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Lessons the Prophet Learned Too Late

The Text

Please consider the following Old Testament passage:

And behold, a man of God went from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. Then he cried out against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, "O altar, altar! Thus says the LORD: 'Behold, a child, Josiah by name, shall be born to the house of David; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and men's bones shall be burned on you.' " And he gave a sign the same day, saying, "This is the sign which the LORD has spoken: Surely the altar shall split apart, and the ashes on it shall be poured out."

So it came to pass when King Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, who cried out against the altar in Bethel, that he stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, "Arrest him!" Then his hand, which he stretched out toward him, withered, so that he could not pull it back to himself.

The altar also was split apart, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD. Then the king answered and said to the man of God, "Please entreat the favor of the LORD your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me." So the man of God entreated the LORD, and the king's hand was restored to him, and became as before.

Then the king said to the man of God, "Come home with me and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward." But the man of God said to the king, "If you were to give me half your house, I would not go in with you; nor would I eat bread nor drink water in this place. For so it was commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, 'You shall not eat bread, nor drink water, nor return by the same way you came.' " So he went another way and did not return by the way he came to Bethel.

Now an old prophet dwelt in Bethel, and 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. And their father said to them, "Which way did he go?" For his sons had seen which way the man of God went who came from Judah. Then he said to his sons, "Saddle the donkey for me." So they saddled the donkey for him; and he rode on it, and went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak. Then he said to him, "Are you the man of God who came from Judah?" And he said, "I am." Then he said to him, "Come home with me and eat bread." And he said, "I cannot return with you nor go in with you; neither can I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place. For I have been told by the word of the LORD, 'You shall not eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by going the way you came.' "

He said to him, "I too am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, 'Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.' " (He was lying to him.)

So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house, and drank water. Now it happened, as they sat at the table, that the word of the LORD came to the prophet who had brought him back; and he cried out to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, "Thus says the LORD: 'Because you have disobeyed the word of the LORD, and have not kept the commandment which the LORD your God commanded you, but you came back, ate bread, and drank water in the place of which the Lord said to you, "Eat no bread and drink no water," your corpse shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.' "

So it was, after he had eaten bread and after he had drunk, that he saddled the donkey for him, the prophet whom he had brought back. When he was gone, a lion met him on the road and killed him. And his corpse was thrown on the road, and the donkey stood by it. The lion also stood by the corpse. (I Kings 13:1-24)

Why was this story given to us?

For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. (Romans 15:4)

Based on this principle, we can conclude that there is a message in this story for us today!

We should note that at the outset of this story, we see a very courageous person as he relays the message of God to the wicked king, Jeroboam. The king had the power to put someone to death, who brought a message, which the king did not want to hear. In fact, verse 4 suggests that this may have been the king's original intention. However, the prophet did not know that God would intervene until it happened.

The prophet also had courage to refuse the good favor of the king. This was another act that could have caused him a problem, but he did not care, because God had commanded him not to accept anything, even bread and water, while he was in Bethel (13:8-9). He continued to show courage by initially refusing to accept the old prophet's invitation to come into his house and eat bread (13:16-17). But then, he let himself be deceived by the old prophet at a point in his life that he probably felt that he was the strongest. He was overcome by the little word, "lie". Verse 18 says, "But, he lied to him"!

In this article, we want to look at this man's mistake and hopefully profit from his experience. We want to learn the lessons early, which the prophet learned too late!

God Had Finished Speaking

Sometimes people have the same problem today. The Roman Catholics are supposedly getting new messages on a continuing basis. Their doctrine tends to evolve over time. The Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and the Latter Day Saints (Mormons), all indicate that they have received additional revelations through various individuals. However, the Scriptures indicate that God had long ago finished speaking:

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1:3)

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16-17)

I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)

I suspect the prophet of God rationalized his actions in his mind, because he thought the old prophet was speaking the message of God. But, the truth of the matter was that he did not.

As we study or talk with those, who we contact on a daily basis, they may indicate that they have been spoken to by God. We need to "test" the things they affirm, and of course, the only test or standard that matters is the established Word of God. If they believe or attempt to teach something different, then we know it did not come from God!

The Devil Has Camouflages

The prophet was bold before the king, because he knew the Devil was in him. However, the prophet of God never suspected that the Devil was also behind the old prophet! Through God’s Word, He warns us of similar dangers for today:

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them." (Matthew 7:15-20)

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. (II Corinthians 11:13-15)

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (I John 4:1)

Test all things; hold fast what is good. (I Thessalonians 5:21)

Paul may have had reason to admonish the Thessalonians to "test all things", based on what is recorded about them:

These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11)

Those in Berea had received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily to verify the accuracy of the new teaching.

We all are usually able to resist the things that appear to be from the Devil, but we are often led astray by doctrine that appears to be good or righteous, taught by someone in whom we have great confidence. The length of time someone has professed to be a Christian, or how high someone may be held as "one who has preached the gospel for years and years", does not relieve us of the responsibility of testing the things they teach. We must know what God’s Word says. We must not rely on what someone tell us it says, because the Devil has camouflages!

Feelings Deceive

From everything that we have studied about this prophet, I have no doubt that he felt like he was doing right! There are many examples of good people doing things or believing things that they felt were true but later found out that they were not.

Issac believed he was blessing Esau, because of the hair that Jacob had put on his hands and neck, but it was not Esau that Isaac blessed. It was Jacob (Genesis 27:1-38). Later, Jacob believed that his son, Joseph, had been killed by a wild animal, when he saw the blood-stained coat of many colors. But, Joseph was not dead. He had been sold as a slave into Egypt (Genesis 37:1-36).

Saul of Tarsus persecuted the early disciples in "all good conscience" (Acts 23:1), because he believed they were teaching religious error (Acts 26:9-15). But, Saul was the one, who was mistaken (Acts 9:1-8; I Timothy 1:12-16). Therefore, we cannot trust our own heart or our own mind to bring us to the Lord.

The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But whoever walks wisely will be delivered. (Proverbs 28:26)

There is a way that seems right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. (Proverbs 16:25)

We must rather put our faith in the Bible and conduct our lives according to God’s words given to us by Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31-32)

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. (I John 5:2-3)

We are living according to His desires when we "love God, and keep His commandments".

Believing a Lie Condemns

We noted earlier that in verse 18, the old prophet convinced the man of God that an angel had spoken unto him by the word of the Lord, saying, "Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water." Notice the last few words of the verse, "He was lying to him".

It may have seemed logical to the prophet from Judah that the things the old prophet said were true, but we see in verses 21 and 22 that just because he believed a lie, God did not overlook his disobedience! God spoke through the old prophet and had him tell the man of Judah, "Because you have disobeyed the word of the LORD, and have not kept the commandment which the LORD your God commanded you ... your corpse shall not come to the tomb of your fathers." We need to understand that honesty and sincerity in worship is not all that counts.

On one occasion as Jesus reasoned with the Pharisees, his disciples came to him and said, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?" Jesus replied in Matthew 15:13-14, "Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch." We should also remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:21-23:

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'

Sometimes we have a difficult time understanding this principle, when it comes to matters of religion, even though we understand it in our daily, earthly activities. We recognize that accidents often happen, because we believe things are different from what they really are:

We know that good intentions will not keep us from being affected, if we do something that we did not intend to do. For example, if a woman got up and went to the kitchen to get some medicine, but she did not turn on the light to prevent waking her husband, and took poison by accident, she would still suffer the consequences of ingesting poison in spite of her good intentions.

Some one might say, "Why would someone believe a lie?". I think the little quotation that says, "What we wish, we readily believe", sums it up. If we want the Scriptures to teach something, we may easily believe a lie that justifies what we want to believe is true. We must guard ourselves from this type of prejudiced thinking and study.

The bottom line for this point is that we are all responsible for our actions. Jesus reminded His disciples that everything that they may have done would be made known, and Jesus concluded that they should fear the One Who not only has the power to kill the body, but Who also has power to cast our souls into hell (Luke 12:2-5).

Partial Obedience Is Not Enough

We need to ever keep before us the principle that all of God’s commandments are important. Things may not seem to matter much to us, but if they were issued by God, then they are important to Him. As examples, please consider the following:

For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. (James 2:10).

We need to respect God and keep his commandments to the best of our ability. Our respect for what He says is because of Who He is. We should regulate our lives by his total will. Partial obedience will not be enough!


All of the lessons this prophet learned too late are lessons that we need to keep before us each day. We need to remember that the prophet:

But, he ultimately failed to recognize some very important facts:

Sooner or later, we will all learn these lessons. The question remains, "When?" If we have not already learned them, will we learn them now? Or, will we be like the prophet, who learned these lessons too late?

--Preached and annotated by Jimmy Crafts

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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