Monday, August 2, 2010

1 Kings 13: Delaying Obedience Leads to Disobedience

Forgive the lengthy scripture quote, but I couldn’t find what I should leave out.
1 And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord unto Beth-el: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense.
2 And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall be burnt upon thee.
3 And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the Lord hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.
4 And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Beth-el, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him.
5 The altar also was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the Lord.
6 And the king answered and said unto the man of God, Intreat now the face of the Lord thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again. And the man of God besought the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored him again, and became as it was before.
7 And the king said unto the man of God, Come home with me, and refresh thyself, and I will give thee a reward.
8 And the man of God said unto the king, If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place:
9 For so was it charged me by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest.
10 So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Beth-el.
11 ¶ Now there dwelt an old prophet in Beth-el; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Beth-el: the words which he had spoken unto the king, them they told also to their father.
12 And their father said unto them, What way went he? For his sons had seen what way the man of God went, which came from Judah.
13 And he said unto his sons, Saddle me the ass. So they saddled him the ass: and he rode thereon,
14 And went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak: and he said unto him, Art thou the man of God that camest from Judah? And he said, I am.
15 Then he said unto him, Come home with me, and eat bread.
16 And he said, I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee: neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place:
17 For it was said to me by the word of the Lord, Thou shalt eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest.
18 He said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water that I may prove him; and he lied not unto him.
19 So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water.
20 ¶ And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the Lord came unto the prophet that brought him back:
21 And he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the Lord, and hast not kept the commandment which the Lord thy God commanded thee,
22 But camest back, and hast eaten bread and drunk water in the place, of the which the Lord did say to thee, Eat no bread, and drink no water; thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers.
23 ¶ And it came to pass, after he had eaten bread, and after he had drunk, that he saddled for him the ass, to wit, for the prophet whom he had brought back.
24 And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him: and his carcase was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it, the lion also stood by the carcase.
25 And, behold, men passed by, and saw the carcase cast in the way, and the lion standing by the carcase: and they came and told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt.
26 And when the prophet that brought him back from the way heard thereof, he said, It is the man of God, who was disobedient unto the word of the Lord: therefore the Lord hath delivered him unto the lion, which hath torn him, and slain him, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake unto him.
27 And he spake to his sons, saying, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him.
28 And he went and found his carcase cast in the way, and the ass and the lion standing by the carcase: the lion had not eaten the carcase, nor torn the ass.
29 And the prophet took up the carcase of the man of God, and laid it upon the ass, and brought it back: and the old prophet came to the city, to mourn and to bury him.
30 And he laid his carcase in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother!
31 And it came to pass, after he had buried him, that he spake to his sons, saying, When I am dead, then bury me in the sepulchre wherein the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones:
32 For the saying which he cried by the word of the Lord against the altar in Beth-el, and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, shall surely come to pass. (1 Kings 13:1-32, JST emphasis added)
This is very strange story that raises questions in our minds. How can a prophet tell another prophet to disobey what they’ve been told to do and then predict a punishment for them? Why such a severe penalty for the one and not for the other that tempted him?

One of the messages from this story seems to be a warning against distraction. The first man of God, who I’ll call “the young prophet” from Judah received word from the Lord that he should go to Bethel and prophesy against the idolatrous altar of Jeroboam in Bethel. (This even when there was an old prophet in Bethel already. It seems that the old prophet in Bethel was not doing his job, so an outsider was needed to come in and denounce what Jeroboam was doing.) The young prophet was specifically instructed not to eat or drink anything while at Bethel and to leave by a different way than he came. If so, then this trip was supposed to be a very quick one. Go in and get out. My immediate question at this point became, “How much of a distance did the young prophet have to travel then, if he wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything? How much of a privation would this cause?” So I looked at a map to see where Bethel lay in relation to the border of Judah and I found that Bethel was incredibly close to the border! Maybe one or two miles. From Bethel to Jerusalem is 10 miles, but if the young prophet wanted food badly, he really didn’t have to walk far at all to just get inside the border of Judah for a snack.

The young prophet starts out very well. He delivers the word of the Lord and he valiantly stands up to the king’s anger. He mercifully prays for the king to be healed. He refuses to go home with the king and he refuses a reward for the healing of the king’s hand. He leaves as he is supposed to by a different way.

But then, in verse 14, when the old prophet finds him, the young prophet is sitting under an oak tree. He’s not moving. He’s resting. He only has a few miles to go and he’s sitting down. And it is because he is resting that all this trouble with the old prophet starts. If the young prophet had been on the move as he was supposed to, it is unlikely that the old prophet would have overtaken him before he was back in safe territory. Obviously the young prophet thought that there was plenty of time to obey. There’s a scripture from the Book of Mormon that comes to mind here: “…They were slothful, and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence and then those marvelous works ceased, and they did not progress in their journey….do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way” (Alma 37:41,46). We begin to see that delaying obedience can lead to much more serious problems.

Now, let’s take a moment to think about the character of the old prophet from Bethel. If he had been acting as he should have, he would have been at the altar site too, denouncing the idolatry of the king. Instead, he was home. It is not stated where his sons were, whether they were at the idolatrous altar or not, but they seemed to know everything the young prophet did and said. This they could have learned by gossip or by being there, we don’t quite know which. This old prophet may have been weak and feeble, since he has prepared own grave, and he also seems to have been rich, since his grave was a sepulchre. Yet for all his feebleness, when he hears everything the young prophet did and said, he rouses himself and goes on a donkey ride to find the young prophet and bring him back.

Well, young prophet and old prophet have met. The old prophet offers hospitality to the new prophet This seems natural; prophets would want to get together and help one another. To the young prophet’s credit, he continues to recite the instructions he has been given from the Lord not to eat or drink in that place. Unlike King Jeroboam, who seems to be able to take no for an answer, it is notable that the old prophet can’t seem to do the same. (This should remind us of Martin Harris continuing to ask for the 116 pages.) If it wasn’t a red flag to the young prophet, it should be one for us. Perhaps the fact that the Lord had specifically commanded the young prophet not to accept hospitality was because the Lord didn’t want the young prophet to get pulled down by the influence of the king or the old prophet.

The old prophet tells the young prophet, “I am a prophet as thou art.” Yet, if the old prophet had really been as the young prophet, he would have been at the idolatrous altar too as a second witness, denouncing it and prophesying along with the young prophet. (Or the young prophet would have been the second witness to the old prophet.) But now, this sentence smacks of “Don’t look down on me; I’m just as good as you.” It seems like a wounded ego struggling for status and respect.

Then the old prophet says, “an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water that I may prove him” and the JST adds that “that I may prove him” and notes the old prophet didn’t lie.

These words of the old prophet muddy the waters substantially. It is a direct contradiction of instructions and the young prophet is forced to make a decision. Does he trust the previous direction from the Lord that was given to him directly, or does he believe that an angel would come to someone else to tell him what to do? If we are familiar with the principles of stewardship and personal revelation, we automatically should smell a rat. What stewardship did the old prophet from Bethel have over the young prophet from Judah? None. (Especially if he’s claiming to be a prophet “as thou art” instead of “over thee.”) And certainly a revelation to stay for a meal should have come directly to the young prophet instead of secondhand, even if it was an angelic visitation. Unfortunately, the mere mention of something dramatic like an angelic visitation seems to have caused the young prophet to forget or question his own conviction about his duty. (I have to point out again that if he had not delayed his exit by sitting under a tree, he probably would have been saved from this difficult situation.)

Further analysis of the character of the old prophet

His moral character seems to be somewhat unstable. He tries to get the young prophet to disobey instructions (very bad), feeds him (bad in context of young prophet's duty), then he declares a curse upon him (unkind though deserved), and then gives the man his own donkey to ride (kind), retrieves the man’s body (respectful), buries the man’s body in his own grave (generous), mourns for his demise (good), and wants his own body buried with him (touching though weird), and testifies that the young prophet’s words will come to pass (valiant but belated). This almost seems like he is revering the young prophet more when he is dead than when he was alive. In a number of ways, his acts are good with the exception that he couldn’t seem to accept another prophet’s personal revelation.

So why such a severe penalty for the young prophet and not for the old prophet? I suspect it may be because the young prophet, as a commissioned messenger of God, was the one whose deeds would be under strict scrutiny by King Jeroboam and other idolaters. One of the favorite ways that men have of invalidating messages from God is by discrediting the messengers who delivered them or by saying that the specific warnings can be disregarded at will. After such public declarations of what the Lord had told him to not do, it was important for the young prophet’s disobedience to become an object lesson of the dangers of disobedience. Unfortunately, Jeroboam seems to have carefully ignored these lessons about the danger of listening to the wrong sources, and he continued his wickedness, as the last few verses of the chapter say. “After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest of the people priests of the high places: whosoever would, he consecrated him, and he became one of the priests of the high places. ” (1 Kings 13:33)

To me, this story seems to illustrate the importance of obeying quickly and completely. It shows that delay leads to disobedience because the adversary sees our delay and will try to give us very powerful reasons to postpone our obedience further until it becomes disobedience.


In The Doghouse said...

Perhaps it also teaches us to rely only upon the Lord and not the arm of flesh.

chococatania said...

This is a good lesson to learn. I hate to admit that I'm not always one to obey quickly.

This is why I love the examples of the Apostles when Christ called them to the ministry: "And they straightway left their nets, and followed him." (Matthew 4:19).

I also think that there is something to be said about keeping an commandment with exactness. Sometimes we get into a little bit of trouble (like this young prophet) because we want to keep the commandments our own way. (I have to admit, I, too, am guilty of this at times...)

This is why I love the example of the 2,000 stripling warriors - "Yea, and they did obey and observe to perform every word of command with exactness;..." (Alma 57:21).

It is so much easier when we obey - the right way, right away.

Michaela Stephens said...

I hate to admit too that I am not always quick to obey either. That's why this story was really good for me to study and write about.

Unknown said...

Very well written.
Also the fact that the "young Prophet" didn't know the Old Prophet or know of him
shows the importance of KNOWING who the prophets are vv
1Thes 5:12 "We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you"
and also "the simple man believeth every word"