Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Mark 16:20.) The subject teaches -
I. THAT GOD SEES THE END FROM THE BEGINNING.
1. This is evinced in His works of creation.
(1) There is foresight in the constitution and adjustments of the framework, and in the motions, of the orbs.
(2) Also in the anticipatory instincts of animals - storing of food, provisions for young. Moths deposit their eggs upon leaves, not used by themselves as food, but proper to sustain the larvae.
(3) And in the anticipatory faculties of man. Intelligent foresight in business, in politics, in science, in religion.
2. It is evinced in prophecy.
(2) Particular example here. (Compare this with 2 Kings 23:15-20.) The facts here were attested - By the Jews, on whose behalf they were ordered - By the Ephrathites, who would have impugned their authority if they could.
3. This example is too circumstantial to have been accidental.
(1) The child was to be of the house of David. Who but God could foresee that the house of David should occupy the throne of Judah at a distance of 856 years?
(2) Who but God could foresee that Bethel would then have passed from the kings of Israel under the dominion of Judah? (See 2 Chronicles 13:19.)
(3) Who but God could foresee that at a distance of 840 years a child should be born to the house of David, bearing the name of Josiah, who should in due time do these things?
(4) Who else could anticipate, even when Josiah received his name, that the grandson of the wicked Manasseh, and son of the no less wicked Amen, should come to the throne, and with pious zeal bring these things to pass? Note: Such prescience as God displayed in this prophecy, and such providence as He evinced in its accomplishment, encourage faith. They assure us that our very names are in His book (Philippians 4:8). They encourage prayer.
II. THAT HE WILL CONFRONT THE SINNER IN JUDGMENT.
1. The message to Jeroboam was to this very effect.
(1) He bore His testimony against the altar. It had been consecrated, after a fashion, by the king, but God would desecrate it. The bodies of its priests were to be sacrificed upon it, and the bones of men were to be burnt upon it (1 Kings 13:2). God will accept no will worship - no worship ordered after the policy of statesmen.
(2) In the demolition of the altar, not only is the religion connected with it doomed to be overthrown, but the judgment involves its votaries - the king, his priests, his people.
(3) The testimony was strong. The man of God cried aloud. He did not quail in the presence of the king amidst his friends. God's messengers should never cringe nor quail God's word can never fail.
2. These things were an allegory.
(1) Many of the wonderful narratives of Holy Scripture may be thus understood. We have the famous example, Galatians 4:21-31.
(2) Here Jeroboam, like all other leaders in apostasy, was a forerunner of the Antichrist. As the religion of the "man of sin" is a caricature of the religion of Christ, so was that of Jeroboam a parody upon the Mosaic.
(3) Josiah was a type of Christ, the true Son of David. (Compare Isaiah 7:14.) Warning and mercy come before destruction. The army of Judah was stayed from crushing Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:24), and in the mission of the man of God there was mercy in the warning. Let the sinner be admonished not to refuse the gospel. - J.A.M.
I. HIS MESSAGE.
1. Its Divine origin. "He cried... in the word of the Lord." A remarkable expression. It represents the word as the sphere in which he lived, the atmosphere he breathed. A sense of the Divine presence, a confidence in the Divine call, a certainty of the Divine message, characterized him. This was a sign of the true prophet. Compare with this the call of Samuel, the announcements of Elijah, the commission of Isaiah, etc. To some the declarations of God's will came fitfully. Prophecy was never a constant possession of a servant of God. There was a tidal flow of inspiration, the law of which we know not. So was it with the miraculous powers of the Apostles.
2. Its definite nature (ver. 2). The very name of the coming avenger is mentioned more than three hundred years before Josiah's birth. It was foretold that the priests would be sacrified on the altar at which they had insulted God. The lex talionis is the ground of this, as of other theocratic laws. It reminds us that the sinner is destroyed by his own sin; that punishments are not arbitrary, but are the legitimate issues of crime against God. It was further announced that the bones of the dead would be taken from the graves and burnt on the altar, so that the place of idolatry might be defiled and dishonoured. See Numbers 19:16. For fulfilment of prophecy read 2 Kings 23:15-20.
3. Its merciful design. In 1 Kings 12:24 we read that God forbade the advance of the army of Judah on Jeroboam. Instead of carnage he sends this message. He willeth not the death of a sinner, but would rather he should turn from his wickedness and live. Suggest the warnings God now sends to rouse us to thought and penitence.
II. HIS COURAGE. It was a bold thing to venture amongst the people at a time when they were full of hatred to Judah, and of unwillingness to be reminded of Jehovah; and to face the king, who was a man of despotic and resolute temper, in the very pride of his royal strength. But in the presence of them all the prophet's cry arose, "O altar, altar, thus saith Jehovah," etc., as if the stones would listen more readily than the people. Give examples of similar courage being displayed by men who have had the Consciousness they were speaking for God; e.g., Moses before Pharaoh, Elijah before Ahab, John the Baptist before Herod, Peter and John before the Sanhedrim, Paul before Felix. From church history, too, such examples as that of Ambrose, John Knox, etc., may be cited. Show how requisite courage is now to genuine fidelity to conviction, amongst sceptical or sinful associations.
III. HIS CREDENTIALS. A sign was given there and then. The altar was cleft in twain, and the ashes were poured out. For the significance of the latter see Leviticus 16:3, 4. Point out the credibility of supernatural signs as attesting supernatural revelations. Refer to the miracles of Christ, of which He said, "Believe me for the very works' sake." See also Mark 16:20; Acts 2:48. Indicate the nature of the credentials which the world may fairly demand of Christian men in the present day; and show how far we fail in giving these, and the causes of our failure.
IV. HIS SAFETY. Amidst all the perils encircling him he was "kept by the power of God." The hand that would have slain him was withered; the man who cursed his message besought his prayers. "Man is immortal till his work is done." When God's servants die, it is because they have fulfilled the purpose of their lives. They have many enemies, but God can disable all their foes. The path of duty is the path of safety. Illustrate this from the records of the Christian Church; Luther at Worms, etc.
1. Learn to listen for God's message. He would make you His "voice."
2. Learn to dare anything in God's name. The rarity of Christian chivalry.
3. Learn to trust in God's protection. "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty."
4. Learn to pray even for your persecutors. Compare ver. 6 with Matthew 5:44. - A.R.
1 Kings 13:1-101 Kings 13:1-10.
I. THE PRETENSIONS OF ERROR DEEPEN ITS SHAME. The idolatrous altar was being solemnly consecrated. The people's eyes were dazzled with the splendour of the priestly and regal display. Jeroboam himself stood by the altar to offer incense. And then the cry arose which arrested every ear and thrilled through every soul.
1. The attempt to give importance to the new idolatry only broadened the mark for God's rebuke: it simply lent emphasis to His condemnation. They had come to consecrate, and had really come to attend upon God while He desecrated the work of their hands. Heathenism in its splendour thus rebuked by the preaching of the cross, Rome by the light of the Reformation.
2. The agent by whom God's glory was vindicated. The insignificance of the poor, weary, travel-stained man deepened their disgrace. "God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty."
II. THE DOOM OF IDOLATROUS WORSHIP.
1. The altar will be desecrated. The place will be made an abomination and horror. Sin's judgment will in the end be sin's destruction.
2. The sin will be wiped out in the blood and shame of those who have wrought it. The priests will be offered upon the altar, the bones of its worshippers burned upon it. The world's sin will be ended in God's fiery judgment upon the sinful.
3. The certainty of God's purpose. Centuries intervened between the prediction and the fulfilment, but all was arranged. The time was fixed, the avenger named. There is no uncertainty in God's mind regarding the end of iniquity. The decree has been recorded, the time fixed, THE MAN named by whom He will judge the world in righteousness.
4. The sign meanwhile given. The altar was rent and its ashes poured out. The wrath revealed from heaven now is proof that all God's purpose shall be fulfilled.
III. MAN'S INABILITY TO CONTEND WITH GOD.
1. The withered arm. The arm outstretched in eager, wrathful command to arrest the man of God, withered in the very attitude. It was the emblem of his house and of his people; they were withered in the attitude of rebellion against God.
2. The prophet's safety. He needed none to shield him. God protects all those who serve Him.
3. Jeroboam's humiliation. He turns from idol and altar and priests, and requests the prophet's intercession with Jehovah.
4. His arm is restored at the prophet's request, and he thus bears in his person another token that the word he has heard is from God. It is the story of God's contest with darkness and wrong today.
IV. SEPARATION ESSENTIAL FOR TESTIMONY. Jeroboam's hospitality and reward were alike refused. The prophet was even forbidden to return by the same way: he was not to enter even into acquaintance with men who were sinning so deeply against God. Unless there be separation our testimony is a sham. Our life unsays our speech. If we will speak God's word to the sinful, our attitude must reveal their distance from God and the peril in which they stand. If our own heart be filled with holy fear it may pass item us to them. - J.U.
I. JEROBOAM WAS A TYPICAL SINNER.
1. He transgressed God's law -
(1) In making images. The law forbad this (Exodus 20:4, 5). But he made two golden calves. Note: Images of God must be caricatures, and God will not be mocked, solemnly or otherwise, with impunity. How many frightful caricatures of Deity has the "man of sin" perpetrated! (2 Thessalonians 2:3-12.)
(2) In multiplying altars. Legal worship was limited to one altar "in the place which the Lord should choose" (Deuteronomy 16:16). This was to keep before men the one only Mediator (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5). Therefore other altars than that at Jerusalem were "altars unto sin" (Hosea 8:11).
(3) In creating priests. According to the law, none but sons of Aaron had a Divine vocation to the priesthood (Exodus 30:7, 8; 2 Chronicles 26:18; Hebrews 5:4). According to the gospel, Christ is sole Priest. Jeroboam, an Ephrathite, invaded the law principle, making himself high priest, and making subordinate priests of the lowest of the people.
2. He did so impudently.
(1) His sin was not of ignorance, for he had access to the Scriptures; but it did not serve his purpose to refer to them.
(2) Prophecy was particularly distasteful to him, for his doom is written there. Jeroboam had this from the lips of Ahijah, and now has it from the man of God from Judah. Beware of the spirit that would discourage a study upon which God has pronounced a blessing (Revelation 1:3).
(3) The spirit of his religion was political. He would not have troubled himself with it had he not political ends to serve (1 Kings 12:26-29). And to carry out these he dissembled: "It is too much for you to go to Jerusalem!"
II. HIS DOOM ALSO WAS TYPICAL.
1. He was confronted by the word of God.
(1) With this the man of God from Judah withstood him at his altar. So by the word of the Lord, and especially with the spirit of prophecy, has the man of sin been confronted by Waldenses, Paulikiaus, Hussites, Lutherans, and such like men "from Judah."
(2) But against this testimony he invoked the civil power under his usurped control (ver. 4). The spirit of persecution was there. The modern Jeroboam carried it further (Daniel 12:21; Revelation 13:7; Revelation 17:6).
2. He was humbled by the power of God.
(1) His hand was withered; his power to persecute was paralyzed. How powerless is the hand of man when arrested by the hand of God! Behind the political restraints which now hold the persecuting hand of our enemies we must discern the invisible hand of God.
(3) The altar, then, was cloven, and the ashes of the spurious sacrifices poured out as with contempt. This also was effected by the same invisible hand. Who can resist the might of God?
3. Yet he persisted in his sin.
(1) His humiliation was selfish. It was the creature of his terror and suffering, so it was transient.
(2) True repentance is of a loftier principle, and is enduring. It is a life, as faith also is a life.
(3) Instead of using his restored hand to demolish his high places, he used it to repair the altar at Bethel, and persisted in his sin (vers. 33, 34; 2 Chronicles 13:20). But Josiah executed the judgments of prophecy in due time, So will the modern Jeroboam and his monstrous organization of sin perish in the fires of the judgment (Daniel 7:10, 11; 2 Thessalonians 2:8). Note: Let those come out of Babylon who would escape her plagues. - J.A.M.
1 Kings 12:24), a "man of God out of Judah" is sent sternly to denounce the rival altar, and to give the sacrilegious king something like a symbolic forewarning of the disasters that should surely befall him. The scene, described here with so much simplicity and dramatic force, is full of moral instruction.
I. In the person of the king we see THE HELPLESSNESS OF A WICKED MAN IN THE HANDS OF AN OFFENDED GOD. The physical associations and the mental conditions here presented are alike suggestive of this. It is a striking picture of restrained infatuation and impotent rage.
1. The king's withered arm tells how God can in a moment turn the strength that is used against Him to weakness. "When thou with rebukes dost correct man for iniquity," etc. (Psalm 39:11).
2. The rent altar suggests the certain frustration, sooner or later, of the purposes and plans of those that are at enmity with God. "The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought," etc. (Psalm 33:10). "If this counsel or this work be of man," etc. (Acts 5:38).
3. The king's inability to pray for himself reminds us how God sometimes forsakes those who forsake Him, so that it seems utterly vain for them to call upon Him. Many a man has felt like Saul, "I am sore distressed, and God is departed from me," etc. (1 Samuel 28:15). 4. His appeal to the prophet to intercede for him is typical of the way in which ungodly men are often contrained by force of circumstance to seek succour from those whom they have despised. "The wheel of fortune turns and lowers the proud," and they are placed, perhaps, at the mercy of the very men whom they once scorned and injured. Such are the penalties that God often inflicts on those who trifle with His authority and defy His power. Such is the curse that falls upon "presumptuous sin." II. The behaviour of the prophet presents A FINE EXAMPLE OF MORAL DIGNITY AND CONSCIOUS STRENGTH. See here - (1) The courage of a man who knows that God is on his side. The prophets of old, conscious of a more majestic Presence and a higher Sovereignty, never trembled before the face of wicked kings. The fear of God casts out all other fear. "Be not afraid of them that kill the body," etc. (Luke 12:4, 5). "If God be for us," etc. (Romans 8:31). (2) The magnanimity of one who feels that he is called to witness for God among men. The prophet will not take advantage of the king's helpnessness; rather responds at once to his appeal. He who is inspired by God's Spirit will not return scorn for scorn, or retaliate an attempted injury, but rather use for beneficent ends the power that he possesses. "Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them? Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of," etc. (Luke 9:54, 56). (3) The efficacy of the prayer of a righteous man. The withered arm is restored, and though this had no happy moral effect, as might have been expected, on Jeroboam, the whole transaction, in which mercy was thus blended with judgment, vindicated the honour of Jehovah, and established afresh His sovereign claim to the allegiance alike of king and people. - W.
4. His appeal to the prophet to intercede for him is typical of the way in which ungodly men are often contrained by force of circumstance to seek succour from those whom they have despised. "The wheel of fortune turns and lowers the proud," and they are placed, perhaps, at the mercy of the very men whom they once scorned and injured. Such are the penalties that God often inflicts on those who trifle with His authority and defy His power. Such is the curse that falls upon "presumptuous sin."
II. The behaviour of the prophet presents A FINE EXAMPLE OF MORAL DIGNITY AND CONSCIOUS STRENGTH. See here -
(1) The courage of a man who knows that God is on his side. The prophets of old, conscious of a more majestic Presence and a higher Sovereignty, never trembled before the face of wicked kings. The fear of God casts out all other fear. "Be not afraid of them that kill the body," etc. (Luke 12:4, 5). "If God be for us," etc. (Romans 8:31).
(2) The magnanimity of one who feels that he is called to witness for God among men. The prophet will not take advantage of the king's helpnessness; rather responds at once to his appeal. He who is inspired by God's Spirit will not return scorn for scorn, or retaliate an attempted injury, but rather use for beneficent ends the power that he possesses. "Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven and consume them? Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of," etc. (Luke 9:54, 56).
(3) The efficacy of the prayer of a righteous man. The withered arm is restored, and though this had no happy moral effect, as might have been expected, on Jeroboam, the whole transaction, in which mercy was thus blended with judgment, vindicated the honour of Jehovah, and established afresh His sovereign claim to the allegiance alike of king and people. - W.
2 Thessalonians 2:3). In contrast to him we have to consider the "man of God," in which character this prophet who confronted Jeroboam at Bethel, is described. The instructions under which he acted teach us how a saint should behave amongst workers of iniquity.
I. HE MUST HOLD NO FELLOWSHIP WITH THEM.
1. He must not eat and drink with them.
(1) For this was anciently a profession of fellowship. Hence the Hebrews in Egypt would not eat with the Egyptians (Genesis 43:32). The Jews would not eat with the Samaritans (John 4:9); and they were shocked to see Jesus eating with publicans and sinners (Matthew 9:11). For the same reason Christians were forbidden to eat with ungodly persons (1 Corinthians 5:11; see also Romans 16:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; 2 Timothy 3:5; James 4:4; 2 John 1:10).
(2) The law of distinction between clean and unclean meats set forth not only the duty of avoiding fellowship with moral uncleanness, but also with those who are morally unclean; for the unclean animals represented "sinners of the Gentiles" while the clean stood for the "holy people" of Israel (Acts 10:14, 84, 85).
(3) The eating of the forbidden fruit in Eden at the instigation of the serpent, who also seems to have eaten of it first, expressed fellowship with Satan! As the trees of Eden were sacramental, it may have expressed a covenant with the Evil One! Those who ate together were understood to stand to each other in a covenant relationship (Genesis 31:43-46).
(4) In this light the Christian Eucharist sets forth the covenant fellowship, that we have, first, with Christ, and secondly, with those who are in such fellowship with Him (see, in this light, John 6:53-56).
2. He must refuse their presents.
(1) Some think Jeroboam's offer to "reward" the man of God was to give him a bribe. This is not evident. Yet good men are liable to be tempted with bribes, but should stoutly refuse them (1 Samuel 12:3; Job 15:34).
(2) The king's intention was to do honour to the man of God, according to a constant custom in the East (see 1 Samuel 9:7; 2 Kings 5:15). The word מתת here translated "reward," would have been better rendered "gift," as in many other places it is. But such a gift or present, if accepted, would express friendship, and therefore, coming from the hand of an arch idolator and schismatic, it must be declined,
(3) Good men must be careful how they accept favours from the wicked, lest in doing so they may compromise to them their independence, or come unduly under their influence (see Genesis 14:28; 23:13-16; 2 Kings 5:16).
II. HIS INTERCOURSE WITH THEM SHOULD BE BRIEF.
1. While serving God he is safe.
(1) His very testimony for God commits him to a course of conduct consistent with it. This element of moral strength is lost to those who hide their light under a bushel.
2. But it is perilous longer to remain.
(1) The very disposition to remain amidst circumstances with which we should have no sympathy argues weakness which should alarm.
(2) He lays himself open to temptation. He may find the "king" disposed to honour him. Some are foolishly susceptible to flattery from the great ones of this world. The man of God should be proof against this (ver. 8).
(3) He may be taken at a disadvantage. Being away from the influence of godly friends. Having now no claim to special help from God.
3. But why must he return by another way?
(1) Not only did the man of God give a sign, but he was also himself a sign (see Ezekiel 12:11; Ezekiel 24:24; Zechariah 3:8, margin). As Jeroboam was the sign of the man of sin, this prophet was, at least in his instructions, a typical "man of God."
(2) In coming from Judah, where God was purely worshipped in His temple, to Ephraim, where "altars were made unto sin," he would personate that moral lapse into which Ephraim had fallen.
(3) In his speedy return from Ephraim to Judah, after deprecating the sin of the place, he would represent to the Ephrathites what God expected from them, viz., repentance and reformation.
(4) But the way hack to God is not precisely the reversal of the way from Him. Adam fell by sin of his own and was turned out of Eden, but must return by the righteousness of another (Genesis 3:24). Our way hack to God is the "new and living way opened in the blood of Jesus." - J.A.M.
Isaiah 27:1; Psalm 125:5). He had already tempted the man of God by means of the schismatic king, and failed; his next work is to see what influence an old prophet may have upon him. So versatile are his devices that it is our wisdom to be ever on the alert. Observe the adroitness with which he lays his plans. His astuteness is seen -
I. IN CHOOSING HIS INSTRUMENTS. These were -
1. "The sons of the old prophet."
(1) They were near the altar. Whether by the contrivance of Satan, or that, finding them there, he made them his tools, is not revealed. Or whether they were there out of curiosity, or sympathy with the apostasy, is not revealed. But they were there - on the devil's ground. We must keep from that if we would escape mischief.
(2) They were witnesses of the words and works of God. So, might have been rebuked for sympathy with evil and admonished to separate themselves from it. They also saw the way the man of God took in returning to Judah.
(3) They lost no time in reporting to their father, urged, unconsciously to themselves, by Satan. We cannot always tell when we are prompted by the devil, or when he uses for his purposes our natural promptings. We should pray God to spare us the humiliation of serving Satan's purposes.
2. The old prophet himself.
(1) He was an "old" prophet, or had been a prophet in the old time before the apostasy of Jeroboam. Probably he had backslidden from God; for, though he did not appear at Bethel, he allowed his sons to be there. Had he not lost his old fire would he not have lifted his voice against the national sin? Backsliders from God become the devil's dupes.
(2) The energy of Satan is seen in the promptness of this old prophet's action. He quickly got information. He lost no time in the pursuit. The sluggishness of age was shaken off under the excitement of the devil's spur.
(3) But what was the old man's motive? Probably the desire to display that hospitality which the Easterns cultivated so carefully, mingled with a curiosity to know more about the wonders the man of God was commissioned to discover. But Satan's motive was very different. Beware that your motives become not subservient to those of the devil. Let your motives be pure and godly.
II. IN USING THEM.
1. See the stratagem in Eden, repeated.
(1) Had Satan tempted Eve in his proper character he would have failed (1 Timothy 11:14). So the man of God was proof against the solicitations of the king whom he discerned to be the "man of sin" of his time.
(2) Satan therefore concealed himself under the sleek, lustrous form of a serpent, and deceived our mother. Then transferring himself to the fallen Eve, under her lovely disguise, overcame Adam. So, enshrining himself in the old prophet, he vanquished the "man of God." Beware of Satan's disguises. Especially beware of the religious devil.
(3) The offence, again, was eating. In Eden it was eating the forbidden thing. Note: The place may be right, the thing wrong. At Bethel it was eating in the forbidden place. Note: The thing may be right, the place wrong.
2. See the spirit of the devil.
(1) The spirit of cruelty. The old prophet knew that the man of God was forbidden to eat in Bethel, yet he importuned him to eat bread with him. Cruelty is no less real because sheathed in professions of kindness. Over-indulgent parents are their children's cruelest enemies.
(3) The spirit of lies (ver. 18). Now is Satan transformed into an angel of light. Could the old prophet have been himself thus deceived? He deceived the man of God. Beware of the devil of hospitality. Perhaps the man of God the more readily yielded being weak with fatigue and fasting (compare Matthew 4:2-4). No example, save that of Jesus, may be followed implicitly. - J.A.M.
I. THE PROPHET'S SIN AND DOOM. Evil is never wanting in emissaries. It finds them among the so-called followers of God as well as in the world. This was -
1. a prophet. The possession of privileges does not ensure salvation. Balaam took the wages of unrighteousness. "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?" etc. Is our own life on a level with the place God has given us? If not, we may be among those whose influence and suggestions place stumbling blocks in the path of God's children.
2. He dwelt at Bethel, without testifying against its sin, and unmoved by fear of God's judgment. How many who know God's will and have declared it to others remain in Bethel still!
3. His instant resolve. The very story of the prophet's obedience led him to tempt the man of God. His own religion was not like this, and this must therefore be either hypocrisy or delusion. Had the king's request not been made publicly it might have been acceded to. There must be a weak point somewhere, and he will try to find it. Lower life is ever suspicious of a higher, and is anxious to prove that it is not higher. The prophets in Bethel are ever on the watch to break the credit of the men of God from Judah. Is thine the spirit of the learner or of the scorner? Does the higher life judge thee and fill thee with desire to press upward, or only with angry suspicion and desire to show it is no better than thine own? They who are of the wicked prophet's spirit still do his work.
II. THE FALL OF THE MAN OF GOD.
1. How the tempter found him. He sat, weary and faint, resting under the shadow of the tree. The invitation to eat bread had more power there than before in Bethel. The tempter knows his opportunity. In times of weakness and need we should hide ourselves in the joy and strength of God.
2. The weapons he uses. When an appeal to appetite fails, he professes his oneness with him and uses falsehood. "I am a prophet also as thou art, and an angel spake unto me," etc. To eat bread in Bethel with a prophet did not seem quite the same thing as eating with the idolatrous king; nor does fellowship with those who profess to know God, but yet remain in communion with the world, seem the same thing as fellowship with the world itself. It is thus that the testimony of the Church against idolatry and iniquity has so largely ceased. And then there is Scripture forevery concession. "An angel spake unto me... but he lied unto him." A worldly Church ensnares where the world itself cannot.
3. The fatal neglect. God was as near to him as He could be to his tempter, and he might have inquired of Him. But in the weakness of the flesh he desired to have it so. There is only one preservative from spiritual shipwreck - a sincere desire to know what the Lord saith, and a determination to follow that only.
III. HIS DOOM. (Vers. 20-22.)
1. It was uttered as he sat at meat. Conviction found him in his Sin, and the food he had desired became as wormwood and gall to him.
2. It came from the lips of his seducer. We do not rise in the world's estimation through compliance with its desires. As God used the lying prophet so will He use the men of the world for the humbling of those who yield before their temptations.
3. The penalty. Death in the land where he had sinned. His carcase, buried in Bethel, declared the truth his obedience should have impressed. God will judge His unfaithful servants. If not glorified in their service, He will be glorified in their punishment. - J.U.
nil, but the godless had warning, and the secret worshippers of the Lord still left in Israel were encouraged. The story of the temptation and fall of this prophet, who at least delivered one message with fidelity, is tragic and suggestive. After reading it we have left with us the following thoughts:
I. THAT A STRONG TEMPTATION HAD BEEN RESISTED. Jeroboam had failed to reach the prophet by violence, but resolved to overcome him by craft. Terrible as had been the effect of Jehovah's wrath (ver. 4), the king's conscience was not stirred. His heart was not touched, though his arm was withered. Hence he did not ask the prophet to pray that his sin might be forgiven, but that his arm might be restored. Immediately after, with a show of civility and gratitude, he invited him to his house. Clearly this was not in order to honour the prophet, but to weaken the effect of his message. The people had heard it, and had been moved by it; but if they saw the messenger going down in seeming friendship with their king, this would diminish, perhaps destroy, the effect of his words. Lest this should happen, the prophet had been forbidden to enter any house. As the representative of Jehovah, he was to show that God would not dwell amongst the people. Firmly, therefore, he rejected the invitation of the king, saying, "If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread not drink water in this place," etc. The temptation was resisted; the victory won. Give illustrations of similar moral conquests. A young man tempted to impurity says, "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Another sits silent among the scorners, and cannot be induced to join or smile with them, etc. There are times when we are specially able to resist: e.g., when we come fresh from the influences of a Christian home; when we are feeling the impression of an earnest sermon; when we are made serious by the death of a dear friend. Under such influences many obey the command, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!"
II. THAT A NEW TEMPTATION WAS SUCCESSFUL. (Read vers. 11-19.)
(1) What were the motives of this old prophet of Bethel? Probably he was not a false prophet, though these existed; as tares amongst the wheat, as Judas among the apostles. Nor must he be charged with the malignant wish to bring this man to his death. Picture him as one who knew his Lord's will, but did it not. He had been silent, instead of protesting against the impiety of Jeroboam, and now felt rebuked by this daring stranger. To entertain him might reinstate him in his own good opinion, and in the eyes of the people. Hence he gives the invitation, and when it is resisted another sign of his moral decadence appears, and he tells a lie about receiving a message from the Lord.
(2) How came this temptation to succeed? Not improbably there was some self-complacency in one who had just resisted the king successfully, and a sense of false security which is indicated by his resting under the terebinth instead of pressing on homewards. Observe here -
1. The conquest of one evil may only bring on the assault of another; e.g., when sensuality is repressed, scepticism may arise and prevail. We sometimes forget that it is not a momentary but a life-long conflict we have to wage. If the Egyptians are drowned, the Amorites and Canaanites await us. A gross sin fails to conquer us, but a subtle sin may lead us to bitter bondage. We can never say to our soul, "Take thine ease;" but always, and everywhere, must listen to the command, "Watch, and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." 2. Lingering near scenes of temptation may imperil us fatally. Had the prophet not rested he might not have been overtaken, but would have crossed the border line of the two kingdoms. As the moth flutters round the candle, so do some hover about sin. They read of vices which they think they would never commit, and choose associates unlike what they mean to be, and yet dare to pray, "Lead us not into temptation." He who "standeth in the way of sinners," as one half inclined to join them, may at last "sit in the seat of the scorners," as one who has united with them. "Avoid it, pass not by it," etc. (Proverbs 3:15). III. THAT A TRIVIAL ACT OF DISOBEDIENCE WAS A GREAT SIN. It seemed a small offence to go home with a brother prophet; but observe that he was in no doubt as to the will of God. He was not really deceived by that lie about the angel's message. He knew that he was forbidden to enter any house, and that the reason for that inhibition was weighty: he knew further that God would not contradict Himself, or alter his command, yet his sensuous wish for food and rest prevailed. An act may seem trifling, but the principle involved in it may be momentous. So it was in Eden. To eat the fruit, or to leave it untouched, might appear a question of small consideration; but man's decision of it, "brought death into the world, and all our woe." It is in trifles that we test the willingness of our children's obedience. If they refuse to do an unimportant act because to do it would be to disobey us, we are more satisfied with their sensitive loyalty than if the act were notoriously evil. To sin for the sake of a passing pleasure is morally worse than to sin for the sake of a kingdom, for the temptation is less. IV. THAT A TRAGIC PUNISHMENT WAS INFLICTED. (Read vers. 23-25.) Note the points which marked out this event as the result of God's displeasure, and not of accident; e.g., that it was foretold (vers. 21, 22), and that the lion did not kill the ass, nor eat the dead body. Show how Jesus Christ used the judgments of God, as recorded in the Old Testament, for purposes of moral and religious instruction. Sin merits punishment. "We are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth, against them which commit such things," etc. (Romans 2:2-5). In the consciousness of frequent disobedience let the prayer arise, "God be merciful to me a sinner." - A.R.
2. Lingering near scenes of temptation may imperil us fatally. Had the prophet not rested he might not have been overtaken, but would have crossed the border line of the two kingdoms. As the moth flutters round the candle, so do some hover about sin. They read of vices which they think they would never commit, and choose associates unlike what they mean to be, and yet dare to pray, "Lead us not into temptation." He who "standeth in the way of sinners," as one half inclined to join them, may at last "sit in the seat of the scorners," as one who has united with them. "Avoid it, pass not by it," etc. (Proverbs 3:15).
III. THAT A TRIVIAL ACT OF DISOBEDIENCE WAS A GREAT SIN. It seemed a small offence to go home with a brother prophet; but observe that he was in no doubt as to the will of God. He was not really deceived by that lie about the angel's message. He knew that he was forbidden to enter any house, and that the reason for that inhibition was weighty: he knew further that God would not contradict Himself, or alter his command, yet his sensuous wish for food and rest prevailed. An act may seem trifling, but the principle involved in it may be momentous. So it was in Eden. To eat the fruit, or to leave it untouched, might appear a question of small consideration; but man's decision of it, "brought death into the world, and all our woe." It is in trifles that we test the willingness of our children's obedience. If they refuse to do an unimportant act because to do it would be to disobey us, we are more satisfied with their sensitive loyalty than if the act were notoriously evil. To sin for the sake of a passing pleasure is morally worse than to sin for the sake of a kingdom, for the temptation is less.
IV. THAT A TRAGIC PUNISHMENT WAS INFLICTED. (Read vers. 23-25.) Note the points which marked out this event as the result of God's displeasure, and not of accident; e.g., that it was foretold (vers. 21, 22), and that the lion did not kill the ass, nor eat the dead body. Show how Jesus Christ used the judgments of God, as recorded in the Old Testament, for purposes of moral and religious instruction. Sin merits punishment. "We are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth, against them which commit such things," etc. (Romans 2:2-5). In the consciousness of frequent disobedience let the prayer arise, "God be merciful to me a sinner." - A.R.
John 8:44; 1 John 3:9; 1 John 5:18). But the good are liable to be surprised or deceived into transgression (James 1:18-15; 1 John 2:1, 2). We must be ever on our guard against the "wiles" and "depths" of Satan. For lack of vigilance this man of God fell into the snare, and we see here how he was reproved.
I. HE SINNED AGAINST THE WORD OF JEHOVAH.
1. This is evident upon the face of the narrative.
(1) He came out of Judah "by the word of Jehovah." Cried against the altar at Bethel "in the word of Jehovah." Gave the sign upon the altar "by the word of Jehovah" (vers. 1, 2, 5).
(2) He professed that his instructions not to eat in Mount Ephraim, but to return to Judah by another road, were by the same word. Professed to the king (ver. 9); to the old prophet (ver. 17).
2. But could not God revoke or modify His word?
(1) Certainly. He did so to Abraham (see Genesis 22:11, 12). What had been might be.
(2) Upon the recognition of this principle the old prophet proceeded, and so far was the man of God from disputing it that he was taken in the snare (vers. 18, 19).
3. Wherein, then, was his fault? The revocation here came not with the evidence of the command. The command was immediately from "the mouth of the Lord" (per. 21). The revocation came immediately from the mouth of the old prophet. Note: We are responsible for the proper use of reason in religion.
(2) Faith in the word of the Lord must be implicit. The Bible is that word. The evidence that it is such is conclusive - external, internal, collateral.
(3) Other voices must not be allowed to replace this. The voice of "nature," of "reason," of the "Church." We listen implicitly to these at our peril.
II. BY THE WORD OF JEHOVAH HE WAS REPROVED.
1. This came to the man of God himself.
(1) The reading of the text would lead us to conclude that it came to the old prophet. The words אשר השיבו here rendered, "who brought him back," are in verse 23 construed, "whom he had brought back," and might be so construed here. Josephus asserts that the word of the Lord here came to the man of God; and so does the Arabic. In the 26th verse we are assured by the old prophet that this word of the Lord came to the man of God.
(2) According to this view it was "Jehovah" who "cried unto the man of God," viz., from heaven as He called to Abraham (Genesis 22:11). So, coming to himself, as the command did in the first instance, he had not to weigh contradictory testimonies from the old prophet, but was left without a doubt. God brings home sin with demonstration.
2. It came to him in the ripeness of his transgression.
(1) "As they sat at table." Conscience reproves the sinner in the very act of sin. This is the voice of God in the soul. But here was an external voice to which the internal voice responded. Conscience responds to the word or law of God.
(2) It came to all who were at the table. To the old prophet as well as to the man of God. His conscience, too, would respond to the voice of God. To the sons of the old prophet, if present, there would also be a voice. What will our emotions be when in the day of judgment all the mischief to which we have been accessories will be discovered?
3. It was terribly severe.
(1) He is doomed to dis. "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." We all die in consequence of sin entailed. But here is an actual "sin unto death" (1 John 5:16).
(2) He is doomed to die abroad. The mention of his carcase not coming to the sepulchre of his fathers implied a violent death away from home. Possibly the manner of his death may have been made known to him (compare ver. 26; 1 Kings 20:36). The word of God is not violated with impunity. What will be the case of those who seldom take pains to consult it? - J.A.M.
I. THE INFLEXIBILITY OF A DIVINE COMMAND. The command had been given clearly and positively (ver. 9), and He who gave it had in no way revoked it. The reasons for it remained as they were. The man of God greatly erred in giving more weight to the report of an angelic message delivered to another than to the clear voice of "the word of the Lord" in his own soul. "God is not a man, that he should lie; nor the son of man, that he should repent" (Numbers 23:19), and His commands can be abrogated only by others that are equally explicit and authoritative.
II. THE DANGER OF PARLEYING WITH THE TEMPTER. The integrity of the man of God was imperilled as soon as he began to listen to the persuasion that would lead him astray. The first deliverances of conscience are generally right, and we run great moral risk when we begin to question them. He who had resisted the allurements of the king yields to those of the seeming prophet. Moral evil is always most fascinating when it assumes a sacred disguise, and the false "prophet" is the most plausible and dangerous of all tempters.
III. THE GUILT OF DISOBEDIENCE. "To obey is better than sacrifice," etc. (1 Samuel 15:22, 23). The spirit of disobedience is the root of all practical iniquity. "By one man's disobedience many were made sinners" (Romans 5:19). A seemingly trifling offence may thus, especially under certain circumstances, have an important meaning, and entail fatal consequences out of all proportion to its outward form. It is on this principle, that every act of wilful wrong is a violation of the spirit of obedience, that St. James says, "Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (James 2:10).
IV. THE TEMPORAL PENALTIES THAT FOLLOW THE SIN EVEN OF GOOD MEN. The "man of God" may have been at heart a true prophet, and may have received in another world the eternal reward of the true prophet; but his transgression involved him in a violent death, and he was denied the privilege, so much desired by every Hebrew, of having his body laid in the "sepulchre of his fathers." Sin may be pardoned and yet punished. The temporal penalty may be inflicted though Divine mercy cancels the eternal. David's sin is forgiven, but his child must die (2 Samuel 12:13, 14). Christ is "the propitiation for our sins," and His blood "cleanseth us from all sin," but He promises us no immunity from the ill effects, the shame and loss and pain and sorrow in which our sin may in this world involve us. - W.
I. MERCY DISPLAYED IN THE MIDST OF JUDGMENT. The sin may have been forgiven though the chastisement fell.
1. His body was preserved from dishonour. The lion's ferocity was bridled; the prophet's body was neither eaten nor torn; he guarded the remains from the fowls of the air and the beasts of the field.
(1) Though God chastises His erring people, He will not utterly cast them away.
(2) The fiercest instruments of His vengeance can go only so far as He permits them.
2. The message he had borne received added weight by his punishment. In his humiliation God was exalted. The circumstances showed that the blow was from the hand of God, and the question was no doubt raised in many a heart, if the Lord has so punished His servant's error, what will Israel's judgment be?
3. He still preached in his grave. He was buried near the altar, and over his tomb was graven the story of his mission and his fate (2 Kings 23:17).
II. THE PUNISHMENT OF UNFAITHFULNESS. When all has been said that can be of the attendant mercy, the judgment still stands out in terribleness. The prophet still preached, but the cry came up from the dark pathway of death. Its place was not among the vessels of mercy, but among the vessels of wrath. If we eat in idolatrous Bethel, even though it be in ignorance, God's hand will find us. He punishes now in spiritual leanness, and that again leads to deeper judgment; in the falling away of our children into indifference and worldliness and sin, and will not God demand their blood at our hand? God will have perfect compliance in regard to the conduct of His own worship; He demands "a pure offering." Are we making His word our only law? Whose altar are we serving, Jehovah's or Jeroboam's?
III. BETHEL'S ANSWER TO GOD'S WARNINGS.
1. The prophet's fear.
(1) He owned God's servant. He cared for his body, mourned over him with the cry, "Alas my brother!" placed him in his own tomb and had his own bones laid beside those of the man of God.
(2) He lifted up again God's testimony (ver. 32). The beginning of a better thing in Bethel is ever after this fashion: the honouring God's servants, cleaving to them, and continuing their work.
2. The king's unconcern. We are not told that he did anything worse than he had done before; he simply "returned not from his evil way." And this became sin to his house, to cut it off and to destroy it, etc. To bring upon ourselves God's judgments we need do no more than turn a deaf ear to His warnings. - J.U.
I. THE SEQUEL VERIFIED A REMARKABLE PROPHECY.
1. Review the prophecy.
(1) Ver. 22. He was, therefore, doomed to die away from his home; and, presumably, by violence.
(2) With what solemn feelings would he see his ass saddled with the prospect of such a journey! Ought not our feelings also to be solemn to whom death is certain, though the moment and the manner be unknown?
2. Note the fulfilment.
(1) Vers. 29, 30. He was met and slain by a lion, and his corpse was cast in the way. There was a spectacle for all passengers! What an evil thing is sin!
(2) Thus suffered for disobedience a "man of God." The sanctity of his profession did not protect him from sin, neither can it protect him from punishment. So neither, the dignity of his office. So neither, the service he had rendered to God (see 1 Corinthians 9:27; 2 Corinthians 13:5, 6).
(3) Judgment begins at the house of God, but falls more terribly upon the wicked (1 Peter 4:17, 18). They may well tremble before "Him that can destroy both soul and body in hell."
(4) The man of God came not to the sepulchre of his fathers, yet was mourned over by one who had been a snare to him, but to whom he had been made a blessing. There are strange reciprocities.
II. THE FULFILMENT WAS ATTENDED BY REMARKABLE SIGNS.
1. Miracle controlled the instincts of animals.
(1) The lion was moved, not by thirst for prey, but by revenge. But this revenge was the Lord's. The animal had suffered nothing from the hand of the man of God.
(2) Instinct was otherwise controlled. For here were the lion and the ass together watching the carcase. The ass did not fly from the face of the lion; neither did the lion molest the ass.
(3) Nor was this strange witnessing the accident of a momentary surprise. It was maintained while certain passengers, who first observed it, journeyed to the city and reported it; and until, in consequence, the old prophet, divining its import, came upon the scene.
2. Here let us admire the Divine resources.
(1) He that moved upon the instincts of the lion and the ass was the same who made the representatives of the animal creation defile before Adam to receive their names; who brought them into the ark of Noah; restrained the lions from injuring Daniel; the same who, in the days of His flesh, dwelt among the wild beasts in the wilderness, and who controlled the movements of fishes in the depths (Mark 1:13; Matthew 17:27; Luke 5:4-7). This power over the instincts of the lion and ass is but a sample of corresponding dominion over every department of nature. And the resources of this power are the resources of justice and mercy.
3. But what is the mystical meaning of the signs?
(1) The death of the man of God was judgment for his complicity with the sin of Ephraim in eating and drinking in that polluted place. So it was the last of the series of warnings to Jeroboam before the abandonment of his house to destruction (see ver. 33).
(2) The lion that inflicted the penalty was the symbol of Judah, of its royalty, and especially of Shiloh, in whom that royalty culminated. Hence Messiah is described as the "Lion of the tribe of Judah" (see Genesis 49:9, 10; Revelation 5:5). Of this glorious Lion, Josiah was to be a type. Messiah visits the sin of Ephraim in the apostasy of the son of Nebat, and the sin of Judah for complicity in its abominations (see Hosea 5:14). So in like manner will He strike down the forms of apostasy extant in these latter times.
(3) The ass was the symbol of Issachar (Genesis 49:14, 15); but not of Judah; for it is difficult to justify the translation in verse 11, which is better rendered, "and him shall the peoples obey; binding up the shoots of the vine, and the branches of the choice vine."
(4) As the ass stood as a witness of this judgment of God upon the sin of Jeroboam, and then carried the carcase away to be buried, so "Baasha, the son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar," destroyed and put out of sight the house of Jeroboam, fulfilling the prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite (ch. 15:27-30). How manifold is the wisdom of God! How deep are His judgments! - J.A.M.
I. THE OLD PROPHET SOUGHT MERCY.
1. His conduct expressed repentance.
(1) He went out for the corpse of the man of God, and brought it to his home, discerning the hand of God in the judgment. Looking now upon that ghastly form of death he saw his own sad work. He had caused a mischief he could not now repair. How inadequately men estimate beforehand the consequences of their wrong doing! (9.) He decently interred the body in his own grave. This was the only reparation now within his power for the injury he had caused, But how inadequate! What a bitter thought!
(3) He "mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother!" This exclamation (הוי אחי) was the refrain of a lamentation (see Jeremiah 22:18). Ward, in his "Manners and Customs of the Hindoos," gives two specimens of such lamentations. There are frequent allusions to these in the prophets (see Jeremiah 30:7; Ezekiel 6:11; Joel 1:15; Amos 5:16, 17; Revelation 18:10-19). With the old prophet this was more than a conventional mourning, he mourned for himself before God.
2. His conduct also expressed faith.
(1) He commanded his sons, when he died, to lay his bones beside those of the man of God. He believed him to be a man of God in reality, notwithstanding this single act of disobedience for which he had suffered death. There are "sins unto death," viz., of the body, which do not involve the final death of the soul. He desired to be with him in the resurrection. The concern of the ancients respecting the disposition of their bodies after death arose out of their faith in a resurrection (see Genesis 1:24 26; Exodus 13:19; Hebrews 11:22; see also 2 Kings 13:20, 21).
(2) He gave as the reason of his command the faith he had in the certainty of the prophecy of the man of God (ver. 32). And in further testimony of his faith put an inscription on the tomb (see 2 Kings 23:17). He desired to be associated in death with the denouncers of Jeroboam's sin rather than with those involved in that sin. Nor would he be identified in the judgment with perverters of true worship.
(3) By this faith his bones were spared when those of the priests and votaries of Jeroboam were burnt upon the altar by Josiah (see 2 Kings 23:19). By a corresponding faith shall we be saved from the judgments of the more illustrious Son of David upon the man of sin of the mystical Babylon.
II. BUT JEROBOAM ENCOUNTERED THE EXTREMITY OF WRATH.
1. He disregarded the goodness of God.
(1) The conditional promises by the hand of Ahijah were very gracious (1 Kings 11:37-39). What a magnificent opportunity he had! But he missed it.
(2) What opportunities have we wasted? Who can estimate their value? No opportunity of glorifying God should escape us.
2. He disregarded his remonstrances.
(1) The judgments upon Rehoboam were lessons to him. The same God who in them visited the sins of Solomon had also set him upon the throne of Israel, and would deal with him upon the same principles. But he sinned against this admonition.
(2) Then came the warning from the man of God at the altar. That God was in this warning was left without doubt by the signs (vers. 3-6). These staggered him for a moment; but there was no true repentance.
(3) Then came the final warning in the death of the man of God for being implicated, though by a deception, in his sin. This also was shown to be from God by miraculous signs (ver. 64). But this also he disregarded (ver. 33).
(4) Now, therefore, the law of extremity must take its course. He and his house are devoted to destruction (ver. 34). This last warning was written in letters of blood. God gave it to Him at the expense of His own servant. And He warns us at the expense of His own Son; and if we finally reject Christ the extremity of mercy is spurned, and we must encounter the extremity of wrath. - J.A.M.