Saturday, January 26, 2008

1 Kings 13

What is this passage all about?
A prophet from Judah cries out against the Jeroboam's altar at Bethel. Later, the prophet is deceived into disobeying God and is killed.

What can I learn from it?
There are two parts to this chapter. The first concerns the man of God from Judah and King Jeroboam. When the man of God prophesied against the altar at Bethel (vv2-3), King Jeroboam attempted to have him seized but the king's hand shriveled up and he was unable to use it (v4). The prophecy saw some initial fulfilment (v5 - it is completely fulfilled much later, as recorded in 2 Kings 23:15-20). At the king's request, the man of God prayed for healing and the king's hand was restored (v6). God made it clear to King Jeroboam that his sin in inducing the people of Israel to worship idols rather than the one true God would be judged, but the king continued in his sin regardless (v33-34), concerned only for his own health.
The second part of the chapter concerns the man of God from Judah and an old prophet living in Bethel whom he met on his way back, and what happened after that. The man of God had been told not to eat bread or drink water here (v8; that is, in Israel? or in Bethel? Bethel is at the extreme southern border of Israel, Shechem is north of that and Dan further north). When invited to eat with the king, that man of God said (v9), "I was commanded by the word of the LORD: 'You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came.' " When an old prophet also asked the man of God to eat, again the man of God replied (v17), "I have been told by the word of the LORD: 'You must not bread or drink water there or return by the way you came.' " At this point, the old prophet claimed he had had his own divine revelation (v18): "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.' ' (But he was lying to him.)" So the man of God ate and drank in the old prophet's house (v19). He was tricked into following the old prophet's description of God's instructions, rather than obeying what God had clearly told him directly.
After this, the old prophet condemned the man of God in the true words of the LORD (v21, 22b): " 'You have defied the word of the LORD and have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you. ... Therefore your body will not be buried in the tomb of your fathers.' " What the old prophet had said came true. The man of God was killed by a lion on his way home (vv23-25). Hearing of his death, the old prophet said (v26), " 'It is the man of God who defied the word of the LORD. The LORD has given him over to the lion, which has mauled him and killed him, as the word of the LORD warned him.' " This was a serious judgement upon the man of God's failure to obey God's command. The old prophet retrieved the body and had it buried there at Bethel (vv27-32). When King Josiah destroyed the altar at Bethel many generations later, he left this tomb, containing the bones of both these prophets, undisturbed (2 Kings 23:18).

How can I apply this to my own life?
I need to value what God has taught me directly through His inerrant word in the Holy Scriptures above what other people (Christian or not) may say about Him or His will for me. Some people will deliberately lie, as did the old prophet of Bethel, perhaps in an attempt to test my committment to God, perhaps just out of sheer perversity. Others will be mistaken in what they pass on to me because they have themselves listened to false teaching rather than searching out the truth in the Bible. I think of this as the problem of the lowest common denominator, where "good" people come to believe and act according to what the least knowledgeable and wise person among them says and does. 1 Corinthians 15:33 tells me, "Do not be misled, 'Bad company corrupts good character.' " This was the situation which Paul attempted to prevent when he told Timothy (2 Timothy 2:2), "the things which you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." and (2 Timothy 3:16) "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." This is not to say I should ignore my minister's sermons, or the doctrinal truths which are taught in catechisms, or the advice of godly Christian brothers and sisters. However, it does mean that I should test what they say against what the Bible says, and let the Bible have the final word.

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