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Bible Commentaries

Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary

1 Kings 13

Verses 1-10

First Kings - Chapter 13

Calf Idol Cursed, Verses 1-10

At this juncture of Jeroboam’s inauguration of his new system of worship there occurred a very significant event. It was full of import for the king and his kingdom and contains a mighty example for the Lord’s servants in every age. The major character is unnamed, known only to God. He is simply identified as "a man of God out of Judah." It has been suggested that he was a young man, as compared to the old prophet who disastrously delayed him in Bethel. But this is only a conjecture.

For the purpose of correctly evaluating and applying this incident the reader needs to disregard the chapter division. Chapter 12 ended with King Jeroboam standing before his calf altar in Bethel, instituting his new feast by sacrifices and the burning of incense. Now, with chapter 13, he is standing so occupied when the man of God from Judah arrives and utters his prophecy against the idol altar. The altar itself is addressed and the prophecy involves it. In time to come a child will be born in the lineage of David, whom Jeroboam and his cohorts have so despised, who will be named Josiah (which means "the Lord heals"). This young prince will defile the calf altar by burning the bones of the false priests upon it (see 2 Kings 23:15-18). As sign of the certainty of the prophecy the altar would be rent and its ashes spilled out upon the ground.

When Jeroboam heard these words against his altar and his worship he stretched out his arm toward the prophet with the command to apprehend him. Immediately his hand and arm were paralyzed in that position, and the king could not draw it back to him. At the same time the altar split open and its ashes poured out. The sign proved that the prophet had indeed spoken by divine authority, and he must acknowledge it, for the sake of his maiming if for no other.

Jeroboam found himself at the mercy of the God whom he had defied and dependent on God’s spokesman for restoration of his health.

He begged for the restoration of his limb, and the prophet graciously called for the Lord to restore it. When the Lord had complied with the prayer of the prophet to restore Jeroboam’s arm, the king became very solicitous of the prophet. He urged him to come to his house for refreshment and to receive a reward for his deed of restoring the king.

Perhaps Jeroboam wanted to persuade the prophet to take a more favorable attitude toward his new system of worship, and thought, perhaps, thus to invoke God to favor his new scheme.

The prophet had instructions from the Lord and refused to com­promise them at that point. The king was told that the prophet would not enter his house if he should give him half of his wealth. The Lord had charged him that he should not eat bread or drink water at Bethel, nor return to his home in Judah by the same route he had gone to Bethel. Therefore he departed by a different road.

There is a great spiritual analogy in the Lord’s commands to the prophet. As he should not eat and drink in the place of the idol altar of Bethel, so the Lord’s servants today should not fraternize the persons or places of false religion, and thus lend them their support. Neither should those who have begun for the Lord return over the old roads of the world traversed in coming to Him (Lu 9:62). Many are prone to dwell too much on the past, and the here and now, losing sight of the future (Philippians 3:13-14).

Verses 11-19

A Weary prophet, Verses 11-19

The prophet out of Judah is a prime example of those who `grow weary in well doing" (Galatians 6:9), stopped before he got back where he belonged, and came to tragedy. However, another prophet is introduced now, a resident of Bethel, who had also evidently grown "weary in well doing." Here he must have been, sitting at home, opposed to the new religion, but keeping quiet, discouraged, and resigned to doing nothing to alter the situation. Perhaps he was resentful that a prophet from another area came and preached the message which he had been afraid and unwilling to preach. To get even he went after the prophet from Judah to cause him to violate the Lord’s commission. It is sad, but true, that there have always been those bitter persons who will try to justify themselves by pulling down others who are trying to do the right thing (Philippians 3:18-19).

The younger generation had fallen in with the new religion and were in attendance at the festival of Jeroboam. The old prophet had not taught his sons to stand for the truth, and his example told them it did not matter what one believed. It was these who brought him the news of the exciting occurrence at the dedication of the altar and caused him to set off enviously after the prophet of Judah.

The old prophet of Bethel never should have overtaken the prophet out of Judah. The prophet of Judah stopped before his journey finished. The Lord had very clearly told him to return, and he had not done so. So he was caught. He was still aware that he should comply with the Lord’s command, for when accosted by the old prophet he replied that he had it by the very word of the Lord. That he wanted to rest a while is apparent. Clearly he desired a change in the Lord’s requirement and was therefore deluded by the old prophet’s lie. The old prophet persuaded him to return home with him and there rest, eat and drink, before resuming his journey. He told him an angel had spoken to him and sent him to bring the prophet of Judah back to his house. He doubtless knew better than to believe such, but it is what he desired, and he succumbed. The word of the Lord even supersedes that of angels (Galatians 1:8-9).

Verses 20-34

Prophet Slain, verses 20-34

It is hard to reconcile the behavior of the old prophet of Judah. It is apparent that he knew the Lord and spoke in his name. That he was terribly backslidden is evident. That he grossly abused and set a stumblingblock in the path of his brother in the ministry is humanly unforgivable. That the Lord can and does forgive the most onerous sins is also admissible. No record exists of what the Lord thought of the old prophets conduct, nor of what kind of judgment befell him for his terrible falsehood and delusion. A lesson might be gleaned herein, that the young ministers should be cautious of following the leadership of older ones whose dedication to the Lord is not proven to them. Usually an older preacher can give sage counsel to the younger, but the test of the Scriptures would be applied as Paul gave it to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:12).

How astounded the prophet from Judah must have been when the old prophet was suddenly possessed of the Lord to cry out to him with words of doom for his disobedience. The very architect of his fall is the annunciator of his doom! But is this not appropriate? His sin had found him out, indeed (Numbers 32:23)! The prophet of Judah while satisfying his carnal desires learns the price of his spiritual lapse. His testimony was annulled, his ministry shipwrecked and bankrupt. His useful life for the Lord was finished, for he had failed to hold his body in subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27).

The Judaean prophet could not escape his destiny. The old prophet even helped him on his way to his rendezvous, which he had foretold would be before he reached his home again. His body would never rest in the sepulchres of his fathers. Very shortly on his road a lion came out, killed him, and stood by his body there in the road. A strange sight was reported in Bethel that day by travelers. They had seen a lion standing by the body of a dead man, but not eating it, while a donkey stood there also, docile and unfearful.

When the news reached the old prophet of Bethel he knew at once what had happened. Again he commanded his sons to saddle the donkey for him, and again he went out after the man of God from Judah. He found him as reported, with the lion and donkey still standing guard as it were, teaching all who observed the terror of disobeying the known will of God (Hebrews 10:31). The body was taken up by the old prophet, brought into the city on the donkey. There he buried him in his own tomb and mourned over him. The old prophet had much to mourn for; his own failure to stand against the sin of Jeroboam, his shameful part in the fall of the man of God, the emasculation of the message of the prophet out of Judah to Jeroboam, and the untimely demise of a man of God because of disobedience to his calling.

The old prophet gave instruction to his sons that he should be buried in the same tomb, with the bones of the prophet of Judah, for his prophecy concerning defilement of the altar by Josiah would surely come to pass. He wished to preserve his own tomb against the time when the bones of false ministers would be desecrated and burned on the pagan altar. His scheme succeeded (2 Kings 23:18).

The saddest part of the sequel is the reaction of King Jeroboam. He had a marvelous demonstration of God that day, which he could not deny. It consisted of a dire warning concerning his new religion and what would transpire from it. But when he saw the spokesman of the word suddenly cut off by a divine stroke .for disobedience he must have discounted the import of what had been told him. Anyway the Scriptures say he did not turn back from his plans, continuing to elevate the lowest of men into the priesthood and to set up high places for the worship of his calves. He may have been "almost persuaded", but how could he believe in a message from a prophet who is suddenly stricken by divine judgment? This thing became the sin by which the house of Jeroboam was for ever to be remembered, and in the short run to seal his physical destruction.

Many good lessons should be learned from this incident. By way of summary note: 1) though one refuse, the Lord will raise up another to preach His word and sound His warning against sin; 2) evil opposers cannot successfully frustrate God’s word; 3) weariness in the Lord’s work may be weakness in the faith; 4) weakness of faith allows one to fall into bad situations; 5) one should be on constant guard against those who lead them astray; 6) to fail God is to encourage the failure of His word previously spoken by the one who has failed.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Blessed Hope Foundation and the Baptist Training Center.
Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 1 Kings 13". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/1-kings-13.html. 1985.