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Bible study

The Bible Reading Club: Bible Study – Prophet and loss (1 Kings 13:18)

Today’s Reading: 1 Kings 13-16

Today’s Reflection: 1 Kings 13:18

And he said to him, “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.'” But he lied to him.

 

What is this text saying?

God had sent a prophet from Judah to Bethel with an important message for king Jeroboam (1 Kings 13:1-6).  God had also given this prophet very specific instructions.  He was told not to eat any bread or drink any water until he had returned from his mission (1 Kings 13:7-9).  However on his way home, this prophet from Judah encountered another prophet who lived in Bethel and who invited the prophet from Judah to eat with him.  The prophet from Judah informed the other prophet of his instructions from the Lord not to eat or drink.  The prophet from Bethel lied, and told him he’d heard from the Lord that he was allowed to eat, which the prophet from Judah then did.

 

Why is it important?

First of all some background: the mission the prophet from Judah was sent on was no minor errand.  This took place after the nation of Israel was split in two, and different kings ruled each portion.  The tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to the rule of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, following the lineage of King David, and formed the Southern kingdom of Judah.  The rest of the tribes of Israel rejected Rehoboam’s rule and chose Jeroboam to be their king (1 Kings 12:16-20).  The remaining ten tribes formed the Northern kingdom of Israel.  But the centre of worship for both Israel and Judah was still the altar of God located in the city of Jerusalem in Judah’s territory.

Jeroboam feared that if the people of Israel returned to Judah to sacrifice to God their loyalty might return to the house of David and the rule of Rehoboam.  So Jeroboam decided to build his own altar, his own god, and his own feast days in an effort to maintain his position as King of Israel.  It was just as Jeroboam was beginning to publicly institute this false system of worship that the prophet of Judah arrived to prophesy against it and bring about its destruction.

This prophet from Judah was charged with re-affirming the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob among all of the peoples of the Northern Kingdom.  His role went beyond the message he brought and the miracles he performed—he was to be a living witness of the authority and power of the Lord, the one and only true God, and thus his obedience of the specific instructions given to him was to be a reflection of this.  When the prophet disobeyed—even though he had been deceived—God judged him harshly (1 Kings 13:20-22).  As he returned to Judah a lion killed him and left his body on display as a witness of the consequences of his unfaithfulness.  When the prophet of Bethel heard of this, he mourned for his fellow prophet and arranged for the burial of his body.

 

How can I apply this?

There are two crucial lessons this text teaches us:

1) We must know God’s Word for ourselves:  The prophet of Bethel was a real prophet and a contemporary of the prophet of Judah.  As a matter of ‘professional courtesy’ one might assume that one prophet would never lie to another.  It would seem the prophet of Judah made this fatal assumption, but obviously this was not the case.  While I don’t believe the prophet of Bethel had malicious intent towards the prophet of Judah, or that he realized what the implications of his actions would be, clearly he was motivated by something other than obedience to God when he chose to lie.

In our lives there may be people who claim to speak for God but at times may be motivated by things other than obedience to God.  Following the guidance of people like this, regardless of their intentions, can lead to disastrous consequences.  This highlights the importance of knowing God, knowing His Word, and knowing how to hear from Him for yourself.

2) We must adhere to God’s instructions, despite what makes sense to us:  The prophet had had a long journey and a challenging mission.  For him to pause to enjoy the refreshment of a meal before returning was totally reasonable and logical.  To our way of thinking.  But God’s ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8).  God was making a statement by having His prophet not partake of the food or drink of a nation wavering in obedience to Him, as Israel was at the time.  But the prophet’s disobedience compromised this statement and this witness to Israel.

We may not fully understand why God asks something of us.  The reason may not be clear to us immediately, or ever.  What we can be certain of is that if God asks us to do something, He has a reason.  A reason that will require you to do exactly as He asks in exactly the way that He asks.  Even though our lives may not depend on perfect obedience to God’s commands, the lives and salvation of others who bear witness to our actions just might.

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