By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: I Kings 12.32-13.34
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Books of Kings in conjunction with this article.
A Prophet Deceived
Have you ever told an untruth? Unfortunately, most, if not all of us have spoken a lie at some point, whether it was a “white lie” or a completely ill-motivated obfuscation and prevarication of truth. But the other question is: have you ever believed a lie? Again, most if not all, of us have not only spoken a lie; but have also believed a lie. The question is, when was your timing of truth discovery: near the actual hearing or was the truth revealed at a later time? Sometimes it is up front when we learn of the lie; yet at other times discovery is somewhere down-the-line.
But perhaps the real kicker is that there are times we believe the disguised lie because we put trust in the very person who told us. Talk about betrayal. What happened? Did your belief in the lie cost you: a friend, a job, a house, your reputation, perhaps something else? What if believing the lie would cost you your very life? This is the tragic account of an anti-Bethel prophet in I Kings.
The information beginning in I Kings 12 is the beginning of the divided kingdom; Israel with ten tribes to the North, and Judah with two tribes to the South. The Kingdom split shortly after the death of Solomon due to disagreement over resolving the social and working conditions during Solomon’s reign. While Rehoboam and Jeroboam were instrumental in splitting the Kingdom, the brokenness fulfilled Jehovah’s prophetic word to Solomon.1
Since Rehoboam ruled the Northern Kingdom, he devised a worship schedule2 to prevent clan members from returning to the Temple in Jerusalem, because he did not want their hearts going back to Jehovah, the God of Judah. While it was an astute political move, it was a short-sided spiritual move. By choosing to replace Jehovah with the golden calves, he was choosing a different god for Israel. While the nation was split into two sisters, Israel had not truly been separated from Jehovah. Rehoboam made a conscious decision to forsake Jehovah. And thus sets the groundwork for the anti-Bethel prophet.
The Anti-Bethel Prophet
While there are many lessons that can be learned from I Kings 13 (such as the implied emphasis of following divinely given instructions), our lesson will specifically focus on the death of the anti-Bethel prophet, and the motive behind his death. I Kings introduces us to the anti-Bethel prophet when Rehoboam ascended, dedicated and instituted the initial offerings on the Bethel altar. During Rehoboam’s offering, the anti-Bethel prophet said to those gathered,
“Altar, altar, here is what [the LORD] says: ‘A son will be born to the house of David; his name will be [Josiah]; and on you he will sacrifice the [priests] of the high places who burn incense on you! They will burn human bones on you!’”3
These were strong words, and words that revealed condemnation of action. But if the prophet’s words were not strong enough, he added to his proclamation a description of a sign that would demonstrate that what he said was true. This is what he said about the sign,
…“Here is the sign which [the LORD] has decreed: ‘The altar will be split apart; the ashes on it will be scattered about.’”4
While Rehoboam tried to arrest the prophet and Rehoboam was miraculously healed,5 the events that involve the anti-Bethel prophet following this Bethel Incident revolve around another prophet who is seeking truth verification6 of the anti-Bethel prophet. When reading the events that follow the Bethel Proclamation, we must recall these words spoken by Moses,
‘[I]f a prophet presumptuously speaks a word in my name which I didn’t order him to say, or if he speaks in the name of other gods, then that prophet must die.’
You may be wondering, ‘How are we to know if a word has not been spoken by [the LORD]?’
When a prophet speaks in the name of [the LORD], and the prediction does not come true -that is, the word is not fulfilled -then [the LORD] did not speak that word. The prophet who said it spoke presumptuously; you have nothing to fear from him.7
While we might not like the fact that the old prophet lied to the anti-Bethel prophet and therefore is partially responsible for his death, the old prophet seems to have known the teachings of Moses: a true prophet’s prophecy must come to pass. The old prophet tested the anti-Bethel prophet’s truthfulness by seeing if the anti-Bethel prophet would truly die.8 Detestable yes, but accurate. I Kings reveals the anti-Bethel prophet’s death, and that the old prophet understood the significance of the death, because one of the last statements of the chapter has the old prophet saying,
“…[The] saying which [anti-Bethel prophet] cried by the word of the LORD against the altar in Bethel, and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, shall surely come to pass.”9
A most despicable act was perpetrated on the anti-Bethel prophet. The anti-Bethel prophet trusted his peer, a fellow prophet; thinking that his older colleague had pure motive and that all would be okay. Yes, the anti-Bethel prophet’s inattentiveness to his original instructions cost him his physical life, and it is a powerful lesson. But just as powerful, if perhaps not more so, is that his death confirmed not only a true prophet, but also a true prophecy. Just as the old prophet must have shivered at the truth of the moment, surely we too should shiver. What truth is conveyed and confirmed when a prophet’s teaching comes to pass? It is a sign. And we have to make a decision: be attentive to the words, or not. Perhaps, the closing thoughts of the chapter call us to learn from Jeroboam, he “did not turn back from his evil way”.10 Will we?
1. “Jehovah’s prophetic word.” I Kings 11.11-13.
2. “Worship schedule.” I Kings 12.25-31.
3. “Prophet’s Words.” I Kings 13.2, Quote: CJB; Link: NASB.
4. “Prophet’s Sign.” I Kings 13.3, Quote: CJB; Link: NASB.
5. “Miraculously healed.” I Kings 13.4b, 13.6.
6. “Truth verification.” I Kings 13.11-33.
7. “Moses word.” Deuteronomy 18.20-22.
8. “Consequence: Death.” I Kings 13.8-9, 13.16-17, 13.19, 13.21-22, 13.26
9. “Old prophet’s saying.” I Kings 13.32.
10. “Learn from Jeroboam.” I Kings 13.33-34, Quote: CJB; Link: NASB.