The story of 1 Kings 13:11-25, which tells of a man of God sent by God to deliver a message to King Jeroboam, has perplexed even the sharpest minds.
It serves as a cautionary tale about the importance of obedience to God and the consequences of disobedience. It reminds us to always be attentive to God’s will, even when it is difficult or not what we want, and to expect some challenges on the way. We should heed warnings and messages from God, being aware of the consequences that can result from ignoring them; with that in mind it is worth taking a good look at this unusual event.
The story is an impressive one, featuring a prophecy that is both highly accurate and partially fulfilled on the day, along with signs and wonders. The young prophet had the potential to become a renowned figure in prophecy. We don’t know the names of either the young or the older prophet, and as you settle down to watch the story unfold it ends suddenly with a climax that is not anticipated.
The overview of this interesting and important story is that the young prophet, or man of God, was initially obedient to God and delivered a highly accurate message, even though it was not what the king wanted to hear. Part of it did come to pass almost immediately.
After encountering and experiencing the power of God personally and experiencing the mercy of God through the young prophet’s ministry, similar to Elisha’s, the king offered the man of God a reward in appreciation and relief. However, the youngster refused the reward. The king then offered him a meal at his own table, but he again refused and went his way.
After the young prophet left, news of what had happened reached an elderly resident prophet. He mounted his donkey and went in hot pursuit of the young man of God. Upon catching up with him as he sat under the Oak tree, used a few lies to persuade the young man to come back with him and eat, despite God’s instructions to the contrary. Reluctantly, the young man agreed.
It is worthwhile to pause and ask why the text specifies an oak tree instead of just a tree. It is possible the mention of the oak tree symbolizes the man of God’s strength and stability, or highlights his connection to God and his bearing of fruit for Him. The oak tree has been mentioned for a reason. This young man is about to show a contrasting difference – he is not going to demonstrate the character that the oak is so symbolic of.
Back at the table, while they were eating and drinking, the word of the Lord came to the old prophet who had brought him back to his house and he cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, “This is what the Lord says”: ‘You have defied the word of the Lord and have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore, your body will not be buried in the tomb of your ancestors.’”
Imagine the young prophet’s face – the wickedness! Such deceit! To add insult to injury, the old prophet saddled the donkey, but not until the man of God had finished eating and drinking.
We can ponder the response and character of the young prophet as he mounts the donkey with a full stomach and sets off, leaving his future behind. He will shortly be attacked by a lion, fulfilling the prophecy of an old prophet who sometimes lied. A cynical end to a promising start.
While they were sitting at the table, eating and drinking, the word of the Lord had come to the old prophet who had brought him back to his house, and he cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, “This is what the Lord says”: ‘You have defied the word of the Lord and have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore, your body will not be buried in the tomb of your ancestors.’”
Imagine the young prophet’s face – the wickedness! Such deceit! To add insult to injury, the old prophet saddled the donkey, but not until the man of God had finished eating and drinking. No gasp of betrayal or despair, nothing!
We can ponder the response and character of the young prophet as he mounts the donkey with a full stomach and sets off, leaving the life of Israel behind. He is, as promised, attacked by a lion, fulfilling the prophecy of the old prophet who sometimes lied.
The story conveys the importance of obedience to God, and following His will, even when it is difficult or not what we want. It also shows the consequences of disobedience and the need to heed warnings and messages from God. This message is still relevant today, reminding us to always be obedient to God and listen to His guidance in our lives.
How can we avoid making the same mistakes? Don’t listen to old prophets!
That is, of course, a joke. In addition to seeking wisdom and understanding from God, it is also helpful to surround ourselves with people of all ages who are wise and can offer guidance and support.
Thankfully, none of us is going to get killed by a lion but the challenge of obedience remains and so here are a few key things that we can do to avoid the same disaster.
- Seek wisdom and understanding from God through prayer and studying the Bible. This will help us to gain a deeper understanding of God’s will and how to follow it in our lives.
- Surround ourselves with wise people and who can offer guidance and support. This can help us to gain a better perspective on situations and make wise decisions.
- Be humble and open to correction. It is important to recognize we are not perfect and that we all make mistakes. When we are open to correction, we are more likely to learn from our mistakes and avoid making them again in the future.
- Seek guidance and direction from God in making decisions. It is important to rely on God’s strength and guidance to make decisions that are in line with His will, rather than relying on our own understanding or the cultural norms of the world around us.
- Remember God is sovereign and in control, and trust in His plan for our lives. It is important to trust that God has a purpose for our lives and to seek His will in all things, even when we don’t fully understand His plan.
What are we to make of this jaw-dropping event?
Did the young prophet deserve to die, given that he was misled? Most of us would say not; at worst, he should have been reprimanded. Uriah is a good example here. The man of God was misled by the old prophet, who convinced him to ignore the warning he had received from God and to return home the same way he had come.
As a result, the man of God was attacked by a lion, fulfilling the prophecy of the old prophet. This raises the question: can we trust someone who is older and more gifted, but tells us to do something, contrary to what the Lord has shown us? Well, here at least, we are given a warning to be obedient and also to have wisdom in our ways before God.
In the New Testament there are also a number of illustrations that are similar to 1 Kings 13:11-25. One example is the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:1-11. In this story, Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit and claimed to have given all of the proceeds from the sale of their land to the church, when in fact they had kept some of the money for themselves. As a result, they were struck down and died, just as the man of God in 1 Kings 13:11-25 was struck down and died as a result of his disobedience.
Another example is Judas Iscariot in the Gospels. Judas was one of Jesus’s disciples, but he betrayed Jesus and handed him over to the authorities to be crucified. Just as the man of God in 1 Kings 13:11-25 was warned by an old prophet about the consequences of his disobedience, Judas was warned by Jesus about the consequences of his betrayal. Despite these warnings, both the young prophet and Judas went ahead with their disobedience and suffered the consequences.
Both of these stories illustrate the importance of obedience to God and the consequences of disobedience, reminding us to strive to follow God’s will and to seek His guidance in our lives, even when lions are not present! One interesting thing from this story is that the young prophet continued to eat and drink after discovering his awful indictment. After he finished eating and drinking, the old prophet got the donkey ready for the young prophet.
Could there possibly be something else hinted here that implies he was drinking more than water? Regardless, the story seems to suggest the young prophet had enough time to repent of his disobedience, but he didn’t.
I want to end by asking the question; Why didn’t the lion eat the man or the donkey? The text simply says that the lion “met him on the road and killed him” (1 Kings 13:24), and that the donkey stood beside the body of the man of God until a passer-by discovered the scene and reported it to the old prophet in Bethel (1 Kings 13:25).
It is possible that the lion killed the man of God but did not eat him because it was not hungry or because it was interrupted before it could eat. Alternatively, I think the likely option is that the lion was simply carrying out the will of God and fulfilling the prophecy of the old prophet, and that its actions were not motivated by hunger or any other natural instincts. We have seen how God controls the lion in the testimony of Daniel; this time with a different outcome.
I think this story raises the issues of the importance of obedience to God, and the imperative necessity of living a life that is fully committed to following God.