Thursday, September 25, 2008

A lying prophet and the true Word of Yahweh

A friend recently brought up the question of what is going on in 1 Kings 13. This is a very odd passage in a lot of ways. We have a supposed prophet of God who lies to a man of God and that lie ultimately leads to the death of the man of God. Yet the lying prophet is not condemned in the account. Why is this?

You can view the passage here if you want to follow along. First, we need to keep in mind that the chapters breakdowns are not inspired but are the work of an interpreter and it seems to me that 1 Kings 13 should be read in the light of 1 Kings 12:25-33. Those verses form a prologue to this section as they reveal the disobedience of Jeroboam as ruler of the northern kingdom (also see the covenant God makes with Jeroboam in 1 Kings 11:26-40). The epilogue to this section is 1 Kings 13:33-34 where the author tells us that Jeroboam and his priests refused to heed the warning in this account.

With that prologue and epilogue in mind the chapter breaks down into four scenes with two parallel tracks going along. I’m not sure how to do two columns in this format so I’ll place them one after the other. Just keep in mind that these are parallels and so scenes 3 and 4 are following the pattern and echoing the content of scenes 1 and 2 (verse numbers in parentheses).

Track 1

Scene 1

1. Jeroboam standing by the altar (1)
2. Calling against the altar (2)
3. “Thus says Yahweh” and quotation (2)
4. Sign: the altar will be torn down (4)
5. The altar torn down (5)
6. Three-fold repetition of “by the way” (9-10)

Scene 2

7. Introduction of the “old prophet” (11)
8. Old prophet hears about the man of God (11)
9. Old prophet commands his sons to saddle his donkey (13)
10. Old prophet goes and finds the man of God (14)
11. Old prophet persuades the man of God to return (15ff.)
12. Old prophet’s speech to the man of God (15-18)

Track 2

Scene 3

1. Old prophet and man of God sitting by the table (20)
2. Calling against the man of God (21)
3. “Thus says Yahweh” and quotation (21)
4. Sign: the man of God will not be buried with his ancestors (22)
5. The man of God’s body thrown down (24)
6. Three-fold repetition of “by the way” (24-25a)

Scene 4

7. Reintroduction of the old prophet (25b)
8. Old prophet hears about the man of God (26)
9. Old prophet commands his sons to saddle his donkey (27)
10. Old prophet goes and finds the man of God (28)
11. Old prophet returns with the man of God’s corpse (29)
12. Old prophet’s speech to his sons (31-32)

When viewed this way we see that the purpose of emphasizes the necessity of obedience to the word of Yahweh. This fits with the whole pattern of Kings. Kings is a Deuteronomistic history where what happens to Israel and Judah is a direct fulfillment of God’s covenant curses for their disobedience to the covenant. So the word of Yahweh promising blessing and cursing and the fulfillment of the prophetic word carries great weight in the writer’s account. This is particularly evident in this passage. We’ll take some time to analyze each of these scenes.

Scene 1 – This scene sets the conflict in the chapter. The man of God and the word of Yahweh are set against Jeroboam and his altar (signifying all of his false worship practices). This first scene also serves to identify the man of God with Jeroboam. The writer tells us that just as the man of God had a word from Yahweh for Jeroboam he also has a word from Yahweh for himself. The narrator then shows us that the disobedience of the man of God is a possibility even as the man firmly rejects Jeroboam’s offer.

Scene 2 – This scene introduces a third major character in the old prophet from Bethel. The writer clearly tells us that the old prophet lied to the man of God in telling him to come back to his house, eat bread, and drink water (v. 18). These three things are the three that the word of Yahweh to the man of God specifically forbade. Without the writer’s insertion that the old prophet lied we would be left to wonder along with the man of God whether or not an angel actually had brought a message from Yahweh to the old prophet. Instead we have a narrative perspective tells us this is another temptation for the man of God to disobey the word of Yahweh. In Kings, Jeroboam has received multiple warnings from Yahweh to be obedient and has had multiple opportunities to disobey. The same is now true about the man of God in 1 Kings 13. He has repeated the word of Yahweh twice directly, twice indirectly, and now disobeys the command word-for-word (19). So now we are to wonder what will happen to this disobedient representative of God.

Scene 3 – This parallel section of the story now has the man of God in the position of being the subject of an oracle of divine judgment, further driving home the comparisons between the man of God and Jeroboam. The introduction of the lion and the donkey drives the action in this scene. After the man of God is killed the donkey stands beside his corpse just like Jeroboam stood beside the altar. The thrown down body of the man of God now echoes the torn down altar. The narrator is subtly calling Jeroboam an ass. Just like the donkey could not stop the lion, Jeroboam is helpless and dumb to stop Yahweh’s judgment and must stand by and await his fate. So at present the lion does not eat the donkey and Yahweh leaves Jeroboam on his throne. But the presence of the lion by the corpse and the donkey points to the pending judgment that is coming on Jeroboam.

Scene 4 – This scene should draw our attention to the significance of the lion. Several times in Kings, lions represent God’s judgment on those disobedient to his word (1 Kings 20:36; 2 Kings 27:25). In both of these passages, the focus is judgment upon the northern kingdom rather than the southern. So the lion here represents the promise of Yahweh’s judgment upon the sinful northern kingdom of Jeroboam (remember that the refrain for the later kings in the north is that they walk in the way of Jeroboam who made Israel sin). So this passage does not make us wonder if Yahweh will judge Jeroboam but instead tells us that Yahweh has judged Jeroboam and now comes to carry out his sentence.

In conclusion, we’ll summarize the message of 1 Kings 12:25-13:34 in its original context and then draw out some implications for God’s people today. First, the focus of the passage is Yahweh’s judgment on Jeroboam for leading Israel into sin with his religious reforms. The man of God represents Jeroboam. He is given chances to obey or disobey and ultimately chooses disobedience to the word of Yahweh. This means that Yahweh’s judgment is carried out against him just as it is being carried out against Jeroboam. Second, the passage warns of the consequences of disobeying God’s word. The ultimate end will always be destruction. The faithful man of God becomes unfaithful and is cast down. Jeroboam, who was once a favored instrument of Yahweh, has become disobedient and will also be cast down. The wicked king ultimately remains unmoved by the events in this chapter and so confirms Yahweh’s judgment on him (1 Kings 13:33-34). Finally, the passage instructs the reader that there is not any excuse for disobedience to the word of Yahweh, not even a lying prophet. When Yahweh has spoken his people are to respond in faith and obedience or to suffer judgment.

There are a number of implications that we could draw from this as God’s people today. I’m just going to focus on one because this post is already so long. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:6-9)

The certainty of God’s word in the book of Kings is echoed throughout the rest of Scripture. Obedience to the commands of God always means life and disobedience always means death. This has been true ever since the Garden of Eden. 1 Kings 13 dealt with God’s national judgment on Israel for their disobedience to the covenant. Yet the gospel also points us to the covenant of grace and the promise of redemption. The divine command is to repent and believe the gospel. Obedience means justification unto eternal life but disobedience means condemnation unto eternal judgment (John 3:16-21). Paul warns his readers that they must be obedient to the word of the covenant, to the gospel, that has been committed to them by the apostles of Jesus Christ and must not turn aside to a new or different gospel. No angel and no true minister of the word will ever preach a different gospel then what is contained in Scripture. Like the man of God, we are warned to live according to what God has spoken and not according to the words of men or angels. This should instruct us to constantly search the Scriptures to make sure that we dwell in the word and that we seek out and believe the good news contained in it.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Excellent treatment Master Pickens. Thanks for answering my question so thoroughly. :-)