Sermon preached on 1 Kings 13 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 11/24/2019 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
1 Kings 13
By the Word of the LORD
God has blessed his people down through the generations by giving them his Word.
The word of the LORD has been active throughout the different chapters of redemptive history, with God calling a people unto himself. That word of the LORD has been their help and their hope; their guide and direction; their counsel and often their warning. But God not only gave his people his word. God also has given his people leaders to help them walk in the ways of the LORD. In the Old Testament we especially see the leaders of prophet, priest and king. These leaders were tasked even with the charge to rightly handle the word of the LORD. And yet while the word of the Lord is infallible, these human leaders have shown that they are not. We are reminded of this truth again in today’s passage, even as we pointed again back to the Word of the LORD.
Notice with me first here the failure of priests among the people. In this particular instance we are seeing the failure of priests specifically with regard to the northern kingdom of Israel. It’s what we noted first last week. Jeroboam had made those various changes to the religious worship of Israel. One of those changes was to establish a different priesthood from the Levitical priesthood that God had established. We said last week that God’s people are not at liberty to invent new ways to worship him. It was by the word of the LORD that God had set apart the Levites to serve in the tabernacle and then the temple. It was by the word of the LORD that God had specifically set apart the sons of Aaron of the tribe of Levi to serve as the priests. That means the people were not at liberty to invent a new priesthood when God had already established the authorized priesthood. But that’s exactly what Jeroboam did in his host of changes for their nations’ worship.
So then, we see the condemnation of their new priests in verse 2. This is part of the prophesied judgment against that unauthorized altar at Bethel. The man of God’s prophecy against the altar of Bethel includes that when the future Josiah is born, that he will sacrifice their illegitimate priests upon that altar. The passage ends again returning to this concern. Verse 33 again speaks against all these non-Levitical priests that Jeroboam made to lead worship throughout the nation. This is such a major issue because realize that in the religious life of Israel, its was the priests that were the most regular leaders and guides in religion. Yes, sometimes God would speak charismatically to the people through prophets. Yes, kings would play a role in seeing that the law of God was being followed and safeguarded in the land, particularly from a civil and judicial standpoint. But it was the priests who not only facilitated the regular worship of God among the people. They were also the primary regularly, ordinary teachers of God’s Word among the people. Yet, here they had illegitimate priests. It should go without saying that if you make someone a spiritual leader who doesn’t meet the Bible’s requirements that they aren’t going to be too concerned to teach God’s people about the Bible’s requirements for them.
Such disregard for God’s qualification for leadership was really the crux of the issue here. Look at verse 33. “Any who would,” Jeroboam would ordain to be a priest. “Any who would.” How egalitarian of Jeroboam. How inclusive of him. If you wanted to be a priest in Jeroboam’s day, all you had to do was volunteer and he’d make you a priest! Yet, this resulted in a bunch of people who basically proclaimed themselves leaders when God hadn’t proclaimed them leaders. Such a problem of an illegitimate priesthood finds lots of application still today. There are too many so called “ordained” religious leaders today who are not fit to be leaders. Some are not fit in the sense that they don’t meet the biblical qualifications. Others are not fit in the sense that they literally have proclaimed themselves to be a pastor or religious leader. But like the priests of Jeroboam, such self-proclaimed ministers are not actually authorized agents of the Lord or of his word.
Notice with me next another failure of the leadership among the people, the king. King Jeroboam was the authorized king in the sense that we know God had given him the throne as confirmed by an earlier prophetic revelation. But Jeroboam’s failure in being the kind of king he should have been can be summarized like this. He was a perverter-of-religion kind of king. By the word of the LORD, God had called the kings of his people to carefully study and keep God’s law. Listen to what Deuteronomy 17:18-19 requires of the king. “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them.” And so, by the word of the LORD, the king among God’s people was to be closely guided by God’s Word. It should surely inform his administrating of justice and righteousness among the people. He would be bound to promote the true religion among the people – in other words, religion that is in accord with their covenant with God. In the case of deviation from true religion, he could have been a voice to promote reform. Instead, Jeroboam promoted deform not reform of religion.
As an example in contrast, we have the prophecy here of Josiah in verse 2. That was a king that would come some 300 years in the future from this time! But King Josiah’s legacy would especially be that he was a religious reformer of Israel. So, what a contrast. Here, in the northern kingdom, Jeroboam is a failure as a king in that he is a perverter of true religion among the people. He leads the people in specific ways to introduce religious perversions in their worship of God. Josiah’s contrast especially highlights Jeroboam’s failures.
Yet, what is surely the saddest part of the story for Jeroboam in this passage is his failure to truly repent of his perversions. It’s bad that he perverted religion like he did. But then God sent him a prophet to confront him and warn him. The message got very personal for Jeroboam when he foolishly ordered the arrest of the prophet in verse 4. God supernaturally struck Jeroboam’s hand, and withered it, on the spot. That was a miraculous judgment of God at the moment. Positively, it has an immediate effect on Jeroboam’s attitude and demeanor. His hostile action toward the prophet immediately is disrupted. He instead pleads for the prophet to intercede to God for him and for his healing. God amazingly heals Jeroboam. Jeroboam then even tries to bless and reward the prophet in response. So, it’s great to see such an immediate change take place here for Jeroboam. Yet, then we see with great sadness how the passage ends. Whatever momentary change of attitude took place in Jeroboam, it didn’t bring about the degree of fruit that God desired. The passage ends recording how Jeroboam did not ultimately turn from his evil ways.
Notice then the third failure of leadership among the people. We’ve mentioned failures of priests and kings. Now let’s notice the failure of prophets. In this passage, we see two failing prophets. First, we have this man of God from Judah. His ministry starts out so wonderfully in this chapter. Notice how verse 1 starts out. He is called by the “word of the LORD.” It’s the “word of the LORD” that is so central throughout this chapter. This man of God is engaged into service by the word of the LORD and he faithfully follows his instructions to go to Bethel and prophesy. And so, God uses him in this mighty way to pronounce judgment on the altar at Bethel. He is used by God to minister especially to Jeroboam. If you read through verse 10, all seems to be going so well.
And it’s there that we find that God had given the prophet from Judah three specific instructions. He was not to eat or drink anything at Bethel, nor was he come return home the way he had come from. He had a warning to give the northern tribes, but likely the point of these extra prohibitions was that he wasn’t to engage in table fellowship with them like nothing was wrong. So, the prophet turns down the offer by Jeroboam for such. Look how emphatically he turns him down. Verse 8, “If you give me half your house, I will not go in with you.” That was the right response even if maybe he sounds a little too sure of his ability to resist such temptation.
Because then there is this other prophet that comes up and gets the prophet from Judah to falter. For whatever reason, this second prophet – an old prophet from Bethel, wanted to have the prophet from Judah over for a meal. Notice that at first, the prophet from Judah gives the right response to the offer – verse 16 he also politely refuses the old prophet from Bethel. But then the old prophet tells a lie – a lie that he received revelation from an angel operating under instructions from the word of the Lord. And in a major failing to discern properly the word of the LORD, the prophet from Judah agrees. In that, the prophet becomes unfaithful to the word of the LORD which had clearly forbid him having a meal there in Bethel.
There’s a lesson there about discernment. It is an axiom that God doesn’t contradict himself. Any claim of new divine revelation needs to be checked against what you already know God to have said. Just as scripture interprets scripture, so too this prophet needed to use his already received revelation to interpret this claim of new revelation. That’s true, even when the one claiming the new revelation is your elder, as it appears was the case – this old prophet is surely older than the prophet from Judah. Just because someone who appears to be wise by age doesn’t mean we should throw out such discernment. Interestingly, this old prophet claims that he received a message from an angel sent by the word of the LORD. But then we should remember the later words of the Apostle Paul – that even if an angel from heaven were to give us a different gospel that what has already been preached, we must reject such. God doesn’t contract himself. We need discernment even when people of position come to us with ideas that sound right. We need to discern truth against that revelation from God that we already have in the Holy Word. Sadly, this otherwise faithful prophet is unfaithful in this specific regard.
So, then note with me the failure of this second prophet – the old prophet from Bethel. Sadly, despite what appears to be some commendable aspects of this prophet, he begins in our story acting in the very textbook definition of a false prophet. He lies to the other prophet by claiming his message to be the word of the Lord when it was not! That’s false prophecy, which is like the worst thing you could do if you were a prophet.
Interestingly, God then subsequently uses this false prophet to give real prophecy. Verse 20, “the word of the LORD” comes to the old prophet and condemns the man of God from Judah for disobeying the word of the LORD. His chastening is that he will not end up buried with his fathers. Interestingly, neither prophet is recorded here expressing any remorse when that punishment comes down. I might expect both of them to plead to God for mercy in that, but if they did the text doesn’t tell us. Well, then we read that after that the man of God from Judah left to return home and a lion kills him on the way. There we see the clear hand of God. The lion kills the man but not his donkey. The lion just waits there with the donkey over the dead man’s body. And the lion doesn’t eat the man either. This has the effect of showing that this was a divine act that was chastening the prophet from Judah. But we should also recognize that it was divine restraint here too. For later in this book we’ll see judgment that God brings on others such that they will not get buried but dogs or birds would eat their dead bodies. Clearly, that’s not what God puts on this man of God from Judah. Rather, if anything the lion which killed him stood by to guard his body until it could be given a proper burial. But of course, it wasn’t a burial with his fathers – that was his chastening. Rather, he gets buried at the grave site of the old prophet from Bethel.
We can note that when the old prophet from Bethel buries him, he still refers to the deceased as the man of God. In fact, there is nothing here that would tell us that he stopped being the man of God even though he failed like this. Rather he seems more like Moses who didn’t get to enter the Promised Land because of his sin of striking the rock, but he still was man of God. So too, we see that this man of God here received chastening for his sin, but presumably he died in the faith. The old prophet in his burial does then what should be done when a man of God has a failing like this. They mourn. They shed tears over him. But notice then the commendable conviction by the old prophet from Bethel at the end here. He’s convinced the prophecy against Bethel that the man of God gave will come to pass. And because of that he insists that he wants himself to be buried with that man of God. Likely his desire to be united in death looks beyond this life to the hope of the resurrection. Surely the prophet’s forward-looking words in verse 32 shows that he’s looking ahead to the future. And surely his words there show the overarching point in all of this: the sure and powerful word of the Lord. While the leaders of God’s people here stumble and falter in varying degrees, what is always dependable and certain is the word of the LORD.
Well, as we look forward with this old prophet into Israel’s future, we realize they were just at the beginning of tumultuous times ahead for Israel. Problems that are seen here are the beginning of much more to come along these lines. God would be sending real prophet after prophet to warn the kings to turn from the perversions instituted by Jeroboam. Yet at the same time many false lying prophets would rise up at the same time and give alternative views. These false prophets would lie to the people, telling them what they wanted to hear, instead of what they needed to hear – the real word of the Lord. Likewise, their kings and priests would continue to walk in such perverse ways, to the detriment of their people. Yes, there would be times help from Judah would come, like here when this man of God spoke warnings to them. Yet, in such interactions between Israel and Judah, Judah themselves, like this man of God, ran the risk of being pulled astray by the very ones they came to minister to.
Imagine if you were in Israel or even Judah at that time. Which leader to follow, which voice to heed – these would be questions that come to you. How to serve, how to help, without getting turned aside yourself – these would be questions to struggle with. But in all of this, despite the many voices and many temptations – the true word of the LORD would prove itself true and would accomplish its purposes.
So then, it’s even by that true and powerful word of the LORD that we look even beyond the time of the Old Testament history to see God’s word worked out in its fulfillment in Jesus. For the illegitimate priesthood of Israel not only looked to the need for the legitimate Levites. It ultimately looked beyond to that Great High Priest of Jesus who came as a priest in an even high order, who ministers not at an earthly altar but at a heavenly one. And the perversions of King Jeroboam look not only to the Reformer-King Josiah but to Jesus who not only cleansed the earthly temple of merchants and robbers but purified even the heavenly tabernacle by his own shed blood (Mark 11:17; Heb 9:23). It is this same Christ Jesus who continues to work among us his people his refiner’s fire to purify the religion and worship of his elect people. So too, the failing prophets in this passage point us beyond faithful prophets like Moses who themselves were not perfect. But they point us ahead to the one prophet who would truly be faithful all the time and in every way. The one who would revere and rightly handle always the word of the LORD. For he was tempted in every way yet without sin. And he was sent by God to utter the words of God, being given the Spirit without measure, John 3:34. This Jesus our Lord is the real man of God come out of Judah to come to this world of sin and speak the word of the LORD that he might redeem a wayward people to himself. He too, interestingly, was not buried in his own grave; yet he was one whom the grave could not hold. Scripture calls us to be buried with this Jesus that we might also be raised with him. This Jesus is both the lion of God and the one who comes in God’s name riding humbling on a donkey. Jesus – the Word of the LORD to man for our salvation. Trust in him again today!
Friends, today we live in a world full of false prophets and perverters of true religion. And even the most faithful leaders in the church today, while being gifts from the Lord, are still fallible and will fail us at times. But the word of the Lord stands firm forever. Just like this old prophet from Bethel could know for certain that the word of the LORD would come to pass and that this Josiah would come; so too God’s word was fully reliable that Jesus would one day come. And that means that we can continue to hope in the promise of God’s Word that Jesus will yet come again. And it means that our foundation for our doctrine and living must ultimately not be in any mere human leader, but in the word of the Lord. I don’t mean to disregard lawfully ordained leaders in the church. But it does mean that we receive their leadership in so far as they bring us God’s Word. And we must ultimately be discerning to make sure that they are only bringing us the word of the Lord. So then, let us be renewed again today in the foundation of the sure word of God. Amen.
Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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