Have you ever read a story in the Bible and thought, “Dude, that is not fair! How could God allow that to happen?” I’ve had several of those, but one in particular stands out above the rest. It’s found in 1 Kings 13.
The story is of a prophet, sent by God to proclaim a not so nice message. Right in front of King Jeroboam, the prophet spoke to the altar on which the priests from the shrines were sacrificing, “There will be a new king and his name will be Josiah.” But the prophet didn’t stop there. He went on to prophesy that not only would the altar split to prove that he was right, but also that the priests would be sacrificed on it - yes, you read that right!
Ok, stop for a second and think about that. This guy had some nerve! “Hey! How ya doing? Ok, so a message from the Lord,” Can’t you just see him scrolling through his… well… um… his scroll, “Here it is, you, King Jeroboam, are gonna be replaced by another king. Oh and these guys, the priests, they’re gonna end up as human sacrifices. Thanks! Have a nice day!”
You’ve gotta be convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that God specifically told you to do that before finding the nerve to deliver a message of that caliber! Most of us would turn into sniveling babies begging God to let us send the message as an anonymous email instead – or not at all. But this prophet obeyed! He did just exactly what God had told him to do.
The king didn’t take it very well. He shouted for the guards to arrest him, but just as Jeroboam himself grabbed the prophet, his arm became paralyzed. Instantly! I can imagine his shocked expression, not knowing where to look first. There’s pandemonium all around. Priests, people, guards all running and shouting. The prophet has several men holding onto him while there in the chaos is the king’s bejeweled hand swinging to and fro like the pendulum of a grandfather clock – completely limp and useless.
That changed the king’s tune. Now he’s begging for mercy, “Help me! Please! Pray for me that my arm would be healed.” So the prophet did, and the king’s arm was healed – just like that! The king was so jubilant, he invited the prophet to share a meal with him, but here’s where it gets interesting.
The holy man told the king, "Not on your life! You couldn't pay me enough to get me to sit down with you at a meal in this place. I'm here under God's orders, and He commanded, 'Don't eat a crumb, don't drink a drop, and don't go back the way you came.'" Then he left by a different road than the one on which he had walked to Bethel.
Pretty awesome, huh? But hang on, here’s more. There was an older prophet living in that town and when he heard about what had happened he went after the younger man. He found him sitting beside the road under an oak tree. “Are you the man of God from Judah?” He asked.
“Yes, I am.”
“Come home with me. I’d love to provide a meal for you.” But again, the prophet declines and relays his orders from God. Then something unexpected happens. The older prophet lies to him, “"I am also a prophet, just like you. And an angel came to me with a message from God: 'Bring him home with you, and give him a good meal!'" Well, that was all the younger man needed to hear and he jumped up and went home with him.
After the meal, the older prophet gave the younger one a word from God, “You were given specific orders, and you disobeyed. Now, you’re gonna die.” The young prophet saddled his donkey and headed out the drive. Down the road a bit, he was met by a lion and the lion killed him. End of story.
Doesn’t that just give you warm fuzzies? I think I actually yelled at my Bible about that one, “FOUL! Not fair! You punished the wrong guy, God! What’s up with that?” So I chewed on it for a while. I read the story over and over, convinced there was a deeper message in it for me, and here’s what I've found.
Do you ever find yourself in the same shoes…er… sandals as that prophet? It’s those moments at the altar when we can boldly proclaim our trust in Who God is and what He has said. But it’s after we’ve walked away that the doubts begin to set in. Just look at the progression.
At the altar, the prophet repeated God’s instructions then began to carry them out accordingly. Before long, the other prophet comes looking for him, but by now the younger man had stopped walking – he’s relaxing under an oak tree. I’d imagine he was hot, tired and hungry. God hadn’t said he couldn’t sit under an oak tree, so why not? Just for a bit, right? He probably wanted to get some rest before he got back on the road to Judah.
The older prophet offers up his proposal, and ooohh, that had to sound so good - the coolness of the house, a chance to wash his feet, and… food…delicious, delectable, scrumptious food. But no! He had his orders and he would not be swayed.
Still… it would be nice!
His mind was so wrapped around his personal desires that he totally missed what came at him next - an outright lie. And unfair as it seems, it ultimately cost him his life.
When we are at the altar, we are convinced that God said it and He meant it. We believe His promises and we trust Him without hesitation. At the altar, our vision is focused. We know our purpose – and we walk in it. The prophet even witnessed two miracles as he stood proclaiming God’s message.
I found that it’s easy to be just like him. In the presence of God, I believe! I trust His plan, I expect His miracles, I rest in Him for provision, but it’s after I walk away that the battle begins.
The challenge for us is to keep walking! In life there will be shady oak trees and the comforting smells of food seeking to distract us from our calling, but press on! Don’t allow your eyes to linger on the distractions of this world. Fight on! Keep your focus on God alone, remembering His plan for you.
He will be your source of strength!
He will provide your needs!
He will watch over your life!