In 1 Kings 13 there’s this strange little story about a prophet who goes to Bethel to speak against the altar that Jeroboam had set up there. On the surface it seems like a bit of a weird account – but there’s some insights in it as to how we follow the call of God, and how we treat those who have made mistakes in their ministry.
1 Kings 13:1-32 (NIV)
1 By the word of the LORD a man of God came from Judah to Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make an offering.
2 He cried out against the altar by the word of the LORD: “O altar, altar! This is what the LORD says: ‘A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who now make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.'”
3 That same day the man of God gave a sign: “This is the sign the LORD has declared: The altar will be split apart and the ashes on it will be poured out.”
4 When King Jeroboam heard what the man of God cried out against the altar at Bethel, he stretched out his hand from the altar and said, “Seize him!” But the hand he stretched out toward the man shriveled up, so that he could not pull it back.
5 Also, the altar was split apart and its ashes poured out according to the sign given by the man of God by the word of the LORD.
6 Then the king said to the man of God, “Intercede with the LORD your God and pray for me that my hand may be restored.” So the man of God interceded with the LORD, and the king’s hand was restored and became as it was before.
There is no doubt this man is a prophet – he has spoken out against the idols and altars that Jeroboam has set up, and his word immediately comes to pass. This would have been a very clear sign to the king that God wasn’t into what he was doing.
7 The king said to the man of God, “Come home with me and have something to eat, and I will give you a gift.”
8 But the man of God answered the king, “Even if you were to give me half your possessions, I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water here.
9 For I was commanded by the word of the LORD: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came.'”
10 So he took another road and did not return by the way he had come to Bethel.
This prophet not only had a message from God, but he had a METHOD that God had given Him concerning that message. He was not to eat or drink in the land, and he was to return by a different route. When it comes to us walking in our ministries – it’s not just our message that’s important, but it’s also those things that we feel like God has told us to do or not to do as we bring that message. There are things that God drops into our hearts and consciences – and these things are of vital importance as we will see.
11 Now there was a certain old prophet living in Bethel, whose sons came and told him all that the man of God had done there that day. They also told their father what he had said to the king.
12 Their father asked them, “Which way did he go?” And his sons showed him which road the man of God from Judah had taken.
13 So he said to his sons, “Saddle the donkey for me.” And when they had saddled the donkey for him, he mounted it
14 and rode after the man of God. He found him sitting under an oak tree and asked, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?” “I am,” he replied.
15 So the prophet said to him, “Come home with me and eat.”
16 The man of God said, “I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place.
17 I have been told by the word of the LORD: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way you came.'”
18 The old prophet answered, “I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the LORD: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.'” (But he was lying to him.)
19 So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house.
So the prophet again tells this other prophet about his call. But this is interesting – the old prophet says an angel has told me something different. And based on this he manages to turn the young prophet away from his call. The key here is that the word from a visible angel should never be greater than the word of our invisible God. Paul said to the Galatians to hold fast to what they had originally received from God ‘even if an angel should bring you a message that is different to what we have brought you’. In God’s word alone is the protection for us as we walk out the ministry he has called us to.
So the young prophet goes home with the old prophet, and eats and drinks – and then the old prophet declares that the young prophet will be judged from turning away from God’s word. I think it’s important at this point to move around questions such as ‘would God really send a prophet to try to take down another prophet?’ – and look at what happens next.
24 As he went on his way, a lion met him on the road and killed him, and his body was thrown down on the road, with both the donkey and the lion standing beside it.
The young prophet ends up being killed by a lion – but the lion doesn’t eat his body, nor does it attack the donkey with him. It simply stands next to the body, which is highly unusual for a lion. It’s a sign to everyone around that something is happening here which is from the hand of God.
The point which I want to make out of this part is that if the young prophet had ignored the lying voice of the old prophet, and stayed true to what God had originally sent him to do – he wouldn’t have been killed by the lion. In the same way there are those who are called by God into particular ministries, and this needs to be a sharp reminder to us all that we have to take God’s METHODS that He’s given us seriously. They may just save our lives and ministries!
26 When the prophet who had brought him back from his journey heard of it, he said, “It is the man of God who defied the word of the LORD. The LORD has given him over to the lion, which has mauled him and killed him, as the word of the LORD had warned him.”
27 The prophet said to his sons, “Saddle the donkey for me,” and they did so.
28 Then he went out and found the body thrown down on the road, with the donkey and the lion standing beside it. The lion had neither eaten the body nor mauled the donkey.
29 So the prophet picked up the body of the man of God, laid it on the donkey, and brought it back to his own city to mourn for him and bury him.
30 Then he laid the body in his own tomb, and they mourned over him and said, “Oh, my brother!”
31 After burying him, he said to his sons, “When I die, bury me in the grave where the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones.
32 For the message he declared by the word of the LORD against the altar in Bethel and against all the shrines on the high places in the towns of Samaria will certainly come true.”
This final part of the story gives us some insights on how to deal with those who have ‘fallen’ in ministry. I’ve been aware over the years of people burning the books and resources of those who have made mistakes in their ministry with God – as if because of one mistake they’d made, suddenly all the good things they’d done were tainted.
But the old prophet HONOURS the young prophet. He says that his words will certainly come to pass. He asks for his body to be buried with him. In the same way, there will be times that there are messengers from God who bring a prophesy or a revelation back to the body of Christ – and then make a major mistake that costs them their ministry. While we don’t condone the sin that has taken place – it’s also important that we remember and honour what God did through them when they DID obey what He was calling them to.