1 Kings 13:11-32
Now there dwelled 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…
This passage forms part of a very remarkable narrative. The miraculous element is so prominent that certain critics would have the chapter expunged from Holy Scripture. The natural and the supernatural are closely interwoven, as are the woof and web of a fabric, and the destruction of either would be the practical dissolution of the whole; indeed, nowhere is this more manifestly true than in the life and death, in the resurrection and ascension, in the works and claims of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Who was this bold prophet? Josephus identified him with Iddo, the seer; but the statement is merely conjectural. The man must remain nameless, as he is left in this chapter.
I. THE MESSAGE DELIVERED BY THIS NAMELESS PROPHET.
1. Its divine origin is expressly asserted in the second verse: "he cried... in the word of the Lord." This is a remarkable phrase. It is not said that he cried the word of God, but that he cried "in" it — as if his message were the sphere in which he lived, the atmosphere he breathed. Nothing could more forcibly suggest the source from which all religious teachers draw their power. It is the consciousness of having a Divine message, the sureness of a Divine call, the confidence that what they have to say is "the Word of the Lord," which is the sign of the true prophet.
2. The definite nature of this message deserves attention. The very name of the avenger, Josiah, is mentioned, though it was 300 years before he was born; and it was distinctly foretold that idolatrous priests would be slain on the altar erected in defiance of God, and that the site now being set apart for heathen worship would be defiled and dis-honoured by the bones of the dead. Centuries elapsed before the fulfillment of this threat, but it came at last, and came at the appointed time, proclaiming to all future ages this solemn truth, which it is madness to ignore: "the wages of sin is death." God's punishments are never arbitrary. They are the legitimate issues of the crime or vice they belong to. The sinner is destroyed by his own sin. And this is in harmony with all that we know of God's works. Science is showing the links between cause and effect with ever-growing clearness and certainty; and the doctrine of evolution reveals that limbs may perish by disuse or may be developed by necessities of life in new surroundings. This is true everywhere, not least in the punishments and privations threatened in Scripture, here and hereafter.
II. THE COURAGE HE DISPLAYED. His boldness it is not easy to overrate. It was the consciousness the prophet had that he was God's messenger that gave him this heroism. It was this which prepared Moses to dare the wrath of Pharaoh, this which nerved Elijah to stand alone face to face with the prophets of Baal; this which enabled Peter and John undauntedly to face the Sanhedrim; and this which made Ambrose, and Knox, and Luther, and Zwingli types of a truer heroism than any field of battle has revealed.
III. THE SAFETY OF THE PROPHET was assured, and credentials of his commission were given, when the altar was suddenly cleft in twain, and all the ashes poured out. We see nothing incredible here, or in many other miraculous signs mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. Supernatural signs are surely the legitimate evidences of a supernatural revelation. They are simply the assertion of the supremacy of the spiritual and unseen over the material and visible; and if we really believe that the things seen were not made of things which do appear, we need not be incredulous when evidences of the existence of these are given. Among the phenomena of Nature, we all know that a mountain may be still and silent for ages, villages cluster around its base, men toil and children play on its sides, and they have no suspicion that it is volcanic; but at last the subterranean fires may burst out, and just as that force, long hidden, asserts itself within the limits of half-known law: so it may be, so it has been, within the limits of unknown law. Our Lord Jesus Christ boldly said of His own miracles: "If ye believe not Me, believe the works," the works which modern admirers of His moral teaching would rule out of court! — and the apostles put the resurrection of Christ, which some would explain away, into the very forefront of Christian evidences.
IV. THE TEMPTATION HE RESISTED, to which our text alludes. Jeroboam failed in the use of violence; but, nothing daunted, he sought to overcome the messenger of Jehovah by craft. Doubtless there are many who have had such conflicts and conquests. Tempted to sin, you have replied: "How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Sitting among the sinners, when you could not avoid them, you did not approve their mockery even by the faintest smile. Able to win wealth and position, you resolutely refused to stoop to do what you knew was base and false. In such hours of triumph I would entreat you most vividly to remember, and most humbly to acknowledge, that the victory came only through Him that loved you, or you may ultimately experience the fall which came to the prophet after his first victory was won.
V. THE SECOND TEMPTATION, which we must not overlook, was successful and fatal. It came from an "old prophet," who lived near by, who approached his fellow-servant when he was tired, and who, professing to have received message from God, induced him to enter his house in Bethel, and thus to disobey the command of the Lord. If it be asked why this temptation succeeded, while that of Jeroboam failed, we should attribute it to the self-complacence and self-confidence engendered by successful resistance to the king, and to the sense of false security which generally succeeds in a crisis of peril. Evidence of this is seen in the fact that he rested under a terebinth, instead of pressing homeward, as he had been told to do.
1. Learn from this that the conquest of one evil often leads to an assault from another.
2. Learn also that it is a perilous thing to linger in a scene of temptation, though for a time we may have to go into it in order to do God's work. If this prophet had not rested, instead of hurrying forward, he would not have been overtaken before he crossed the border line of safety between the two kingdoms.
VI. THE TRIFLING DISOBEDIENCE which brought about so terrible a retribution. It seemed a very small offence to go home with a brother prophet for pleasant, and perhaps profitable, intercourse. But there was no doubt about the will of God in this matter. An act may seem as trifling as that; and yet it may involve a momentous principle. It was a small thing for Eve to take the fruit of the tree; but it was an act of direct disobedience, and therefore brought death into the world, and all our woe. It is in what we call trifles that God tests our obedience and love.
(A. Rowland, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.
WEB: Now there lived an old prophet in Bethel; and one of his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel. They also told their father the words which he had spoken to the king.