Ikings 13–14:20. The Strange Case of the Two Prophets.
Jeroboam Fails to Learn in the School of Hard Knocks.
IKey Notes: An anonymous prophet shakes Jeroboam. An old prophet causes a young prophet's bizarre demise. Downward regime of Jeroboam. When God seems harsh. Bethel in history.
I K.13:1–10 Behold! Out of nowhere in Judah, an unknown prophet appeared at the altar at Bethel where Jeroboam was offering sacrifice--with priests and worshippers presumably looking on. The prophet denounced the altar, rather than Jeroboam or the priests. Three strange things happened.
a. He prophesied that some-day a king named Josiah would desecrate this altar with the bones of the dead. (That prophecy was fulfilled in detail as recorded in IIK.23:15–20, some 300 years later.)
b. The proof of that prophecy was that Jeroboam's altar would fall apart at once. It did. That would stop the worship and throw the assembly into confusion.
c. The response of Jeroboam was to make a threatening gesture to the prophet and command that someone grab him. His arm went stiff. He begged the prophet to restore his arm. "Stroke the face of God for me." And to our chagrin, the prophet asked God and the king's arm was restored.
The king invited the prophet to the palace for a reward and a good dinner, but the prophet stated his orders from God: I may not eat or drink here or return the same way I came. This prophecy was to be acted out, to say that there is no fellowship with God here, and no hope of reversing His decrees.
I K.13:11–32. The rest of the story is bizarre. An old prophet in Bethel heard from his sons of the young prophet's exploits and determined to meet him. He found the young prophet resting on his way home. He told him an angel had told the old prophet to bring him back. He was lying. But the young prophet went to the house of the old prophet in Bethel and ate and drank.
Then, in a complete reversal, the old prophet pronounced the judgment of God on the young man. He would not be buried with his fathers.
On his way home, a lion killed the young prophet, but then stood as if at attention next to the body and the donkey stood there as well. Whatever the meaning--other than "Obey God's Commands"--the story would be told in the streets of Bethel for years to come.
The old prophet went to recover the body of the young prophet, buried it in his own tomb, mourned for him, and asked to be buried with him. He knew that the young prophet's words would come to pass.
IK.13:33–34. Jeroboam, for all that shocked him, including a frightening paralysis of his arm, was not deterred from his evil ways.
IK.14:1–16. Jeroboam's son Abijah ("God is my Father") fell ill. Jeroboam sent his wife, the queen, in disguise with a gift of food to Shiloh where Ahijah the prophet lived, to inquire about their son's prognosis.
Ahijah was old and blind but knew from the Lord who his guest was. He had bad news for her.
Jeroboam had been been exalted above his people, and given a kingdom torn away from the house of David. Yet Jeroboam had not kept the commandments of God but had made molten images and cast God behind his back. Therefore God would destroy every male of the house of Jeroboam and their bodies would be abandoned to the wild animals. When the queen returned home, her child would die.
Israel itself would be driven out of the Land.
IK.14:17–20 We wonder why the queen did not beg the prophet for the life of her child. And why did she go home, knowing what the prophet said? The child did die and was mourned in Israel. His life was pleasing to the Lord. 14:13
The last word on Jeroboam is in the Chronicles.
IIChron.13:13. Jeroboam lost 500,000 men in a civil war with Judah, and Israel was crippled for the rest of Jeroboam's reign.
In summary, Jeroboam was exposed to five lessons by God, all of which he ignored. God did not leave him alone.
1.The prophet denounced his worship center, desecrating it at once and leaving with the prophecy that it would be desecrated again with the bones of the dead.
2. Jeroboam lost his arm trying to stop the prophet, but had it restored.
3. The prophet himself died, emphasizing the point that he was not to eat or drink in Bethel or return by the same way. His mistake and death actually made his message stronger. The interpretation is that there was no fellowship of God with Bethel, and no reversal of God's decisions.
4.The king's son, heir-apparent to the throne, died as a sign of God's judgment on all the other members of the house of Jeroboam.
5. Jeroboam lost the bulk of his army and left Israel in a weakened state.
Why was it impossible for him to reverse his course? Was there too much grass-roots support for his idolatry? There probably was, since Judah was also becoming apostate. IK.14:22
The puzzle of the young prophet, but more particularly the old prophet, remains. The old prophet's behavior is hard to explain. Why did he lie? He may have been curious to find the secret of the young man's power.
He no doubt felt guilty that God did not speak through him. He lived right there in Bethel. Why had he been left out of the mission to Jeroboam? Did jealousy seize him? Could he secretly have desired to see a young competitor ruined?How could the old prophet still speak for God after his deception? Clearly he remained a prophet of God, even after telling a terrible lie.
The young prophet's failure to follow his first instructions may have come from his respect for an older member of his order. Had an angel really spoken to him?
Paul warns us: "If we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed." (Gal.1;8). Many of the false prophets of the past and various American non-Christian religions were inspired by angelic visitors.
The punishment of the young prophet appears very harsh. God did not strike Jeroboam down, nor did the old prophet suffer for his sin, other than remorse at the young prophet's death. The young prophet was guilty only of being deceived. He was by all odds the most innocent.
"What to me is dark, illumine;
what is low raise and support;
that to the height of this great argument
I may assert eternal Providence
and justify the ways of God to men."
J. Milton. Paradise Lost.
That is our prayer and our task as Christians.
Whenever we find God acting severely toward one of His servants, we should take special note. In the case of the young prophet, our best interpretation is that his unusual death was part of his testimony and a demonstration of God's word fulfilled. He was to act out the departure of God's favor over Israel and when he stumbled (after an initial correct action) and made a misstep, God made an example of him. The lion standing by the dead prophet undisturbed would make his prophecy the talk of the villages for decades. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. " (Psa.116:15)
•Moses is our primary example of God's severity in critical issues. At the end of his career, he was faced with one more rebellion, over water, again. God told him to speak to the rock and water would pour forth. In anger, Moses struck the rock twice and water came. (Num.20:2–12). Months later, Moses was informed that he could not enter Canaan because he had disobeyed the Lord. (Num.27:12–23). Joshua would replace him in leadership.
Why was God so hard on this greatest of OT saints?
Moses was guilty of disobedience because he lost his temper. However, more importantly, he violated an important type, a spiritual model.
*The rock is a type of Christ. "For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ." (ICor.10:4)
*He was instructed to speak to the Rock. The rock had been struck once before. Ex.17:5,6
*Christ was "smitten by God" (Isa.53:4), "for the transgression of my people he was stricken" (Isa.53:8) He "offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins." (Heb.10:12)
It appears that Moses' striking the rock a second time broke the important spiritual model that God intended. Christ was smitten once for our salvation. After the Cross, we ask for water--the Holy Spirit--and He is given to us.
There are other examples of unusual punishments.
•After the Ark had been returned to Israel by the Philistines, seventy men looked inside the Ark. They all died. (ISam.6:19).
•Uzzah touched the ark when the oxen carrying the cart stumbled. He died instantly. (IIS.6;7)
We believe that these people breached the holiness of God in its visible form, the Ark of the Covenant. It was supposed to be carried with poles on the shoulders of the priests, and not otherwise touched. When David followed the law (IChron.15:13), the transfer of the Ark into Jerusalem went peacefully, and safely.
There are two NT examples of severe discipline.
•Peter was called "Satan" when he tried to dissuade Jesus from going to the Cross. Matt.16:22–2
•Ananias and Sapphira died instantly when they lied before God. Acts5:7–10
These all may be called object lessons: Protocol Violations. They are harsh treatment of God's people when they interfere with a crucial truth or message. We note that Jesus' most severe criticism was directed at the group closest to the truth, the Pharisees, because they were distorting the truth. He was casual with the Sadducees, and paid no attention to the Herodians, or the Zealots.
We may argue that protocols no longer apply. We are not under law but under grace. The modern church has virtually no rituals to be violated. However, we read that the Corinthian church had weak, sickly and some dead believers because their abuse of the Lord's Supper. They had turned the remembrance of the Death of Christ into a drunken party. (ICor.11:20–22; 30). The holiness of God is as much a reality in the New Testament as in the Old.
"Our God is an awesome God." We do well to remember that today.
Bethel ("House of God") was named by Jacob hundreds of years before. He slept there on his escape from his brother Esau. There he had dreamed of a stairway to Heaven with angels going up and down from God. God then promised that his descendents would be very numerous, and that God would be with him and bring him back. (Gen.28:10–17). Later Jacob returned to Bethel, made an altar to God and purified himself and his family, putting away their foreign gods. Gen.35:1–4.
Jeroboam has made this "House of God" a house for idol worship.
Years after Jeroboam, the prophet Amos would say ironically "Come to Bethel and transgress....Bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days." (Amos 4:4)