The Word Made Fresh
1The LORD sent a holy man from Judah to Bethel. He approached Jeroboam just as he was about to offer a sacrifice on his altar. 2He spoke the word of the LORD to the altar and said, “Altar! Altar! The LORD says this to you: ‘A son named Josiah will be born, a descendant of David, and he shall sacrifice the priests who serve the high places and offer incense on you! Human bones will be burned on you!'” 3Then he said, “This altar will be torn down, and the ashes burned on it will be scattered, and that will be the sign that the LORD has spoken against it.”
4When Jeroboam the king heard what the man of God said, he stretched out his hand toward him and cried, “Arrest him!” But his hand stiffened and became helpless so that he could not use it, 5and the altar fell apart, spilling its ashes just as God had spoken through the man of God. 6He said to the holy man, “Please, pray to the LORD your God for me and ask for my hand to be healed.” The man of God prayed to the LORD, and the king’s hand was restored. 7The king said to him, “Come to my house, and join me at my table, and I will reward you.”
8But the holy man replied, “I cannot go with you, not even for half of your kingdom. I cannot eat food or drink water here 9because the LORD ordered me not to eat or drink, and not to return by the same way that I came.” 10Then he left by a different route than the one that led him to Bethel.
11There was an old prophet at Bethel, and his sons told him about the man of God and what he had said to the king. 12Their father asked them which route he had taken back to Judah, 13and he told them to saddle a donkey for him. They did, and he mounted it 14and went after the man of God. He found him resting under an oak tree and asked him if he was the holy man who had come from Judah.
“I am,” he answered. 15The old prophet then invited him to his house to dine, 16but he said, “I cannot return with you, and I cannot eat any food or drink any water here 17because the LORD instructed me not to and told me to return home by a different road than the one that brought me here.”
18The old prophet said, “I am a prophet as you are, and an angel of the LORD spoke to me to tell me that the LORD has ordered me to bring you back so that you can be refreshed with food and drink.” He was lying, of course, 19but the man of God returned with him and ate and drank with him. 20While they were at table, the word of the LORD came to the old prophet, 21and he told the holy man from Judah, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Because you have disobeyed my instructions, 22but have returned to eat food and drink water in the place I told you not to do so, you will not be buried in the tomb of your fathers.'”
23The holy man finished his food and drink, and they saddled a donkey for him, a donkey that belonged to the old prophet who had brought him back. 24As he went on his way, a lion met him and killed him and left his body in the road with the donkey and the lion standing beside it. 25People who passed by saw it and spread the news in the town where the old prophet lived. 26When the old prophet heard it, he said, “It is the man of God, who disobeyed the word of the LORD. That is why the LORD sent the lion to kill him.” 27He told his sons to saddle a donkey for him, 28and he went and found the man’s body lying in the road. The lion and the donkey were still standing beside it, and the lion had neither eaten the man’s body nor attacked the donkey. 29So, the old prophet put the holy man’s body on the donkey and brought it back to his town where he buried him and mourned him. 30He had the body placed in his own grave, and mourned over him, saying, “I am so sorry, my brother!” 31He told his sons, “When I die, bury me there. Lay my bones beside his. 32His word against the altar in Bethel and against all the hilltop shrines in Samaria will be fulfilled.”
33But even after this had happened, Jeroboam refused to turn from his wickedness. He continued to appoint the common people, whoever wanted it, to serve as priests at the hilltop shrines. 34That is what doomed the house of Jeroboam, and it was eventually wiped out.
1-10: Now here is a strange story indeed. A “man of God” from Judah shows up at the altar in Bethel as Jeroboam is offering incense. He pronounces a curse against the altar, saying that a later king, Josiah, will slaughter the pagan priests on it. The “sign” that this will occur is that the altar will be torn down and its ashes scattered. Jeroboam orders his arrest, but in the process his hand is “withered,” and he loses the use of it. Perhaps he suffered a stroke? The altar is torn down, though by what agency we are not told. Jeroboam asks the man of God to pray for his healing, and he recovers the use of his hand and arm (as stroke victims often do). Jeroboam invites the man of God to his home, but the man refuses to come and heads back to Judah.
11-19: An Israelite holy man tracks him down and invites him to his house. The man of God refuses at first, but the Israelite holy man claims that his invitation is at God’s behest, so the man of God accepts his hospitality. The obvious point of the story is the religious conflict that is going on alongside the political conflict. The northerners are depicted as being a bit deceitful, aren’t they?
20-25: The Israelite prophet reveals his deceit. The man of God is given a donkey to return to Judah, and he is attacked by a lion and killed. People see the body beside the road, the lion and donkey still standing by, and report it to the prophet.
26-32: The prophet from Israel recovers the body of the man of God from Judah and gives him a decent burial, instructing his sons to bury him in the same grave when his time should come. He acknowledges that the prophecy of the man of God will come to pass regarding the worship places Jeroboam has constructed in Israel.
33-34: Jeroboam is not swayed by the story and continues to use the priesthood of Israel to hand out political favors. God doesn’t like it. There will not be a happy outcome.
The worship of other gods is not an issue here. The issue is the inappropriate worship of God; Jeroboam’s altars are for the purpose of worshiping God without having to go to Jerusalem to do so. The problem is that he has decided that he, not God, should appoint the nation’s religious leaders. The concept of “separation of church and state” is not a concept Jeroboam is willing to honor. Early on, God had separated the tribe of Levi to serve as priests who would guide the proper worship of the people. Jeroboam is playing God.