A Fresh Word From a Troubling Story

There is a graphic and gripping story tucked away in the pages of the Old Testament that most people have long forgotten or never knew  was there. The Bible takes an entire chapter to tell this story which does not have a “feel good ending.” In fact after you read the story you find yourself crying out, “Oh God, how could this be right?  Why did you do it this way?’  Then you put the Bible down or you go on to a part of the Bible that “makes more intuitive sense and feels better.”  And you commit this story to the “imponderables of God”, the things we will never understand here on earth and will have to wait till we get to heaven to get the answer.
I came across this story just this week as I read my way through the Bible in an “Entire Bible in 90 days” plan. This time I paused and prayed, “Please show me the meaning of this passage. I know there is something here you want me to understand. Please reveal it to me.”
God answered my prayer. He pierced my heart with His truth and I saw that this story was not an imponderable from long ago but a living truth that I needed for my life here and now.
The passage is I Kings 13.  
We learn prior to the passage in focus that Solomon had messed things up in the end of his life by worshipping idols. God was very angry but decided because of the faith of David, Solomon’s father, that he would delay the punishment on Solomon and would  instead affect his legacy by allowing the punishment to fall on the son Rehoboam.  As a result, ten of the twelve tribes were taken from Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, and given to Jeroboam, a capable young leader that God chose to start a new dynasty.
However, Jeroboam rather quickly entered into unbelief. He worried that if his people continued to go to Jerusalem to worship they would be enticed to come back under Rehoboam the king of Judah.  So to prevent this, he set up a whole new system of worship. He developed a seeker sensitive religion with golden calf idols placed strategically and conveniently at each end of his kingdom. The one idol was placed along the main highway at Bethel about 12 miles from Jerusalem,
Further, Jeroboam instituted a whole new system of worship. He chose anybody who was willing, to be the priests in this new religion. He became an example of the worst kind of sinner, one who induced others to sin. God was highly displeased with Jeroboam.
God instructed  a man of God from Judah to go to the corrupted northern kingdom at Bethel and to prophesy against the godless worship of Israel. He said in effect, ” Go directly there; give the message and get out as quickly as you can. Do not eat or drink on the way there or the way home. And go home a different way than you went. I do not want you to have any social interaction with or to receive anything from this corrupted people.”
The nameless man of God obeyed. He arrived at the altar at Bethel as King Jeroboam, surrounded by a crowd of people, was offering a sacrifice. The man of God prophesied to the altar. He said to the altar, “A man, Josiah, will be born who will sacrifice the priests of this religion on this very altar. ( this happened 300 years later.) The sign that this will happen is that the altar will split today and the ashes will be poured out.”
At this point Jeroboam was enraged and pointed his hand at the man of God and said, “Seize him.” Immediately Jeroboam’s hand froze and whithered and the altar split and the ashes poured out.
Jeroboam pled with the man of God to pray for him. He said, “Intercede with the Lord your God and pray for me that my hand may be restored.”
So the man of God interceded with the Lord, and the King’s hand was restored and became as it was before.
The King then said, “Come home with me and I will give you something to eat and I will give you a gift.”
The man of God said, “Even if you gave me half your possessions I would not return home with you for the Lord told me not to eat bread or drink water here and to return home another way.”  So the man left and returned home another way from Bethel.
Several brothers were present at this dramatic service. They went home and recounted to their  elderly father the amazing story of what had happened. The elderly man who was himself a prophet immediately became quite interested. He said, “Which way did he go?” His sons showed him and then he said “Saddle the donkey for me.” They did and then he rode off to try to catch up to the man of God.
The old prophet found the man of God resting beneath an oak tree. He said, “Are you the man of God who came from Judah?”  He answered, “I am.”
So the old prophet said, “Come home with me and eat.”
The man of God said, “I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. I have been told by the word of the Lord: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the  way you came.’ “
The old prophet answered, “I too am a prophet, as you are, And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: ‘bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’ “
(But he was lying to him).
So the  man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house.
While they were sitting at the table, the word of the Lord came to the old prophet who had brought him back. The old prophet cried out, “This is what the Lord says: ‘You have defied the word of the Lord and have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore your body will not be buried in the tomb  of your fathers.’ “
When the man of God had finished eating and drinking, the prophet who had brought him back saddled his donkey for him.
As he went on this way, a lion met him on the road and killed him, and his body was thrown down on the road, with both the donkey and the lion standing beside it.  Some passers by reported this in the city where the old prophet lived.
When the old prophet heard this he said, “It is the man of God who defied the word of the Lord. The Lord has given him over to the lion, which has mauled him and killed him, as the word of the Lord had warned him.”
The old man had his sons saddle his donkey and he went and found the body of the man of God with the donkey and lion standing beside the body. The lion had neither eaten the body or mauled the donkey. The old man loaded the body on the donkey and took him back to his city and buried him in his own tomb and he mourned for him and said, “Oh, my brother!”
After burying the man of God, the old prophet said to his sons, When I die, bury me in the grave where the man of God is buried. Lay my bones beside his bones. For the message he declared against  the evil worship in this country will certainly come true.”
What is the word of the Lord to us from this story?
1. Do not let anyone steal the word of God from you.  We at times are given a clear direction from the Lord. Then we meet someone we may perceive as spiritually superior and we defer to their judgment.  The man of God stood up against the king who was corrupt but then he caved in when a perfect stranger said, ” I have a more recent word for you from an angel.”
 Yes, we take counsel from others and we discern together. But there are times when you know you have heard God and you cannot place the brother’s perception for you over what God has revealed to you for you to do.  There are times when we must ‘try the spirits to see whether they are from God.” But there are times when we must do what the Lord has spoken to us regardless of counter voices.
When we are uncertain we cry out to God for clarity. This man of God did not examine the word given him by the old prophet. Rather he too quickly assumed it was God and  was led to destruction.
2. Be diligent to carry out the private part  of God’s word to you as faithfully as you do the public part.  God is with us in the private part of our journey as well as in the public declaration of his word.  The man of God was outstanding in his courage and faithfulness in public. He was on guard against any temptation to lead him away from the word of the Lord. He told the king he would not come home with him even if he gave him half of his possessions. But in private under the oak tree with one other person he let his guard down. Maybe he thought that he had completed his main assignment and that now he could take a break from vigilance.
Sometimes after ministering in public and receiving  affirmations for my ministry I will go home and find myself raiding the refrigerator or surfing the channels on the TV. It is as though I feel I deserve a break from serving God.  It is as though I am saying, “God, I did a good job for you; so now let me gratify myself.” This is the attitude of a servant, not a son. The servant wants some wages beyond the service; the son finds that in the service itself are the rewards of pleasing the Father which are sufficient for him.
3. Beware of the noonday demon.  Psalm 91:6 says, You will not fear… “the plague that destroys at midday.”  The King James version of this passage says, ..”the destruction that wasteth at noonday.”  The early church fathers referred to this as the ‘noonday demon.’   This is the demon that comes to you at midday and says, “Is there not an easier way that does not involve all this struggling and sacrifice. Can you not be faithful to God and still enjoy more of the pleasures of life?”
In this account in I Kings the man of God was instructed not to eat or drink till he had returned to Judah. Possibly this assignment took him the better part of a day.  After completing the main assignment and resting under the oak tree in the middle of the afternoon, he was no doubt both hungry and thirsty. His flesh was ready for a new word from God.  So when the old prophet came he was easily persuaded to give up the original word in favor of the new word.
The sword of the Spirit is the word of God.  So when the going gets tough and your are exhausted and every part of you cries out for an easier way, hold tight to the sword the  Spirit gives you, the word of God. Say as Jesus said to the tempter, “Yes, I am hungry and thirsty and tired and weak after 40 days of fasting, but my hunger will not determine what I do, the word of God will determine what I do.  And He will feed me in his own time.
Further Reflections on this Story
1. Almost is not good enough.  If you do ninety percent  of what you were told to do and fail in the remaining ten percent, you have failed to complete your assignment. You do not get  credit for “almost doing what God said”.
2.  A clean,clear word for a contaminated culture.  God hated the sins of Israel. He wanted to send a clear prophetic word to Israel that was uncontaminated. When the man disobeyed God he contaminated the pure word of God. God wanted a clear and pure word to go forth. He did not want his messenger to have any social intercourse with the evil system or its people. He wants his salt to be salt and his light to be light.
In Luke 10 Jesus sends his disciples out with a word of redemption to the surrounding culture. He tells them not to greet anyone on the way, not to be distracted by social relationships from carrying the pure gospel to the lost.
3. God’s punishment begins in the household of God.  I Peter 4:17- ” For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God.”  The man of God from Judah was from the people who were following God. God deals firmly with his own children whom he has called to be salt and light.
4. Older people must guard against  muting the commitment of the young. The old prophet was eager to be with a man with a fresh word. Maybe it had been a while since  he had experienced the stirring of the Spirit. He was eager for fellowship. There is nothing wrong with that but he manipulated and lied to get the man to be with him.
We need to be careful that we do not become a stumbling block to those who have heard from the Lord and are attempting to carry it out. For our own purposes we may encourage our young people to not be so radical and to take a path more congenial to the flesh. But we do this at a risk to their very lives. In the end we will see how our selfishness has caused others to lose their focus on the word of God. We repent but not before the damage is done.
5. If you do not use it, you lose it. Possibly, as my fellow pastor, Don Lamb, suggested, the old man was the one who was originally the one to have given the prophetic word to the evil king Jeroboam. However, because of living in compromise and not standing up for truth when the entire society  around him was voting for evil, he lost his prophetic voice and platform. Now he recognizes that God needed to choose an instrument outside the country who would come in and give the message to King Jeroboam.
6. The Creation obeys the word of the Lord. The lion and the donkey were more obedient than the man of God from Judah.. They both went against their natures, against their natural impulses.  A lion would usually eat what it kills; it would usually maul a donkey. A donkey would usually run in the presence of a lion.  But both animals stayed in place. The lion was faithful by watching and preventing other animals from eating the man of God. And the donkey was faithful in waiting to be of service in carrying the man to his final resting place.
In conclusion, there is no conclusion! Now, I can not put this story away, for God continues to speak to me. The word of God is quick and powerful  and sharper  than any two edged sword.
–E. Daniel Martin

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. jefferis
    Jan 29, 2013 @ 20:21:46

    Reblogged this on The Eclectic Rant and commented:
    Wow, God demands obedience. Don’t compromise even a little!


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