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Leading Question: Is it possible that a true prophet can contradict the Word of the Lord?

Key Passage:

  • 1 Kings 13, A prophet learns obedience the hard way

The full chapter (1 Kings 13) should be read. Here is a brief synopsis:

Synopsis: A “man of God” was sent to pronounce judgment on Jeroboam’s illicit altar at Bethel. When Jeroboam heard the somber words, he pointed to the man of God and shouted, “Seize him!” But the king’s hand immediately withered. “Pray for me,” he cried out to the man of God, “that my hand may be restored.”

The man of God prayed, the king’s hand was restored. Then the king invited him to come home to dine with him and he promised to give him a gift.

“Absolutely not,” replied the man of God. “Even if you gave me half your kingdom I could not come. The Lord has forbidden me to eat or drink or to return home by the same way.”

But as the man of God was returning home, an old prophet met him and invited him home to dine, claiming that an angel of the Lord had thus instructed him. But according to 1 Kings 13:18, the old prophet was lying.

The man of God capitulated, setting aside his original mandate, and went with the old prophet. But as they were eating, the old prophet announced that the man of God would die for not following instructions. And sure enough, as he headed home, a lion met him and killed him.

The old prophet sadly recovered the body, buried it in his own tomb and asked that he be buried with the man of God. Why? Because the old prophet understood the judgment against the man of God to be a further proof that the altar at Bethel and all the other illicit altars in Samaria were doomed to fall.

  1. What did the man of God do wrong? Should he have been able to detect the old prophet’s lie?
  2. Why would God work through an old prophet who was telling lies? Clearly the story indicates that God was testing the man of God. Are there other examples in Scripture where God is described as acting in misleading ways?
    1. God to Moses about Israel (Exo 32:7-14). When Israel made the golden calf at Sinai, God told Moses to step aside so that he could destroy Israel and make Moses into a great nation. Apparently God was wanting to force Moses to declare his loyalty to God’s rebellious people. Making such a commitment would help preserve him from collapse in the difficult days ahead.Moses took the bait and defended God’s people, even pointing out the risk to God’s reputation if he destroyed Israel. Scripture says that as a result of Moses’ plea, “The LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people” (Exo 32:14, NRSV).
    2. God to Samuel about Saul (1 Sam 16:1-3). When Samuel was afraid that Saul would kill him if he heard that Samuel had anointed David to be king, the Lord instructed him to mislead Saul, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’”Note: See Appendix A (Abiathar): Commentary on the ninth command, Alden Thompson, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” Signs of the Times, November 1988, 20-22. Published as “When the Truth Is a Lie,” in Russell Holt, ed., Lyrics of Love: God’s Top Ten. Boise, Idaho: Pacific Press, 1988, 79-86.

What do we do in our day? Apparently the man of God should have stayed firm in holding to his original mandate. Doing otherwise cost him his life. But how do we understand the will of God in our lives and in our day? We have neither visions (usually) or live prophets (usually) – so how do we know what we are to do?

Comment: One of the greatest challenges for believers is the ability to stand firm in the time of God’s apparent absence. We must have clear convictions, firmly held, and with good reasons to back them up. A key quote from C. S. Lewis and one from Ellen White point in that direction:

“He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy”s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”– C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, p. 39

“There are many families of children who appear to be well trained while under the training discipline; but when the system which has held them to set rules is broken up, they seem to be incapable of thinking, acting, or deciding for themselves. These children have been so long under iron rule, not allowed to think and act for themselves in those things in which it was highly proper that they should, that they have no confidence in themselves to move out upon their own judg-[133] ment, having an opinion of their own. And when they go out from their parents to act for themselves, they are easily led by others” judgment in the wrong direction. They have not stability of character. They have not been thrown upon their own judgment as fast and as far as practicable, and therefore their minds have not been properly developed and strengthened. They have so long been absolutely controlled by their parents that they rely wholly upon them; their parents are mind and judgment for them.” Testimonies 3:132-133 (1872)

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