1 Kings 13
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the LORD unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense.
Chap. 1 Kings 13:1-10. Prophecy against Jeroboam’s altar in Bethel. Withering and restoration of Jeroboam’s hand (Not in Chronicles)

1. A man of God] Josephus (Ant. viii. 8, 5) says this prophet whom the narrative does not name was called Jadon (Ἰαδὼν ὄνομα).

out of Judah] Out of Judah to speak the word of the Lord in Israel. Later on Israel had her own prophets. Josephus also says he came from Jerusalem.

by the word of the Lord] Those who would not follow with Jeroboam in his worship of the calves had most likely all departed from the northern kingdom. But if this were not so, God would still choose His special messenger from that portion of the people who still clung to the pure worship at Jerusalem.

and Jeroboam stood by the altar] The Hebrew is better rendered by the R.V. was standing. The appearance of the prophet of Judah took place at the moment when the king was about to engage in the act of worship. We cannot be sure that the offering of incense by one who was not of the priestly race would be counted a sin in the days of Jeroboam. King Solomon (1 Kings 8:62-64) is described as offering sacrifice, peace offerings and burnt offerings, without anything to indicate that it was not lawful. But no doubt as time went on, and probably before the composition of the history before us, the persons who alone were allowed to offer at the altars were the priests and Levites.

And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men's bones shall be burnt upon thee.
2. he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord] The Hebrew is the same as in the preceding verse. Render therefore (with R.V.) ‘by the word.’ The meaning is that both the journey from Judah and the prophecy were in consequence of divine instruction.

Josiah by name] The history of the fulfilment of this prophecy is in 2 Kings 23:15-16. Between the accession of Jeroboam and the accession of Josiah was an interval of about 330 years. Hence as the name of the king who should execute the threatened vengeance is mentioned, this prophecy is remarkable among the predictions of the Old Testament. There is nothing with which it can be compared except the prophecy concerning Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1, nor is it according to the manner of scriptural prophecies to be precise about details such as this. Hence some have thought that this verse and also other parts of the story of this chapter were brought into their present form at a later date than Jeroboam. The story of the appearance of the prophet and of his prediction were known from the first, but the details here given were inserted when the prediction was accomplished. There is certainly in 1 Kings 13:32 a notice of the ‘cities of Samaria’ which confirms this opinion. Jeroboam’s capital was Shechem, and Samaria was not built, nor any district so called, till the reign of Omri the father of Ahab (1 Kings 16:24). Again, it is unlike the rest of the narrative of the Books of Kings that no name should be given to either of the prophets who play such a part in the story. It seems therefore probable that the chapter is taken from some other source than that which supplied what has gone before and what follows it. If this be so, we need not be surprised at what was noticed on the previous verse, that Jeroboam’s action in approaching the altar seems noted as impious while Solomon’s sacrifices are accepted. The compiler of the Books of Kings gathered his material from various sources, and did his work after Josiah was dead. There is no difficulty in understanding how by that time the story as he has given it had been put on record, and as he wished to place Jeroboam’s sin in a strong light all through his history, the events here recorded were exceedingly appropriate for incorporation in his narrative.

upon thee shall he offer the priests] The verb is that which is usually rendered sacrifice, and it is better (with R.V.) so to translate it. Josephus states specifically ‘upon thee shall he sacrifice the false priests which shall be at that time’. Not only was the king to defile the altar by casting upon it the bones of the dead, but his righteous vengeance was to fall also upon the idolatrous priests then living, and they were to be slain by him before the altars at which they ministered.

men’s bones shall be burnt] R.V. shall they burn. There is no gain apparent in departing from the literal rendering of the original.

And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the LORD hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.
3. And he gave a sign the same day] The sign was necessary because the event foretold was to be at so remote a date that none who were living in Jeroboam’s day would be alive to see it. Hence to assure them that it would come to pass a startling token of the power in which the prophet spake is exhibited by the rending of the altar and the scattering of what was on it in the presence of all who stood by. The word מופת rendered ‘sign’, is much more frequently used of ‘wonders’ and ‘miracles’, and it has that sense in some degree here. With this we may compare the use of τέρας as well as σημεῖον for the miracles of the New Testament.

and the ashes that are upon it] The Hebrew word, which is the same as that so often rendered ‘fatness’, applies only to the ashes of an altar, which would be mixed up with the fat of sacrifices burnt upon it. Hence the LXX. renders by ἡ πιότης ‘the fat’, or ‘fatness’.

And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Bethel, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him.
4. he put forth his hand from the altar] He was busy in the operations connected with the sacrifice, but the words of the prophet roused his anger, and the raised hand is the sign of his wrath, as well as a signal to those who were near him, pointing out that the speaker was to be seized. Hence it is said immediately ‘which he put forth against him.’ The R.V. has observed the order of the Hebrew in which the proper name Jeroboam comes in the second clause of the verse and not in the first: thus ‘when the king heard … Jeroboam put forth, &c.’

dried up] The effect described is that of a limb becoming rigid, not so much shrivelling, as stiffening. Josephus says it was ‘numbed and dead’.

The altar also was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD.
And the king answered and said unto the man of God, Intreat now the face of the LORD thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again. And the man of God besought the LORD, and the king's hand was restored him again, and became as it was before.
6. Intreat now the face of the Lord thy God] Here the R.V. has adopted the rendering of the phrase by A.V. in Psalm 119:58; Proverbs 19:6 “Intreat now the favour, &c.” The idea of the original word is that of soothing, so as to relax the frowns and anger of any one, and hence to gain favour instead of displeasure. We are not to conclude because Jeroboam says ‘the Lord thy God’ that he himself had ceased to acknowledge Jehovah. But in the present circumstances God was evidently more favourable to the prophet than to the king and this Jeroboam intends to express.

and pray for me] These words are omitted in the LXX. (Vat.).

besought the Lord] The expression is exactly the same in the Hebrew as in the former part of the verse. So the R.V. has here ‘intreated the Lord’. To insert ‘the favour’ a second time would make the verse read heavily, but there seems no reason for varying the verb.

And the king said unto the man of God, Come home with me, and refresh thyself, and I will give thee a reward.
7. Come home with me] The subsequent narrative shews that there was no alteration in Jeroboam’s feelings or intentions in consequence of what had occurred. He still went on in his evil way. But he would fain have the man of God continue in his company a while, that his people might not be terrified by what had happened and decide to break off from the calf-worship and go up to Jerusalem to the Temple again.

And the man of God said unto the king, If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place:
8. neither will I eat bread nor drink water] There was to be no, communion between the idolaters and the worshippers of Jehovah; and this is strongly marked by the refusal of the prophet even to taste food with the king, which he tells him was the command of the Lord.

For so was it charged me by the word of the LORD, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest.
9. nor turn again by the same way] There is nothing in the original for ‘same’. Therefore the R.V. is more close to the text, in giving neither return by the way as in the following verse in A. V. The injunction to go back by another way was given lest after what happened in Bethel those who had seen him coming might try to detain him and he be thus tempted to lessen the effect of his mission. The refusal to eat and the hurried departure were to shew how the Lord was grieved at the national sin.

So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Bethel.
Now there dwelt an old prophet in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel: the words which he had spoken unto the king, them they told also to their father.
11–22. The prophet of Judah is deceived and brought back to Bethel (Not in Chronicles)

11. Now there dwelt an old prophet in Beth-el] Josephus describes him as ‘a wicked old man, a false prophet, whom Jeroboam had in honour, being deceived by him because he spake things to his liking’. He says too that ‘he was bedridden’ ‘because of the weakness of old age, (though this is difficult to reconcile with his riding forth after the man of God,) and that when he heard of all that had taken place he was fearful that the stranger would surpass him in the estimation of Jeroboam, and gain more honour than he’. The man can hardly have been a true prophet of Jehovah, or he would not have countenanced, even by the presence of his sons, the calf-worship which God had forbidden. His favour with the king, and his desire to retain it, are Josephus’ exposition of the story.

and his son came] R.V. and one of his sons came. The noun and the two verbs ‘came’ and ‘told’ are singular, but before the close of the verse there comes in a plural verb and pronoun ‘they told also to their father’. The language is very natural. One son was the principal reporter, but when the story was dwelt upon the rest filled out the narrative till the father had a complete knowledge of the whole occurrence. Instead of the final words of this verse ‘them they told also to their father’ the LXX. has καὶ ἐπέστρεψαν τὸ πρόσωπον τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτῶν. The same phrase is employed in Jdg 18:23 of persons turning round on hearing a cry, and the text of the LXX. probably implies that the father’s attention was arrested by the story.

And their father said unto them, What way went he? For his sons had seen what way the man of God went, which came from Judah.
12. For (R.V. Now) his sons had seen] This rendering is in accordance with the Massoretic pointing וַיִרְאוּ but all the Versions translate as if the verb had been וַיַרְאוּ, the Hiphil, ‘and his sons shewed him’.

And he said unto his sons, Saddle me the ass. So they saddled him the ass: and he rode thereon,
And went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak: and he said unto him, Art thou the man of God that camest from Judah? And he said, I am.
14. under an oak] The tree named in the Hebrew is probably the terebinth. The noun has the article in the original, and it refers perhaps to some well-known tree which was a landmark in the neighbourhood. The terebinth is a very longlived tree, and an aged one would be sure to become noted.

Then he said unto him, Come home with me, and eat bread.
And he said, I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee: neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place:
16. in this place] The prophet had not gone far from Bethel before he sat down to rest. The events of the day had been such as to ask for it.

For it was said to me by the word of the LORD, Thou shalt eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest.
He said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the LORD, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he lied unto him.
18. He said unto him] The Hebrew has the conjunction ‘And he said’: there is no reason for its omission in the English.

I am a prophet also] The order of the R.V. is to be preferred. ‘I also am a prophet’ i.e. as well as you.

an angel spake unto me] The old prophet does not lay claim to so solemn a message, as that which the prophet of Judah had received directly ‘by the word of the Lord.’ And in this the Judæan prophet’s sin lay that he did not seek as much confirmation for the reversed order as he had for that which came to him at first.

So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water.
19. So he went back with him] The LXX., by reading slightly different vowel points, renders ‘So he turned him back’. Josephus thinks these things were from God as in the case of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. ‘These things happened, I think, according to the will of God, that Jeroboam might give no heed to the words of Jadon, as he had been convicted of falsehood’, i.e. he had said he would not return, and then had done so.

And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the LORD came unto the prophet that brought him back:
20. as they sat at the table] They were having a proper meal. The expression ‘to eat bread and to drink water’ signifies ‘to take food and drink’ and must not be understood literally. The idea meant to be conveyed by the prohibition is that nothing of any sort was to be taken.

And he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the LORD, and hast not kept the commandment which the LORD thy God commanded thee,
21. as thou hast disobeyed] The expression is precisely the same as in 1 Kings 13:26 below. There the A.V. has ‘disobedient unto’, and for the sake of consistency that rendering has been adopted here by R.V. ‘as thou hast been disobedient unto’. A very frequent translation is ‘to rebel against the word of the Lord’. See margin of R.V.

But camest back, and hast eaten bread and drunk water in the place, of the which the LORD did say to thee, Eat no bread, and drink no water; thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers.
22. the Lord did say to thee] There is no need for the italics of the A. V. There can be no mistaking who is meant if we render (with R.V.) ‘he said to thee.’

thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers] With the Jews, as since with Christians, burial rites were much regarded. To be cast out unburied was deemed a great calamity (cf. Psalm 79:3; Jeremiah 14:16), and a judgement for sin, as in the case of Jezebel (2 Kings 9:10). To be buried by the side of one’s ancestors shews that all care has been bestowed upon the corpse. In the present instance the deprivation of such burial is equivalent to death in some unusual way and at a distance from home.

And it came to pass, 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.
23–32. The prophet of Judah is slain. He is buried, and his words confirmed, by the old prophet (Not in Chronicles)

23. he saddled for him the ass] There has been no mention before of an ass belonging to the prophet of Judah, but as travelling was ordinarily performed in this way, we may suppose that he had ridden from Jerusalem, and had been riding back. Instead of the concluding words of this verse ‘to wit, for &c. the LXX. has ‘and he turned and went away.’

Because the word ‘prophet’ נביא is not used elsewhere in the story for the Judæan prophet, who is always called ‘a man of God,’ some have rendered the last part of this verse ‘he saddled for him the ass, the ass belonging to the prophet who had brought him back.’ But it seems far more natural to take the לו = for him, as in close relation to the לנביא = for the prophet, as they are both introduced by the same preposition.

And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him: and his carcase was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it, the lion also stood by the carcase.
24. a lion met him] That beasts of prey were common in the land at this time we may see from the history of the shepherd life of David, where he encountered both a lion and a bear (1 Samuel 17:34). The death of the prophet was caused by a stroke of the beast’s paw, but to shew that it was a visitation of the Lord, the natural instinct of the lion to devour what it has slain is checked, and instead of tearing the body, it stands by it as a guard.

And, behold, men passed by, and saw the carcase cast in the way, and the lion standing by the carcase: and they came and told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt.
25. told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt] As Bethel has been already mentioned it is not easy to see why this circumlocution is made use of. Perhaps the idea is that the news was carried in all directions by the passers by and so came among other places to that where he dwelt whom it specially concerned.

And when the prophet that brought him back from the way heard thereof, he said, It is the man of God, who was disobedient unto the word of the LORD: therefore the LORD hath delivered him unto the lion, which hath torn him, and slain him, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake unto him.
26. disobedient unto the word] The R.V. gives here as the A.V. in 1 Kings 13:21 unto the mouth. This is the literal rendering, and is as intelligible as the other. The LXX. (Vat.) gives for this verse only: ‘And he who brought him back from the way heard it and said, This is the man of God who rebelled against the word of the Lord.’ The next verse (27) is not represented at all in that version.

And he spake to his sons, saying, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him.
And he went and found his carcase cast in the way, and the ass and the lion standing by the carcase: the lion had not eaten the carcase, nor torn the ass.
And the prophet took up the carcase of the man of God, and laid it upon the ass, and brought it back: and the old prophet came to the city, to mourn and to bury him.
29. to mourn and to bury him] These words are also left out in the LXX. (Vat.).

And he laid his carcase in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother!
30. in his own grave] Treating him as though he had been one of his own family.

Alas, my brother] This seems to have been a form of lamentation used over the dead. Cf. Jeremiah 22:18.

And it came to pass, after he had buried him, that he spake to his sons, saying, When I am dead, then bury me in the sepulchre wherein the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones:
31. lay my bones beside his bones] Here the LXX. adds ‘in order that my bones may be preserved along with his bones.’ And Josephus expands this idea thus: “for he would not be outraged after his death if he were buried along with him, for the bones would not be recognized.” After which he adds to the story: “And having buried the prophet and given this charge to his sons, being wicked and impious he goes to Jeroboam and says: ‘Why wast thou troubled by the words of that foolish man?’ And when the king related what had happened to the altar and to his own hand, calling the man a truly divine and excellent prophet, he began to efface this opinion of him by calumnious words and by using misleading language about the things which had occurred, to weaken their real import. For he tried to persuade him that his hand had become numb through fatigue in lifting the victims, and that when relieved it had returned to its natural state; and that the altar being new and having so many large victims put on it was broken and fell to pieces by the weight of its load. He also pointed to the death of him who had foretold these signs, how he was slain by the lion.”

For the saying 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, shall surely come to pass.
32. high places which are in the cities of Samaria] On the building of Samaria, see 1 Kings 16:24. The occurrence of these words in the narrative seems clear evidence that the story in its present form is not contemporary with the events, and may therefore have been written down even later than Josiah’s time. See above on 1 Kings 13:2.

After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest of the people priests of the high places: whosoever would, he consecrated him, and he became one of the priests of the high places.
33–34. Jeroboam goes on in his evil way (Not in Chronicles)

33. made again of the lowest of the people] R.V. made again from among all the people. See note on 1 Kings 12:31 above.

he consecrated him] The Hebrew expression is ‘he filled his hand.’ See margin of A.V. The idea is ‘he intrusted this solemn office to his charge.’

and he became one of the priests of the high places] The insertion of the italic ‘one of’ shews that the construction is irregular. The R.V. gives, that there might be priests of the high places. But the awkwardness of the Hebrew which has the verb in the singular and the noun in the plural is not removed thereby. It can be explained but not imitated in a translation. ‘Whosoever would’ in the previous clause is singular in form but plural in notion. Hence the latter portion of the verse says ‘whosoever would he became,’ but as there were many who did so, the result was not one priest but many ‘priests of the high places.’

And this thing became sin unto the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off, and to destroy it from off the face of the earth.
34. The Hebrew text here also is not clear. Literally it is ‘in this thing there came to be &c.’ But the A.V. and all other versions translate as though the Hebrew were the same as in the beginning of 1 Kings 12:30. Probably the variation is only a slip of the scribe.

to cut it off and to destroy it] God’s judgement wrought the destruction, but yet it was the sin which called it forth. Hence the sin may be called the destroying power. Nadab the son of Jeroboam reigned only two years (1 Kings 15:25), and then met a violent death at the hand of Baasha.

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