the lion, and took away from him the corpse, and returned with it to his own house. For the loss of so good a man he greatly mourned; and he determined to honour him to the utmost of his power. He interred his body in his own tomb; he wrote an inscription over it to commemorate his fidelity, and to record the prophecy he had delivered; (which, considering the offence it might give to Jeroboam, was no small instance of holy zeal:) and finally, he desired that his bones might be laid by the side of that pious man, to intimate, that he desired to have his portion with him at the resurrection of the just.
As to the deceit practised by him to obtain the society of that godly man, it may be said, that, though wrong in itself, it proceeded from love, and was a kind of pious fraud, for the obtaining of a privilege he could not otherwise enjoy.
But after all, if we candidly consider the other parts of his character, we cannot but pronounce him a wicked man. For,
He forbore to testify against the sin of others—
[That he was a prophet, there is no doubt, even as Balaam had been before him. But to what purpose was he endued with a spirit of prophecy, if not to exert himself in reproving sin, and in maintaining the cause of God in the world? Was that a time to be silent, when idolatry was being established throughout the land, and God himself was set aside as no longer worthy of men’s regard? When God had set him there as a light, was he to put his light under a bushel? Should he not rather have “raised his voice on high, and shewn the house of Israel their transgressions?” Yet, behold, no testimony did he bear against the reigning abominations: he was “a dumb dog that could not bark, sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber [Note: Isaiah 56:10-11.].” Methinks, if God had ever enjoined him to be silent, (as on some occasions he has done [Note: Ezekiel 3:26.],) his experience should have accorded with that of Jeremiah, who tells us, that “God’s word was in his heart as a burning fire shut up in his bones, insomuch that he was weary with forbearing, and could not stay [Note: Jeremiah 20:9.].” But no such feelings had he: he was content to let all go on their own way, provided he might but enjoy his ease: and therefore he was no better than an idol shepherd, against whom are denounced the heaviest woes [Note: Zechariah 11:17.]. The watchman that omits to give warning of the approaching enemy, and the shepherd that careth not for his flock, are among the most faulty of characters, and the most injurious of mankind [Note: Ezekiel 33:1-9; Ezekiel 34:1-10.] — — —]
He countenanced sin in his own children—
[Every parent is bound to “bring up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord:” and every good man can have that testimony from God which Abraham had, “I know him, that he will command his children, and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord [Note: Genesis 18:19.].” But how did this prophet act? Did he restrain his sons? Did he insist that they should “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them [Note: Ephesians 5:11.]?” No: when they had attended the idolatrous service, they came home and told every thing to their father, assured that they should meet with no rebuke from him, nor receive at his hands any testimony of his displeasure. What pretensions then could he have to piety? Eli had reproved the impieties of his sons; yet, because he had not authoritatively interposed to prevent or punish their abominations, God visited him with a very signal judgment. How reprehensible then must this prophet have been, who both connived at, and consented to, a crime, for which he was bound by the law to put even his own children to death [Note: Deuteronomy 13:6-9.]! Let parents know, that if, by neglecting to “provide for their own household they deny the faith and become worse than infidels,” much more must they incur the heaviest guilt by neglecting to provide for their eternal interests — — —]
He even tempted another to the commission of sin—
[Here his conduct was most wanton and cruel. He knew how steadfastly the man of God had resisted every temptation, and had withstood every inducement either of hope or fear; and behold, he calls falsehood to his aid, and pretends to a divine commission, in order that he may prevail to divert the holy man from his purpose, and to involve him in sin. Nor do we find that, when he was inspired to denounce the judgments of God against him for his transgression, he ever humbled himself, or implored pardon for his offence: methinks, the least he could have done would have been to intercede with God, as David did for his suffering people, “Let thy hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house, and not against this poor man whom I have deceived [Note: 2 Samuel 24:17.]:” but he felt no such compunction, notwithstanding the enormity of his offence. Unhappy he, who was thus led to offend! But unhappier far that wicked man, who cast the stumbling-block before him [Note: Matthew 18:7.]! He probably thought it but a light matter to deceive a person in so small a point as this: but, if to tempt a Nazarite with wine was no light sin [Note: Amos 2:12.], neither could this be light, “where the guilt of falsehood and blasphemy was superadded to that of causing his brother to offend.”]
The success of the seducer leads us next to contemplate,
The fate of the seduced—
There our proud hearts are almost ready to sit in judgment upon God. But “his ways are in the deep;” “neither giveth he account of any of his matters:” and whether we discern the equity of his dispensations or not, it becomes us to silence every murmuring thought with this, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Certainly we cannot but compassionate the fate of the unhappy man, when we see him falling a victim to the divine displeasure: nevertheless we derive from it much important instruction. The judgment inflicted on him shews us,
That no command of God is to be trifled with—
[The command not to eat bread or drink water in that place might appear small; but, however small in itself, it was sanctioned by the same authority as the greatest. That there are degrees of importance in a moral view between one command and another, is certain: but as bearing the stamp of divine authority, all are alike, and to be regarded by us with equal reverence [Note: James 2:11.]. Our Lord informs us, that “whoso shall break one of the least of his commandments, and teach men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven [Note: Matthew 5:19.],” or, as that expression seems to import, be the furthest from it. Accordingly we find in Scripture very heavy judgments inflicted for, what might be considered, very small offences: the man who gathered sticks upon the Sabbath-day was stoned to death by God’s express command: and Uzzah, who stretched forth his hand to support the tottering ark, was “struck dead for his error.” Let us therefore not presume to violate any commandment under the idea of its being but a small command, or a venial offence: for we behold in the instance before us, that God is “a jealous God,” and will vindicate the honour of his insulted law.]
That the more nearly we are related to God, the more aggravated is every sin that we commit against him—
[It might have been hoped, that so small a sin, committed so inadvertently, by one who was actively engaged in God’s service, might have passed unnoticed: but, on the contrary, he was punished, whilst the idolatry of Jeroboam, and the impiety of the old prophet, were overlooked. But God has taught us that “judgment shall begin at the house of God [Note: Ezekiel 9:6.];” and that the more distinguished we have been by his unmerited favours, the more certainly shall our transgressions be visited upon us [Note: Amos 3:2.]. Of this we have a most remarkable instance in the case of Moses, who for one inadvertent word was excluded from the land of Canaan; nor could any entreaties of Moses get the sentence reversed. Let us not then presume upon our relation to God, or upon the mercies we have received from him, but rather be the more fearful of offending him, in proportion to the kindness he has exercised towards us.]
That there is a time coming, when the present inequalities of the divine dispensations shall be rectified—
[The sight of such lenity exercised towards the two great offenders, and such apparent severity towards this holy man, naturally leads our minds forward to a day of future retribution, when rewards and punishments shall be dispensed with impartial justice and unerring wisdom. At present, the saints are “chastened; but it is that they may not be condemned with the world:” whereas the ungodly are in many instances unpunished; but “are reserved unto the day of judgment to be punished;” being left in the mean time to fill up the measure of their iniquities, and to “treasure up wrath against the day of wrath.” Whatever therefore may now appear inexplicable to us, let us wait to have it cleared up at that day, when the whole assembled universe shall confess, “True and righteous are thy judgments, Lord God Almighty [Note: Revelation 16:7.].”]
From this subject we will take occasion to suggest some useful advice—
Guard against conforming to the world—
[This holy prophet was forbidden to eat bread or drink water in that idolatrous land, or even to return by the way that he came into it: and this was to shew the people that he would not have the smallest communion with them, or any acquaintance with their ways. The same precise conduct is not enjoined to us, nor indeed would it be practicable; for then, as the Apostle says, “we must needs go out of the world.” But the spirit of that conduct must be found in us: we must “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” We are commanded to “come out of the world, and be separate, and not to touch the unclean thing:” and the reason of this injunction is assigned to us, namely, that “the believer can no more have communion with the unbeliever than light with darkness, or Christ with Belial.” And our Lord constantly characterizes his followers in this way, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” Let us remember then that we are merely sent here for a little time to fulfil the particular duties assigned us, and that our home and our rest are in a better world.]
Be careful whom you select for your acquaintance—
[As we are not to select our friends from among the openly profane, so must we be careful whom we confide in even among the religious world. It is not every person that makes a profession of religion who will make a profitable companion. There are many who “have a name to live, and yet are dead;” and many “profess that they know God, but in works deny him.” St. John cautions us well on this head: “Brethren, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God; for many false prophets are gone out into the world [Note: 1 John 4:1.].” Had the good prophet inquired into the character of the old prophet, instead of giving implicit credit to his professions, he would not have fallen. And it is a melancholy fact, that multitudes of simple-hearted and godly Christians are essentially injured by their hypocritical associates [Note: Romans 16:18.]. We would earnestly advise, therefore, all young Christians to be on their guard, and to take those only for their confidential friends, whose lives they have found to correspond with their professions.]
Let the word of God be the only rule of your conduct—
[The man of God had not the same evidence for the reversal of the command, that he had for the command itself: he was wrong therefore in giving such implicit credit to a stranger, whatever his character or professions might be. And is it not wrong in us to suffer the assertions of men, whatever their general character may be, to supersede the express declarations of God himself? Who amongst us has not heard a thousand times from human authority, that God does not command this or that; and that such strictness is not required of us? But we have an infallible standard by which we should try every sentiment that is proposed to us: “To the law, and to the testimony: if men speak not according to this word, there is no light in them.” Having “the sure testimony of God, we shall do well to take heed to it,” with jealous vigilance, undeviating constancy, and unabated firmness.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Kings 13". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany