1 Kings 13 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

1 Kings 13
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

In this history, as in that of Elijah and Elisha, the compiler clearly draws from prophetic traditions or records. Here, accordingly, as there, the character of the narrative changes, and becomes full of graphic vividness and spiritual significance. In 2 Chronicles 9:29 we read of “the visions of Iddo the seer against Jeroboam the son of Nebat.” It is natural to conjecture that from these this record is drawn.

And, behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the LORD unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense.
(1) A man of God out of Judah.—Josephus calls him Jadon (Iddo); but from 2 Chronicles 13:22 it appears that Iddo was the chronicler of the reign of Abijah, and must, therefore, have lived till near the close of Jeroboam’s reign. Probably the tradition came from a mistaken interpretation of the “visions of Iddo against Jeroboam.”

By the word of the Lord.—A weak rendering of the original, “in the word of the Lord.” The constantly recurring prophetic phrases are, “the word of the Lord came to me,” and “the Spirit of the Lord was upon me,” enabling, or forcing, to declare it. The original phrase here implies both. The prophet came clothed in the inspiration of the word put into his mouth.

And he cried against the altar in the word of the LORD, and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the LORD; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men's bones shall be burnt upon thee.
(2) Thus saith the Lord.—This is one of those rather unfrequent prophecies found in Holy Scripture, which, not content to foreshadow the future in general outline, descend to striking particularity of detail. It has been indeed suggested that the words. “Josiah by name” are a marginal gloss which has crept into the text, or the insertion of the chronicler writing after the event, and not a part of the original prophetic utterance. The latter supposition is in itself not unlikely. But the mention of the name in prediction is exemplified in the well-known reference to Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28; and in this instance, as perhaps also in that, the name is significant (for Josiah means “one healed” or “helped by Jehovah”), and is not, therefore, a mere artificial detail. The particularity of prediction, which is on all hands recognised as exceptional, will be credible or incredible to us, according to the view which we take of the nature of prophetic prediction. If we resolve it into the intuitive sagacity of an inspired mind forecasting the future, because it sees more clearly than ordinary minds the germs of that future in the present, the particularity must seem incredible. If, on the other hand, we believe it to be the supernatural gift of a power to enter, in some measure, into “the mind of God,” in whose fore- knowledge all the future is already seen and ordained, then it will be to us simply unusual, but in no sense incredible, that from time to time foreknowledge of details, as well as generalities, should be granted. It is beyond controversy that the latter view is the one put forward in Holy Scripture, both in the Old Testament and in the New. Prophecy is, indeed, something higher and greater than supernatural prediction; but it claims to include such prediction, both as a test of mission from God, and as a necessary part of its revelation of the dispensations of God. On the fulfilment of this prediction, see 2 Kings 23:15-20.

And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the LORD hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.
(3, 4) The sign.—Both the signs, like most miraculous signs, shadow forth plainly the thing signified. The sign, announced to secure credence to the prediction, is itself a visible type of what that prediction foretold, in the shattering of the altar and the scattering of the ashes of the burnt-offering. The sign actually given includes, besides this, the sudden withering of the king’s hand, stretched out in defiance of the prophet—an equally plain symbol of the miserable failure of his strength and policy, when opposed to the Law and the judgment of God. It should be noted that the withdrawal of this last sign of wrath, on the submission of the king and the prayer of the prophet, was apparently designed to give Jeroboam one more opportunity of repentance. The last verses of the chapter (1 Kings 13:33-34) seem to imply that, but for the interposition of the old prophet of Bethel, he might still have taken that opportunity.

And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Bethel, that he put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him.
The altar also was rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD.
And the king answered and said unto the man of God, Intreat now the face of the LORD thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again. And the man of God besought the LORD, and the king's hand was restored him again, and became as it was before.
And the king said unto the man of God, Come home with me, and refresh thyself, and I will give thee a reward.
(7) Come home with me . . .—The invitation may have been in part the mark of some impression made on the king, and an impulse of gratitude for the restoration of his withered hand. Such was the request of Naaman to Elisha (2 Kings 5:15), though even this was emphatically refused. But it still savours of astute policy in Jeroboam: for the acceptance of hospitality and reward would in the eyes of the people imply a condonation of the idolatrous worship, which might well destroy or extenuate the impression made by the prophet’s prediction. It indicates also—what experience of such men as “the old prophet” would have produced—a low idea of prophetic character and mission, not unlike that which is shown in Balak’s treatment of Balaam. That such conceptions are perfectly compatible with a certain belief in the reality of a supernatural power in the prophet—although they, of course, derogate from its true sacredness—the monstrous request of Simon Magus (in Acts 8:19) shows with the most startling clearness. It was evidently to provide against these things—as fatal to the effectiveness of the prophet’s mission—that the prohibition of 1 Kings 13:9 was given; nor could its general purpose have been easily misunderstood, either by the king or by the prophet himself. It is a curious coincidence that in his refusal he uses words strangely like the reluctant refusal of Balak’s offer by Balaam (Numbers 22:18). The very strength of the language is suspicious.

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:
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 camest.
(9) Nor turn again . . .—The significance of this command is less obvious. It may have meant that he should not suffer the way of his return (which would clearly not be the obvious way) to be known, but should vanish swiftly, like the messenger of Elisha to Jehu (2 Kings 9:3; 2 Kings 9:10), when his work was done. If so, his neglect of the spirit of the command was the first step in the way of his destruction.

So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Bethel.
Now there dwelt an old prophet in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel: the words which he had spoken unto the king, them they told also to their father.
(11) An old prophet in Bethel.—The narrative clearly implies—and, indeed, part of its most striking instructiveness depends on this—that this old prophet was not a mere pretender to prophetic inspiration, nor an apostate from the worship of Jehovah. Like Balaam, he united true prophetic gifts with a low worldliness of temper, capable on occasion of base subterfuge and deceit. Such union of elements, which should be utterly discordant, is only too characteristic of man’s self-contradictory nature. He had thrown in his lot with Jeroboam’s policy, which did not want plausible grounds of defence: in spite of this adhesion, he desired to continue still a prophet of the Lord, and to support the king’s action by prophetic influence. It has been noticed that, after the maintenance of the idolatry of Beth-el, even the true prophets did not break off their ministry to the kingdom of Israel, and that, indeed, they never appeared in open hostility to that kingdom, till the introduction of Baal worship. But their case is altogether different from that of the old prophet. He deliberately supports the idolatry, and that by the worst of falsehoods—a falsehood in the name of God. They rebuke the sin (see 1 Kings 14:9), but do not forsake their ministry to the sinner.

And their father said unto them, What way went he? For his sons had seen what way the man of God went, which came from Judah.
And he said unto his sons, Saddle me the ass. So they saddled him the ass: and he rode thereon,
And went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak: and he said unto him, Art thou the man of God that camest from Judah? And he said, I am.
(14) An oak.—Properly, the oak, or terebinth; supposed to be known in that comparatively treeless country, like the oak at Shechem (Genesis 35:4; Genesis 35:8; Joshua 24:26; Judges 9:6), the oak at Ophrah (Judges 6:11), and the palm-tree of Deborah (Judges 4:5). This expression is an evident mark of the antiquity of the document from which the history is taken. It has been suggested that the narrative implies a needless loitering of the prophet of Judah on the way. Taken by itself, it would not necessarily convey this; but in relation to the temper indicated in the whole story, the thing may be not improbable.

Then he said unto him, Come home with me, and eat bread.
And he said, I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee: neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place:
For it was said to me by the word of the LORD, Thou shalt eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest.
He said unto 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.
(18) An angel spake unto me.—The lie was gross, and ought to have been obvious to one who had received a plain command, and must have known that “God was not a man that He should lie, or the son of man that He should repent.” It was believed, no doubt, because it chimed in with some secret reluctance to obey, and, by obedience, to give up all reward and hospitality. Hence the belief was a self-deceit, and, as such, culpable. It is inexplicable that the condemnation which it drew down should have been thought strange by any who understands human nature, and knows the self-deceiving colour which our wish gives to our thought. (See the famous Sermon of Bishop Butler on “Self-deceit.”)

So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water.
And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the LORD came unto the prophet that brought him back:
(20) The word of the Lord came.—It is, perhaps, the most terrible feature in the history that the Divine sentence is spoken—no doubt, as in the case of Balaam, unwillingly—through the very lips which by falsehood had lured the prophet of Judah from the right path, and at the very table of treacherous hospitality. Josephus, with his perverse tendency to explain away all that seems startling, misses this point entirely, and assigns the revelation to the prophet of Judah himself. Striking as this incident is, it is perhaps a symbol of a general law constantly exemplifying itself, that the voice of worldly wisdom first beguiles the servants of God to disobedience by false glosses on their duty to Him, and then proclaims unsparingly their sin and its just punishment.

And he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the LORD, and hast not kept the commandment which the LORD thy God commanded thee,
But camest back, and hast eaten bread and drunk water in the place, of the which the LORD did say to thee, Eat no bread, and drink no water; thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers.
And it came to pass, after he had eaten bread, and after he had drunk, that he saddled for him the ass, to wit, for the prophet whom he had brought back.
And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him: and his carcase was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it, the lion also stood by the carcase.
(24) A lion.—The lion is noticed in the Old Testament not unfrequently, especially in Southern Palestine: at Timnath (Judges 14:5); near Bethlehem (1 Samuel 17:34); at Kabzeel, in Judah (2 Samuel 23:20); near Aphek (1 Kings 20:36); in the thickets and forests of the Jordan valley (Jeremiah 4:7; Jeremiah 5:6), &c. The lion of Palestine is probably of the variety still constantly found in the neighbourhood of Babylon; and the prevalence of lions is shown by the occurrence of such names as Lebaoth, or Bethlebaoth, “the house of lions” (see Joshua 15:32), and by the many names for the lion used in Scripture, as, for example, in Job 4:10-11. Now that the forests have disappeared from Palestine the lions have disappeared with them.

And, behold, men passed by, and saw the carcase cast in the way, and the lion standing by the carcase: and they came and told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt.
And when the prophet that brought him back from the way heard thereof, he said, It is the man of God, who was disobedient unto the word of the LORD: therefore the LORD hath delivered him unto the lion, which hath torn him, and slain him, according to the word of the LORD, which he spake unto him.
(26) He said, It is the man of God.—The old prophet did not know how his prediction was to be fulfilled, but recognised at once its supernatural fulfilment. There is in his words a characteristic reticence as to his own share in the work, in respect both of the deceit and the prediction of judgment, perhaps indicating something of the strange mixture of remorse and unscrupulous policy which comes out in his later action.

And he spake to his sons, saying, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him.
And he went and found his carcase cast in the way, and the ass and the lion standing by the carcase: the lion had not eaten the carcase, nor torn the ass.
And the prophet took up the carcase of the man of God, and laid it upon the ass, and brought it back: and the old prophet came to the city, to mourn and to bury him.
And he laid his carcase in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother!
(30-32) They mourned.—The mourning of the old prophet, and the burial of the body in his own sepulchre, probably show some touch of remorse and personal compassion for the victim of his treacherous policy, mingled with the desire of preserving the tomb, which was to be his own last resting-place, from desecration, when the prediction of the prophet of Judah should be accomplished. But, even setting aside the rather prosaic tradition of his attempts to remove any impression made on the mind of Jeroboam, which Josephus has preserved (Ant. viii., 9), it is evident that his policy was only too successful. The messenger of wrath had been enticed to familiar intercourse with the prophet of the new idolatry, and had been publicly proclaimed as his “brother:” probably his death had been used to discredit his warning. The result is seen in the significant notice of 1 Kings 13:33 : “After this thing, Jeroboam returned not from his evil way.” Hence the seriousness of the disobedience, which played into the hands of wickedness, and the startling severity of the penalty.

And it came to pass, after he had buried him, that he spake to his sons, saying, When I am dead, then bury me in the sepulchre wherein the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones:
For the saying which he cried by the word of the LORD against the altar in Bethel, and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, shall surely come to pass.
After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest of the people priests of the high places: whosoever would, he consecrated him, and he became one of the priests of the high places.
(33) Whosoever would.—See 1 Kings 12:32. The emphatic tone of the words, “whosoever would, he consecrated him,” possibly indicates that, in spite of all that Jeroboam and his prophet could do, there was some difficulty in securing candidates for his unauthorised priesthood.

And this thing became sin unto the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off, and to destroy it from off the face of the earth.
(34) And this thing.—The comment of the author of the book, evidently based on the prophetic denunciation of Ahijah in 1 Kings 14:9-11, and its subsequent fulfilment. (See 1 Kings 15:25-30.)

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