Strange Stories in the Bible: Listening to the voice of God

The Bible is very interesting because the lessons are not always explicit. There are strange stories that leave you baffled as to what was the right thing to do in the story. However, these mysteries often have important messages that we urgently need to understand.

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The story of the man of God from Judah and Jeroboam is one of these stories (1 Kings 13). Jeroboam was the first king of the northern kingdom of Israel that was torn away from Rehoboam because of the sin of his father, Solomon. Jeroboam had lead the people into idolatry by making golden calves and creating his own system of worship. While Jeroboam was making an offering at his altar a man of God came from Judah and prophesied against him.
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."
Jeroboam, unhappy with the prophecies against him, stretched out his hand to say, "seize him," but his hand withered up. He then asked the man of God to pray for him so that his hand would be restored, which the man of God did, and his hand was restored. The king wanted the man of God to stay and refresh himself, but the man of God replied.
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, 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."
Dutifully, the man of God returned home by a different way, but on his way home from Bethel he met an old prophet who lied to him and claimed that he also had a word from the LORD that said he should come to his house to eat bread and drink water. The man of God listened to the old prophet. However, while they were sitting at the table, an actual word of the LORD came to the old prophet.
Thus says the LORD, "Because you have disobeyed the word of the LORD and have not kept the command that the LORD your God commanded you, but have come back and have eaten bread and drunk water in the place to which He said to you, "Eat no bread and drink no water," your body shall not come to the tomb of your fathers.
The man of God continued on his way home, but on the way he met a lion that killed him, but did not eat him. When the old prophet heard of it, he went up to collect the body and buried him in his own grave.
When I die, bury me in the grave in which the man of God is buried: lay my bones beside his bones. For the saying that he called out by the word of the LORD against the altar in Bethel and against all the houses of the high places that are in the cities of Samaria shall surely come to pass.
That ends the story of the man of God from Judah, but it begs the question: Why did God punish the man of God for being deceived? To understand the answer to that question, we need to look at the big picture. The sin of Jeroboam eventually caused the northern kingdom to be exiled and destroyed off the face of the earth. Judah would see the exile of their brothers and the fulfillment of the prophecy about Josiah, but would follow in the idolatrous way of their brothers. They also would go into exile, but would not be totally destroyed. This parallels the story of the man of God, which was a prophecy in and of itself.

The man of God represented Judah and the consequences of not obeying God. Judah should have known better because they would have seen God's judgment on Israel, just like the man of God should not have been tricked by the old prophet since he had seen God fulfill the word against Jeroboam. The man of God and the old prophet would share the same grave, just like Israel and Judah would share the same grave of exile. Unlike Israel, Judah would not be eaten by the lion and be destroyed off the face of the earth, but they would once again return to Jerusalem. The moral of the story is that the man of God should have trusted in the word of God that he received directly, instead of doubting and being deceived.

But, that is not all. There is another lesson to be learned about listening to the voice of the LORD. Josiah, who fulfilled the prophecy of the man of God and was a king who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, also did not listen to the word of God and was killed because of it.
After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, Neco king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates and Josiah went out to meet him. But he sent envoys to him, saying, "What have we to do with each other, king of Judah? I am not coming against you this day, but against the house with which I am at war. And God has commanded me to hurry. Cease opposing God, who is with me, lest he destroy you(2 Chron 35:20-21)."
In this case Josiah did not have a word from the Lord but he acted rashly and confronted the king of Egypt. However, he was still buried in Jerusalem, a sign of hope that God would still fulfill His promise.

So, we have two cases. We have man of God who listened to an old prophet when he should not have, and we have a man of God who did not listen to a pagan when he should have. In both of these cases their deaths provided hope in God's promise and taught us a lesson about obeying the word of the LORD no matter where it comes from.

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