The Old Testament is full of weird stories, and Kings particularly so. So what in the world is this story today about? Why is this is in the Bible, and what in the world could it possibly have to do with us?
Let’s recap. First, let’s break it the chapter into some more manageable pieces.
First, in verses 1–10 we see a “man of God” who goes from Judah to Bethel. He judges the pagan shrine. Okay, pretty normal by Biblical standards. Only after that does it get weird.
Second, in verses 11–19, a prophet hears about it and invites the man of God to share a meal, lying to him, saying that God said is okay.
Third, in verses 20–25, the man of God gets killed by a lion while traveling on the road.
And last, in verses 26–32, the old prophet finds the dead man of God, buries him, and says that everything he said would come true about the altar in Bethel.
So what should we get out of this passage? Let’s start with something we shouldn’t take away from it: Don’t trust what other people say about God, and only pay attention to what you feel in your heart. I don’t think that’s it. That’s a pretty modern, individualized way of reading an ancient Eastern story.
In the big picture, here we’re introduced to two groups of people that will have big roles in the story as we continues: Prophets and false prophets. We’ve met Nathan, who functioned like an advisor in David’s royal court. But this guy is a bit different. In the prophets, we find the God’s perspective on the situation.
And for the first time, we have a character called a prophet who is untrustworthy. The text straight-up says he lies. False prophets may have a genuine appearance, but they’re simply using religion for their own selfish ends.
The books of Kings echo some of the tragic themes of Judges. Here it’s the messes that human sin causes. The spiral of spiritual anarchy is already getting so bad that prophets are using and abusing one another.
Ultimately, this way of worshipping that Jeroboam has set up is a very bad thing.