The Disobedient Prophet
1 Kings 13:11-32
Now there dwelled an old prophet in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel…

I. THE GREAT PROFESSIONAL AND SPIRITUAL EMINENCE OF THIS YOUNG PROPHET WHO CAME OUT OF JUDAH. He belongs to that great company of men and women of all ages and countries who have contributed much to the service of God, much to the well-being of their fellow-creatures, while on earth. It is only remembered what they did and not who they were. But as to his high standing among his fellows there can be no question.

1. This would appear, first of all, from the Divine mission with which he was entrusted.

2. And the high character and capacity of the nameless prophet of Judah appears, secondly, from the manner in which he discharged his mission.

II. AND NOW CAME HIS TRIAL. Now, it is natural to ask, what was the old prophet's motive in taking so much trouble to induce the younger man to do what was wrong? Was the old prophet a false prophet of the type which a few years later abounded in Israel during the ascendency of the Baal-worship? Were his sympathies really on the side of Jeroboam and the new religion of the Egyptian calf, and did he think anything fair if he could only ruin the courageous young man who, on an occasion of such capital importance, had covered both the upstart religion and the upstart king with such great and public discredit? This is what has been thought by some eminent authorities, but it cannot easily be reconciled with the Sequel of the history: for how should a false prophet be entrusted with the message announcing to the prophet of Judah the punishment of his transgression? How would a prophet who was opposed to the whole mission and work of the prophet of Judah have insisted on giving him honourable burial in his own grave? Once more, if the old prophet were at heart on the side of Jeroboam and the calf worship, how are we to explain his confirming the prediction of the prophet of Judah, about the coming destruction of the altar at Bethel? It is impossible to suppose that the old prophet was other than a true prophet of God, who had settled at Bethel. And here we must observe that this old prophet, although a true prophet, was evidently a person with no keenness of conscience, with no high sense of duty. There he was, settled at Bethel, witnessing the triumphant establishment of the new idolatry and of the false, uncommissioned, intrusive priesthood. It does not appear that he had the heart to say a word against the profane proceedings of Jeroboam, while yet he had no hesitation about claiming heavenly authority for a message which he knew was solely dictated by his own wishes. He was evidently an easy-going old prophet, not embarrassed by scruples when he had an object in view, and the appearance on the scene of a younger man, conspicuous for the courage and energy in which he himself was personally deficient, would naturally have affected him in a double manner.

III. SEE HERE A TRAGICAL INSTANCE OF THE MISUSE OF AUTHORITY. The prophet of Bethel had the sort of authority which accompanies age and standing. It is an authority which comes in a measure to all who live long enough; it is an authority which belongs especially to fathers of families, and to high officers in Church or State, to great writers, to conspicuous philanthropists, to public eminence in whatever capacity. It is a shadow of a greater and unseen authority which thus rests upon His earthly representatives, and invests this or that creature of a day with something of the dignity of the eternal. What can be more piteous than when, with deliberation or thoughtlessly, it is employed against Him whose authority alone makes it to be what it is? What more lamentable than when the old make truth and goodness more difficult of attainment to those who look up to them, or when, like this prophet of Bethel, they deliberately allure youth into the paths of sin, by appealing to its simple confidence in the wisdom of riper years, or to its reverence for a claim to teach, which would speedily disappear if the world at large were to join them in undermining loyalty to God's commands? Ah! there are prophets of Bethel in all ages. This disposition to discourage high and generous ideals of duty which have not presented themselves to an older generation, or still worse, have been neglected by it, is not unknown in the history of the Christian Church. A great movement may have taken place, in which God the Holy Ghost has placed before a generation of younger men a higher conception of what God's truth and God's service really mean than had occurred to their predecessors. It is always possible, or more than possible, that in a movement like this men will make mistakes, and that such a movement is all the better for the restraining, steadying, guiding influence of authority. But when authority, instead of guiding, discourages, instead of making the best use of the sacred fire — of which, after all, there is not too much in the world — sets to work deliberately to extinguish it, the consequences are disastrous.

IV. THE PROPHET OF JUDAH, WHO HAD BRAVED DEATH AND HAD REJECTED ROYAL COURTESIES AT THE ALTAR OF BETHEL, FELL WHEN TEMPTED BY THE OLD PROPHET. It may be thought that the younger prophet sincerely believed his own instructions to be cancelled by the alleged message of the angel to his older brother at Bethel. A moment's thought would, should, have told him that this could not be. He knew that God had spoken to himself; he knew that God does not contradict Himself. He might have been embarrassed for the moment by the confident story of the old prophet about the angel, if he did not suspect, as he might well have suspected, that all was not right, and that there was dishonesty somewhere. When any of us know certainly one piece of the Divine will, we simply have to act upon it, let others say what they may. No earthly authority can cancel, or suspend, or dispense with a duty which is perfectly clear to our own conscience. It has been maintained that the punishment awarded to the prophet of Judah was a disproportionately severe punishment. He forfeited his life, men say, not for committing murder, not for committing adultery, but only for eating bread in a particular place. After all, the command to abstain from eating and drinking at Bethel was not a moral precept, it was only a positive precept. But there are times when positive precepts assume high moral importance, and there are persons upon whom the observance of positive precepts exerts, or may exert, the very highest obligation — persons in whose ease a precept positive assumes a distinctly moral character.

(H. P. Liddon, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now there dwelt an old prophet in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel: the words which he had spoken unto the king, them they told also to their father.

WEB: Now there lived an old prophet in Bethel; and one of his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel. They also told their father the words which he had spoken to the king.

The Disobedient Prophet
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