The Man of God out of Judah
E W Rogers, Oxford
1 Kings, 13
The "Man of God out of Judah," whose name is not disclosed, was "sent on a journey" with a commission from God. He failed, to fulfil it. In this respect he was akin to King Saul of earlier days, see 1. Sam. 15. 18. Although the precise commandment given to King Saul is known, we do not know the exact wording of the charge given to the Mart of God, We are simply told he "came by the word of the Lord unto Bethel."
Conditions in his days were exceedingly bad. Solomon had passed and Jeroboam had snatched the major part of the Kingdom from his son Rehoboam. By his later actions he earned for himself the frequently-iterated epigram "Jeroboam who made Israel to sin."
He established a political religion through fear. The people's compliance with the Levitical law at Jerusalem would, he thought, result in the ten tribes rejoining the two. He feared they might revert to a Judaic monarch. Jeroboam by all means wished to avoid this. Having learned the ways of Egypt during his sojourn there, he set up two calves, one at Dan and the other at bethel, (a place of historic interest), using words on that occasion which were an unmistakable echo of those used by Aaron when he, too, set up the golden calf in the wilderness. He gave no heed to the sequel of that apostacy. He pleaded expediency as his excuse: he was solicitous of the people's welfare: to avoid the physical fatigue involved in the journey up to Jerusalem was his reason. He disowned the house of the Lord and erected others. God's centre of meeting he refused to acknowledge. He substituted the Levitical priesthood by one from the lowest of the people, not of the tribe of Levi. He disowned the Feasts of the Lord and in their place introduced others. God's times he rejected and elected the eighth month for his innovations, a month devised out of his own heart. He ousted Jehovah and usurped His place as host at the feasts.
It is not difficult to see in modern Christendom a similar thing. Its consecrated buildings, its ordained priesthood, its feast days, and its sensuous worship are things devised out of man's heart. It is a mixture of obsolete Judaism and corrupt paganism: it is the establishment of a counterfeit religion displacing the spiritual principles introduced by Christ.
Against these evils the man of God (i.e. God's man) out of Judah was impressed 'by the word of the Lord' to protest. God's word was his rule of conduct and he felt he must protest against anything which openly and blatantly set that aside. He took his journey and went to Bethel. Jeroboam was officiating at the altar at the opening functions of the new system. This was an aggravation of his already too many sins, God never at any time sanctioned a monarch to act as priest. The union of church and state was reserved exclusively for Christ.
The man of God utters ominous words. He spoke as a prophet and the hall-mark of a prophet was with him. He ignores the King and addresses the altar. His words came to pass, part at once and part later. The altar was there and then overthrown by divine judgment. Judah's king was not yet born. Josiah's birth and actions were not to be accomplished till many years had rolled by, but come he did. Men of God can see both what is near and what is far of: they enter into God's thoughts concerning current evil, and know that His judgment must and will fall.
The indignation of the king was aroused and his arm was outstretched to lay hold of the prophet. God, however, protected His servant and, to express it as another has done, it seemed as if the blood in his arm became frozen: he was not able to withdraw it. However, in the midst of judgment God remembers mercy. The King instinctively knew this prophet was in touch with God's power and he implored him to pray for him. He knows not God himself, and could not pray to Him. But he spoke of God as "Jehovah thy God" for the man of God knew Him. The Lord is very pitiful and full of compassion and repenteth Him of the evil: He was intreated of the man of God and the arm was restored.
But peril lay just round the corner. The grateful king desirous of acknowledging in a practical way the prophet's kindness (it should have been called the kindness of God) invited him to the palace and promised a reward. The prophet declined. He had received directions from God not to eat or drink in that idolatrous place: nor indeed was he to go back on his tracks. He was to return another way, thus making a complete journey and rounding off one mission. God never sanctions His people retracing their steps, unless such steps have been in a wrong direction. Truly in vain was this net set in the sight of the man of God: he was not ensnared.
But the devil has many devices, and if he fails in one attempt he will try another. If the offer of the king is de-dined he will get another to make a similar offer with added subtleties.
There was in Bethel an old prophet, perhaps not old in years as much as one who has been a prophet, though now no longer was useful to God. This suggests a number of questions. Why was he in Bethel at all? Why was he settling down there? How came his sons to be in the false temple witnessing what transpired at the altar? Had they been trained to join in the false ceremonies? Had the father lost control of his family? Or, was the father's example so bad that the sons, when above the age of responsibility, nevertheless imitated their father? Why did not the old prophet make his protest against the outrages of Jeroboam?
Having been informed of what had transpired and of the departure of the man of God, he decided to pursue him. It may well have been that former days had been brought back to his mind when God spake to him. It may have been that jealousy or envy had sprung up in his breast, and he could not bear that God should use another and set him on one side. Or he may have wanted Lo gain kudos by having under his roof a successful servant of God, Had the man of God continued his journey and got out of the place as quickly as Lot should have left Sodom, he would not have fallen victim to this second snare laid for his feet.
He was found silting under an oak and dwelling in that place. It is always dangerous when prophets sit down. Jonah sat under a gourd: Elijah sat under a juniper tree. All three were sick in soul and ready prey for the adversary. He was not merely weak physically but morally. "I will not" of v.8 becomes "I may not" of v.l6. "The Lord charged me" of v.9 is weakened to "It was said to me" of V.17. The old prophet was not slow to make capital of this vacillation.
He claimed also to be a prophet. "1 also am a prophet," He ought to have said "I was a prophet." He cannot claim now that God speaks to him. He alleges that an angel spake to him by the word of the Lord. It was a lie but it succeeded and, although the man of God was not " to turn again by the way" he came, the record states that "he went back", the old prophet "brought him back"; thou "earnest back"; and he is spoken of as "the prophet whom he brought back". He is sitting down, eating and drinking in the very place of which he had spoken such severe words of judgment. He should have known that God never contradicts Himself nor says to one what is contrary to what he has said to another. The word the man of God had received direct from the Lord could never have been cancelled out by any allegation of a word given from the Lord, through an angel, to another prophet, and then transmitted to him.
Not that God never speaks to those to whom in former times He had spoken. It is, however, one thing to speak to such and quite another to speak through such. The Lord spake to the old prophet, bringing home to his conscience his grievous wrong. He is given the terrible task of admitting to the man of God that he had become the instrument of putting an end to his usefulness, testimony and his life. All was over for him: God could use him no longer. God's word should have been binding on him. Disobedient himself, how could he expect Jeroboam the King of Israel to become obedient to the word of the Lord spoken through him? God's word is binding on all, speaker and hearers alike.
The apostate sons had saddled the old prophet an ass and he took his journey to the man of God under the oak. Now the old prophet himself saddles the ass for the man of God and he sends him on that fateful journey. The devil had got the man of God. He goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Not attacking the ass, the lion tears the prophet. How unusual! What must the old prophet who "dwelt" in the city have now thought when he heard the report of the disaster? The message of God's man out of Judah to Jeroboam had not even made the old prophet consider leaving Bethel: he still "dwelt" in the city.
Again the ass is saddled and the old prophet goes to where the lion and ass and carcase are. The devil, however, does not trouble about "old prophets". He is nevertheless very concerned with "men of God". The lion did not touch the old prophet, nor the ass. The prophet takes up the carcase and, still not abandoning the city, he returns to it with the carcase to mourn and bury him.
"Alas my brother", "Alas my brother". Both were in a like position in this respect, that both had failed, both had become useless to God. The service of each had ended, but God in His inscrutable wisdom had taken away the one: the other He left to go his own way with a conscience impervious to the sensibilities created by God's word. "Lay my bones with his bones" he says: he knew they were both in a like case: two derelict servants of God.
No wonder Paul feared lest he, too, should "become a castaway", useless to God, a wreck on the sea of service, liable either to be taken away in disciplinary judgment that the spirit might be saved in the day of Jesus Christ, or liable to be left to drift fruitlessly and aimlessly through time.