We don’t live in a bubble. Obedience and sin both have consequences and repercussions. In this chapter the only names we know are Jeroboam’s and Josiah’s. The other names are lost to everyone but The Lord Himself, all because one man lied and another disobeyed God.
Jeroboam who had just made up his own religion which looked close enough to Judaism to please the people was about to make offerings on his new altar. Just as he was getting ready to begin a man of God showed up. The Lord had called this unnamed prophet out of Judah to confront Jeroboam and stop him before he went too far. The bravery of the man of God probably surprised the king because rather than deride Jeroboam or even speak to him, the prophet cried out to the altar, an inanimate object built by Jeroboam for Jeroboam. Verses 2-3 read,
“And the man cried against the altar by the word of the Lord and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’” 3 And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign that the Lord has spoken: ‘Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are on it shall be poured out.’”
God tried to tell Jeroboam that his false religion would be defiled and he ought to stop. Josiah would fulfil this prophecy 300 years later. (2 Kings 23:15-20). Jeroboam got angry at the man’s words. He pointed at the man and ordered his men to arrest him. And there were immediate consequences. He had the choice to listen to the Lord and repent, but instead his arrogance got in the way. Verses 4-5 describe it,
“And when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar at Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” And his hand, which he stretched out against him, dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. 5 The altar also was torn down, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign that the man of God had given by the word of the Lord.”
The sign the Lord promised was direct and instantaneous and Jeroboam was frozen by the sudden shriveling of his hand paralyzed in mid-air. Jeroboam had the charm that many psychopaths have. He quickly acknowledged the prophet’s power and asked him to fix his hand. The man of God could have said, “Ha! See there! I was right and you were wrong, live with it buddy!” But he didn’t. He was a man of God and so responded by asking the Lord what He wanted. God had him heal Jeroboam’s shriveled hand. Jeroboam who just moments before had ordered the man to be seized now invited him to his home, rest up, and be rewarded. Verses 8-10 read,
“And the man of God said to the king, “If you give me half your house, I will not go in with you. And I will not eat bread or drink water in this place, 9 for so was it commanded me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water nor return by the way that you came.’” 10 So he went another way and did not return by the way that he came to Bethel.”
The Lord gave him this directive for several reasons. Jeroboam was charming and persuasive enough to make 10 tribes of Israel turn away from the Lord and begin the false worship Samaria became famous for. He also didn’t want the man to be in any way indebted to Jeroboam. Also serving God does not come with pay. (Matthew 10:7-9). And God does not want us muddying up our beliefs by discussing His pearls with unappreciative pigs. 2 John 1:7-11 reads,
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”
As the man of God was on his way he was feeling pretty good about himself. Maybe he was feeling a little prideful crediting his goodness with God’s greatness. So the man of God was headed home and an old prophet who lived in Bethel heard about everything that had happened from his sons. He really wanted to talk to this man so he saddled up his donkey and headed to find the man of God. Verses 14-17 read,
“And he went after the man of God and found him sitting under an oak. And he said to him, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?” And he said, “I am.” 15 Then he said to him, “Come home with me and eat bread.” 16 And he said, “I may not return with you, or go in with you, neither will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place, 17 for it was said to me by the word of the Lord, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by the way that you came.’”
The man of God knew what God had said. He repeated it to the old prophet without a problem but the old prophet perhaps was offended that God wouldn’t want him to talk with him, he was after all a prophet. But he was a prophet who had decided to stay in Bethel, who for whatever reason was not chosen to go speak to Jeroboam. God had to call a man to make the journey form Judah to Bethel instead of using a prophet in the same place as Jeroboam. Verses 18-19 read,
“And he said to him, “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’” But he lied to him. 19 So he went back with him and ate bread in his house and drank water.”
Where was the man’s faith? He had just uttered prophecy, with a sign and had seen the sign come to be immediately, he had witnessed God shrivel a man’s hand and heal a man’s hand. Did he really think The Lord would have said one thing to him and another to someone else? God doesn’t give people disparate messages. That was his clue that the old prophet was also a false prophet. But he believed the old prophet, whose words sound so much like the serpent’s in the garden of Eden, “Did God really say…”
God reacted quickly. He had the old prophet deliver a message to the man. Verses 20-22 read,
“And as they sat at the table, the word of the Lord came to the prophet who had brought him back. 21 And he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have disobeyed the word of the Lord and have not kept the command that the Lord your God commanded you, 22 but have come back and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which he said to you, “Eat no bread and drink no water,” your body shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.’”
Both men had to acknowledge their sin. The old prophet had lied and that lie had led to a horrible punishment. The man of God had figured that he could eat with a prophet, God must not have meant what he said. Now he was going to be punished. When he died, his body would not be laid with his fathers, he would be forgotten in his family history. Proper burial was important to Israel. One wanted to be buried at least in his home town and certainly with his ancestors. Jacob said, “Bury me with my fathers.” (Genesis 49:29-30). The punishment the man faced was one most Israelites and Judahites would dread.
Just as swiftly as everything else had happened, this prophecy came to be very quickly and even more horribly than the man could have imagined. The old prophet saddled his donkey for the man and sent him on his way. Verses 24-25 describe what happened next.
“And as he went away a lion met him on the road and killed him. And his body was thrown in the road, and the donkey stood beside it; the lion also stood beside the body. 25 And behold, men passed by and saw the body thrown in the road and the lion standing by the body. And they came and told it in the city where the old prophet lived.”
The two animals just stood there next to the body and people saw this incredible sight and talked about it but couldn’t do anything about it. So of course word reached the old prophet. He was very upset, he was deeply convicted about tempting the man away from his way home. If he had not lied, if he had stayed away or perhaps chosen to walk part of the way with the man, it wouldn’t have happened.
So he saddled a donkey and went to find the man’s body. It was there just like everyone had described. He put it on his donkey and brought it back home where he buried the man in his tomb. He was profoundly sorry. His punishment was worse than the man’s, he had to live with the consequences. So he mourned and repented. Verses 31-32 read,
“And he laid the body in his own grave. And they mourned over him, saying, “Alas, my brother!” 31 And after he had buried him, he said to his sons, “When I die, bury me in the grave in which the man of God is buried; lay my bones beside his bones. 32 For the saying that he called out by the word of the Lord against the altar in Bethel and against all the houses of the high places that are in the cities of Samaria shall surely come to pass.”
He also saw that God’s word was real and true. He knew that the prophecy about Josiah would come to pass and if he were buried as Jeroboam’s priest or prophet, his bones would be desecrated. He ensured he would not be burned with the rest by having his body buried so closely with the man that they would be indistinguishable when both were bone and dust. He made sure the tomb was inscribed, not with his name or position but with the man’s title. In his longing to preserve dignity in death he took on the punishment of being forgotten in death. (2 Kings 23-17-18).