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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
1 Kings 13

 

 

Verses 11-32

The Old Prophet And The Man Of God (1 Kings 13:11-32).

Meanwhile dwelling in Bethel was an old prophet who had served YHWH for many years. The fact that he was not present at the celebrations taking place at the Sanctuary, but rather sent his sons, indicates that he was very old. He was no longer actively involved as a prophet.

But when he learned from his sons what the man of God from Judah had done, and the words that he had spoken, he was clearly concerned. He felt that it was his duty as a prophet of Israel to ensure that the man of Judah had been a true prophet (1 Kings 13:32). So he sought the man of God out and invited him home to eat bread with him. But as he had with Jeroboam the man of God refused because YHWH had forbidden him to partake of food and drink in Israel as a sign that He was at odds with Israel.

Unless we see the old prophet as being deliberately malicious through jealousy we can only assume that what happened next was a test that he was making so as to determine whether the man of God really was a true prophet, or was simply acting on behalf of the king of Judah in order to undermine Jeroboam’s authority. His reasoning was probably that if the man was a true man of God he would discern that he was lying to him. Thus he told the man of God a false story suggesting that YHWH had countermanded His previous command and was now willing for him to partake of food in Israel. When the man of God changed his mind and began to eat with him the old prophet no doubt felt himself satisfied that the man of God was not a true prophet after all.

But then, as of old, the word of YHWH came to him while they were eating, and to his horror he learned what he had really done. He had to acknowledge to himself that he had seemingly betrayed a true prophet of YHWH. But, however embarrassed he might have felt, because it was the word of YHWH for the man of God he could not hold it back, and he declared to the man of God that because he had disobeyed YHWH he would not die in peace (would not be laid in the tomb of his fathers) although no other detail was given. We are not told what the man of God’s reaction was.

The man of God then departed, and while he was on the rough trail back to Judah (in obedience to YHWH he had had to avoid the normal road), he came across a lion which attacked him and killed him, so fulfilling the prophecy of the old prophet. When the old prophet learned of this he was filled with dismay and arranged for the man of God’s body to be brought back to Bethel to be laid in his own tomb, and as a result confirmed to his sons the genuineness of the man of God’s prophecy. He now knew that he was a true man of God after all.

In our easygoing Christianity and our modern lack of the fear of God we necessarily question why God allowed this to happen to His true servant. But it is important to recognise the significance of the situation. This man of God was the first of many who would be called on to prophecy to an antagonistic Israel, and thus through what happened to him God was bringing a warning to all future prophets that once He had given His word, they must strictly obey His word and not turn aside from it for any reason. Nor must they listen to those who would seek to play it down. It indicated to all future prophets the seriousness of being a man of God. (We can in fact look back in the Scriptures and see similar situations. Consider for example the case when YHWH ‘attacked’ Moses on his way back to Egypt for having been disobedient and not circumcising his son (Exodus 4:24-26), or when Moses and Aaron were both punished severely for smiting the Rock and misrepresenting God (Numbers 20:12), or when the sons of Aaron were smitten for disobedience in the Sanctuary (Leviticus 10:1-2), or when Uzzah was struck down for touching the Ark (2 Samuel 6:7). All were examples of a similar gross disobedience by chosen servants of God).

Furthermore we should remember that by his folly the man of God had in effect countermanded his own message by eating and drinking in Israel, and had the matter ended there all Israel would have believed that the man of God’s message no longer applied. We must remember in considering this the vital role that hospitality played in ancient society. It was not just a casual thing. Once you had supplied hospitality, or received it, you had made a pledge of friendship which was seen as sacrosanct. It was a sign of guaranteed friendly relations. On the other hand to refrain from hospitality was a direct sign of enmity, and of evil intentions. Thus the man of God’s disobedience could have had catastrophic results on the faith of the true believers in Israel. The only way in which that could be avoided was by YHWH’s judgment falling on the man of God, thus indicating that in his act of enjoying hospitality he had not been YHWH’s representative.

Analysis. .

· a Now there dwelt an old prophet in Beth-el, and one of his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Beth-el. The words which he had spoken to the king, them also they told to their father (1 Kings 13:11).

· b And their father said to them, “What way did he go?” Now his sons had seen what way the man of God went, who came from Judah (1 Kings 13:12).

· c And he said to his sons, “Saddle for me the ass.” So they saddled the ass for him, and he rode on it (1 Kings 13:13).

· d And he went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak, and he said to him, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?” And he said, “I am.” Then he said to him, “Come home with me, and eat bread” (1 Kings 13:14-15).

· e And he said, “I may not return with you, nor go in with you, nor will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place, for it was said to me by the word of YHWH, “You shall eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way in which you came” (1 Kings 13:16-17).

· f And he said to him, “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of YHWH, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.’ ” But he lied to him (1 Kings 13:18).

· g So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house, and drank water (1 Kings 13:19).

· f And it came about, as they sat at the table, that the word of YHWH came to the prophet who brought him back, and he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, “Thus says YHWH, Forasmuch as you have been disobedient to the mouth of YHWH, and have not kept the commandment which YHWH your God commanded you, but came back, and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which he said to you, ‘Eat no bread, and drink no water,’ your body will not come to the sepulchre of your fathers’ ” (1 Kings 13:20-22).

· e And it came about, 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, and when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him, and his body was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it. The lion also stood by the body (1 Kings 13:23-24).

· d And, behold, men passed by, and saw the body cast in the way, and the lion standing by the body, and they came and told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt. And when the prophet who brought him back from the way heard of it, he said, “It is the man of God, who was disobedient to the mouth of YHWH, therefore YHWH has delivered him to the lion, which has torn him, and slain him, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke to him (1 Kings 13:25-26).

· c And he spoke to his sons, saying, “Saddle me the ass.” And they saddled it (1 Kings 13:27).

· b And he went and found his body cast in the way, and the ass and the lion standing by the body. The lion had not eaten the body, nor torn the ass. And the prophet took up the body of the man of God, and laid it on the ass, and brought it back, and he came to the city of the old prophet, to mourn, and to bury him. And he laid his body in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, “Alas, my brother!” (1 Kings 13:28-30).

· a And it came about, after he had buried him, that he spoke to his sons, saying, “When I am dead, then bury me in the sepulchre in which the man of God is buried. Lay my bones beside his bones, for the saying which he cried by the word of YHWH against the altar in Beth-el, and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, will surely come about” (1 Kings 13:31-32).

Note that in ‘a’ the old prophet heard the words that the man of God had spoken and in the parallel he declares that he was a true man of God. In ‘b’ the old prophet determines the way that the man of God has taken, and in the parallel he finds his body cast in the way. In ‘c’ he calls for his ass to be saddled, and in the parallel does the same. In ‘d’ the old prophet calls on the man of God to eat bread with him, knowing that it had been forbidden by YHWH and in the parallel we learn of the consequence of the man of God’s disobedience. In ‘e’ the man of God says that he cannot eat bread with him and in the parallel he disobeys YHWH by eating bread with him. In ‘f’ the old prophet gives a lying prophecy, and in the parallel he gives a true prophecy. Centrally in ‘g’ we learn of the man of God’s gross disobedience.

1 Kings 13:11

Now there dwelt an old prophet in Beth-el, and one of his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Beth-el. The words which he had spoken to the king, them also they told to their father.’

The old prophet was seemingly very old and no longer active, for he refrained from going to the feast and sent ‘his sons’. It may even be that this was his way of avoiding partaking in something that he was not sure about for 1 Kings 13:20 indicates that he was a genuine prophet of YHWH. On the other hand the fact that he sent his ‘sons (they may have been younger members of his prophetic guild - i.e. ‘sons of the prophets’, rather than actual sons, but we cannot be sure), prevents us from being too dogmatic about it, and it may in fact be that he was not fully aware of all that was going on, or indeed that he was willing to compromise for the good of the nation. But he was certainly moved into action when he learned of what the man of God had done.

It would seem that as an elder statesmen among the prophets he felt that it was his responsibility to check out the man of God’s credentials. Was he a genuine man of God whose word should be listened to? Or was he one of Rehoboam’s magicians who had been sent to try to undermine Jeroboam’s position by the use of magic?

1 Kings 13:12

And their father said to them, “What way did he go?” Now his sons had seen what way the man of God went, who came from Judah.’

So he asked his sons which way the man of God had gone. In that mountainous country there were not many routes that a man could take back to Judah, and as the departure of the man of God had no doubt been observed with keen interest by many after the exciting events, his sons knew which route he had taken. Having arrived on the normal road from Jerusalem he had seemingly taken one of the rougher trails back, which led through rougher country, so as to avoid going back on the same road that he had come in on.

1 Kings 13:13

And he said to his sons, “Saddle for me the ass.” So they saddled the ass for him, and he rode on it.’

On learning which route he had taken, the old prophet called on his sons to saddle his ass so that he could pursue the man of God.

1 Kings 13:14

And he went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak, and he said to him, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?” And he said, “I am.” ’

The old prophet soon came across the man of God sitting under an oak tree. The man of God had had a strenuous and unnerving time and was probably seeking to refresh himself. It was not every day that he was called on to confront kings and arrange for miracles, and the road back was rough. He was probably gathering his resources. The old prophet then ascertained from him whether he really was the man of God who had come from Judah.

1 Kings 13:15

Then he said to him, “Come home with me, and eat bread”’

Once he knew that he had found his man he invited him back to his home to eat bread with him. This may have been a test in order to ascertain whether his words had been genuine, or it may just be that he thought that the prohibition would not apply to eating in his home.

1 Kings 13:16

And he said, “I may not return with you, nor go in with you, nor will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place, for it was said to me by the word of YHWH, “You shall eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way in which you came.” ’

But the man of God soon put him straight, and pointed out that he could not return with him, nor could he eat and drink water ‘in this place’ because it had been forbidden to him by YHWH. He clearly saw this as a specific ‘word of YHWH’. ‘In this place’ appears to have meant Israel (Judah was only a few miles away from where they were).

1 Kings 13:18

And he said to him, “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of YHWH, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.’ ” He lied to him.’

The old prophet then informed the man of God that he too was a prophet of YHWH, something which the man of God had probably discerned from the way in which he was dressed. And he informed him that an angel had spoken to him ‘by the word of YHWH’ and had told him to bring the man of God back to his house so that he might eat food and drink water. ‘By the word of YHWH appears to be the equivalent of inspiration by the Spirit.

The mention of the angel was probably the old prophet’s way of avoiding putting his lie directly in the mouth of YHWH, and it should possibly have caused the man of God to stop and think. This was clearly a less direct message than he had himself received. However, as he knew that angels had spoken to men in the past he let it go.

The kindest way in which we can see these words of the old prophet is to consider them as a kind of test of the genuineness of the man of God, otherwise they are both inexcusable and incomprehensible. Indeed as the old prophet was seemingly himself a godly man (1 Kings 13:20) it is the only reasonable explanation. It is true that there may have been other conflicting emotions such as jealousy on behalf of the prophets of Israel that a man from Judah should be fulfilling this role, but it is difficult to believe that for such a reason he would actually plot the man of God’s downfall. On the other hand if he was genuinely trying to discover whether this really was a genuine ‘man of God’ what he did was explicable, and even possibly justifiable. His reasoning was probably that if the man of God were truly a man of God he would discern his lie.

“He lied to him.” The bald statement without a conjunction brings out the horror and starkness of the thought.

1 Kings 13:19

So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house, and drank water.’

Unfortunately the man of God took his words as genuine and returned to his house to eat and drink with him. He should not, of course, have done so without Himself receiving a word from YHWH, but one problem with being an honest man was that he assumed that others, especially prophets of YHWH, were also honest men. He would probably not have considered the possibility that he was being tested out. After all had not YHWH’s miraculous working confirmed his genuineness? The old prophet meanwhile was probably congratulating himself on the success of his attempt to prove that the man was an impostor. Otherwise why would he have gone against a word that he had received from YHWH? Neither had considered the possibility of the depths of human sinfulness.

1 Kings 13:20-22

And it came about, as they sat at the table, that the word of YHWH came to the prophet who brought him back, and he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, “Thus says YHWH, Forasmuch as you have been disobedient to the mouth of YHWH, and have not kept the commandment which YHWH your God commanded you, but came back, and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which he said to you, ‘Eat no bread, and drink no water,’ your body will not come to the sepulchre of your fathers.’ ” ’

But once they were participating in the meal the old prophet, to his horror, unexpectedly received the word of YHWH in the same way as he had done of old. And this word revealed to him that he had misjudged the man of God and had actually led him astray. He had caused him to disobey the express command of YHWH. He must have been appalled and ashamed at himself. But as it was the word of YHWH he knew that he had to communicate it and so he declared to the man of God that because he had been disobedient to the word of YHWH by coming back with him and eating and drinking with him he would not die of old age in peace and be buried in the family tomb. Rather he would suffer an untimely death. It was the same punishment as had been exacted on Moses and Aaron when they had disobeyed YHWH by striking the rock against the express commend of YHWH (Numbers 20:12). It left the date of death uncertain.

We have already mentioned above the seriousness of what the man of God had done. By accepting hospitality in Israel he had indicated as the representative of YHWH that YHWH was at peace with Israel. But this was to invalidate his own previous message. Thus it was necessary for him to be punished in such a way that all would see that in spite of his wrong behaviour, the word of YHWH against Israel stood sure, and that in eating and drinking he had not been acting as YHWH’s representative, but as a disobedient sinner.

1 Kings 13:23

And it came about, after he had eaten bread, and after he had drunk, that he saddled for him the ass, that is, for the prophet whom he had brought back,’

The man of God appears to have taken what he had learned calmly enough, (after all many suffered untimely deaths), and once the meal was finished he went on his way on his own ass which had been saddled for him.

1 Kings 13:24

And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him, and his body was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it. The lion also stood by the body.’

But as he took the rough mountain road through the hills he was met by a lion which was ‘by the way, which slew him, leaving his body lying in the road with the ass standing beside him. It is significant that YHWH spared the man of God’s body from being mauled and eaten. That would have been looked on as an ignominious double judgment (compare 2 Samuel 21:10).

It is often questioned why a lion should uncharacteristically not maul and eat his kill once he had made it. There are a number of possibilities. The first is that the lion was not in fact hungry, having recently eaten, and had only killed because it had felt itself trapped. That would explain why it neither scavenged the body nor attacked the ass, and why it was in no hurry to desert the spot. It was sated. Furthermore it is necessary to take God into account.

The second possibility is that the lion was aware of a kind of holy aura that surrounded the man of God and his ass. Animals are often responsive to the supernatural when men themselves are not so aware. It may therefore have been held at bay, as the lions would later be with Daniel (Daniel 6:22). The third possibility is that animals do not always act in character. Men have often been taken by surprise by the unexpected behaviour of animals. They do not always act ‘true to form’.

1 Kings 13:25

And, behold, men passed by, and saw the body cast in the way, and the lion standing by the body, and they came and told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt.’

But certainly the sight was unusual enough to cause comment, and when men passed by and saw the dead body, and the live ass and lion, they immediately reported what they had seen in the next city that they came to, which was the city where the prophet dwelt.

The indirect ‘the city where the old prophet dwelt’ rather than saying ‘Bethel’ is intended to draw attention to the fact they were unconscious instruments of YHWH. He had deliberately ensured that the message reached the old prophet by bringing them to his city.

1 Kings 13:26

And when the prophet who brought him back from the way heard of it, he said, “It is the man of God, who was disobedient to the mouth of YHWH, therefore YHWH has delivered him to the lion, which has torn him, and slain him, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke to him.’

The news reached the ears of the old prophet who ‘had brought him back from the way’, and it probably included a description of the man and his clothing. This last comment about being ‘brought back from the way’ probably has a double significance. He had not only brought him back from the road that he had taken, but had also stopped him from walking in the way of YHWH. ‘Walking in YHWH’s way’ is a popular description of the spiritual life in Kings (e.g. 1 Kings 2:4; 1 Kings 3:14; 1 Kings 9:4). And when the old prophet learned of the dead man he recognised that it must be the man of God who, because of his disobedience to YHWH’s word, had been slain by a lion at YHWH’s behest.

1 Kings 13:27

And he spoke to his sons, saying, “Saddle me the ass.” And they saddled it.’

So once again he called for his ass and set off on the route that the man of God had taken.

1 Kings 13:28

And he went and found his body cast in the way, and the ass and the lion standing by the body. The lion had not eaten the body, nor torn the ass.’

The lion was clearly quiescent which suggests that it had previously gorged itself and was feeling listless and uninterested in food, for it had not only not eaten the body of the dead man of God, or his ass, but also allowed the old prophet to remove them both from the scene. Lions are very lazy creatures and regularly lie about for hours when they are full, occasionally rising to stretch themselves in the hot sun. It had clearly decided that this mountain track was a suitable resting place. But to people who had never taken the time to study the habits of lions this seemed like a miracle, for all knew what lions usually did when they had made a kill.

1 Kings 13:29

And the prophet took up the body of the man of God, and laid it on the ass, and brought it back, and he came to the city of the old prophet, to mourn, and to bury him.’

The prophet then took up the body of the man of God and laid it over his ass, and then led the ass back to his own city, where he could mourn his death and bury him respectably.

1 Kings 13:30

And he laid his body in his own grave, and they mourned over him, saying, “Alas, my brother!” ’

Laying the body in his own family grave and they all mourned him, calling him ‘brother’. It was an acknowledgement that they recognised him as also being a genuine man of God.

1 Kings 13:31

And it came about, after he had buried him, that he spoke to his sons, saying, “When I am dead, then bury me in the sepulchre in which the man of God is buried. Lay my bones beside his bones.” ’

The old prophet, no doubt filled with remorse, then spoke to his sons after he had buried him and called on them to ensure that when he himself was dead they would bury him in the same tomb in which the man of God was buried, laying his bones by the bones of the dead man of God. It was a declaration of solidarity with the man and his message. We should not overlook the bravery of the old prophet in thus openly declaring himself as in favour with the man of God and his message. It would not make him popular with Jeroboam. But it would indicate clearly whose side he was on.


Verse 32

For the saying which he cried by the word of YHWH against the altar in Beth-el, and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, will surely come about.”.

And he confirmed that now he knew that the man of God was a genuine prophet of YHWH and that his word spoken against the altar would surely come about. The death of the man of God had underlined his message even more than what had happened previously, and had brought home its genuineness. Indeed that man of God continues to preach to us today, for that is why you are reading these lines. Through his death he bore a message which will speak to men of the need for obedience to God while mankind goes on existing. His death had not been in vain.

The phrase ‘the cities of Samaria’ is presumably an updating so as to identify the area in mind by using a geographical term recognisable to the author’s readers. The actual identifying phrase used by the old prophet may well by that time have been considered to be geographically obscure (we do not, of course, know what it was). ‘Samaria’ as applied to the whole of Israel arose much later. We should note, on the other hand, that the name Samaria was not a totally new name, for it was known in the area before the city of Samaria was built, presumably signifying ‘belonging to, or connected with, the family of Shemer’, a powerful family in the area (1 Kings 16:24). Its use here, however, appears to be synonymous with ‘Israel’, but we do not know by what name the area that would be called ‘Israel’ and ‘Samaria’ was previously known. Nor possibly did the prophetic author’s readers.


Verse 33-34

A Summary Emphasising Jeroboam’s Failure To Repent And Its Consequences (1 Kings 13:33-34).

Having told the full story of Jeroboam’s failure to obey YHWH, and the prophetic witness that had cast condemnation on it in no uncertain way, Jeroboam’s behaviour is now summed up. In spite of all that had happened, and all that YHWH had done to convince him otherwise, he continued to make common people into priests of the high places, doing it simply on the basis of their willingness to act. He was hardened and unrepentant.

The fact that he appointed them ‘on the basis of their willingness to act’ may suggest that it was not seen as a popular job, which may further suggest a certain level of resentment at Jeroboam’s ‘reforms’, and an uneasiness with what he had done. They were prepared to enjoy it, but they did not want to be directly involved in it. They still recognised that YHWH had of old set apart the house of Aaron to be priests.

But what Jeroboam had done was so heinous that it resulted in his house continually failing to live up to the covenant that YHWH had made with him (failing to walk in His ways and obey His commandments), with the result that YHWH purposed to cut it off and destroy it from off the face of the earth.

Analysis.

After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way (1 Kings 13:33 a).

But made again from among all the people, priests of the high places. Whoever would, he consecrated him, that there might be priests of the high places (1 Kings 13:33 b).

And this thing became sin (a failure to hit the mark, to live up to the covenant) to the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off, and to destroy it from off the face of the earth (1 Kings 13:34).

1 Kings 13:33

After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again from among all the people priests of the high places, whoever would, he consecrated him, that there might be priests of the high places.’

YHWH’s initial purpose in sending the man of God had been to lead Jeroboam to repentance. But his heart was so hardened that he did not return from his evil ways. He refused to repent. And he demonstrated this by continuing to appoint as priests of the high places anyone who was willing. On their expressing willingness he consecrated them as priest of the high places, in order that there might be sufficient priests.

1 Kings 13:34

And this thing became sin (a failure to hit the mark, to live up to the covenant) to the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off, and to destroy it from off the face of the earth.’

What he had introduced and carried through became a ‘sin, a missing of the mark’ to the house of Jeroboam. He had not only gone astray, but had led his family astray as well. And this would finally result in his house being ‘cut off’ and destroyed from the face of the earth (see 1 Kings 15:29). This was in total contrast to the permanent dynasty that YHWH had promised to him if he would walk in His ways (1 Kings 11:38).

It will be noted in all this that, apart from what can be picked up in passing, all we have learned about the secular history of Jeroboam is that he fortified Shechem and Penuel (1 Kings 12:25). The remainder of the narrative has been concerned with Jeroboam’s rejection of YHWH by means of his religious innovations, and the response of YHWH as He replied to him through the activities of His prophets.

The other thing about his secular history that we will learn is that there was continual on and off warfare with Judah for the whole of his reign and beyond (1 Kings 14:30), something which could only weaken both countries. It was not a happy state of affairs. They were back to the worst days of Israel/Judah described in 2 Samuel 3:1, except that Judah was not getting stronger and stronger either. They were both getting weaker, and thus vulnerable to enemies round about, and all because their two kings had refused to walk in YHWH’s ways and obey Him, and the people had done nothing about it.

Apart from these two verses if we want any further information about Jeroboam’s long reign we must consult ‘the book of the words of the days of the kings of Israel’ (1 Kings 14:19). But unfortunately for historians we do not have it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Kings 13:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-kings-13.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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