Many of us have questions and many seek truth – but how can we find answers? How do we know the right questions and where are the sources of truth? These notes accompany this sermon on YouTube.
1 Kings 13 is an odd chapter. And yet it must be really important because of what we saw last time in chapter 12. There were two national catastrophes: Rehoboam caused the split into Israel and Judah and then Jeroboam king of Israel and led them into false worship. And now the very next thing to happen is this odd tale about a man of God travelling from Judah to give Jeroboam a message from God.
It’s a message you still need to hear…
So many questions!
As you go through the account, plenty of questions come to mind:
- In v1-3 the man of God comes from Judah to Bethel.
- Bethel was in the south of Israel and one of the two places where Jeroboam had set up a gold calf for (false) worship
- If there was an old prophet already living in Bethel, why didn’t he go to tell Jeroboam?
- In v4-6 the man of God speaks boldly to Jeroboam and gives evidence to back up his words – even freezing Jeroboam’s arm!
- In v7-10 the man of God declines Jeroboam’s invitation for food and a gift, goes home on a different route, as commanded. Why mustn’t he eat? And why a different route?
- Why did Jeroboam go from “Seize that man!” to “Come for a meal”?
It gets more odd
That might have been the end of it, but we’re only just getting started.
- In v11-13 the old prophet of Bethel follows after him. Why?
- Then in v14-17 the old prophet invites the man of God for a meal.
- Why was the man of God sitting under a tree (when it was only 6 miles from Bethel to Judah)?
- Why did the old prophet invite him for a meal?
- And then in v18-19 the man of God explained he’d been commanded by God not to eat until he got home, the old prophet gave him a bare-faced lie – WHY? (this might be the biggest why?!)
- And why did the man just accept the lie and eat?
The man of God was killed on his way home and the old prophet buried him in his own grave – there was genuine grief. The writer must surely have known that we’d have all these questions and yet he chooses to leave them all in the air. It’s a deliberate attention-grabber. Instead, he answers this question: Why did all this happen at all? And the answer to that is in v33-34 [read].
Jeroboam had committed enormous offence against God. His sin would lead the entire northern nation of Israel into false worship of God for centuries. These events were a call to Jeroboam to repent of his sin. And – importantly – they were a warning to anyone who would follow Jeroboam into false worship.
But how can you tell truth from falsehood, when even prophets tell lies to a man of God?
How can you know truth?
There’s a repeated word throughout the chapter. The NLT uses the word “command” – other translations tend to use the word “word”. So read v1-3.
- That word “command” appears 9 times in this chapter.
- “Message” appears 3 times – so the “command/message” of God is the clear theme of the chapter.
- Or, perhaps better: It’s the danger of knowing the command of God and then refusing to obey.
But anyone can say they’ve got a command from the LORD. Even the old prophet told the man of God he had a command from the LORD. Read v18-19. So pity the people following Jeroboam:
- With a smashing “new way of worship” at Bethel and Dan
- Anyone can be a priest – no need to be a Levite
- New songs, liturgy, and worship – no trips to Jerusalem
- All coming from the new king
- Legitimised (last time) by vague references to important religious sites (Bethel & Dan) and gold calves as after the Exodus…
- If you’ve just come in off the hills of Israel, who do you believe? Who has the truth? Your king, or some bloke from Judah?
Evidence and prophecy
At the heart of all this is a warning to Jeroboam and to all who will follow him. The warning comes in the form of a prophecy spoken against false worship – a prophecy that won’t come true in their lifetimes. The warning comes from God. And the truth of the warning comes through evidence put in front of everyone there and us today. The prophetic warning was in v2, that a child named Josiah would be born in the dynasty of David who would desecrate these false worship shrines.
- That’s a judgment against the false worship.
- It’s also a judgment against Jeroboam who instituted it and against everyone who took part in it.
And that prophecy was confirmed by two events on the spot:
- First, the man of God said the altar in Bethel would crack open and its ashes would be poured out – and they were.
- Second, when Jeroboam gave orders to seize him, his own arm froze – only to be released by appeal to the Lord.
- A double-witness. The man of God’s words were true.
- The judgment against the false worship was true.
- Jeroboam and all Israel should abandon their false worship.
How can you know something is absolutely true? When it comes from God. He alone knows the future absolutely. But what if someone pulls a fast one, like the lying prophet? There are plenty of people doing just that all the time today.
- Some people will tell you they’ve received a message from the Lord.
- Some church leaders seem to speak with enormous authority – and everyone trusts what they say.
- But there were religious leaders around in Jesus’ day too.
- Jesus asked many people lots of questions, but his most frequent line of questioning began, “Have you not read..?”
The authoritative source of truth can only come from God. As a church, we’re unashamedly “evangelical” – by which we mean we’re grounded in the Bible for all matters of faith and action. The Bible is God’s word to the world; woe betide anyone who tries to turn that the wrong way round.
If you think someone’s pulling a fast one and seems to have lots of knowledge and authority, you must see how they measure up against the Bible.
- When Paul preached at Berea in Acts 17 the people did something amazing: “They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth.”
- The scriptures are the benchmark of truth, because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit of truth.
Even as a mature Christian, it’s important not to lean on your own understanding. You still need to search the scriptures. You need to think the scriptures – let God’s words be your thought language.
The fullest revelation
But still, the old prophet did claim to speak from God too. The difference is that his claim was revealed to be a lie. And when God did speak through him (the man of God would die) then it did come true. God speaks truth. And God evidences his truth so that you will believe him.
But we can go even further: Absolute truth has been revealed to us: Hebrews 1:1-2 “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.”
- And God has evidenced his truth about his Son by raising him from the dead.
- That historical fact is a truth that proves the rest of what he has said in the Bible – that you are accountable and will one day face God’s judgment.
But it’s one thing to know the truth:
What do you do with truth?
Jeroboam was confronted with undeniable truth:
- The man of God said the altar would crack open, and it did.
- Jeroboam’s orders to seize the man of God left him with a seized arm! It was released by God.
- Jeroboam seems to have heard about what happened to the man of God for not adhering to God’s command.
- In fact, that fact that Jeroboam was king over Israel at all was evidence of prophecy to him from God.
- A prophecy that called him to true worship so that his dynasty would last.
So Jeroboam knew that God completely rejected this new false worship – even though it seemed on the surface to be worship of God! But would he repent? It looks like Jeroboam was happy to hear God’s good news (you’re to be king over Israel) but not to submit to God’s laws (you must worship only as prescribed).
What will you do with God’s truth?
- Will you also ignore it? Refuse it? Deny it?
- Will you turn your back on the Son of God who died, rose from the dead, and is now reigning – one day to judge you?
- Or will you turn to him, renounce your sin, and ask him for forgiveness?
Consequences of unbelief
Jeroboam became a standard reference point for wickedness. He was cut off, and you will be too if you follow him in unbelief. Better, then, to be like the man of God?
- He stepped out, crossed borders, took risks!
- That is, he went to the new shrine at Bethel and prophesied against it.
- He stood up to the king of Israel himself.
- Knowing God’s truth, he boldly proclaimed it to others.
Clearly, there is much we could emulate. And yet, it’s worth remembering that God told Solomon to live a life of integrity and godliness. By integrity, we mean his whole life was to integrated in godliness – godly in public, godly in private. The man of God didn’t have far to travel back to Judah. But he delayed, and when the old prophet caught up with him he was careless. The man of God knew the command of God but when someone claimed to have another command from God, he went with that. He was better at applying the word of God to others than to himself. Who hasn’t done that?
Christian, you might even be the most gifted communicator in the world, able to evangelise to thousands, but be sure you preach repentance to yourself first. Every day.
- Jeroboam led Israel into false worship.
- Immediately, God made his displeasure with that false worship known. This was an opportunity to repent!
- Evidence was given that God will act on his commands.
- Still, Jeroboam did not repent – and his nation stuck with him – to their own destruction.
- God’s truth has been revealed to you, both in the written Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ.
- Christ’s resurrection is all the proof you need that these things are true – including the things yet to happen.
- You will face God in judgment. He acts on his word.
- You can go the disastrous way of Jeroboam, or you can turn to God now in repentance and faith – you can be forgiven, known, and loved as a child of God.
- And you are then called to a life of integrity and godliness, a whole life of love and devotion to God
- The Good News then is that whether you fail in public or in private, he will continue to forgive you.