He said to him, “I too am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water.’” (He was lying to him.) So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house, and drank water. (1 Kings 13:18-19)
It is one of the strange passages in the book of 1 Kings. The Lord spoke to a man of God from Judah and told him to go and rebuke King Jeroboam of Israel. God also told this anonymous prophet to refuse any invitation to hospitality as he delivered his message; he was to say his word from God and then return directly to Judah.
Then came another anonymous prophet, but he was from the northern Kingdom of Israel. He spoke to the prophet from Judah, and when he spoke he was lying to him. The prophet from Israel gave a false word, trying to persuade the man of God from Judah to change his course from doing exactly what God told him.
Perhaps the Israelite prophet saw the tired and weak prophet from Judah sitting under an oak tree, faint with fatigue and a lack of food and he felt sorry for the famished man of God. Perhaps the lying prophet was motivated by misguided compassion. No matter what his motivation was, his sin was great because he not only lied, he also represented God as a liar, contradicting His previous word.
He lied convincingly, claiming that an angel spoke to me. Perhaps that was true and it was a deceiving angel. Satan and his messengers can appear as angels of light (2 Cor. 11:14-15). One way or another, the deception worked and he went back with him, and ate bread in his house, and drank water. The man of God from Judah listened to the lie from the prophet of Bethel. He did this for several reasons:
- The prophet from Israel was probably older (an old prophet, 1 Kings 13:11) and had the respect of the man of God from Judah.
- The prophet from Bethel identified with the man of God from Judah (I too am a prophet as you are).
- The prophet from Bethel claimed a spectacular experience (an angel spoke to me).
- The prophet from Bethel claimed to speak for the Lord (by the word of the Lord).
- The prophet from Bethel did not seem to be an idolater who should be shunned (Bring him back with you to your house).
- The prophet from Bethel offered no reward, other than simple food (he may eat bread and drink water).
No matter how natural and seductive this enticement was, it was the duty of the man of God to resist it. He had a word from God to guide his actions, and should receive no other word except through dramatic and direct confirmation by God’s Spirit. His failure at this point ended his usefulness as a messenger of God.
F.B. Meyer well applied the lesson to our life: “When we have received a direct command fresh from the lips of Christ, we must act on it, and not be turned aside by a different suggestion, made to us through the lips of professing Christians… Deal with God at first-hand.”
There may be many reasons why it seems sensible to disobey a command from God, but it is our place to simply trust and obey. There really is no other way.