Like all the best stories, the strange account of the disobedient prophet in 1 Kings 13 says so much more because of what it does not explicitly say. But what is it actually saying?
The first step we must take is the identification of its structure. Peter Leithart recognizes four scenes in chapter 131Peter Leithart, 1 & 2 Kings, 99.:
|Scene 1||man of God||confronts||king|
|Scene 2||king||tempts||man of God|
|Scene 3||prophet||tempts||man of God|
|Scene 4||prophet||confronts||man of God|
Like the king and the old prophet in this chapter, the “man of God” is never named, so the focus is on his office and his mission. Although the prophet refers to him as a brother prophet, the purpose seems to be the man’s “priestly” identification with the altar of Jeroboam. His prophecy against the altar, the temptation of the serpentine king, and the false/true testimonies of the prophet give us the “Priest – King – Prophet” order of Israel’s history. This man is sent as an “Abel” to testify against a “Cain,” a king who has usurped the priesthood. This means that the events of chapter 13 are the “Ethical center” of a greater structure, and I believe this begins in chapter 12:
Regarding the big picture, it is worth noting that the division of the kingdom is not only the Division step of the book of Kings (see The Shape of Kings), but also the Division step of this particular cycle. But now that the “Covenant” matrix of these events is identified, many allusions to earlier events in Israel’s history become clear.
The rivalry between Rehoboam and Jeroboam is like that between Cain and Abel, or Jacob and Esau, and the divided kingdom becomes a microcosm of the larger divide between Jew and Gentile, another expression of the division of the “offices” of the two central trees in Eden, representing priesthood and kingdom. Just as Circumcision was a means of preventing an “intermarriage” between priesthood and kingdom, altar and throne, as occurred before the Great Flood, here, the division of Israel was the outcome of the idolatrous marriages of Solomon. Jeroboam’s union of altar and throne was thus the crime that led to the destruction of the northern tribes.
At Sabbath, Rehoboam is a young Adam who heeds the advice of tyrants, and the peace of Israel is corrupted. At Passover, Jeroboam “leads Israel” out of Rehoboam’s bondage, but like Israel under Moses, his lack of faith results in a reversion to idolatry. At Firstfruits, corresponding to Leviticus, Jeroboam initiates a non-Levite priesthood, and all of this is the lead up to the appearance of the man of God and the eccentric narrative which follows. The keys to the meaning of these symbolic events are thus to be found in Numbers and Deuteronomy, but the usage of the symbols is often reversed, or upended, or inverted. In the Bible, history repeats itself but it does so in very clever ways. God’s work always has the same shape and yet the specifics are ever surprising. God’s sequels not only fulfil our expectations but also confound and transcend them. The biblical authors expect us to notice the similarities that we might identify the deliberate differences. This is the only way we can discern the depths of what he means to convey. That is always the nature of the Word of God.
The account of Jeroboam’s establishing of false worship uses the Bible Matrix to show that this sin followed the expectations of Israel in the wilderness. If God had not judged Israel at Sinai, worship upon high places and a very different kind of priesthood would have been established in place of the Tabernacle, one after the heart of man rather than the heart of God. The overall picture is that of Jeroboam’s claim to divine authority as he himself ascends from earth to heaven.
Jeroboam failed to believe the promises given to him by God through Ahijah in chapter 11. As the rebuilder of cities he became like the builders of Babel, and indeed the builders of Herodian Jerusalem and “catholic” Rome, concluding that his claim to power could be fully realized without a corresponding claim upon centralised worship. The literary placement of the “sin” at Pentecost ties Jeroboam’s worship to Israel’s worship of the golden calf at the first Pentecost. Positioning the non-Davidic temples and non-Levite priesthood at Maturity puts them in opposition to Zion. Jeroboam’s heart is mentioned twice, firstly as the source of his fear, and secondly as the source of his worship. The altar is mentioned three times in the second half of the scene. It is this sin, first personal then corporate, which brings a quick, sharp response from Judah, the true center of worship.
This scene is an obvious “there-and-back-again,” which is what was expected of the prophet: ethical surgery with a clean entry and a clean exit. At Division, the prophet is like Moses standing in Pharaoh’s court proclaiming plagues upon his kingdom. (Notice that the mention of David, the source of Jeroboam’s fear, appears at Division once again.) As with Pharaoh, the initial signs are Sanctuary signs, judgment upon false worship rather than plagues upon the Land. The immediate curses fall upon the altar and the kingly “right hand” which was upon it, grasping equality with God. The final call to repentance and restoration would be the death of the man of God.
The destruction of the altar is cruciform. Jeroboam’s idolatry split not only the culture but the cultus, and the breaking up of the altar pictured the breaking up of the Land, to the north and the south, a horizontal division.2This is also part of the background of the splitting of the Mount of Olives in Zechariah 14. See The Festal Structure of Zechariah 12-14. The vertical division is found in the ascension of the smoke to heaven and the descent of the ashes into the earth. Jeroboam’s rival priesthood, offering unauthorised “incense” to God as a “pleasing savor,” would suffer the same fate as that of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Their return to Adamic dust would be accelerated as a sign of God’s displeasure.
And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. (Numbers 16:31-33)
This gives us the context of the Lord’s command that the man not eat bread nor drink water. This was a showdown between true worship and false worship, similar to that at Sinai, and with Korah, and on Carmel. In each case, God’s people were set apart that they might not be destroyed with the wicked. Denouncing the priestly Altar of Jeroboam also denounced the kingly Table of Jeroboam. The prophet is the man who eats first at the Table of God (Garden) and thus can only eat at the table of faithful kings (Land). To eat and drink in the kingdom of Jeroboam on this day was to feast on a day of Jeroboam’s devising (12:33, most likely a rival Day of Atonement) and not God’s. We should note that Daniel and his friends also declined to eat the king’s food until they were vindicated and could eat it on God’s terms, not the king’s. All of these events find their origins in the prohibition upon the Tree of Kingdom in the Garden of Eden. This is also the context of the “drinking” in 1 Corinthians 10, a passage which is abused in attempts to prove all sorts of irrelevant things. The context is idolatry, drinking at the Table of God and then feasting at the table of demons.
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play”… No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. I speak as to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he? (1 Corinthians 10:6-22)
The Lord’s command concerning bread and water “in this place” was the “way of escape” for this man of God. To eat and drink in Jeroboam’s kingdom on this particular day was to worship Jeroboam’s demonic gods. The man was commanded to fast, like Moses on Sinai, while Israel ate and drank, that he might deliver the tablets of God once again to a disobedient people. Jeroboam offered to turn those stones into bread, a call to rejoice in iniquity rather than in the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). The king offered a choice between graven words and graven images.
And the Lord said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” So he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:27-28)
The symmetry implies that the “hospitality” offered by the king at Conquest/Atonement was a veiled intention to shed the blood of the man to save the false priesthood from the son of David. Like Cain’s murder of Abel, the wicked would devour the righteous like bread (Psalm 54:3).
The king was crafty, but the man resisted the temptation. But Satan is also crafty. Temptation by the king was followed by temptation by a prophet. As Leithart comments:
Always, the church’s greatest tests come not from kings who call for imprisonment and torture; Christians relish martyrdom. The great tests arise from lying prophets, from wolfish bishops and priests, pastors and preachers.3Leithart, 100.
The prophetic section of the greater narrative consists of two cycles, two legal witnesses. The first corresponds to the command against theft (false blessings), the second to the command against perjury (false curses), alluding to Adam’s sin before satan and his subsequent stand before God.
The king had offered the man a reward, a gift, a bribe, and that should remind us of all the prophets in the Bible who tailored, manufactured or corrupted their message because they were on the payroll of the king, from the prophets in the court of Ahab (1 Kings 18:19) to the lying prophets predicted by Jesus in the last days of the Old Covenant (Matthew 24:24; Revelation 13:11-15).
The combination of the king’s offer, the subsequent testimony of a lying prophet, the prominence of the donkey, and a strange incident on the road should immediately make us think of the prophet Balaam, son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness (2 Peter 2:15), who, like Jeroboam, “caused Israel to sin.” Welcome to the book of Numbers, and the overthrow of Israel in the wilderness (1 Corinthians 10:5), yet not without some twists in the plot.
The man who had sheltered under an oak tree, which is Abrahamic, was now meat for the ravens which Abraham chased away. If we know our biblical architecture, we understand that the motionless lion, donkey and man represent the three furnishings in the Holy Place: the lion is the lampstand, the Law of God made manifest in the life of the king; the donkey is the incense altar, a prophet who comes in peace; and the torn body of the man is the Table of Showbread, the priest who obeys God. The action has moved to from the torn Altar of Jeroboam on earth to a torn Table “in heaven” as a memorial.
The two prophetic cycles are the two brothers (13:30), and their two donkeys, and the prospect of two bodies in the grave, are all expressions of the requirement for a minimum of two legal witnesses before the execution of judgment. Israel and Judah, divided in bitter rivalry, would be reunited in death and resurrected as a nation free of idols.
The condemnation of the man who joined Jeroboam’s feast was the condemnation of Jeroboam’s idolatry. He had confronted Jeroboam in the same way that Nathan confronted David for his adultery. In the Conquest/Atonement cycle, the Lord takes the son of Jeroboam as He took the son of Bathsheba. This was the final sign to Jeroboam. His day of salvation was over. A king who behaved like an Egyptian would suffer like Pharaoh. The Conquest cycle reverses the authority given to Jeroboam in the Division cycle. Jeroboam was given Hierarchy, and now the Sanctions would come to pass. Since he put himself outside the Covenant with Abraham, and above the Law of Moses, His table of demons would be consumed by scavengers.
Anyone belonging to Jeroboam who dies in the city the dogs shall eat, and anyone who dies in the open country the birds of the heavens shall eat, for the Lord has spoken it. (1 Kings 14:11)
The mixed obedience of the man of Judah was like that of the southern kingdom, with its mix of good and bad kings. Whether Israel obeyed and was blessed, or disobeyed and was judged (Deuteronomy 28), God’s word would be vindicated before the nations.
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