Having decided to set up a new system of worship in Dan and Bethel , the day came for Jeroboam to inaugurate calf worship. On that very day God sent a prophet who turned up and spoiled Jeroboam’s ‘party’; he was an intruder, a prophet from Judah. He was no ordinary prophet because he is called “a man of God” (1 Kings 13:1), a title usually reserved for men like Elijah or Elisha. So “as Jeroboam was standing by the altar” (Roth) ready to offer incense, the prophet arrived to curse the new venture. This was the 15th day of the 8th month.

A prophecy of Jeroboam’s altar

As Jeroboam stood in defiance of Yahweh’s principles, God intervened. It is with caution that we try to interpret the motivation of the Almighty. Was His purpose to turn this nation back to Him before the iniquity of Jeroboam became too entrenched? Was our loving Father giving Jeroboam, a wayward son, one last chance to change before it was too late?

So there came a man of God out of Judah, never named 1. There were other prophets in Israel – Ahijah from Shiloh and the “old prophet” of this chapter (“the prophet that came out of Samaria” 2 Kings 23:18). Yet God chose a “prophet from Judah” (v1,12,14,21), from the place where the true worship of Yahweh continued in the Temple.

The man of God cried out and prophesied of a king who would one day come north from Judah and desecrate the very altar that Jeroboam was trying to set up; an event that was fulfilled around 350 years later. Men’s bones would be burnt on this altar so that it would be “polluted” (2 Kings 23:16), just as Jeroboam was polluting Yahweh’s worship.

As our Father is ever merciful, Jeroboam was given one last chance; a sign would be given that day as Yahweh would immediately destroy the altar (v3). Not surprisingly Jeroboam was very upset at the actions of the man of God. He wanted to ‘shoot the messenger’, as we might say. He put forth his hand towards the man but he could not bring it back to him.

Here is the first occurrence of a theme word in the Hebrew in this chapter – the word shuwb, “to turn back”. It occurs fifteen times in this chapter, as the table below shows. Yahweh wanted His people to turn back. Its most important usage is in verse 9: the prophet was not to go back by the same way (Heb derek) by which he came from Judah. He was to turn back another way. So by his actions he was to teach the ten tribes that they needed to turn back and go another way – not the path of the flesh but the way of the spirit, the old path.

Hebrew shuwb – turning back

v4 “pull it again”

v6 “restored again”

v6 “restored”

v9 “return again”

v10 “returned”

v16 “return”

v17 “turn again”

v18 “Bring him back”

v19 “he went back”

v20 “brought him back”

v22 “camest back”

v26 “brought him back”

v29 “brought it back”

v33 “returned”

v33 “but again”.

An invitation to refuse

Jeroboam was now in a terrible state. He turned to Yahweh’s prophet and asked him to pray for him (v6). Here was Jeroboam, who offered incense to the Egyptian calf god, and yet now wanted to call upon Yahweh. He treated God as the last point of call: ‘If all else fails, pray to God’. Despite his wickedness, God’s help was extended and his hand was restored or “returned” to its previous strength. Yes, his hand returned but his heart never returned unto Yahweh.

Even Jeroboam had some level of appreciation and invited the man of God home (v7). Could it be that Yahweh’s servant would join in fellowship with the unrepentant leader of the apostasy? The word “refresh” (v7) has the idea of support. But what sort of support would Jeroboam give a man of God? As for the promised reward (v7), did Jeroboam imagine that Yahweh was a god who needed to be repaid, like the gods of the nations?

Despite Jeroboam’s power and influence the man of God refused. This wasn’t really such a hard challenge, for to spend time in Jeroboam’s company would have been hardly a wonderful enjoyment. A tougher challenge was to come – one he did not handle correctly. The man of God said that not only would he not eat even bread and drink water but the greatest inducements of half the kingdom would not move him. For the fourth time we have the phrase “word of Yahweh”. By Yahweh’s Word he needed to go back a different way. He did by action what Jeroboam needed to do in reality.

The idea of “the way” becomes then another theme of this chapter; not just a theme of this chapter but of the whole Scriptures from Genesis 3:24 to Revelation 16:12. Although Jeroboam was called to a different “way” he remained unmoved. The conclusion of this chapter tells us that “After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way, but made again of the lowest of the people priests …” (v33). Jeroboam did not want to go to back God’s way.

The way

v9 “nor turn again by the same way that thou camest”

v10 “So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Bethel”

v12 “What way went he? For his sons had seen what way the man of God went, which came from Judah”

v17 “nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest”

v24 “a lion met him by the way, and slew him: and his carcase was cast in the way

v25 “And, behold, men passed by, and saw the carcase cast in the way

v26 “And when the prophet that brought him back from the way heard thereof”

v28 “And he went and found his carcase cast in the way

v33 “After this thing Jeroboam returned not from his evil way”.

Returning home – a different way

“So he went another way, and returned not by the way that he came to Bethel” (v10). In total obedience the man of God started on a different way home – an example to Israel of what God expected. He didn’t get far, for he rested under an oak tree (v14). We should not be too harsh in judgment, but perhaps this was just a little complacency; there was not a feeling of urgency to get home.

In Bethel lived an old prophet who must have been there from the days of David, possibly from the time of Saul. His sons told him of the amazing events at the inauguration of Jeroboam’s altar – the rending of the altar, the withering of Jeroboam’s hand. Their father wanted to know what way (Heb derek) he was on, for his sons had seen the way that he went. He had come from Judah (v12) to help Israel back on God’s way.

The old prophet gave him a harder challenge than Jeroboam: “Come home with me, and eat bread” (v15). This was hard to refuse. However, his resolve was weakened when he did not repeat the words exactly as God had spoken. Now the problem was just with the place: “neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place [Bethel]”.

The old prophet pointed out what they had in common – they were both prophets. Yet it was the man of God who was chosen by God to witness against Jeroboam’s false religion while the old prophet stayed at home and relied on news from his son. Unfortunately it is possible for those who seem to be on the same wavelength as us to be our worst enemies. The old prophet was in tune with the northern kingdom – he told lies. The whole religion of Israel was a lie – the old prophet reflected the evil of his society.

The man of God gave in. Rather than being an example of going a different way and remaining separate from the corruption of Bethel he went home to the old prophet’s house (v19). He had disobeyed the instructions given to him. We cannot play with God; He means exactly what He says and always for good reason.

While the man of God was eating, the old prophet pronounced judgment. He had disobeyed (v21). This word is always translated “rebelled” or “provoked” except here and in verse 26. “You have rebelled!” Instead of being an example of turning back to Yahweh he had become an example of rebellion. Obedience to the divine law was forgotten. How simply Jesus says: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

From verse 23 it appears that the old prophet and the man of God kept on eating and drinking. Was there great remorse? Eventually the old prophet who brought him back sent him off to death and an ignoble burial. Yahweh is never to be trifled with. The man of God left the old prophet’s house and a lion met him and killed him. This was the eventual doom for the whole of disobedient Israel, for the lion of Assyria would slay them. “For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him. I will go and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offence, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early” (Hos 5:14–15).

What an awful death! The lion killed him (v24) and the carcase was strewn across “the way” – a reminder that this man had gone the wrong way. The ass loyally stood by, not even frightened by the lion. The donkey had nothing to fear for it was innocent; it was the man of God that had failed.

The old man wanted his bones to be laid beside the man of God’s bones (v31). The bones would not help him; what he needed was to change his character in the present. The thing he was confident about was that Yahweh’s Word would come to pass. The man of God was not buried in Judah but buried in Israel and lost his connection with his own heritage. His remains were a witness through to the days of Josiah.

Jeroboam does not return to the old Way

Not only did the old prophet not change his path but neither did Jeroboam, for verse 33 commences with “After this thing”. Despite the story spreading around the land, Jeroboam was not prepared to turn back – to return to his God from “his evil way”. Here again is the theme word of the chapter. Yahweh returned to him the use of his arm (v6), but he never returned to Him. The prophet who denounced him was now dead and the prophecy was not about to be fulfilled because Josiah had not been born. Yet sure destruction was ahead for his house.

Brothers and sisters, whenever we stray there is a way back. There is time to turn back. What we need is the courage to return unto our Father and find the old paths to walk in. It is possible for us all to maintain the role of the man of God by being faithful examples of turning away from corruption and turning to the purity of Christ. So let the messages of the Scriptures resonate in our ears: “Return unto me and I will return unto you, saith Yahweh” (Mal 3:7).