Why did the old prophet in Bethel sabotage the younger prophet from Judah? Did the prophet from Judah desire a gift more than obedience to the Lord or was he tricked by the lie? Did the burial of the Judean prophet in the old prophet's tomb have cultural significance or indicate a softening of his heart?
It is difficult to understand some passages in the Bible. One of those passages is 1 Kings 13:1-32. The passage is about a young prophet and an old prophet. The old prophet lied and eventually the young prophet died. So, the question is, “Why did the old prophet in Bethel lie to the younger prophet from Judah?” What follows answers the question.
The Young Prophet from Judah
1 Kings 13:1 tells us there was a “man of God”who lived in Bethel. He was a prophet during the time that Jeroboam reigned as king over the northern kingdom of Israel.
Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, while Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense. 1 Kings 13:1 (NASB)
1 Kings 12:28-33 tells us that King Jeroboam had ordered two golden calves to be created. He placed one in Dan and the other in Bethel. Then the king instituted a feast and offered both sacrifices and incense to his calves. So, 1 Kings 13:1 tells us that “Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense.”
Verses 2-3 tell us that the young prophet announced a curse on the altar and on the king for his idolatrous behavior. In verses 4-5 we are told the king ordered the young prophet to be seized. But when the king stretched out his hand toward the prophet, his hand became deformed and the altar in Bethel split apart. This reveals the young prophet was, in fact, a man of God. It also reveals that God punished the king for his behavior. Then in verse 6 we are told the king was healed as a result of the young prophet’s prayer. Consequently, the king invited the young prophet to have a meal with him, but the young man declined. He did not want to be associated with this king (v. 7-10).
The Old Prophet from Bethel
In verse 11 we are told that there was an old prophet living in Bethel. His sons told him what had happened between King Jeroboam and the young prophet.
Now an old prophet was living in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the deeds which the man of God had done that day in Bethel; the words which he had spoken to the king, these also they related to their father. 1 Kings 13:11 (NASB)
So the old prophet rode away on a donkey to find the young prophet (v. 12-13). Eventually, the old prophet found the young prophet (v. 14) and invited the young prophet to his home to eat a meal with him (v. 15-16). The old prophet said that he had a word from the Lord that the young prophet should join him (v. 17). Supposedly, the message was given to him by an angel (v 18). But the old prophet lied.
He said to him, “I also am a prophet like you, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, ‘Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.’” But he lied to him. 1 Kings 13:18 (NASB)
Two Prophets Shared a Meal Together
So the two prophets ate a meal together (v. 20). During the meal the old prophet received a real message from the Lord. The message was for the young prophet. It reminded him that God had warned him to not eat with this old prophet (v. 21-22). Why? Because the old prophet supported the king. Then after the meal, the young prophet left and was killed by a lion (v. 23-24). Later, the old prophet found the body and brought back to his home and buried him.
So, why did the old prophet lie to the younger prophet? The answer is the Bible does not tell us. He may have wanted to negotiate a peace with the young man or bring God’s disfavor upon the young man. However, we do not why the old prophet lied. It is clear that since the old prophet lived in the same city as the wicked King Jeroboam, the old prophet supported King Jeroboam. But the young prophet refused to remain in the same city in which the wicked king lived.
The most important lesson in 1 Kings 13:1-31 is that the young prophet ignored God’s message to avoid the old prophet. That is, the young prophet trusted the old prophet and ignored the message that he knew came from the Lord. Since he disobeyed God, God caused him to die. The lesson for us is that we should never disobey or ignore God’s clear command or statements in the Scripture. We should never trust a pastor or a teacher who claims to speak for the Lord when what they teach is in clear violation of Scripture. There are many untaught and compromised teachers and pastors today who are not faithful to the Word of God due to inadequate study and unwillingness to abandon what they may have been taught in the past if it disagrees with Scripture. Because they take little time to prepare for Sunday, they lean upon what they may have been previously taught. Then on Sunday morning they enthusiastically teach error as if it is truth. Sadly the faithful believe him because he is in the role of pastor. Eventually, the elders, pastors, and teachers will be more severely punished for their false statements. But we should be like the good Bereans (Acts 17:11) who searched the Scriptures to determine if even the apostle Paul was correct. Must not believe the “old prophets” among us.
Finally, it is not clear if there is a cultural significance or that the old prophet had any remorse for his lie.
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