Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
JEROBOAM’S GOVERNMENT IN ISRAEL
1 KINGS 13:1–14: 20
A.—The admonition of Jeroboam by a Prophet, and the disobedience and end of the latter
1 KINGS 13:1–34
1AND behold, there came a man of God out of Judah by the word of the Lord 2[Jehovah] unto Bethel: and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. And he cried against the altar in the word of the Lord [Jehovah], and said, O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord [Jehovah]; 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.1 3And he gave a sign2 the same day, saying, This is the sign which the Lord [Jehovah] hath spoken; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes3 that are upon it shall be poured out. 4And it came to pass, when king Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, which had cried against the altar in Beth-el, 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. 5The 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 [Jehovah]. 6And the king answered and said unto the man of God, In treat now the face of the Lord [Jehovah] thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again. And the man of God besought the Lord [Jehovah], and the king’s hand was restored him again, and became as it was before. 7And the king said unto the man of God, Come home with me, and refresh thyself, and I will give thee a reward. 8And 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: 9for so was it charged me by the word of the Lord [Jehovah], saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest. 10So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Beth-el.4
11Now there dwelt an old prophet in Beth-el; and his sons5 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. 12And their father said unto them, What way went he? For his sons had seen5 what way the man of God went, which came from Judah. 13And he said unto his sons, Saddle me the ass. So they saddled him the ass: and he rode thereon, 14and went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak [the terebinth6]: and he said unto him, Art thou the man of God that camest from Judah? And he said, I am. 15Then he said unto him, Come home with me, and eat bread. 16And 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: 17for it was said to me by the word of the Lord [Jehovah], Thou shalt eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest. [And7] 18he said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord [Jehovah], saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he lied unto him. 19So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water. 20And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the Lord [Jehovah] came unto the prophet that brought him back: 21and he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the Lord [Jehovah], Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the Lord 22[Jehovah], and hast not kept the commandment which the Lord [Jehovah] thy God commanded thee, but earnest 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 carcass shall not come unto the sepulchre of thy fathers. 23And 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.8 24And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him: and his carcass was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it, the lion also stood by the carcass. 25And, behold, men passed by, and saw the carcass cast in the way, and the lion standing by the carcass: and they came and told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt. 26And 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 [Jehovah]:9 therefore the Lord [Jehovah] hath delivered him unto the lion, which hath torn him, and slain him, 27according to the word of the Lord [Jehovah], which he spake unto him. And he spake to his sons, saying, Saddle me the ass. And they saddled him. 28And he went and found his carcass cast in the way, and the ass and the lion standing by the carcass: the lion had not eaten the carcass, nor torn the ass. 29And the prophet took up the carcass 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. 30And he laid his carcass in his own grave; and they mourned over him, saying, Alas, my brother! 31And 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:10 32for the saying which he cried by the word of the Lord [Jehovah] against the altar in Beth-el, and against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, shall surely come to pass. 33After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest [mass] of the people priests of the high places: whosoever would, he consecrated11 him, and he became one12 of the priests of the high places. 34And this thing13 became [was a] sin unto the house of Jeroboam, even to cut it off, and to destroy it from off the face of the earth.
This section, over against the preceding and following chapters, bears an unmistakably peculiar character, and is doubtless inserted here from some other source. Nevertheless it is closely connected with chap. 12. and chap. 14., as is sufficiently obvious from its beginning and conclusion. The words, 1 Kings 13:1: עֹמֵד עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לְהַקְטִיר clearly refer to the concluding words of the former chapter (1 Kings 13:33); וַיַּעַל עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ לְהַקְֹטִיר refer back and connect the present section completely with the foregoing. When Jeroboam ascended the altar at the feast he had instituted, and stood on it to offer incense, behold! there came a man of God out of Judah, &c. The man of God did not appear at an ordinary sacrifice, but on a solemn public occasion, most probably at the first of the new festivals. This gave peculiar significance to his appearing; “Jeroboam’s dreadful apostasy was not to escape severe chastisement from God” (v. Gerlach). With the appearing of the man of God (1 Kings 13:1–10) the full account of his conduct and fate is conjoined (1 Kings 13:11–32). That this account, though it says nothing of Jeroboam, is not a mere episode, but bears upon the principal subject, namely, “the sin of Jeroboam,” which had such a marked influence on all Israel’s future history, is obvious from the conclusion of the narrative (1 Kings 13:33–34): “After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again,” &c. These words form the connecting link with the 14th chap. The connection is, briefly, this: Jeroboam not only entered on an evil way (1 Kings 12:28–33), but let nothing turn him from it, neither the warning and the miracles of the man of God (1 Kings 13:1–10) nor his remarkably significant fate (1 Kings 13:11–32). He remained hardened in his apostasy. The divine sentence on him and his house, recorded in chap. 14., was therefore announced to him by the prophet Ahijah, who had promised him the kingdom on condition of fidelity to Jehovah (1 Kings 11:31–39). In respect of the contents of our section here, in its phraseology, its source was not contemporaneous with the events, as is the case with the other sources of our books, which are written by contemporaneous prophets (cf. Introduc. § 2). 1 Kings 13:32 shows this; the old prophet of Bethel speaks of the “cities of Samaria,” after the burial of the man of God. But the city of Samaria did not even exist then; it was built by Omri, who was king fifty years after Jeroboam (1 Kings 16:24); and there certainly could not have been at that time any province named after it. The explanation that the expression is “proleptic” (Keil) is untenable, because it was not written by our author, who lived in exile, but it is given by him as an expression of the Bethel prophet. Later critics, Ewald and Thenius, for instance, have inferred that the whole account is of a much later date, from 1 Kings 13:2, where the man of God does not speak of a future son of David only, but mentions the proper name of a king who lived more than 300 years later; the narrative must therefore date from after Josiah’s time (2 Kings 23:15–20) and have been written down as it was repeated among the people. The calling of proper names, certainly, does not characterize prophecy, which differs from foretelling in this, that it does not notice more or less accidental outward circumstances, but announces only such things as are connected with the divine economy and development of God’s kingdom; it describes the persons whose future appearances it announces by their qualities, but not by their names. In the only exceptional case (Isai. 44:28; 45:1) the name כורשׁ may be appellative = sun, as a name of honor for the Persian kings (Hengstenb., Christol. I. 2, s. 192 sq.). Keil says that “the name יֹאשִׁיָּהזּ (in our passage) only follows its appellative meaning; he whom Jehovah sustains, from אָשָׁה to sustain, and means, a son shall be born to the house of David, whom Jehovah shall support and establish, so that he shall execute judgment on the high priests at Bethel. This prophecy was afterwards so fulfilled by divine Providence, that the king who executed the sentence bore the name of Josiah as his proper name.” But this name is never used anywhere else as an appellative, and only belonged to one person. If we must take the expression “all the cities of Samaria” (1 Kings 13:32) “as proleptic,” we cannot see the reason why this may not also be the case with the words “Josiah by name” (1 Kings 13:2). We need not suppose they were the gloss of a later interpolator; our author took them as he found them in the document from which he borrowed; this document, however, was, as we have said, not a contemporary one, but the later record of what had been preserved in the verbal traditions of the people, and had been revived by Josiah’s act (2 Kings 23. If any section of our books bears the stamp of tradition, the present one does; and that by no means because a miracle is recorded in it. The names of the two prophets with whom the whole narrative is taken up are wanting, which is an evidence of tradition, as are also the difficulties in 1 Kings 13:6 sq. and 1 Kings 13:18–22, about which opinions differ widely, and which can scarcely be satisfactorily explained. Although those facts which are most important here are historical and unchanged, yet the traditional coloring of single and less important circumstances can be plainly perceived; every attempt to determine what is purely historical and what is traditional is vain. We must not forget the general grand aim of the whole section, which is to make known the wonderful ways and judgments of God.
Exegetical and Critical
1 Kings 13:1–3. And behold there came a man of God, &c. We cannot ascertain who this was. “Josephus calls him Jadon, thinking no doubt of the עִדּוֹ or עִדּוֹא who is called יֶעְרוֹ after the k’ri in 2 Chron. 9:29; we cannot accept this, however (as Jarchi does), because he lived under king Abijah, according to 2 Chron. 13:22, while the prophet spoken of here died now. For the same reason we cannot think, with Ephrem and Tertullian, that it was Shemaiah, see 2 Chron. 12:1, 22” (Thenius). It expressly says that he came out of Judah, therefore he did not spring from the apostate part of the nation. בִּדְבַר יְהוָֹה does not mean: on the word or command of Jehovah, but, as appears from 1 Kings 13:2, 9, 17 (cf. 1 Kings 20:35 and 1 Sam. 3:21): in (through) the word. “The word of the Lord is spoken of as a power that came upon the prophet and forced him to utter the revelation made to him” (Keil). O altar, altar! the altar is metonymically for what was done on it and concentrated in it; in short, of the worship performed there. The fact that the prophet addressed the altar was incomparably more significant than if he had turned himself to the person of the king; the sentence of destruction which he pronounces on the altar as the type of the new worship, and of Jeroboam’s sin, includes the rain of the latter. For Josiah see preliminary remarks. The burning of men’s bones on the altar is the greatest possible desecration of it, as according to the law (Numb. 19:16) every, even involuntary, contact with a dead body made a person unclean; nothing else could have represented the altar as so utterly useless and abominable. In the genuine prophetic manner, the man of God adds to his words a deed (see on 1 Kings 11:30) as a pledge of his prophecy. מוֹפֶת is not so much a sign (אוֹת), as an act producing astonishment, prodigium (Hengstenberg, Christol. II. s. 45 sq.). דֶּשֶׁן (really fat, hence the Sept. gives πιότης here) is the fat of the parts sacrificed on the altar, and ran out mixing with the ashes, therefore is not ashes absolutely. These ashes of sacrifice were, on that account, usually taken to a clean place (Lev. 1:16; 4:12). The spilling of them out, in this case, denoted that they, and consequently the sacrifice from which they came, and the whole worship, were unclean; it was no natural result of the bursting of the altar. 2 Kings 23. relates the fulfilment of the prophetical act and word.
1 Kings 13:4–7. And it came to pass when king Jeroboam heard the saying, &c., 1 Kings 13:4. Jeroboam did not raise his hand to offer the incense (Thenius); but as he stood on the altar, he stretched out his hand towards the man of God as he spoke, and cried out, Lay hold on him! It dried up. “Jeroboam’s hand, so suddenly affected that he could not draw it back, was either paralyzed or, what seems more explanatory of the expression dried up, struck with tetanus; this last is what Ackermann accepts (in Weise’s Materialien III. s. 131 sq.)” (Winer, R.- W.-B. II. s. 192). Jeroboam’s order thereby lost all effect; no one ventured to seize the prophet; it was also a warning to the king himself, and had a momentary effect on him. He was terrified, and begged the prophet to “entreat now [to make inattentive] the face of the Lord thy God for me” (חָלָה) i. e., to beseech Him so earnestly that He cannot refuse. “The Lord thy God,” he says, not that He was not his God, but: thy God in whose name and behalf thou hast come here. When he was succored he invited the prophet to go home with him, and offered him a present, but not from genuine repentance or gratitude, but only because he wished to win him over, and to do away with or lessen the impression his conduct (the prophet’s) made on the people present; for he himself remained the same apostate after as before.
1 Kings 13:8–10. [But] And the man of God said, &c., 1 Kings 13:8. The object of this prohibition of eating and drinking in Bethel was not to effect the “prompt execution of the commission” (Thenius). Eating and drinking with a person, sitting down to table with any one, is the sign of communion or fellowship, and used as such here, as often elsewhere in Scripture (1 Cor. 5:11; cf.Gen. 43:32; Luke 15:2; Gal. 2:12; 1 Cor. 10:18, 21). The man of God, chosen to announce God’s judgment by word and deed on the apostate and his followers, was to avoid fellowship with him, for this would be utterly inconsistent with his commission; the command was given him, ad detestationem idololatriœ; ut ipso facto ostenderet, Bethelitas idololatras adeo esse detestabiles et a Deo quasi excommunicatos, ut nullum fidelium cum iis cibi vel potus communionem habere velit (Corn. a Lapide). When he afterwards ate and drank there, he transgressed a much higher and more important command than one relative to fasting only. This, too, was why he was to take another way home; not “to remain unnoticed and to avoid being detained” (Ewald), but to avoid being brought back, and persuaded to do anything inconsistent with his commission or not contained in it; this alone he was to do, and then vanish as quickly as he came. This sheds the necessary light on the following narrative, 1 Kings 13:11–32.
1 Kings 13:11–22. An old prophet in Bethel, 1 Kings 13:11. He lived in the town (1 Kings 13:25, 29), but the high place was probably outside the town. Instead of “his son,” the Sept., the Vulg., and the Syr. give the plural, as in 1 Kings 13:12. One spake in the name of the others, or they agreed with what the one said. These were actual sons of the prophet, not pupils, for the latter would scarcely have witnessed the golden calf worship. The Terebinth (1 Kings 13:14) “is a tree that resembles an oak,.… has evergreen leaves, and grape-like fruit. It attains a great age, and therefore often serves as a monument or for topographical purposes; Gen. 35:4; Jud. 6:11, 19; 1 Sam. 17:2, 19; 2 Sam. 18:9” (Gesenius). The article points to a certain terebinth known in Bethel. The resting under this tree was not at all the beginning of his sin, as the older commentators think, for delay in Bethel alone was prohibited; still the delay gave time for others to come up to him. The בִּדְבַר 1 Kings 13:18 is the same as in 1 Kings 13:17 and 1 Kings 13:2; the angel said to me, “by the word,” i. e., the power of Jehovah’s word; he does not venture to say Jehovah spake to him, but says an angel did. See the His. Ethic, below, for the announcement of punishment (1 Kings 13:20–22) by the same old prophet who had lied to the man of God. The final words of 1 Kings 13:22: thy carcass, &c., do not mean, morte violenta, antequam in patriam redeas, peribis (J. H. Michaelis, Keil, and others), for נְבֵלָה means all dead bodies (Isai. 26:19), not only those killed with violence; the Sept. simply gives σῶμα. The emphasis falls on the “sepulchre of thy fathers.” It was thought a misfortune to be buried among strangers, far from home and relations; so it was a very natural wish to be buried in the grave of his fathers (every respectable family had a family sepulchre, cf. Winer, R.-W.-B. I. s. 444), (2 Sam. 19:38; Gen. 47:29 sq.;1:5). But this blessing so coveted by every Israelite was refused to the “refractory.”
1 Kings 13:23–34. And it came to pass, after he had eaten, &c., 1 Kings 13:23. The subject of the last part of the sentence cannot be other than that of the first part; so it was not the prophet of Bethel who saddled the ass, neither is it “one saddled” (Luther, Bunsen), but the man of God did it or had it done. לַנָּבִיא is not in opposition with לֹו, so that we could translate: “he saddled the ass for him, for the prophet he had fetched back” (Keil, Luther, De Wette); for throughout the whole section, נָבִיא is only used for the prophet of Bethel; the Judaish one is called “the man of God;” and the clause אֲשֶׁר הֱשִׁיבוֹ, that occurs three times, cannot be translated differently here from 1 Kings 13:20 and 26, where it is impossible to take אֲשֶׁר as the accusative. לַנָּבִיא is the general form of the genitive when it denotes possession and belonging, and must be connected with הַחֲמוֹר immediately preceding it. The old prophet either offered his ass to the man of God, who hastened home after eating and drinking, or he gave it to him at his request. שָׁבַר, used in 1 Kings 13:26 and 28 to express killing by the lion, does not mean: to tear (Ewald, De Wette), but, to break, crush, and “is very expressive, for the lion kills with one blow” (Thenius). The grave in which the man of God was laid (1 Kings 13:30) was the family sepulchre of the old prophet; see on 1 Kings 13:22. הוֹי אָחִי seems to have been the usual form of lamentation, cf.Jer. 22:18. The man of God from Judah was mourned and buried as a relative of the family. The Sept. adds at the end of 1 Kings 13:31,ἴνα σωθῶσι τὰ ὀστᾶ μου μετὰ τῶν ὀστῶν αὐτοῦ, which Thenius thinks was original, because the כִּי in the following verse becomes thus perfectly justified. But this sentence, evidently borrowed from 2 Kings 23:18, is unnecessary here; the connection is: My bones shall rest next his, for he was a true prophet; what he prophesied against the altar at Bethel will come to pass. For the expression “cities of Samaria” see Prel. Remarks. The connection of 1 Kings 13:33 and 34 with the preceding verses has been given above. If in 1 Kings 13:33, in the various directions for worship devised by Jeroboam, mention only of the priests he appointed is made, the reason of this is that they were the main supports of the whole of the unlawful worship, which could not have lasted without them. To “fill the hand” is the formula for investiture with priesthood, because the pieces of the sacrifices which belonged to Jehovah were solemnly laid in the hands of the candidate for consecration; Ex. 29:24; Lev. 8:27 sq. (Symb. des Mos. Kult. II. s. 426).
Historical and Ethical
1. The appearance of the man of God from Judah, at the feast in Bethel, shows in few strokes the characteristic nature of the prophet system, which stands alone in the history of the world. Unknown hitherto and living in retirement, neither named nor called, when the right moment came he stood there as suddenly as lightning from heaven, not coming in any man’s service but as a messenger of the Lord, borne up and sustained by the might of the “word” of God alone. Without any human help he stood before the proud, energetic king, knowing his hatred to David’s house and to Judah, knowing how Adoniram had fared (1 Kings 12:18), but he fears nothing, and boldly announces the divine sentence, not at a private interview, but in presence of all the king’s followers, of the whole priesthood, and crowd of spectators. He adds a divine act to the divine word, which act is a significant “sign” and pledge of the fulfilment of the prophecy. Having spoken and acted in the name of the Lord, he was under Jehovah’s protection, no one dared to seize him; the hand of the king, when stretched forth against him, dried up and became powerless. When the king, thus punished, begs the prophet for help, the latter calls upon the Lord, who hears him, thus showing Himself to be a gracious as well as a just God (Rom. 11:22), in order to bring him back from his evil ways. He vanished as suddenly as he came, without eating a bit of bread or drinking water, or receiving a present, even though it were the half of the house. He was to disappear completely, that every one should think of the Lord and His word alone; of what they had heard and seen.
2. Jeroboam’s conduct is full of contradictions and inconsistency. At first he was haughty and violent to the man of God, wishing to seize his person. But when he failed in this, and he felt a higher power, he became humble and dejected, begged the man he had just threatened to intercede for him, gave him a friendly invitation and offered him a present; he then let him go on his way, but paid no regard whatever to his words and deed. The cause of this conduct was not weakness of character, but rather, on the contrary, the obstinacy with which he pursued what his soul desired, and which was the mainspring of all his actions, i. e., the resolve to keep himself on the throne at any cost and under all circumstances, and not to come under the dominion of the hated house of David and Judah again (1 Kings 12:26 sq.). The petition to have his hand restored was only the effect of momentary fright; when this passed, instead of listening to the man of God, he tried to bribe him and win him over, and the whole transaction left no trace behind it. He is a type of those usurpers who have no other aim in life than to gratify their ambition and love of power, and whose apparently good and noble actions are only the fruit of this passion. It seems from 1 Kings 13:11 that the appearance of the man of God made an impression upon the surrounding people, but the account does not say of what sort this impression was, and it passes on at once to the much more important occurrence related in 1 Kings 13:10–32.
3. The old prophet in Bethel was called a false prophet and a “lying prophet” in old times, because he induced the man of God to return by telling him a lie. Josephus regards him as such (Antiq. viii. 9), but he “misunderstands the whole narrative in a truly frightful manner” (Ewald); but Jonathan, several Rabbins, and older R. Catholic commentators, even Hess also, agree in the principal thing, and pronounce the motives of this old prophet, in what he said and did, to have been unworthy. The recent commentators, following Ephrem’s example and that of Theodoret, Witsius, and others, have very rightly rejected this view. The sentence he announces to the man of God (1 Kings 13:21) shows that he was no partaker of Jeroboam’s calf-worship, but was a worshipper of Jehovah; still more does this appear from his belief in the fulfilment of the prophecy of the destruction of that false worship (1 Kings 13:32), but most of all when, on hearing of the death of his guest, although he perceived divine punishment in it, he at once proceeded to the dangerous place to find the corpse and bury it in his family sepulchre, lamented over him as his “brother,” and desired his sons to “lay his bones beside his bones” (1 Kings 13:31). We may see from 2 Kings 23:18, that he never was regarded afterwards as a false prophet, but as a true comrade of the man from Judah. From all this it appears that he could have had no bad intention when he at first hastened after the man of God (1 Kings 13:12, 13) and pressed him to return and go into his house. On the contrary, when he had heard from his sons what he had said and done, he was seized with a strong desire to see and speak to the faithful and courageous messenger of Jehovah, to enter into friendship with him, and edify himself in his company. One thing alone he was guilty of, that he used a lie to reach his end. This, however, by no means shows that he was a false, bad, and hypocritical man, but only shows he was no saint, just as “dissembling” did not make the apostle Peter (Gal. 2:13) a pseudo-apostle. “This was one of the many lies spoken in good intentions by otherwise enlightened persons of the Old Testament, but who were weak in faith” (Von Gerlach); old age, too, may have partly accounted for it. It is, however, a difficulty that the same prophet who had lied to the man of God announced his punishment to him afterwards. Perhaps his conscience awoke meantime, when he heard more at table, so that he saw his own guilt as well as that of the man of God, and in this condition became the instrument to announce the punishment, so that what happened to the man of God might not seem an undeserved fate. We ought to notice that he did not announce his death by a lion, but only said that he should not come into the sepulchre of his fathers (see above on 1 Kings 13:22). Of all the conjectures about the reason and motive, of the old prophet’s conduct, the least tenable are such as that he followed the Judah-man from more curiosity or “from human envy” (Thenius), or “because God had charged him to speak to the king” (Dereser), and that he felt his prophetical reputation injured (Hess). Apart from everything else, the commission of the man of God was no enviable one, but difficult and dangerous, and also a fruitless one. According to Hengstenberg (Beiträge II. s. 149), with whom Keil and Lisco agree, the old prophet had “sinned by silence about Jeroboam’s innovations.” “What the Judah-prophet did, showed him what he should have done. Penetrated with shame for his neglect, he endeavored to restore himself in his own opinion and that of others by intercourse with the witness for the Lord.” In this case, his purpose in hurrying after him could not have been a good one, but selfish and objectionable, and the he would have been so much the greater sin. Besides, if silence were a sin, the prophet Ahijah would have been peculiarly guilty of it, as he was an Ephraimite and had placed the prospect of the kingdom before Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:31–39). Neither prophet undertook the mission to Bethel, because no commission was given them from above—a man of God was to come from Judah. According to Knobel (Der Prophetismus der Hebr. II. s. 66 sq.), the old prophet induced him to return because “no doubt he wished to test the firmness and obedience of the Judah-man to Jehovah; perhaps the Ephraimite wished to form some theocratic plan with him, and thought it needful to ascertain first whether he was reliable—a very natural measure for an old and cautious man who lived among hostile idolatrous priests.” This, it is supposed, explains how he announced his punishment to the Judah-man, but could not refuse him his pity and esteem, as one in the same vocation. This opinion is also untenable, for, according to it, the old prophet would have taken the very opposite means to attain his end (the formation of a theocratic plan); if his test of the fidelity and obedience of the Judah-man had succeeded, and he had continued his home journey without delay, the old prophet could not have communicated his plan to him, still less have carried it out together with him.
4. The tragical end of the man of God out of Judah is clearly represented as a divine dispensation, in consequence of disobedience to Jehovah’s command, wholly conformable to the stern legal character of the Old-Testament economy (cf., for instance, Numb. 20:24; 27:14; 1 Sam. 12:15, &c.). The question has often been asked, why the prophet of Judah came to such an end, and the Bethel prophet who lied to him went unpunished? To this we may reply with another question: Who can say to Him who is righteous in all His ways and holy in all His works (Ps. 145:17), Lord, what doest Thou (Job 9:12)? We do not know what fate God allotted to the old prophet; he acts only a minor part in the narrative, compared with the prophet of Judah. It is quite wrong to assert, as is so often done, that the sin of the lie was much greater than the disobedience to Jehovah’s command. This was distinct from Jeroboam’s sin wherewith he made Israel to sin, for it touched the whole of the prophet-system, i. e., the institution of the office of divine guardians and witnesses. By not eating or drinking in that place, where that sin fully showed itself, he was to prove (as well by word as by deed) that there could be no fellowship between those who kept Jehovah’s covenant and those who had broken it. If he ate and drank in that place, he nullified the important end of his mission, and deprived the threat he had solemnly pronounced of all its force, by appearing as one who himself did not fear to transgress the express command of Jehovah. The fate that overtook him was a confirmation of the truth of the sentence he had pronounced against Jeroboam’s sin, and which sentence had appeared doubtful through his conduct; it showed also to all the people, as Theodoret remarks, that if God so punished the man of God, he would certainly not leave Jeroboam’s sin unpunished. In that the man of God did not “come unto the sepulchre of his fathers” (1 Kings 13:22), but was buried in Bethel, (i. e., “in this place”), he was, even after death, a witness against the apostasy, and his grave was a lasting monument that reminded the apostates of Jehovah’s judgments and exhorted them to conversion. But for the prophet-system itself, his fate was of great significance. With it began the active working (henceforth uninterrupted) of the prophet-system in the kingdom of organized apostasy: here it had a mission, on the unconditional fulfilment of which everything depended, namely, the constant struggle against the pseudo-theocracy. The fate of the man of God contained the strongest warning to all who should afterwards receive a similar charge, not to allow themselves to be enticed by anything, however plausible and alluring it might be (1 Kings 13:18), from implicit obedience to the divine commission. This is very probably the reason that the narrative is so explicitly detailed. As to the old prophet, his lamentation (1 Kings 13:31, 32) evidently proceeds from a heart that mourns over his own sin; he says, as it were, If I can have no more fellowship with my brother in life, I will at least be united to him in death; our common grave, to which I shall soon go down in sorrow, shall be a lasting testimony against the sin of Jeroboam.
5. Witsius says of the wonderful circumstances which accompanied the end of the man of God (Miscell, sacr. I. cap. 15, s. 145): Denique tot admiranda in unum concurrentia effecerunt, ut vaticinium adversus aram Betheliticam in omnium ore atque memoria versaretur, et legatio hujus Prophetœ multo redderetur conspectior et illustrior. The extraordinary nature of these circumstances distinguishes his end from every ordinary accidental death, and bears the impress of a special dispensation; this is peculiarly apparent in the fact that the corpse remained untouched, instead of falling a prey to the wild beasts (cf. 1 Kings 14:11), and that it was honorably carried to the grave without any pollution. To pronounce this deeply serious and significant narrative to be a “sensational” story (Vatke), on account of its miraculous disclosures, seems to indicate an almost frivolous character. For, though one or another part may bear the trace of a verbal tradition (see Prelim. Remarks), having been written down at a later date, yet the chief point remains, and that is that this history of the two prophets loudly and sternly proclaims the wonderful ways and judgments of God, and therefore lived for hundreds of years in the mouths of the people. The fact of the man of God out of Judah being killed by a lion is significant, inasmuch as God carried out His judgments elsewhere by lions (2 Kings 17:25 sq.; Wis. 11:15–17), and He Himself, when He comes as a judge, is likened to a lion (Isai. 31:4; Jer. 4:7; Am. 3:8), and those also who execute His judgments are called lions (Jer. 25:30, 38; 49:15; 1:44). That the lion did not tear the dead so that he could not be buried, is a sure evidence that all creatures are in His hand (the Almighty’s), and that they cannot stir against His will (Heidelberg Katech.). Cf. Job 38:11.
Homiletical and Practical
1 Kings 13:1–10. The man of God out of Judah. (a) He comes, led by the word of God, and goes on his dark, difficult way in faith, without taking counsel with flesh and blood. (b) He stands, strong and bold, before the king, fears him not, testifies against his sins, and announces the judgment of God. (c) He makes entreaty for him, who was about to lay hold on him, and heaps coals of fire on his head. (d) He resists the offers of the king, and will not be secured by bribes. The testimony against the service of the false gods. (a) It proceeded from a nameless, unknown, insignificant man who, without worldly consequence, has nothing and knows nothing, except only the power of the divine Word. That is the manner of the Lord in His kingdom. He accomplishes by means of small, insignificant instruments what no king, with all his power, can do. The altars of heathendom are shattered by means of the testimony of fishers and tax-gatherers (1 Cor. 1:27–29), even as were the altars of the false worship of God by means of a poor world-despised recluse. It was received, at first, with scorn, wrath, and violence; but the wrath is powerless and avails nothing; the altar is rent, and the threatening arm is dried up. Humble entreaties then take the place of wrath, for: Is. 26:16. But, though the withered hand be restored, the heart remains withered as before. Physical aid is alway readily received by men, whilst they shut their hearts to the testimony against their sins.
1 Kings 13:1. God has never, even when apostasy was almost universal, suffered His Church to fail for want of messengers, who would cry aloud in the world, “Down with the false idols! The Lord is God! the Lord is God! Give God all honor!”—God not only warns and admonishes men, as Jeroboam by Ahijah (1 Kings 11:38) before they set out in the path of evil, but when they are already walking in it, even then He strives with them, in order to reclaim them, for “He has no pleasure,” &c. (Ezek. 33:11; Rom. 2:4, 5).
1 Kings 13:2. God announces beforehand to sinners His judgments, that they may have time and space, for repentance. Woe to them who misemploy the respite, for the measure of their sins will be full. In the new covenant we have a far weightier prophecy. Unto us is born a Son, named Jesus, out of the House of David; who will come again, and pronounce judgment upon those who know not God, and who obey not the Gospel, &c. (2 Thess. 1:8, 9).
1 Kings 13:3. The miracles which the Lord our God performs are not only proofs of His almighty power, to amaze us, but likewise significant signs which reveal to us His eternal decrees, and lead us to the recognition of that heavenly truth which sanctifies our hearts.
1 Kings 13:4. CRAMER: Although faithful teachers often accomplish nothing, and fail, most signally, with men of high degree, yet must they never on this account abandon their office. For if thou warn him, thou hast delivered thy soul (Ezek. 3:19), and although the obdurate remain untouched, yet it shall not remain without fruit (Is. 55:10). How did even this warning work itself out, and bear fruit, after 300 years (2 Kings 23:15). Sinners, eminent by wealth and position, will only listen to prophets who are dumb dogs, and cannot bark (Is. 56:10). When a true servant of the Lord cries out “The axe is already laid at the root of the tree,” they arise in wrath, and cry out, Seize him! (2 Tim. 4:1–5). He who attacks a servant of God, on account of his testimony, never remains unpunished. In vain doth the enemy stretch forth his hand against those who are under God’s protection (Job 7:44; Lev. 4:29 sq.; Ps. 37:17). Those who will not listen to the word of truth, God often visits with bodily pain in order to humble them, and teach them to pray and supplicate.
1 Kings 13:6. He who desires for himself the intercession of others must himself draw near, humbly and penitently, to God and implore His mercy. In this wise can we know if we are indeed children of God, and guided by His spirit, if we pray and supplicate for those who have done their worst to us, and thus overcome evil with good (1 Peter 3:9).
1 Kings 13:7. OSIANDER: Although the ungodly often hold in high esteem these holy men especially raised up by God, yet they never follow their instructions and warnings (Mark 6:19 sq.). What boots it that we gratefully acknowledge the material blessings which meet us, if we leave unfulfilled the very object of these blessings, viz., the turning of our hearts from sin and the world to God. Unbelief and impenitence cannot be outweighed by even the highest friendship and humanity. When the world can effect nothing more by force and threats, it seeks to gain its ends by plausible love-tokens.
1 Kings 13:8, 9. There is no bribe to which the man of God will yield: to him, that which God has commanded him seems, in all times and all places, in evil as in good days, the fixed and definite plan of action.—STARKE: The best weapon and defence against the snares of our spiritual enemy is the word and law of God. It must always be said: God has forbidden me (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). It is far from being unimportant with whom we eat and drink, i. e., in fellowship and intimate alliance (1 Cor. 5:11).
1 Kings 13:10. If in a certain position thou hast done what God commanded, and left undone what he forbade, then go on thy way peaceful and content, how dark and unknown soever it may seem to thee.
1 Kings 13:11–32. VON GERLACH: The history of these two prophets offers an important view of the relation of this class to the new order of things; in the prophet out of Judah we see a man of God full of life and strength, but who yet proved unstable in these disturbed times; in the old Israelite we look upon one in whom the fire is almost quenched—it only glimmers faintly—a type of the expiring high and manly strength of Israel; he is still upheld by faith in God’s word rather than by self-reliance. They both yet speak and testify in death. The fall and death of the man of Judah set forth two great truths: (a) He who thinketh he standeth, let him take heed, &c. (1 Cor. 10:12). (He had conducted himself grandly and nobly, and victoriously withstood a severe temptation, yet he yielded to a lesser one. The higher a man stands the deeper is his fall, and to whom much is given from him will much be required. Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, &c. 1 Cor. 16:13; 10:13. Only those who are true unto death can obtain the crown of life.) (b) How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out, Rom. 11:33. He who is holy in all his ways knows how to establish firmly that which is threatened with destruction and annihilation by human treachery and deceit. The death and the grave of the man of God announce in louder and more threatening accents than did his lips—the altar is rent.
1 Kings 13:11–15. The old prophet when he hears of the man of God hastens upon his way and spares neither care nor pains to see him and bring him to his house; how much time, pains, and money are expended by the children of this world to see and to hear what will gratify their senses, whilst they stir neither hand nor foot to acquire that which pertains to their peace and salvation.
1 Kings 13:16–19. So in indifferent ordinary matters, which God has either ordered or forbidden, we must observe unerring obedience, for he who is faithful in that which is least, &c. (Lu. 16:10; 19:17). Hearken not unto him who says: I am a prophet, declaiming that he announces divine truth, whilst he deprives your heart of the dear and steadfast word of God, which shall remain until heaven and earth shall pass away. Hence the warning of the apostle: Beloved, believe not, &c. (1 John 4:1–3), and, But though we or an angel, &c. (Gal. 1:8). Whatever obtains success and position by means of deceit cannot be followed by a blessing, but rather by a curse. The Scripture is not silent concerning the sins of the man of God; and this, not that we may excuse our sins by his, but that we may guard ourselves from haughtiness and spiritual pride, and pray earnestly: Search me, O God, &c. (Ps. 139:23, 24).
1 Kings 13:20–22. The same sentence which the old prophet pronounced upon the man of God he pronounced upon himself, while he had led and betrayed him to disobedience. How often does the judgment which we utter for others fall upon ourselves, when we have sinned equally or in greater measure (Rom. 2:1): for wherein thou, &c.
1 Kings 13:23–25. The judgments of God often fall suddenly and unexpectedly, thus proving that although long delayed they are sure to come, even as this, after the lapse of three hundred years, was the punishment threatened for the golden ealf worship.
1 Kings 13:24. see Histor. and Eth. 5.
1 Kings 13:25–29. The chastisement with which God visits our fellow-men for their sins is both a warning to reflect upon our own sins and deserts, and a call to work active deeds of love with all our might, in life and in death.
1 Kings 13:30, 31. We often for the first time, at the grave of a friend, recognize what we possessed in him, and how we have sinned against him. One look into the open grave of one dear to us in life is adapted, beyond anything, to remind us of our own end. It is a very natural wish to rest in death near those who were closely bound to us in life by ties of blood or strong affection; but yet stronger should be the wish to die in the Lord, and enter into eternal glory. Then, wherever in the providence of God we may find our grave, there shall we rest in peace, for the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof (Ps. 24:1).
1 Kings 13:33, 34. When neither the severity nor the patient long-suffering of his God brings to repentance a man who walks in evil ways, he is brought by his own sin under the sentence for the obdurate, viz., temporal and eternal ruin (2 Tim. 3:13; John 8:34).—STARKE: Church patrons should not abuse their so-called jus patronatus, to place in charge of themselves and congregations teachers “having itching ears” (2 Tim. 4:3), or one who will preserve silence concerning every kind of godlessness and misrule. Should they do so they become followers of Jeroboam, and must expect Jeroboam’s punishment. The spiritual office is put to shame if borne by men who make a traffic of religion, and are intent only upon filling their own hands.
[R. SOUTH: 1 Kings 13:33, 34. “The means to strengthen or ruin the civil power is either to establish or destroy the right worship of God.” … The way to destroy religion is to embase the dispensers of it. “This is to give the royal stamp to a piece of lead.” … “It is a sad thing when all other employments shall empty themselves into the ministry; when men shall repair to it not for preferment but refuge; like malefactors flying to the altars only to save their lives, or like those of Eli’s race (1 Sam. 2:36), that should come crouching, and seeking to be put into the priest’s office that they might eat a piece of bread.”—E. H.]
1 Kings 13:2.—[The Alex. Sept. omits the last clause of this ver.
1 Kings 13:3.—[On the meaning of מוֹפֵת = τέρας see the Exeg. Com. It is to be remembered, however, that any portent must have had the significance of a “sign” and hence this meaning appears in the Vulg., Chald., and Syr., as well as in the A. V. the Vat. Sept. curiously puts the verb in the future δώσει.
1 Kings 13:3.—[דֶּשֶׁן from the root דָּשֵׁן to be or become fat, primarily meaning fatness (Cf. Jud. 9:9; Ps. 63:6, &c.), and hence translated here and in 1 Kings 13:5 by the Sept. πιότης, is used for the ashes of animals offered in sacrifice, in contradistinction to אֵפֶר , common ashes. Cf. Lev. 1:16; 4:12, &c.
1 Kings 13:11.—[The Heb. has here בְנוֹ in the sing., followed by the sing. verb. With this agree the Chald. and Arab., and our author, like Luther, so translates. On the other hand the Sept., Vulg., and Syr., like the A. V., have the plural.]
1 Kings 13:12.—ויראו according to the understanding of all the VV. (except the Arab.) is to be pointed וַיַּרְאוּ [i.e. in the Hiphil = showed], and so we have translated: “they looked on” or “after the way” gives no proper sense. [The A. V. has followed the masoretic punctuation וַיִּרְאוּ in the Kal, but by taking it in a pluperfect sense has avoided the difficulty.
1 Kings 13:14.—[הָֽאֵלָה is usually rendered in the A. V. oak; in Isa. 6:13 it is translated teil tree, because אַלּוֹן, also rendered oak, is in immediate connection with it; for the same reason, in Hos. 4:13 it is rendered elm. The Sept. have δρῦς, the Vulg. terebinthus, which is the interpretation of most moderns. The article is by all means to be retained, as pointing out some well-known tree.
1 Kings 13:18.—[There seems no good reason for omitting the conjunction of the Heb., which is retained by the Sept. and Vulg.
1 Kings 13:23.—[Our author translates “the ass of the prophet who had brought him back.” The VV. differ from one another, the Vulg. and Chald. understanding “the ass of the prophet whom he had brought back;” the Syr. and Arab. simply “the ass for the prophet of God;” while the Sept. omits the words altogether.
1 Kings 13:26.—[The Vat. Sept. omits from this point to the end of 1 Kings 13:27.
1 Kings 13:31.—[The Sept. adds ἵνα σωθῶσι τὰ ὀστᾶ μοῦ μετὰ τῶν ὀστῶν αὐτοῦ doubtless with reference to 2 Kings 23:18, when the bones of the Samarian prophet were left undisturbed with the bones of the prophet from Judah.
1 Kings 13:33.—[Lit. “filled his hand,” a figurative expression for consecration, but rendered literally in the Sept. and Vulg.
1 Kings 13:33.—[The Heb. noun is in the plural כֹּהֲנֵי בָמוֹת, and is rendered in the plural by the Chald. and Arab.; the Sept., Vulg., and Syr. use the sing. as in the A. V.—F. G.]
1 Kings 13:34.—Instead of בַּדָּבָר we must read here הַדָּבָר with all the VV. and several [eight] of the MSS., as it is also in 1 Kings 12:30. The translation: “The reason for sinning was in this thing (through the same)” (Keil) is forced.
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.