Sometimes the Lord gives us a look at the successes of His prophets in the Old Testament, but sometimes He gives us another view. Some prophets were murdered: Jeremiah spoke of a true prophet of the Lord named Uriah who fled to Egypt, but was brought back to Judah and executed (see Jer. 26:20-23); others were exiled, such as the 100 prophets whom Obadiah hid during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel (see 1 Kings 18); Amos basically was told to leave town (at Bethel, ironically, some years after this incident) according to Amos (see Amos 7).
The material here follows my previous message, “O Altar, Altar” and begins after the prophet has left King Jeroboam of the northern, 10-tribe kingdom, going back to his home territory of Judah according to God’s command. However, he never made it back to his home, as we will see.
The Prophet Who Lied
“Now an old prophet was living in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the deeds which the man of God had done that day in Bethel; the words which he had spoken to the king, these also they related to their father. Their father said to them, ‘Which way did he go?’ Now his sons had seen the way which the man of God who came from Judah had gone. Then he said to his sons, ‘Saddle the donkey for me.’ So they saddled the donkey for him and he rode away on it. So 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.’ He said, ‘I cannot return with you, nor go with you, nor will I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. For a command came to me by the word of the Lord, “You shall eat no bread, nor drink water there; do not return by going the way which you came.”‘ He said to him, ‘I also am a prophet like you, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, “Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.” But he lied to him” (1 Kings 13:11-32).
I used to think the old prophet was a good man, a true prophet of the Lord, but that may not be the case. It is true that some godly people, genuine believers in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, remained in the northern kingdom, but we don’t have any knowledge how many were still in place. We do read in 2 Chronicles 11 that many priests and Levites from the north came to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the Lord, according to verse 16. We don’t read that they went back to the north, and who could blame them?
So, the fact that this prophet stayed in the city where Jeroboam built the pagan altars and made the golden calves, then declared these were the gods of Israel, makes me wonder how strong and sincere his faith was. Why didn’t he cry out against the altar if he were truly a prophet of the Lord? Why didn’t he stand with the prophet (actually called a man of God) from Judah? These and other questions come to mind.
Worse, the old prophet went looking for the man of God from Judah and deliberately lied to him. The old prophet offered a meal, but we don’t know if he had heard that the man of God had turned down a similar offer from the king himself.
Now the old prophet resorted to a blatant lie. The old prophet said an angel told him to eat and drink. We can understand this, namely, the man of God resting under the shade of an oak tree, meaning he was either hot or tired or both and possibly hungry, though Judah wasn’t very far from Bethel. This leads us to look at:
The Prophet Who Died
The writer of 1 Kings records God’s message to the man of God from Judah:
“So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house and drank water. Now it came about, as they were sitting down at the table, that the word of the Lord came to the prophet who had brought him back; and he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have disobeyed the command of the Lord, and have not observed the commandment which the Lord your God commanded you, but have returned and eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which He said to you, “Eat no bread and drink no water”; your body shall not come to the grave of your fathers.'” It came about after he had eaten bread and after he had drunk, that he saddled the donkey for him, for the prophet whom he had brought back. Now when he had gone, a lion met him on the way and killed him, and his body was thrown on the road, with the donkey standing beside it; the lion also was standing beside the body. And behold, men passed by and saw the body thrown on the road, and the lion standing beside the body; so they came and told it in the city where the old prophet lived” (1 Kings 13:19-25).
We need to remember the prophet from Judah had been told to not eat or drink anything. Though he heard a message from the prophet who turned out to be a liar, that didn’t excuse him from his disobedience. Let’s not be too hard on him, though. He was a human, after all; and as a believer, he’ll be part of the multitude who one day will be part of the eternal kingdom! He lost his life on this earth because he didn’t obey, but one day he will be part of the many who never will die again. That promise, by the way, is available for anyone and everyone who will repent of his or her sin and accept God’s gift of salvation.
Another thing to notice is the reaction of the lying prophet. He spoke, apparently, very calmly, perhaps soothingly. One wonders why he would tell an out-and-out lie to a true prophet. There’s no need to speculate, though, because God didn’t cause the lying prophet’s emotions, thoughts, etc., to be revealed. We would do well to stay away from the areas God didn’t want us to explore. Still, he somehow convinced the true prophet to disobey God!
Imagine the surprise, for both of them, when the Lord Himself spoke through the lying prophet! He cried out (v. 21), in contrast to the tone he had used before (v. 21) when he relayed God’s message. This problem of smooth talking and lies has been a problem for God’s people for many, many years. The true prophet, sadly, was niether the first nor the last to fall victim to lies.
One can only imagine the emotions and thoughts as the man of God from Judah must have pondered as he set out for home. We don’t know how far he was able to go on his journey because verse 24 says a lion met him and killed him. Now we can take a look at what happened after this event took place:
The Prophet Who Cried
“Now when the prophet who brought him back from the way heard it, he said, ‘It is the man of God, who disobeyed the command of the Lord; therefore the Lord has given him to the lion, which has torn him and killed him, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke to him.’ Then he spoke to his sons, saying, ‘Saddle the donkey for me.’ And they saddled it. He went and found his body thrown on the road with the donkey and the lion standing beside the body; the lion had not eaten the body nor torn the donkey. So the prophet took up the body of the man of God and laid it on the donkey and brought it back, and he came to the city of the old prophet to mourn and to bury him. He laid his body in his own grave, and they mourned over him, saying, ‘Alas, my brother!’ After he had buried him, he spoke to his sons, saying, ‘When I die, bury me in the grave in which the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones. For the thing shall surely come to pass which he cried by the word of the Lord against the altar in Bethel and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria'” (1 Kings 13:26-32).
There is a detail that the writer gives us that we may not catch at first glance. After he told the prophet of Judah that he was going to die because of disobedience, the lying prophet stayed in at least his own home town. No way was he going to risk death on this day! So he stayed in his own city until he heard the news about the true prophet’s death.
We also can see God’s protection in another manner: The lion didn’t eat the prophet’s carcass, and the lion didn’t touch the donkey, either! I don’t know much about lions (and, frankly, I don’t have much desire to learn about them!), but from what I remember in school, a lion usually carries off the prey so other members of the pride or group of lions can eat. That didn’t happen to the prophet’s body. Instead, the lion stood by and didn’t menace the donkey either. That is not coincidence, but providence.
Something else we can see involved a change of heart (we can hope) in the lying prophet. Again, we don’t know why he never took a stand for the living God and a living prophet when it counted, but he at least wanted to give the prophet’s body a decent burial. Contrast this with the body of Moses: God hid Moses’ body, but preserved the prophet’s body here at least for a while. The Book of Revelation also says that in the future, God will have two witnesses who will do great things (see Rev. 11)—also in contrast to what happened here at Bethel or perhaps close by.
The greatest respect the lying prophet ever showed the true prophet was to bury the body in the lying prophet’s own tomb. We don’t know the true spiritual condition of the lying prophet or his sons, but we do have a parallel in Acts 8. After Stephen was stoned to death, devout men carried Stephen’s body to burial and mourned him.
Eventually the lying prophet told the truth, as we see in the last few verses, namely that what God had predicted He would fulfill. It took many years, but eventually the northern kingdom fell into captivity, the altar was destroyed, and the bones of the true prophet were left alone.
We can draw a few general principles from this section of God’s Word. First, if a city or any location abandons God, there is no guarantee of God’s blessing. Bethel was apparently a reasonably good-sized town or city, but it lost much significance later. God may have a location dedicated to Him, but if the later generations do not honor Him, don’t be surprised if God takes away the blessing. I’ve known of and have seen a number of church buildings that are either empty, abandoned or converted for some other use.
Second, sin is still sin, and disobedience is rebellion against God. The true prophet heard God’s call, and God’s message, but refused to obey. He paid with his life, and we have that record as a warning for us, even today.
Third, and most important, we need to be careful when someone tries to misuse Scripture. Paul later would write to the Galatian believers that anyone who brought a message that was contrary to the Word of God, “…let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:9). We have a number of very clear passages which give us guidance and instruction, and if we get off that path, we do so at our own risk, plus put others at risk. May we listen to the truth and live it so we can be the kind of people in whom our Lord delights!