1 Kings 13 is one of those crazy stories of Scripture. A prophet walks up to King Jeroboam while he is offering sacrifices to his false gods. The prophet gives his message, and the king orders that the prophet be arrested. But, when Jeroboam stretches out his hand to command the arrest, the hand withers and he panics. He pleads for the prophet to pray for him. The prophet does and Jeroboam’s hand is healed. The king wants the prophet to join him for dinner, but God had told the prophet to not eat anything while there nor to even take the same route out that he took in. So, the prophet leaves to return home.
But, then another prophet enters the scene. He’s an old man who seems to be curious about this young prophet. So curious, in fact, that he lies to the young prophet, telling him that an angel told him to get the young prophet, take him home, and feed him. So, the young prophet goes and eats with the old prophet. But, in the middle of the meal, God really does give a word to the old prophet – a word that spells doom for the young prophet because of his disobedience. Sure enough, the young prophet faces his death on the way home because he has obeyed the direct commands of the Lord.
This story strikes me very powerfully for two reasons.
Just because a source is trustworthy doesn’t mean he has a word from the Lord.
The young prophet probably had a lot of respect for the old prophet. After all, this was one of his elders. This was another man who honored the Lord in the midst of a land of pagans who completely ignored His truth. Finding a kindred spirit can be phenomenal encouragement in the midst of opposition. But, there’s a difference between honoring someone and letting their words trump God’s instruction. There’s a difference between finding encouragement in kindred spirits and allowing them to replace our relationship with the Lord.
The young prophet had a command from God. He obviously had his own direct line of communication with God. He didn’t need the go-between of another prophet. Yet, when the old prophet claimed to have his own word from God, the young one automatically believed him.
It really wouldn’t have taken much to verify the old prophet’s words. All the young prophet had to do was ask God if the invitation was acceptable. Who knows but that God might have even granted permission for the fellowship! I often have that attitude toward my children. If they up and do something that I have instructed them not to do, they always get in trouble. But, if they come and ask me for an exception due to a change in circumstances, I often say yes. I tell them that they must move to obey first and come to me for questions after showing me their willingness to move into obedience. I don’t know what God’s answer would have been to the young prophet in this situation. But, when he put the old prophet’s words ahead of God’s command, he stepped out in disobedience and earned God’s anger. No mercy was shown.
Our dishonorable actions can have dire consequences for others.
Scripture does not record God’s discipline landing on the old prophet for his lie. It does not lay any responsibility on him for the young prophet’s death. But, the old prophet definitely seemed to be remorseful for his part in the young prophet’s death. He mourned the young prophet’s death and instructed his sons to bury him right beside the young prophet when he died. Whether he received any other punishment for his lie or not, he knew he was partially responsible.
It is so easy for us to claim God’s will in not only the things we do but in the things we want others to do as well. We develop a passion for this activity, that ministry, this idea, or that method. In our passion, we try to convince others to join us. We try to persuade them that it’s God’s will they do so.
We may not intend to lie. But, when we claim to know God’s will for someone else and try to push it on them, we are lying if we are not 100% for sure it is God’s message to them. And if our fellow believers start down the wrong path because of our lies, then we are partially responsible for any downfall they experience. We are a priesthood of believers. While we are perfectly capable and even encouraged to teach and admonish one another, we are not one another’s priests or prophets. Each of us stands before God individually for instruction and commands. If you tell me to do something, I am not only free to take it to God for clarification and permission, I am expected to do so. Same for you if I tell you to do something. We have to clear it with Him.
The story of the two prophets is tragic, but it is also an incredible reminder for us to both watch who we trust and be worth of the trust of others. But, above all, it reminds us that everything comes back to God and our relationship with Him. God and God alone is our ultimate authority.