In Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 Solomon wrote ”Then I hated all my labor in which I toiled under the sun because I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?” These words proved to be quite prophetic for Solomon whose son Rehoboam succeeded him. He made a few shrewd decisions but for the most part, Rehoboam made very poor decisions. At the beginning of his reign, he made a selfish decision that divided the country into two kingdoms, north and south. And in the fourth year of his reign, he decided to turn from the Lord and worship idols. That brought the judgement of the Lord down upon him. What happened right after Solomon's death would forever change the nation of Israel.
Tensions had existed between the tribes since the time of the judges, especially between Judah in the south and Ephraim, the most influential tribe in the north. Many of Israel's leaders, like Joshua and Samuel, had come from the tribe of Ephraim. But David was from the southern tribe of Judah. These factors, along with moving the capital and the center of worship to the southern city of Jerusalem, strained the relationship more. Solomon's taxation to fund the building of the temple and palace in the southern city of Jerusalem alienated the northern tribes even more.
After Solomon's death, his son Rehoboam was approached by the people of Israel with a request that the taxes they had been forced to pay under his father's numerous building programs be lessened. Rehoboam rejected his elder's advice to be lenient, and he insulted the people by threatening to make their burden even heavier. This was the final event that split the nation into two kingdoms. Rehoboam remained the king of the southern kingdom of Judah while Jeroboam became king of the ten tribes of the northern kingdom. Citing the example of the calves created by Aaron near Mount Sinai, Jeroboam erected two statues of golden calves for worship so that his people would not be forced to travel the great distance to Jerusalem. With these idols, Jeroboam led his people away from the worship of the one true God, by combining true worship with the false worship of their neighbors.
These two kingdoms existed separately for another 200 years. At times they fought each other. Other times they cooperated in a friendly alliance against threatening neighbors. While the myriad of kings between the two kingdoms makes for compelling reading, this period of Israel's history is much better known for the prophets of the Lord who rose up during times of spiritual instability to bring God’s people back to him. The prophets had little to do with either kingdom's political success. The northern kingdom collapsed in 722B.C. when the Assyrians destroyed its capital city, Samaria. The southern kingdom survived until 586 B.C. When it fell to the Babylonians.
The story in chapter thirteen is somewhat troubling. But the story is not really about young and old prophets. This chapter is about Jeroboam and his sins. The young prophet’s ministry is very important in this account only because all he said and experienced, including his death were a part of the Lord's warning to king Jeroboam. In this chapter a prophet died but in the next chapter the crown prince died. God was trying to get Jeroboam’s attention. This prophet has no name other than ’the man of God’. He came from Judah because there were still faithful servants of God there whom the Lord could use. His name means he was functioning at the command of God and in God’s power. Jeroboam had established
his own deviant religion and as such made himself not only king but priest as well. We will see that both Jeremiah and Ezekiel were priests who became prophets but the Mosaic law did not permit kings to serve as priests. Jesus's Christ is the only King who is also a priest. Jeroboam’s priesthood was rejected by the Lord which is most likely why the prophet’s message was delivered at the altar. Notice the prophet spoke to the altar, not the king, as though God no longer wanted to address Jeroboam, a man so filled with himself and his plans he had no time to listen to the Lord.
The prophets message declared that the future lay with the house of David, not with the house of Jeroboam. We know that because of Jeroboam’s evil ways the kingdom of Israel would become so polluted with idolatry and its accompanying sins the kingdom would be wiped out within 200 years. This prophet’s message looked ahead 300 years to the reign of the godly king Josiah (640-609) who rooted out the idolatry in the land, including the king's shrine at Bethel. He also desecrated the altar by burning human bones on it and then he tore it down and let the ashes spill out. The prophecy was fulfilled just as the prophet announced. So sure was the promise that the prophet even named the king! But Jeroboam paid no attention to the message from God. He only wanted to punish the messenger.
The prophet's instructions were to not eat or drink water in that place and he was to return home by a different route. When Jeroboam tried to trap him, the prophet left knowing if he disobeyed the Lord, he would have wiped out the effectiveness of his witness and ministry. The faithful prophet from Judah could not be deceived by a wicked king but he was fooled by an old retired prophet. So here are some thoughts about this account. In biblical times sharing a meal was more than just a social custom. This was intimate fellowship and the sign of true hospitality. The city of Bethel may have been one of the early prophetic schools and perhaps the old prophet may have had a role there. But if he was still connected to the Lord living in Bethel which was then a Celtic center, Judah was just a few miles down the road. One gets the impression this old prophet was not a spiritual giant. In fact, he may have been an apostate. He had not spoken out against Jeroboam that we know of. Instead, he lied boldly to the Lord's true prophet. It is also clear the old prophet's sons were not men off faith either, at least faith in the one true Lord.
Since the old prophets knew what the prophet from Judah was supposed to do...because his sons told him of the conversation between Jeroboam and the prophet...why did the old prophet deliberately lie and encourage the young prophet to disobey the Lord? Maybe he did not want to see things in comfortable Bethel get stirred up and create problems for him. Or, maybe the young prophet was feeling proud of what he had accomplished. He had delivered a powerful message and performed three miracles. Maybe the Lord used the old man to test him and bring him back to humility. We could ask why the young prophet didn't seek the Lord's will before he followed the old prophet. We only have the account here, not the motives of the players hearts. Another strange part of this account is that the Lord sent a message to this old prophet who was out of the Lord’s will. But the Lord spoke through Balaam who was not dedicated to the Lord either. There were miracles here too. While the lion killed the young prophet, he did not maul it or eat him nor did the lion harm the mule. It appears the two animals stood guard over the young prophet until the old prophet came to take him for burial.
What follows this is the beginning of the parade of kings for both the northern and southern kingdoms. None of the kings of the northern kingdom were good. In fact, it almost seemed like each one was trying to be worse than their predecessors. The southern kingdom didn't fare much better though there were
a handful of kings that followed in the ways of the Lord. Soon we will be introduced to the prophets. Have a happy and blessed Easter!
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W