A Sermon by the Rev. James P Cooper.
“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.’ ” But he lied to him. (1KI 13:17-18)
We often think about the land of Israel as a single entity, but the fact is that throughout its entire history it was a deeply divided nation. In the north there were the ten tribes, sometimes known as the “Joseph” tribes, because the two main groups were Manasseh and Ephraim, the two tribes named for Joseph’s sons. The southern kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Simeon but Simeon was almost completely absorbed by Judah and so is not named after the boundaries of the tribes were settles, and the tribe of Benjamin sometimes allied itself to the North and sometimes with the South.
Solomon alone, of all the kings of Israel ruled a unified, strong nation but his great building programs came only at a great cost and when Rehoboam took the throne upon Solomon’s death, he took the advice of his young friends instead of the elder statesmen. Instead of providing some tax relief for a burdened nation he instead proposed heavy taxes. The ten northern tribes revolted under Jeroboam and the north and the south were permanently divided. Never again was there one nation of Israel.
It is against this background that we can understand what was happening when Jeroboam was at the altar and the man of God was sent to him to prophesy against him. Jeroboam had just rebelled against the proper, chosen ruler of Israel and become the leader of a new nation, a nation that worshiped Jehovah but had no place to worship Him. Remember that when Moses first brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, the book of Exodus tells us that the first thing they did was build a wonderful tabernacle. A portable center of worship. They carried it with them across the wilderness and finally into the land of Israel itself, and this was their focus and center of worship. Eventually through the periods of the judges and then the kings, the tabernacle and its furniture and its articles of worship were brought into the temple built by Solomon.
The Tabernacle became the cultural and religious center for that whole nation, and because it was in a portion of Benjamin that was associated with the tribe of Judah, when the kingdoms divided the people in the north were unable to come to the tabernacle to worship. The Word tells us that Jeroboam knew that if the people were to travel down into the South, travel to the glory of Jerusalem they would be overcome by its beauty and they would soon begin talking among themselves and saying that this business of having two separate nations was not the right way to do it, and that they would soon choose to be united again which would probably mean death to him and to his family.
So Jeroboam, to protect himself and his position and his family, came up with the idea of creating an altar to two golden calves, and he created a place in Bethel where they worshipped idols. Of course we know that this was one of the most horrible things that you could do. The whole point of the worship of Jehovah was to worship one God, to shun this Canaanite temptation to worship many gods and to worship graven images. Here Jeroboam the king, supposedly the leader of a religious nation, was leading them into idolatry, and so the Man of God was sent to him to give him a warning.
We read what happened to him in the children’s talk; how the prophet came and called out and spoke to him and how his arm was withered and the alter split in two. We know these things happened. Jeroboam listened to those words for a time and we are told that later he went back to his old ways. The point that we need to pay attention to is what happened to this man of God, this prophet that was sent from Judah to Jeroboam with a powerful message, obviously truly a messenger of God because at his word miracles happened. The arm was withered, the alter split. He was not carrying a false image, or a false word. He was in fact a true prophet. A man of God. But when he was sent he was given a very specific order. The Lord told him: don’t come back the way you came. Don’t drink the water there, and don’t eat any bread while you’re there. He was to make a short journey to Bethel to deliver this message and return without eating or drinking.
We read in our third lesson, that the reason for this was that bread represents good and water represents truth and because Jeroboam had committed idolatry the good that he was doing was profaned. The truth that he taught was mixed with falsity and so to eat bread and to drink water in that land at that time would have represented an acceptance of this profanation – an adulteration of the truth. So the prophet was specifically told not to eat or drink in that land because it would represent the Word, the man of God, the Prophet, taking into itself something that was contaminated – adulterated. So very specifically in the lesson, a number of times, the prophet was told don’t eat bread, don’t drink water.
But he was tired, he was hungry, it was a long trip, it was a hot day and this other man comes up – the man the Word calls the “Old Prophet.” The Old Prophet has heard about the story, he says “Ah, a prophet from Judah has come, he’s done a miracle, I want to speak with him. I want to visit with him, I want to hear what the Lord has said through him.” And so we’re told that he saddled his donkey and went off and came to the man of God who was finding his way home and he said “Come to my house, refresh yourself, rest,” and the man of God told him, he said “I can’t, God told me I’m supposed to go home and not eat or drink here.” The Old Prophet then did something terrible. He said “I too am a prophet, and God told me that you’re supposed to come home with me,” and the Word says that he lied.
He had no call, he had no reason. The Lord hadn’t spoken to him, but he said He did.
Now we might think at first glance that in this story it’s the Old Prophet that’s at fault because he lied, and it’s true, he is at fault because he lied, but the man of God is not innocent either. He was in a situation where on the one hand he had a direct word that he heard with a living voice, in his own mind. God said, “Go straight home. Don’t eat any bread, don’t drink any water.” He heard it in his own mind – God’s own word. Then somebody else comes along and says “I tell you that God says something else.” Which did he listen to? He chose the easy way. He was thirsty, he was hungry. It was more convenient to believe what somebody else said God said, than what God Himself said, and so he made the choice, and he made the wrong choice.
He chose what somebody else said God said, and actually that’s the heart of the matter for all of us isn’t it? We face the same dilemma all the time. The Lord says in the Word that we should resolve our differences and be forgiving, but the hells whisper in our ears and lead us to dwell on our hatreds and plan ways of getting back for things said or done. When we know what the Word says, when we know the hells are whispering in our ears, which do we choose?
The Lord says in the Word – `Thou shalt not steal’ and then we’re tempted to do something. Maybe it’s that we bring supplies home from the office, or we exaggerate expenses thinking it doesn’t matter, because everyone does it. The Word says: “Do this,” other people say “We can interpret it to mean that.” Which do we choose?
The Lord says – `Thou shalt not murder’ but its so much fun to know secrets about other people’s lives, their problems, their disasters, their scandals, and to tell them to other people because they’re so interested, and by telling them to other people we are somehow elevated and made important ourselves. The Lord says – `Don’t murder, don’t take away someone’s life, their use’, and yet we know things and repeat things that do just that.
The Lord teaches us in the Word how to care for our children but the glossy magazines in the supermarkets give us lots of other ideas. To let someone else do it, or to use these interesting new methods.
The Lord tells us in the Word how to prepare ourselves for the most wonderful blessing of all, a lovely eternal marriage. He tells us that if we focus our minds and keep ourselves pure, and pray to the Lord for a lovely partner, one will be provided. Yet we look at the films and the books, the TV and the advertisements and we are bathed in a society that approves of adultery to the point where we begin to not only approve of it, but begin to think of it as normal.
The Word tells us that homosexuality is the worst form of adultery, but the people who teach political correctness say it’s an “alternative lifestyle.”
The Lord asks us to follow His commandments to prepare ourselves for heaven, and the reformed churches interpret Paul to say “All that it takes is faith.”
We could go on at some length to illustrate the choices and the contrasts that we have in our own life, the dilemma that we face. On the one hand the Word tells us certain things that in our own mind, are as clear as can be, and yet other people are telling us “No, no we think that the Word says something else,” and our own natural inclinations our own desires for pleasure and selfish needs allow us to listen to the wrong voice.
The two issues that this story revolve around are the same ones that rule our lives. The first is idolatry. Whom do we worship and why? The Word tells us that we should worship the Lord, but the Word also tells us that we will be tempted to worship the golden calves and all that they represent. The things of the world, the things of self. To put ourself above others, to worship things. That’s an issue for us, we have to be aware of it, we have to look to it. Jeroboam as king made the wrong choice. He wanted to prevent people, his own people, from going to Jerusalem, and Jerusalem represented the Church, where the Lord was. He wanted to present his own ideas in such a way that they would be so attractive that people would not go to the Lord.
We’re told in the Word that the love of self is not just a selfishness, a sense of wanting, “me first,” but in its higher sense it is to wish to take the place of the Lord, even the desire to kill the Lord, and that’s what Jeroboam was doing, wasn’t he? As the leader of his people he was putting himself in such a position of authority over their lives that he would prevent them from traveling down from their homes to the center of worship, and he substituted his own ideas for the Lord’s teaching. That’s really idolatry isn’t it? When we put ourselves above everything else.
The other issue is obedience. The Lord speaks to us so clearly on the one hand. The Word tells us these things that sometimes appear complicated, but in many places the Word speaks very plainly to us. On the other hand we have our friends who are doing thing and who want to have others doing the same things with them. We like to feel that somehow our activities and our thoughts are validated if lots of other people do them, and so we try to convince others to join us in doing things that we’re worried about, because somehow we feel that if lots of people are doing it, it must be OK. The hells use this. They whisper in our ear, they inspire our natural inclinations to do what is of the world.
Like the man of God, we have to make this choice between the clearly heard word of God on one hand, and what somebody else says God says on the other, and we must make it repeatedly. Are we going to listen to the Word of God which may be telling us something difficult or challenging? He says to us, “Don’t go back the same route, don’t drink water even though you’re thirsty, don’t eat bread even though you’re hungry. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired and hungry and thirsty because these things are contaminated. They’re spiritual death,” we’re told. Are we going to take the easy route? “I’m so tired and hungry and this fellow has written this wonderful article that says that God has told him that I am supposed to take it easy.”
We have to be aware that the hells are based on falsity and they lie. It says that the Old Prophet lied. The hells spoke through him and said that he should do the easy thing. It’s the hells that want us to take the easy route. It is hell that helps us think up all the different ways that we can change the names of sins so they sound much more acceptable so that we can do them anyhow and ignore the commandments. It is hell that encourages us to turn away from the Word of God and substitute something else, that in the light of day is ridiculous.
As we face these difficult choices in life, remember the prophet. Remember the choice he made by listening to the man of God, by listening to the Old Prophet, and its result. In Matthew 7:15-16 it says:
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.
Lessons: 1KI 13:11-25, MAT 7:13-23, AC 9323:1,3
(Transcript by Gay Waters of a recording made 9 February, 1992 in Westville, South Africa)