From a sermon series on 1 Kings by See Huang Lim, a missionary at IBF.
Today we will read 1 Kings chapter 13, to continue our series on 1 Kings. Chapter 13 contains a rather strange story and a warning. Before reading, let us pray.[Read 1 Kings 13]
A strange story
Welcome to the strange world of Old Testament stories. You probably have several questions buzzing in your mind. The writer doesn’t give many answers; he simply records the events that happened.
But a few things are clear. First, the story begins and ends with King Jeroboam. Second, the writer often repeats this phrase: “the word of the LORD.” Nine times, in fact, he uses “the word of the LORD.” Let’s keep those things in mind as we ask, “What is the point of this story?”
I’d like to approach this story by looking at its 3 main characters: King Jeroboam; the man of God from Judah who died; and the old prophet. With each character, let’s look at their attitudes towards God’s Word.
First, let’s start with King Jeroboam. God sent a man of God from Judah to warn Jeroboam of the things he was doing wrong.
As I mentioned last month, Jeroboam had set up his own form of religion to maintain control of his people. What he did, such as appointing priests from outside the tribe of Levi, was against the laws that God had given to the nation of Israel.
How did God warn Jeroboam? In verses 1 to 5, God did it through the frightening prophecy spoken by the man from Judah and by shriveling Jeroboam’s hand. Yet, God also offered Jeroboam a second chance. In verse 6, Jeroboam pleads to receive healing for his hand; God then heals it as a sign of mercy.
But did Jeroboam repent? At first, it’s not clear. In verse 7, his attitude toward the man of God changed. Instead of arresting the man, he now invited the man for a meal and promised to give him a gift. Is this humility or an attempt to curry favor? Was Jeroboam truly afraid of God or just afraid of this man?
It’s only at the end of the chapter that we find out. Verse 33 says, “Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways.” Verse 34 shows the consequence: “This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth.”
The story of Jeroboam is a warning to the future leaders of Israel. Jeroboam failed to take God and His words seriously. Though God is merciful and wants to prosper the nation, sin requires God’s discipline and judgement.
I think one lesson for us is that God is the kind of God who tries to stop us from bringing destruction on ourselves. His words are a guide for life. He warns us through the wisdom of people around us. He wants to help us stand up again when we have fallen. Our response, and the only way to move forward in life, is to take His words seriously.
The Man of God from Judah
We are called to hold onto God’s word and always seek to honor Him, whether in big or small decisions. No one is higher than God’s word, not even the prophets and men chosen by God.
I think these are lessons we can draw from our second character, the man of God from Judah.
Who is the man, really? He is a mystery. All we know is his mission and the guidelines given by God. The mission was to warn King Jeroboam. The guidelines are mentioned in verse 8 and 9. Verse 8: But the man of God answered the king, “Even if you were to give me half your possessions, I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water here. Verse 9: For I was commanded by the word of the LORD: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came.’”
As readers, we wonder, “Why did God ask him not to eat or drink while in Bethel, or use the same road home?” Is it a form of fasting to clear his mind for the mission? Is it to focus his heart on God so he won’t be afraid of speaking out against the king? We don’t know the reasons.
Anyway, he carries out the mission superbly. He speaks the words God asked him to speak. Then he refuses to dine with the king and goes home by a different road.
However… on the way home, he is invited to eat with an old prophet. He agrees to eat, thus going against God’s command, and is killed by a lion. What kind of story is this?!
Well, I believe this story re-emphasizes the authority of God’s word. It reminds us that God’s word should occupy a high place in our lives. Even if God’s will is about something so small and harmless as eating and drinking, we should take Him seriously. Even if God’s will is about something trivial like which road we should drive on, we should take him seriously.
The point is not that God wants us to drive home from work on a different road. The point is: While going through life, we should stop to ask, “What has God said to me before? Am I trying to live by his Word?”
Now, why did the man from Judah break away from God’s command? The writer doesn’t say why. The writer only tells us the consequence: He was killed by a lion.
We may find it hard to relate to this man’s story. But there is one thing in his experience that we share. There are times we are tempted to do something that God has clearly asked us not to do. Or, we are tempted to do nothing when we should act.
What tempts us? Sometimes, our own desires. Sometimes, other people. Like our seniors, our friends, or even religious leaders.
The apostle John has a good reminder for us. In 1 John 1:4, he writes: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
The key phrase here is “test the spirits.” May God grant us the wisdom and the heart to discern what is right.
The Old Prophet
Finally, let me say something about our third character, the old prophet.
It seems the old prophet was really keen to have a meal with the man from Judah. Do you have any friends who are always trying to invite you for a meal? In Malaysia, it’s very common to tell people: “You must come to my house!” Not “Please come,” but “You must come.”
The man from Judah said: Sorry, I can’t come. In verse 16 and 17, he explained the guidelines he had received from God.
But the old man dismissed it. Maybe he didn’t take God’s words seriously. Instead, he used his reputation as a prophet to get his own way. Let’s read verse 18: 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 bread and drink water.’” The writer adds in parentheses: But he was lying to him.
Maybe the old prophet was only joking when he claimed an angel spoke to him. But what was the consequence of this lie? The man from Judah decided this prophet was a reliable source of truth and that God had changed his instructions. As a result, he was killed by a lion.
Later, the news of his death reached the old prophet. The old man probably got the shock of his life and realized the mistakes they had both made. Verse 30 says: Then he laid the body in his own tomb, and they mourned over him and said, “Oh my brother!”
Then he said to his sons, “When I die, bury me in the grave where the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones. For the message he declared by the word of the LORD against the altar in Bethel and against all the shrines on the high places in the towns of Samaria will certainly come true.”
I believe the old man was reminded to treat God’s word with reverence once again.
In conclusion, the message of chapter 13 is to take God’s word seriously.
As Christians, what is God’s word to us in the 21st century? There is much we can learn about God’s will in the Bible. One thing is to pay attention to the words of Jesus, as Jesus is God Himself in human flesh. Jesus reminds us of the everlasting relevance and importance of his words. In Luke 21:33, Jesus says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”