The Disobedient Prophets
John E. Todd, Chesterfield, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Do we still love fairy tales? Is it not true, generally speaking, that on the one hand the popular, often-used passages of the Old Testament have happy endings, such as Naaman the leper? Yet on the other hand, the lesser known and seldom used passages have unhappy endings. Are we guilty, in our preaching and teaching, of a "fairy tale" complex, choosing the incidents where "they lived happily ever after" ? Do we not need to learn, now we have reached maturity, the hard lessons for life as well as the blessings God has for us? The incident of the disobedient prophets, recorded in 1 Kings 13. 1-32, has both a tragic ending and a hard lesson to teach us.
Some readers may not recall this incident, so a brief summary may be useful. The unnamed prophet left Judah by command of the Lord, and delivered his prophecy to king Jeroboam of Israel. The prophet was also under clear instructions from the Lord as to his return journey after his mission was completed. Under those instructions the prophet declined the royal invitation to remain as the king's guest. But the more subtle invitation of a fellow prophet tempted him to disobey God's instructions, and disaster followed.
God's only concern was the safety of His prophet. God had given detailed instructions for when the prophet's mission was completed. "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 earnest", v. 9. The prophet obeyed the divine instruction to the point of disobeying a royal instruction! "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", v. 8. As the result of his obedience in following the appointed route, in refusing food and drink in his haste, the prophet arrived safely at the oak tree, under which he sat, v. 14. Unknown to him, but known to God, he had now safely passed the danger spot where the road was infested with lions.
This is one of the great purposes of the Word of God, to divert His people along safe paths. Those who obey the Word of God in their daily lives will avoid all the dangers of sin and false teaching.
Sin always brings sorrow and suffering, not only to its victim but ultimately also to its agent. But the Word of God always directs us away from sin, its dangers, sorrows and suffering. The Word of God always directs us into the paths of righteousness which are safe. If we are guided by divine wisdom, then "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace", Prov. 3. 17.
The Word of God also enables us to avoid the very real dangers of false teaching. The gospel, as stated in the New Testament, is the only source where we find the assurance of salvation. "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life", 1 John 5. 13. But the whole spectrum of false teachings, from ritualism to heresy, not only cannot offer the assurance of salvation, but also actively and officially denies such a doctrine.
It has ever been God's purpose to direct His people into safe paths: "But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. And he led them on safely, so that they feared not", Psa. 78. 52-53.
But as the prophet sat safely under the oak tree, another message came to 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. But he lied unto him", 1 Kings 13. 18. Was the prophet to be blamed for being deceived by the false message? Yes, as a man of God, he should have known that God never changes His mind! "And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent (i.e. change his mind): for he is not a man, that he should repent", 1 Sam. 15. 29. And we also, as Christians in the twentieth century, are surrounded by seductive religious voices. Some would tell us that their traditions have superseded the teaching of Holy Writ. Many Protestants would tell us that much in Holy Scripture is "undeveloped", and of course modern theology has completed the developing process! Heretics would tell us of the "new light" they have received in these last days. But God does not change His mind, "For ever, 0 Lord, thy word is settled in heaven", Psa. 119. 89. The revelation of God in Christ is complete and therefore final, John 1. 14, 18. The Gospel completely meets man's eternal spiritual need and is therefore final, Gal. 1. 8-9. The basic choice is as simple as it was under the oak tree, the voice of the unchanging God or the voice of deceiving men. Let us not be deceived. The deceived and disobedient prophet now "went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water", 1 Kings 13. 19. He went back over the danger spot, where the road was lion-infested, ensuring that he must return again and alone to that forbidden spot.
Upon his return disaster befell him, "And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him", v. 24. Sometimes a strange interpretation is placed upon this passage, accusing a vindictive God for punishing His servant's disobedience. But it was God, and God alone, who was so deeply concerned for his safety! If the Electricity Board erected a notice declaring "Danger High Voltage. Keep Out", then for whatever reason people entered, ignorance, carelessness, curiosity or flagrant disobedience, their resulting injury or death would be their own responsibility. And it is not because the Electricity Board is vindictive! For the Board, as the erector of the notice, had sought to save people. This is the hard lesson of the passage; there is an inevitability about disobeying the Word of God. The Word of God shows the right paths; if we disobey, for whatever reason matters not, we shall automatically step into the disaster from which the Scriptures have sought to save us. For example, in regard to the pursuit of material wealth Paul pointed out, "For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows", 1 Tim. 6. 10. If we disobey the Word of God and step into sin, we shall inevitably endure the sorrows of that sin.
If we are to tread the Christian pathway in a world of opposition, there must be on the part of each Christian a definite intention to know the Word of God, which occupies time, and a definite intention to obey it. Otherwise the sorrows and sufferings of sin or false teaching must inevitably come upon us.
AUTHOR PROFILE: John has been constributing articles to assembly magazines since 1986. together with his wife he began work amongst children that led to establishment of the assembly. Now he serves the assembly as an elder and in the ministry of God's word.