Today’s reading: 1 Kings 12-14.
I am the prophet and I smolder and burn
I scream and cry and wonder why you never seem to learn
To hear with your own ears with your own eyes to see
I am the prophet, won’t you listen to me?
With that refrain Michael Card captured the essence of the mood and motivation of the Old Testament prophets. They were men of God who told forth the word of God, and except for the wisdom writings their stories will dominate the remainder of the Old Testament. We have seen glimpses of the prophets before now, but with the division of the kingdom of Israel they begin to play a huge role in God’s interaction with men.
Why the sudden surge in prophetic activity?
- The kings who led the people were ungodly. Not one good king would sit on the throne of the northern kingdom until it fell some 200 years after it split from the united kingdom. Only a handful of godly kings would rule in Judah, the southern kingdom, before it fell some 300 years after the split.
- The priests were not fulfilling any role of correcting or rebuking the sins of the people. Many times they were just as guilty of idolatry, oppression, or greed.
- God still wanted to interact with his rebellious children, but the most effective method was to use the rare devoted man who heard his voice and was brave enough to share the often hostile message.
In a peculiar account, a prophet comes and gives God’s message of condemnation to King Jeroboam, the first king of the northern kingdom, who quickly abandoned the LORD and began promoting pagan idols.
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. 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. 1 Kings 13:4-5
We can see several of the characteristics of a prophet in this unnamed man of God. He speaks for God, he speaks at personal risk, and his message is confirmed by signs or wonders. As was true for Jeroboam, his message usually goes unheeded.
The peculiar part of the story occurs after the prophet leaves Jeroboam. He says God has told him not to stop on the way home, but an “old prophet” lies to him and tricks him into believing it is alright for him to stop and eat at his house. Perhaps the old prophet was trying to curry favor with the king, or perhaps he wanted to discredit the man of God, or maybe he was just envious of his ability to hear God. Whatever the reason, it was wrong for the younger prophet to stop, and God condemned him for it, sending a lion to kill him as he made his way home. Here’s what his death teaches us about prophets:
- No prophet is beyond reproach but must remain obedient to God.
- Everything about the prophet’s life, even his death, is a message to others about the truth of God’s word.
- There must be integrity between the message and the messenger.
These characteristics are good reminders for anyone who wants to be a witness to the world. The message of salvation through Christ alone is a message many will find hard to hear. In much of the world the message is shared at great risk. Most importantly for the church, the message must be shared with integrity, with the messenger beyond reproach, or the message will have no impact.