There’s a perplexing story found in 1 Kings that greatly intrigued me as I was beginning to see the relevance of Torah for modern believers. I say perplexing, because the story is a sad one, and can even appear to be unfair. It’s certainly not one that is easily understood, but I think there’s some important lessons we can learn from it nonetheless.
I encourage you to read the story yourself, directly from 1 Kings 13. Here’s my summary: A “man of God” is told to prophesy against the actions of apostate King Jeroboam. He obeys, and when the king orders the man of God to be taken, the altar is miraculously broken apart and the king’s hand is crippled. The king then asks the man of God to pray for healing and YHWH heals fully. When the king asks the man of God to come home with him and be refreshed, the man tells him that he cannot – YHWH had clearly told him to not eat bread or drink water or return to his home by the same way.
The sons of an “old prophet” must have witnessed the events, and they told their father about everything the man of God had done. The old prophet immediately went and found the man, and asked him to come home with him. The man of God replied as he had to the king – YHWH had clearly told him to not eat bread or drink water or return to his home by the same way. However, the old prophet lies, telling the man that YHWH has said to bring him to his home. So, the man of God went with the old prophet, and ate and drank with him.
As the man of God sits in the home with the old prophet, YHWH’s word comes to the prophet, and the man of God is told that because he has disobeyed the clear instructions YHWH gave him, he is going to die. He leaves, and on his way home a lion kills him. Both the lion, and the donkey that the man of God had been riding stand by the dead body, looking on. When the old prophet hears about it, he goes to collect the body, and buries the man in his own grave, saying that he wants to one day be buried beside this man of God.
As I said in my opening words – perplexing, isn’t it!? A sad story that doesn’t end with any warm, fuzzy feelings. A lying prophet seems to have no consequences, and another man who faithfully delivers YHWH’s message is then killed by Him. What can we possibly make of all this?
I think this whole story makes more sense when we remove a lot of the details and the emotional response we have, and look at what the man of God actually did in the account. Boiling it down to three main points, we see that the man of God received a clear command from YHWH, he disobeyed the command and then, after his disobedience was shown to him, he was punished.
So, we can see that it was disobedience that resulted in the death of the man of God. Disobeying YHWH is sin – pure and simple. We all know that, right? But, when we add the details back into the story, there’s some important lessons for us, I believe. Let’s look a little closer at how, and why, this disobedience played out.
Firstly, we see that the man of God actually obeyed YHWH without hesitation when the king asked him to come back with him (v8). King Jeroboam was clearly a man that had forsaken the ways of YHWH. He had set up two golden calves for his people to worship and had changed the holy days. The man of God knew the king was not someone he could trust, and he was not going to do anything that went against the clear word of YHWH.
However, with the old prophet, things were different. For some reason, the man of God was quickly and easily deceived into disobeying exactly the same clear word of YHWH (v19). So, what was the difference, and is it important for us to understand?
The old prophet was not an obvious danger. He was a “religious” man, and a fellow prophet (v18) – someone trustworthy, it was assumed. Yet, the man of God did not actually know the old prophet. He was simply operating by assumptions, and when the lie was given, he fell straight into the trap. Without hesitation, he disobeyed YHWH’s command simply because he trusted the words of a stranger.
Perhaps this is a danger for us also!? If someone like the local, foul-mouthed atheist told us to do something that opposed YHWH’s written word, we wouldn’t think twice about ignoring them. However, would we have the same reaction to anyone who spoke similar words? What about a famous Rabbi or Christian teacher, what about writings from the “church fathers” or long-held denominational doctrines, what about doctors and medical specialists? Are we still going to hold to YHWH’s clear word or be swayed by people we believe are trustworthy? I think we can even go one step further, and ask the question – what about the people we actually know? Our families and friends?
Everything can begin to blur when a respected person tells us to disobey. These people will often add an explanation, or a reason to disobey (just like the old prophet did). Our eyes are taken off the clear command, and we begin to question its validity in different circumstances. In the end, it doesn’t matter how we are deceived. The question always is – will we obey our Heavenly Father or not?!
One way that we can understand the deception of the lie from the old prophet, is to see how the newer command supposedly overrides the older command. This is most likely how the man of God must have so easily fallen for the lie – newer replaces older. But, does Scripture ever tell us that this is the way of our Creator? Aren’t we told that our God’s word is faithful (“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for He is faithful that promised”. Heb 10:23) and that He doesn’t change (“For I am YHWH, I change not”. Mal 3:6a)!? So, how can a new command replace an older command? I think this story helps us to understand – it can’t!
Unfortunately, much of Christianity actually teaches this idea to some degree. Commands about food we can eat have changed, commands about the Sabbath and the holy days we are to observe have been removed or altered and in modern times, commands about sexual sin and the roles of gender have been swept aside for the “new and improved” modern ways. The challenge for us is to decide if we are going to change to the new ways, or stay with the clear commands given to us long ago. We must choose wisely, because the consequences may be far greater than we expect.
I need to reiterate that there is deception involved with all of this. Certain things may seem quite clear to us, until we find ourselves in a situation where, suddenly, it all seems much less so. In the story, we have a man called “the old prophet” who is actually delivering a “new message”, and even as we read through the story, we can miss that obvious fact. In our real life situations, this can be missed even easier – particularly if our lives are not grounded in the word of YHWH.
This story perhaps gives us a different understanding of deception than most of us naturally assume. Remember, it was not the lying, old prophet that died – but the one who did not obey the word of YHWH. The deception of the man of God did not exempt him from consequences. The deception of Eve (Chavah) in the Garden of Eden did not exempt her either. Perhaps this is why Yeshua said many times, “do not be deceived”. If we are deceived, we are obviously [at least] partly at fault. This is heavy stuff! It is something we need to take very seriously if we truly desire to live in the footsteps of our Messiah.
Let’s consider the old prophet for a bit. We can learn some valuable lessons by examining the man of God, but what if we are actually more like the old prophet!? We now understand that the old prophet was a deceiver. However, I think we can also see that he did not deceive out of any form of hatred towards the man of God. So why did he lie and deceive him? Don’t you find that strange? He went out of his way to find this man of God, and wanted him in his home no matter what it took.
As I’ve thought through this, I can only assume that the old prophet was attracted to all that the man of God stood for. His sons had told him that the man spoke the words that YHWH had given him with boldness, and he would not compromise even for the King of Israel. Perhaps the old prophet had begun to slip away from the truth and had stopped hearing YHWH’s voice. Finding this man of God may have reminded him of his own life in former years, and spending time together may be just what he needed!
If the old prophet’s motives were actually good, then the selfish way he made things happen, definitely weren’t. In effect, his actions brought about the death of the man of God. You see, in his deception he was actually promoting the idea that YHWH changes. We looked at this earlier, but this time it has a different slant to it. With the man of God, the issue was that he was willing to believe that YHWH could change His command. But now, with the old prophet, he is actually the one stating or teaching that YHWH changes His ways. We must be very careful we don’t do the same thing!
So, we can hear things that are wrong, and be deceived into thinking they’re correct. But, we can also teach about YHWH’s commands changing, which encourages deception within the hearer. Obviously, we can think of pastors and teachers, but what about a mother or father as they raise their children? Couldn’t this be considered the ultimate deception – indoctrinating the young with ungodly teaching and ideas. I’m not judging or pointing my finger at anyone here. My wife and I have eight children of our own, and I know I have been imperfect in the ways I have taught and lived before my family. This message of inadvertently teaching that YHWH changes is a sobering message, but one that any wise follower of Him should truly take to heart. The old prophet may not have been killed for his indiscretion, but remember, he was partly responsible for the death of the man he spoke to!
It was a lion that killed the man of God as he traveled back to his home. I’m sure this was not a common occurrence, but also assume that it was not unheard of in those days either. What was amazing and unusual, is the fact that the lion had not eaten the dead man, nor touched the donkey. Added to that, both the lion and the donkey remained standing there, looking upon the man of God’s body laying upon the ground (v28). These unnatural things show us that it was truly an act of YHWH. The old prophet knew it, when he said, “It is the man of God, who was disobedient to the word of YHWH. Therefore, YHWH has delivered him unto the lion, which has torn him, and slain him, according to the word of YHWH, which he spoke unto him” (v26).
With the story’s end, we are left with great hope that the old prophet had a life changing experience. He buried the man of God in his own tomb and gave orders to bury his body in the same tomb when he died. His stated reason for this was that the prophecy given by the man of God was true, and would certainly come to pass (v32). A true word given by YHWH will stand and cannot be changed.
The account we read in 1 Kings 13 is not really a salvation message, but rather, a message that speaks of man’s obedience to YHWH’s commands. Many people may hear a message like this and condemn it as teaching a works-based salvation. It is nothing of the sort. However, perhaps it is that very argument that has been used for a long time to deceive many into disobedience!? Yes, it is of paramount importance that each of us truly enter into the Kingdom of YHWH, but the story we have looked at here, teaches us that obedience is far from unimportant in the eyes of our Father. Let’s not ignore these lessons, and let’s not be deceived or be the deceivers of our day!
Also check out an older post with a similar lesson … Are We Bereans?