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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

1 Kings 13

Verses 1-34

1 Kings 13:1 . Bethel. See the notes on 1 Kings 12:0; 1 Kings 12:0. The man of God from Judah is called Jaddo by Josephus.

1 Kings 13:2 . Josiah. Cyrus is mentioned by name, as well as Josiah. Isaiah 44. 45.

1 Kings 13:9 . Nor return by the same way: a hint that if we have walked to the profane feasts of the wicked, we should return to Zion by a new and living way.

1 Kings 13:11 . An old prophet. The Chaldaic reads, a false prophet.

1 Kings 13:18 . An angel spake to me. Truly so; the devil prompted him to dishonour the prophet. What a caution, not to believe every spirit, but to “try the spirits,” by the sure tests of holiness and truth.

1 Kings 13:31 . Lay my bones with his bones. Here the LXX give us an erroneous paraphrase, “That my bones may be saved with his bones, when his prediction shall be fulfilled in burning men’s bones.”


We are again led on tragic ground, where we may gather some instruction. The Lord having raised up Jeroboam to scourge the haughty house of David, graciously restrained the vast army of Judah and Benjamin from commencing a civil war; for he was desirous first to afford the apostate king some milder tokens of his displeasure. We have seen in the preseding chapter, that the craft and the crimes of this king were very great. Instead of being grateful for past mercies, and relying on the Lord, he followed the idolatrous phantoms of his own mind, and attempted everything to secure the kingdom by policy. The better to deceive the people and allure them to his altar, he mimicked as far as possible, the temple worship. He appointed a feast of tabernacles for the consecration of his idols; and by his munificence, intended to make it a day of consummate gratification and joy to his people. An immense multitude were assembled to partake of the royal treat, and applaud the scheme. His new-made priests were sprinkled with the gore; and pleading the high example of Jacob on that identical spot, they made the lofty altar smoke like a mighty furnace. The king, perverted while in Egypt, and self-appointed as the first of priests, presumed to take coals from the altar and burn incense, while all the people, emboldened by his example, prostrated, at once to insult and adore the God of their fathers.

But mark now, when they were just about to glory in the devotion of the day, how God disconcerted all their joys, by tokens of his high displeasure. While all were prostrate before the calf, there was one stranger clothed in a rough garment, who stubbornly scorned to bow the knee; and this man, waiting a pause of silence, cried with a loud voice, Oh altar altar! Thus saith the Lord, behold a child shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name: and upon thee shall he offer the guilty priests who presume to burn incense, instead of innocent victims. Yea, he shall dig up the bones of thy priests, to burn them with the living. And this is the sign that the Lord will perform what he has spoken: Behold, the altar shall be rent; and its ashes, with all its victims and fat, shall be scattered. Here was a sign near, to confirm a very remote prediction. Here was a most luminous prophecy, which the darkness of idolatry could not obscure. The priests hearing their sentence, were appalled as criminals at the bar; the elders, confounded in their error, were silent; the king alone had courage to stretch forth his hand and order the prophet to be arrested. But his presuming hand was arrested; he could not draw it back; and the same power which paralyzed his hand, instantly rent the altar, and all their victims shamefully fell into the ash-pit, leaving the multitude affrighted and unpurged. In this sign the apostate Israelites had a full warning to approach that altar no more, lest God should for ever rend them from his covenant and favour. The king feeling the divine power, was also appalled, and supplicated mercy from the angry presence of God; for the men who are boldest in bidding defiance to threatenings, are often among the first to flinch when death stares them in the face. He became a humble suppliant to the prophet, whom but a moment before, he had undoubtedly doomed to die! Entreat now the face of the Lord thy God, that my hand may be restored. Aye; the wicked pray first of all that their pains may he removed. Why did he not pray to his new made calves? Ah, the wicked well know that their gods can do nothing for them in the day of trouble.

In this prophet we see the character of a divine minister of the first class. Entrusted with a high mission from God, he feared not the face of man. He approached the profane altar; he stood before the elevated king, surrounded by his nobles, his priests, his guards; he delivered the terrific message of God, nor softened the severity of its terms. And after the triumph, being still supported by the Lord, he refused the feast and high rewards of the king; he would neither eat bread, nor drink water in so foul a place; he retired with all the glory of sacred reverence, leaving the multitude covered with the greatest shame. Let us meekly learn of this blessed man to magnify our ministry. Let us faithfully deliver the counsel of God, and fairly accuse the wicked at his bar; and what have we to fear from priest or prince, from the rich or the poor, while God is our shield? Above all let us not eat bread at the wicked man’s table, so as to give him countenance, while he is resolved to retain his sins.

While God was thus displaying his power, and covering his cause with glory, it was high time for Satan to be busy, lest he should lose a kingdom which now promised him full sovereignty. The multitude were indeed vanquished, and by a single servant of God; but he had yet one friend in Bethel, an old prophet; and Satan has no faster friends than apostates in religion. The sons of this man went home, and recited to their father the sermon, the courage, and the prodigies of the man of God; and while they spake, their looks seemed to reproach him with bearing no resemblance, except in name, to so divine a person. The old man who had stayed at home during the declension, having long lost the spirit of his profession, now felt all the springing of a rival pride. He had lived neglected and despised, and could not bear to see a brother so greatly honoured, and little less than adored. He had been a temporizing prophet, and the wicked ever wishing to make others like themselves, he resolved to make the stranger temporize also. He overtook him sitting under an oak, hungry indeed, but feasting on reflection, while his exhausted ass cropped the herbage of the open way. Unable by arguments of affected courtesy to move the minister of heaven, he at length dared to forge a revelation in the name of God. The unsuspecting prophet, somewhat dazzled with the glory of the day, and pressed with hunger, hastily believed, and obeyed the seducer. He thought himself safe in the house of a prophet. But while the food was in his mouth, the word of the Lord came to the deceiver, for God has sometimes spoken by such men, when they have obtruded themselves on his regards: and he declared that the carcase of the disobedient prophet should not come to the sepulchre of his fathers. Happy indeed, that this sentence was denounced against his body only; his mind not having presumptuously consented to dishonour God. The old prophet had scarcely time to triumph in his success, or to tell his neighbours that he had done more by his address than Jeroboam could do by his presents; nor had the terrified priests of the broken altar time scarcely to reproach the cause of all their terror with a defection worse than theirs; before travellers told what they had seen, namely, the lion divinely commissioned to kill the prophet, to guard his sacred corpse, and protect his ass. Nor was it a less evident mark of an instructive providence, that this prophet was interred adjacent to the profane altar, and an inscription affixed on his tomb: for however much the idolaters might exult in his death, his sepulchre would announce both to them and their children, the still greater punishment suspended over their heads.

In the charge which the old prophet delivered to his sons, to bury him by the bones of the man of God, we see realized the wishes of all hypocrites and temporizers with the sacred ministry. They would wish to partake of the altar, and be famed for wisdom and talents; above all, they would wish to die the death of the righteous, and be mingled with their dust. There is however one difficulty in the gratification of their final wishes, the angels of God shall gather out of his kingdom all that offend, and shall burn them with unquenchable fire.

Lastly, we cannot but lament that this extraordinary mission had but a momentary effect on the king. Israel was accustomed to revolt. So was it with the Jews in our Saviour’s time; so it is with sinners in our own time. When the hand of God is removed from a wicked man, his devotion is dried up like the morning dew, and the evil fountain of his heart flows again in its former course.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Kings 13". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.