1 And behold, a man of God came out of Judah by the word of the Lord to Bethel. Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make offerings. 2 And the man cried against the altar by the word of the Lord and said, “O altar, altar, thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.’” 3 And he gave a sign the same day, saying, “This is the sign that the Lord has spoken: ‘Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are on it shall be poured out.’” 4 And when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar at Bethel, Jeroboam stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, “Seize him.” And his hand, which he stretched out against him, dried up, so that he could not draw it back to himself. 5 The altar also was torn down, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign that the man of God had given by the word of the Lord. 6 And the king said to the man of God, “Entreat now the favor of the Lord your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.” And the man of God entreated the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored to him and became as it was before. 7 And the king said to the man of God, “Come home with me, and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward.” 8 And the man of God said to the king, “If you give me half your house, I will not go in with you. And I will not eat bread or drink water in this place, 9 for so was it commanded me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water nor return by the way that you came.’” 10 So he went another way and did not return by the way that he came to Bethel. – 1 Kings 13:1-10 ESV
In an effort to preserve the kingdom given to him by God, Jeroboam had made a boneheaded decision that ended up offending God. He knew that the Israelites were a religious people and feared that they would continue to travel to Judah to offer sacrifices at the temple Solomon had built in Jerusalem. This continued spiritual connection to the holy city might influence them to restore their relationship with Rehoboam and the people of Judah. So, to prevent this from happening, Jeroboam had made the fateful decision to create an alternate religion for the ten tribes of Israel, complete with priests and golden idols made to look like calves, which he had placed in the cities of Dan and Bethel. Then he convinced the people to turn their backs on Yahweh by offering their sacrifices to the two golden calves.
“It is too much trouble for you to worship in Jerusalem. Look, Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of Egypt!”
He placed these calf idols in Bethel and in Dan—at either end of his kingdom. But this became a great sin, for the people worshiped the idols, traveling as far north as Dan to worship the one there. – 1 Kings 12:28-30 NLT
In following Jeroboam’s lead, the people no longer sought forgiveness, cleansing, and blessing from God Almighty, but placed their hopes in lifeless statues made by human hands. Years later, the prophet Isaiah would describe the futility of worshiping false gods.
How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
an idol that cannot help him one bit?
All who worship idols will be disgraced
along with all these craftsmen—mere humans—
who claim they can make a god.
They may all stand together,
but they will stand in terror and shame. – Isaiah 44:9-11 NLT
But to Jeroboam, his decision made all the sense in the world. He was a pragmatist who was more interested in preserving his newfound status as king than in promoting the ongoing worship of the one who had made him king. And his decision, while initially successful, was about to prove seriously flawed.
Jeroboam had traveled to Bethel in order to offer sacrifices to one of his false gods. But while there, he received a visit from a prophet of the one true God. This unnamed man had come from Judah with a message from the Almighty. So, as Jeroboam was about to offer sacrifices to his visible, but lifeless god, he was given a word from the invisible, yet all-powerful God of Israel. And the prophet, seemingly ignoring Jeroboam, directed his message at the altar the king had constructed. In a sense, this was one god speaking to another. Yahweh was challenging the false god of Jeroboam by delivering a prophecy concerning its coming destruction.
“O altar, altar! This is what the Lord says: A child named Josiah will be born into the dynasty of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests from the pagan shrines who come here to burn incense, and human bones will be burned on you.” – 1 Kings 13:2 NLT
Jeroboam’s god was going to meet an untimely end. When faced with the power of God Almighty, Jeroboam’s false god proved incapable of defending itself. It remained speechless because it was lifeless. And the warning delivered by the prophet of God carried long-term ramifications. It would be 290 years later before God fulfilled His word, and all during that time, the nation of Israel would continue to worship their false gods. But eventually, God would raise up a king over Judah whose name was Josiah, and he would institute a series of religious reforms in both Judah and Israel. And, in doing so, he would fulfill God’s prophecy against the altar of Jeroboam’s false god.
The king also tore down the altar at Bethel—the pagan shrine that Jeroboam son of Nebat had made when he caused Israel to sin. He burned down the shrine and ground it to dust, and he burned the Asherah pole. Then Josiah turned around and noticed several tombs in the side of the hill. He ordered that the bones be brought out, and he burned them on the altar at Bethel to desecrate it. (This happened just as the Lord had promised through the man of God when Jeroboam stood beside the altar at the festival.) – 2 Kings 23:15-16 NLT
The very fact that this altar was still in existence and in use nearly 300 years later reveals the level of apostasy in Israel. Jeroboam’s decision to replace Yahweh with false gods was going to have long-lasting consequences. In an effort to preserve his kingdom Jeroboam was willing to sacrifice the spiritual well-being of his own people.
And to demonstrate that the words he had spoken were true, “the man of God gave a sign to prove his message” (1 Kings 13:3 NLT).
He said, “The Lord has promised to give this sign: This altar will split apart, and its ashes will be poured out on the ground.” – 1 Kings 13:3 NLT
God was going to validate His word with a powerful sign. There would be an immediate judgment on Jeroboam’s apostasy. His shrine and the golden calf it contained would be destroyed. But, once again, Jeroboam attempted to preserve his kingdom by rejecting the will of God. After the prophet had spoken his word of warning, Jeroboam commanded that he be arrested. He wrongly assumed that he could thwart the will of God by binding the messenger of God. And, in doing so, Jeroboam would establish a precedent that would carry over for generations. His successors to the throne of Israel would continue to reject the will of God by resisting and refusing the messengers of God. Rather than repent and return in humble submission to Yahweh, they would each cling stubbornly to their false gods, dooming their people to the judgment of God.
But Jeroboam’s attempt to stop God’s prophet proved ineffective and injurious. He still ended up with a shattered altar and a paralyzed hand. Suddenly convinced of the prophet’s position as God’s spokesman, Jeroboam begged him to intercede with Yahweh on his behalf.
“Entreat now the favor of the Lord your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.” – 1 Kings 13:6 ESV
The prophet prayed and God responded, restoring full mobility to Jeroboam’s paralyzed hand. But Jeroboam’s response to this miracle is revealing. Having just witnessed the miraculous destruction of the altar to his false god and having had his hand paralyzed by God, you would think that Jeroboam would have begged for forgiveness. But instead, he tries to win over the favor of the prophet by inviting him to dinner and offering him a reward. Perhaps Jeroboam feared that the prophet might turn his attention to Dan and destroy the altar there. So, in another attempt to preserve his kingdom, he tried to bribe the prophet of God.
But God, knowing the true nature of Jeroboam’s heart, had warned the prophet not to accept any invitation from this conniving and calculating king.
“Even if you gave me half of everything you own, I would not go with you. I would not eat or drink anything in this place. For the Lord gave me this command: ‘You must not eat or drink anything while you are there, and do not return to Judah by the same way you came.’” – 1 Kings 13:8-9 NLT
Jeroboam was a man who, for the sake of his kingdom, had been willing to compromise his faith in God. And he assumed that this unnamed prophet would be just as willing to make concessions in exchange for monetary gain. But he was wrong. This young prophet was unwilling to sell out his God for personal reward. Even when faced with Jeroboam’s offer of a reward, this faithful servant of God remained uncompromising in his commitment to the will of God. He recognized Yahweh as the one true God and would not allow Jeroboam or anyone else to cause him to compromise his convictions. And his actions reflect his firm and unwavering belief in his God.
This is what the Lord says—
your Redeemer and Creator:
“I am the Lord, who made all things.
I alone stretched out the heavens.
Who was with me
when I made the earth?
I expose the false prophets as liars
and make fools of fortune-tellers.
I cause the wise to give bad advice,
thus proving them to be fools.
But I carry out the predictions of my prophets!” – Isaiah 44:24-26 NLT
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New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson