In many ways it’s kind of a confusing story. Not the part about the man of God sent to King Jeroboam to pronounce judgment on the king for his idolatrous leadership of the northern kingdom. That part’s pretty clear. The altar Jeroboam had built in Bethel, as the place of sacrifice to the two golden calves he had declared to be “your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” (1Kings 12:28), would be the altar upon which Jeroboam’s fake priests would be sacrificed (1Kings 13:2). Jeroboam had provoked the LORD to anger (1Kings 14:9, 15) and, unless there was repentance, judgment was inevitable. No, that part’s not the confusing part.
The confusing part is what happens to the man of God. At first he is invited by Jeroboam to come home with the king. You sense it’s Jeroboam’s way of trying to get on God’s “good side.” Seems like he’s thinking he can wine and dine and bribe the prophets favor, then maybe he secures some of God’s favor. But God doesn’t turn a blind eye to sin . . . He can’t. And besides, God doesn’t work for the man of God, the man of God works for Him. So, as a further sign of God’s judgment, the man of God refuses to “eat bread or drink water in this place” for the word of the LORD had been clear to the man of God, “You shall neither eat bread nor drink water nor return by the way that you came” (13:8-9). So far, so good.
Then the confusing part.
As the man of God heads out of town, an old prophet who lives in Bethel invites him home for dinner. The man of God refuses. Just as he had said to the king, the man of God tells the old prophet, “I may not return with you, or go in with you, neither will I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place, 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'” (13:16-17). But the old prophet lies to the man of God and says that he too received a word from the LORD and that God had changed His mind — the man of God was to eat in Bethel at the old prophet’s house.
Old man’s motivation for lying? I’m thinking it’s the same as the king’s. To secure favor and avoid God’s just wrath upon his own sin in worshiping the golden calves which “led Israel out of Egypt.” But while they are eating, God’s Spirit overpowers the lying flesh of the old prophet and uses him to pronounce judgment on the man of God for his disobedience. The man of God, after receiving the word, finishes his meal and leaves. Shortly thereafter he encounters a lion on the road and is killed. Weird. Kind of confusing.
Who feels sorry for the man of God? How unfair does it feel that a lying old man can cut short the aspiring career of a promising up-and-comer? What does it say about the importance of obedience?
So, not sure exactly what all this passage is meant to teach us, but here are some thoughts that run through my mind. First, God is God and His ways are perfect. Second, God’s word is to be guarded and obeyed and we need to beware of anyone or anything that says, “We’ve heard something different from God.” And third, while there is no buying God’s favor with the bread and drink we have to offer, there is the need to invite THE MAN OF GOD home for dinner.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me.”
~ The Ascended, Living Jesus (Revelation 3:20 ESV)
Jeroboam couldn’t bribe his way into God averting His just judgment upon sin.. The old prophet couldn’t lie his way into God overlooking his complicity in Bethel’s idolatry. They both tried by inviting someone home for dinner. But they invited a man who, just like themselves, ended up tripped up in his own disobedience.
Instead, God calls all those enslaved in sin to invite His Son for dinner. It’s not what they can put on the table for Him, but about the table He has prepared for them. His body, our bread . . . his blood, our wine. Favor with God secured not by our wisdom, but by the wisdom of the cross. Having taken our wrath upon Himself, He now invites us to invite Him in for a meal. A meal of His provision . . . a meal which will result in eternal fellowship with the King of kings. If we open the door, He will come in and eat.
Amazing grace . . . for the glory of God.