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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Bible Commentary

1 Kings 13

Verses 1-34


1 Kings 13:1-34

"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God."

WE are told that Jeroboam, whose position probably made him restless and insecure, first built or fortified Shechem, and then went across the Jordan and established another palace and stronghold at Penuel. After this he shifted his residence once more to the beautiful town of Tirzah, where he built for himself the palace which Zimri afterwards burnt over his own head. Although the prophet Shemaiah forbade Rehoboam’s attempt to crush him in a great war, Jeroboam remained at war with him and Abijah all his life, till his reign of two-and-twenty troubled years ended apparently by a sudden death-for the chronicler says that "the Lord struck him, and he died."

Nearly all that we know of Jeroboam apart from these incidental notices is made up of two stories, both of which are believed by critics to date from a long subsequent age, but which the compiler of the Book of Kings introduced into his narrative from their intrinsic force and religious instructiveness.

The first of these stories tells us of the only spontaneous prophetic protest against his proceedings of which we read. So ancient is this curious narrative that tradition had entirely forgotten the names of the two prophets concerned in it. It probably assumed shape from the dim local reminiscences evoked in the days of Josiah’s reformation, when the grave of a forgotten prophet of Judah was discovered among the tombs at Bethel, three hundred and twenty years after the events described.

A nameless man of God-Josephus calls him Jadon, and some have identified him with Iddo-came out of Judah to atone for the silence of Israel, and to protest in God’s name against the new worship. His protest, however, is against "the altar." He does not say a word about the golden calves. Jeroboam, perhaps, at his dedication festival of the king’s shrine at Bethel, was standing on the altar-slope, as Solomon had done in the Temple, to burn incense. Suddenly the man of God appeared, and threatened to the altar the destruction and desecration which subsequently fell upon it. We cannot be sure that some of the details are not later additions supplied from subsequent events. Josephus rationalizes the story very absurdly in the style of Paulus. The sign of the destruction or rending of the altar, and the outpouring of the ashes, may have been first fulfilled in that memorable earthquake which became a date in Israel. The desecration which it received at the hands of Josiah reminded men of the threat of the unknown messenger. Then we are told that Jeroboam raised his hand in anger, with the order to secure the bold offender, but that his arm at once "dried up," and was only restored by the man of at the king’s entreaty. The king invites the prophet to go home and refresh himself and receive a reward; but he replies that not half Jeroboam’s house could tempt him to break the command which he had received to eat no bread neither drink water at Bethel. An old Israelite prophet was living at Bethel, and his son told him what had occurred. Struck with admiration by the faithfulness of the southern man of God, he rode after him to bring him to his house. He found him seated under "the terebinth"-evidently some aged and famous tree. When he refused the renewed invitation, the old man lyingly said to him that he too was a man of God, and had been bidden by an angel to bring him back. Deceived, perhaps too easily deceived, the man of God from Judah went back. It would have been well for him if he had believed that even "an angel of God," or what may seem to wear such a semblance, may preach a false message, and may deserve nothing but an anathema. {Galatians 1:8} With terrible swiftness the delusion was dispelled. While he was eating in Bethel, the old prophet, overcome by an impulse of inspiration, told him that for his disobedience he should perish and lie in a strange grave. Accordingly he had not gone far from Bethel when a lion met and killed him, not, however, mangling or devouring him, but standing still with the ass beside the carcass. On hearing this the old prophet of Bethel went and brought back the corpse. He mourned over his victim with the cry, "Alas, my brother," {Comp. Jeremiah 22:18} and bade his sons that when he died they should bury him in the same sepulcher with the man of God, for all that he had prophesied should come to pass.

Josephus adds many idle touches to this story. If in a tale which assumed its present form so long after the events imaginative details were introduced, the incident of the lion subserves the moral aim of the narrative. {2 Kings 17:25; Jeremiah 25:30; Jeremiah 49:19 #/RAPC Wisdom of Solomon 11:15-17, etc.} The significance of the story for us is happily neither historic nor evidential, but it is profoundly moral. It is the lesson not to linger in the neighborhood of temptation, nor to be dilatory in the completion of duty. It is the lesson to be ever on our guard against the tendency to assume inspired sanction for the conduct and opinions which coincide with our own secret wishes. Satan finds it easy to secure our credence when he answers us according to our idols, and can quote Scripture for our purpose as well as his own; and God sometimes punishes men by granting them their own desires, and sending leanness withal into their bones. The man of God from Judah had received a distinct injunction from which the invitation of a king had been insufficient to shake him. If the old prophet willfully lied, his victim was willingly seduced. We may think his sin venial, his punishment excessive. It will not seem so unless we unduly extenuate his sin and unduly exaggerate the nature of his penalty.

His sin consisted in his ready acceptance of a sham inspiration which came to him from a tainted source, and which he ought to have suspected because it conceded what he desired. God’s indisputable intimations to our individual souls are not to be set aside except by intimations no less indisputable. There had been an obvious reason for the command which God had given. The reason still existed; the prohibition had not been withdrawn. The sham revelation furnished him with an excuse; it did not give him a justification. Doubtless Jadon’s first thought was that

"He lied in every word,

That hoary prophet, with malicious eye

Askance to watch the working of his lie."

Why did he yield so readily? It was for the same reason which causes so many to sin. "The tempting opportunity" did but meet, as sooner or later it always will meet, "the susceptible disposition."

Yet his punishment does not justify us in branding him as a weak or a vicious man. We must judge him and all men, at his best, not at his worst; in his hours of faithfulness and splendid courage, not in his moment of unworthy acquiescence.

And his speedy punishment was his best blessing. Who knows what might not have happened to him if the speck of conventionality and corruption had been allowed to spread? Who can tell whether in due time he might not have sunk into something no better than his miserable tempter? Rather than that we should be in any respect false to our loftiest ideals, or less noble than our better selves, let the lion meet us, let the tower of Siloam fall on us, let our blood be mingled with our sacrifices. Better physical death than spiritual degeneracy.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Kings 13". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary".