We are preparing to look at the life of Elijah. But before we can understand the purpose and work of Elijah, we need to understand the world that he was sent to preach in. We noticed in our last lesson that Jeroboam, who is the king of the northern nation now referred to as Israel, has not trusted in God’s promises that were made to him. He fears that his people, when they go to Jerusalem to worship the Lord, will decide that they want Rehoboam to be their king. So Jeroboam sets up worship in Israel and tells them that worship should be convenient and how it is too much trouble for them to go to Jerusalem (1 Kings 12:28). Not only do the people accept this, Jeroboam becomes emboldened to make all kinds of changes to the worship that he devised from his own heart. Just because we have a chapter break does not mean our scene has changed. The first verse of 1 Kings 13 shows that Jeroboam is at Bethel, the location of one of gold calves, where he is making offerings along with the rest of the people of Israel (1 Kings 12:33). So God has a message to a number of people in 1 Kings 13. This message is very important for the life of Israel and a very important message for our lives and our walk with the Lord.
God’s Message (13:1-10)
A man of God, which is another name for a prophet, comes to Bethel where Jeroboam and Israel are making their offerings to the Lord. The man of God declares a prophecy to this altar. He says that a future king named Josiah, who comes from the lineage of David, will sacrifice on this altar these false priests of the high places. Human bones are going to be burned on this altar. Further, the man of God says that he will give a sign that this will happen. This altar will be split apart and the ashes that are on it will be poured out. When Jeroboam hears this prophecy, which is a clear condemnation of the worship he has established, stretches out his hand and commands to seize this prophet. But the hand he stretched out to give that command withered so that he could not bring his hand back in (13:4). Then the altar splits apart just as God said through this prophet (13:5). That will get your attention.
Jeroboam asks the man of God to plead for the favor of the Lord so that his hand would be restored. So the man of God interceded for Jeroboam and the king’s hand was restored to him. The king now wants to reward the prophet. He asks the prophet to come to his home for a meal and to receive a gift. Now you can imagine what a meal and what a gift that the king could give this prophet who has restored his withered hand. But the man of God responds that even if he were offered half of the king’s possessions, he would not go with the king because the Lord commanded him to not eat food, drink water, or go back the way he came (13:9). So the man of God leaves, obeying the word of the Lord, going a different road than he took when he came. Now you are left to wonder what this will do to Jeroboam. Will this change Jeroboam’s life? Will this impact him at all? The answer is not given to us yet. We will be told about Jeroboam’s response at the end of the chapter. But God wants us to see something else first. We need to follow the man of God back home.
Who Do You Believe? (13:11-34)
There is an old prophet who lived in Bethel. It is interesting that the scriptures do call him a prophet. His sons told him about everything that had happened at the altar in Bethel. So the old prophet gets on a donkey to track down this man of God who has proclaimed this message against Jeroboam and the altar. The old prophet finds the man of God under an oak tree and invites him to come to his house to eat with him. The man of God gives the same response that he gave to Jeroboam. He cannot eat bread, drink water, or return by the road he came (13:16-17).
The old prophet tells the man of God that an angel told him to bring him back to his house so that he can eat bread and drink water with him. But you will notice at the end of verse 18 that we are told that the old prophet was lying to him. We are not told anything about this old prophet. We do not know why he is lying to the man of God. It is not the point of the text, as much as we want to know the motivation.
Instead, what we are told is that the man of God went with the old prophet to his house and ate and drank. While they are at the table, the word of the Lord does come to the old prophet with a message for the man of God. The message is found in verse 21. You have defied the word of the Lord and have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. You did not do what God told you to do. The man of God leaves the old prophet and a lion met him while on the way, killing him. His body was left lying on the road, but the lion did not eat the body or the lion. When the old prophet heard about it, he declared that the Lord did this because he defied the word of the Lord.
The old prophet takes his sons to go get the body and bring it back to his own city for burial. Rather than being buried in Judah with his ancestors, he is buried with Israel with the ancestors of this false prophet.
There are two key messages that are given to Israel and to us as we learn from these events. First, we must believe the word of the Lord regardless of what other people say. This event gives us difficulty because we feel bad for the man of God. The man of God was deceived by the old prophet. It is the old prophet’s fault that this happened to him. The lion should go eat the old prophet for what he did, not the man of God who had been deceived. Certainly the old prophet sinned for what he did and would be held in account for it. But that is not the point of the text. The point of this event is to show us we bear the responsibility to know what is the word of the Lord and to carefully follow the word of the Lord. We cannot make the excuse that we were deceived by a preacher or teacher. We cannot make the excuse that we were deceived by a church. If we lived during that time we would not even be able to make the excuse that we were deceived by a false prophet. Do you remember what the apostle Paul said? Paul said that he did not care if an apostle or an angel from heaven should preach something to you, if it is contrary to the revealed gospel, we are to rejected it and understand that the one who spoke it is accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).
Friends, there is so much religious noise and so many different teachings about God, about Jesus, about the Spirit, about salvation, about eternity, and the like. We are responsible for learning the word of God for ourselves and holding on to that word, regardless of what anyone else says. You should never, ever believe anything I say simply because I say it. You should only believe what I say because you read it in God’s word. God’s word is our only authority. It is so sad that there are so many who deceive, whether innocently or intentionally, with the word of God. It is why I want every lesson to be an exposition of the scriptures because it is the scriptures, not my ideas, that are authoritative. Who cares what I say or anyone else says! We care about what God says and we learn what he says in his word.
This also means that the scriptures cannot be twisted or rejected for experiences, opinions, or feelings. We cannot be upset with some sins and not others. We have a fine way of proclaiming from the rooftops the horror of the sins that we do not commit. But we often are not interested in proclaiming the sins we want to overlook with the same fervor. We look for a way around God’s laws because of our own experiences. I can get a divorce because you do not understand what I am going through. I can commit sexual immorality because you do not know what my life is like. Further, we try to find other people who will agree with our sin. I cannot tell you how often someone will make a life decision that clearly violates God’s will but will validate it because they found some preacher or teacher who agrees with that person. That is not how we define God’s will. It does not matter what other people teach. God is the only authority. I had this happen when I was young and beginning to preach and an older man wanted me to listen to all other these other preachers to show me that I was wrong. Just because you can find someone to agree with you does not make you right. Only the word of God determines if we are right or wrong. We can line up all kinds of false teachers and even have the majority with us and still be wrong. Jesus told us that it is a wide path that leads to destruction and many find it. There is no consolation for having a bunch of people agree with you. Like the man of God who was deceived by the old prophet, we might be deceived by what other people are telling us.
Second, we were left with a cliff hanger regarding Jeroboam. He had a significant life event happen to him. The man of God healed Jeroboam’s withered hand after hearing the declaration of God’s word about this altar and about the worship Jeroboam was establishing. What did Jeroboam do next? Look at verse 33.
Even after this, Jeroboam did not change his evil ways, but once more appointed priests for the high places from all sorts of people. Anyone who wanted to become a priest he consecrated for the high places. This was the sin of the house of Jeroboam that led to its downfall and to its destruction from the face of the earth. (1 Kings 13:33-34 NIV)
Jeroboam still rejected the word of the Lord. Jeroboam experienced a warning, mercy, and grace but nothing changed. He still did not do what God said. This will be the problem for Israel for generations until its destruction. Listen to what the prophet Isaiah said about a couple hundred years later.
I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2 CSB)
God wants people who are humble so that they bow at God’s word. They do not rewrite God’s word. They do not ignore God’s word. They allow God’s word to change them. Amazingly, Jeroboam was unchanged by what he experienced. But maybe we should not be too surprised because we can do the same thing. We have heard the word of the Lord. We have had intercession made on our behalf. We have experienced the mercy and grace of God. Yet what are we tempted to but continue doing what we were doing and not change from our evil ways. We continue to listen to our desires and our feelings rather that what the word of the Lord says to us.
In preparing us for the arrival of Elijah, the scriptures have presented two pictures so far. First, Israel wants worship to be convenient. Second, Israel will not listen when God has spoken. We cannot take the grace of God and reject what God has told us to do. When God has spoken, we must listen. We must approach God’s word with humility and submission. We must approach the word of God, trembling at what it says because it truly is the very words of God. God’s grace is to cause that submissive heart in us. Otherwise, we are no different than Jeroboam, taking God’s grace and rejecting it.