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1 Kings 13:1-8

1 Now behold, there came a man of God from Judah to Bethel by the word of the Lord, while Jeroboam was standing by the altar to burn incense............................................. ........................................................................... ....................................................................................... .............................................................................................. 8 But the man of God said to the king, “If you were to give me half your house I would not go with > you, nor would I eat bread or drink water in this place. 9 For so [h]it was commanded me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came.’” 10 So he went another way and did not return by the way which he came to Bethel.

1 Kings 13:11-19

11 Now an old prophet was living in Bethel; and his [i]sons came and told him all the deeds which the man of God had > done that day in Bethel; the words which he had spoken to the king, these also they related to their father........ .................................................................................................................................................................................. ....................................................................................................................................................................................................... 14 So he went after the man of God and found him sitting under [l]an oak; and he said to him, “Are you the man of God > who came from Judah?” And he said, “I am.” 15 Then he said to him, “Come home with me and eat bread.” 16 He said, > “I cannot return with you, nor go with you, nor will I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. 17 For a command > came to me by the word of the Lord, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water there; do not return by going the way which you came.’” 18 He said to him, “I also am a prophet like you, 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.’” But he lied to him. 19 So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house and drank water........................................................................................................................ ........................................................................................................... 21 and he cried to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Because you have [m]disobeyed >>the [n]command of the Lord, and have not observed the commandment which the Lord your God commanded you, 22 but have returned and eaten bread and drunk water in the place of which He said to you, “Eat no bread and drink no water”; your body shall not come to the grave of your fathers.’” ............................................................................................................................................................ 23 It came about after he had eaten bread and after he had drunk, that he saddled the donkey for him, for the prophet > whom he had brought back. 24 Now when he had gone, a lion met him on the way and killed him, and his body was thrown on the road, with the donkey standing beside it; the lion also was standing beside the body. 25 And behold, men > passed by and saw the body thrown on the road, and the lion standing beside the body; so they came and told it in the > > city where the old prophet lived.

The complexities associated with the story of the Unnamed prophet from Judah is quite immense. Based on this GotQuestions.org Christian webpage resource ( https://www.gotquestions.org/man-of-God-lying-prophet.html ), we can come to the conclusion that:

-Unbeliever/person who strays away from God ( i.e. King Jeroboam of Israel )

-Believer/Prophet ( i.e Unnamed Prophet from Judah and also the old prophet who lived in Bethel )

are all susceptible to sinning, and in turn facing judgement and disciplining for aforementioned sinning.

However, I was wondering if there could even be more complexities associated with said story. Let me explain.

The bible clearly states:

2 Corinthians 4:7

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from > ourselves;

Many other messengers/prophets of God like King David, Judges Samson, etc., were flawed men( i.e, earthen vessels ) but at the same time anointed by God for some purpose.

Lets make note of the fact that the Unnamed Prophet from Judah emphasized God's command to him two times:

-First in

( 1 Kings 13:8-9 )

........... nor would I eat bread or drink water in this place. 9 For so it was commanded me by the word of the Lord, > saying, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came.’”

-Second in

( 1 Kings 13:16-17 )

16 He said, “I cannot return with you, nor go with you, nor will I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. 17 For a command came to me by the word of the Lord, ‘You shall eat no bread, nor drink water there; do not return by going the way which you came.’”

Would it be a reasonable to view the God's aforementioned command to be symbolic of telling the Unnamed Prophet from Judah that he should Not go back to his personal sinful past?

Let me elaborate, other messengers/prophets of God like King David, Judges Samson, etc., were flawed men( i.e, earthen vessels ) who obviously had a sinful past.

However, after God used said flawed men to deliver/warn the Israelites then would it Not be reasonable for God to have warned messengers/prophets of God like King David, Judges Samson, etc., that they themselves should Not go back to their personal sinful past that they indulged in during their early days in life?

Thus, when God commanded the Unnamed Prophet from Judah to

-Not "eat no bread, Nor drink water, nor return by the way which you came"

then could it be symbolic/metaphorical/figurative way of God commanding the Unnamed Prophet from Judah Not to return to indulging in the sins of his early life?

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Was God's command to the unnamed prophet in 1 Kings 13 symbolic to us today?

Answer: There is certainly a warning for us, whether symbolic or not.

The examples you have given of David's sinful past, as well as that of the judges, and many other righteous men who proved to be quite sinful do not necessarily apply because many of them suffered greatly following their sins.

In David's household, "the sword would never depart" (2 Sam. 12:10) as he lost (at least) three sons (1 child, 2 older), and nearly had his kingdom taken away. Even his daughter was raped by one of the brothers. You'll remember that Samson's eyes were gouged out (Jdgs. 16:21), while others paid a very high price for their transgressions as well.

The unnamed prophet who was instructed to "eat no bread, nor drink water, nor return by the way which [he] came" was indeed led astray by the older prophet, but he paid the ultimate price with his life. It does not appear at all that this was symbolic of "not [going] back to [his] personal sinful past that [he either did, or did not] indulge in [his earlier life]."

The punishment for disobeying God was swift and decisive, despite his being enticed by the crafty, older prophet. The "senior prophet" should have known much better than to ever challenge God this way and place the life of his younger friend in mortal danger: it seems he was both a scheming liar and a fool.

It may be significant that the unnamed prophet was found resting idly under an oak tree instead of returning with haste to Judah, given the gravity of fully completing his mission. This might speak a bit to the integrity of the younger man - even though he did state his mission correctly twice. "Two out of three" is obviously insufficient.

Nonetheless, this prophet should have known that if God had somehow "changed His mind," He would definitely have conveyed that to the unnamed prophet just as He did with his initial charge - and later with the older man.

There is some symbolism in this story, however, in this fact:

1 John 4:1-3: "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world [just as with the old, lying prophet]. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God" (emphasis added).

Additionally, we might consider the following commentary described by author and biblical commentator, Dr. James Coffman:

Although not stated, there appears to have been an unworthy desire on the part of the man of God [not to return immediately as told], and, where there is an antecedent willingness, there is always provided by the Evil One an opportune invitation to do wrong.

The warning we must heed, as Christians today, is the certainty that many pretentious "prophets," those that range from professional religionists to the friendly, neighborhood minister, may suggest every manner of false teaching. Indeed, they are often entirely unaware of the fact themselves! These are the ones described by Christ in Matthew's Gospel:

Matthew 7:15: "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves."

Just who are these "ravening wolves" if not those who appear so benign and trustworthy? Does it matter whether they seem sincere with their false doctrine, as was perhaps the older prophet in 1 Kings 13?

We too must be on the constant guard for such deceptions, dressed in every plausible appearance of authenticity, but acting purely as instruments of Satan.

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This might Not be a thorough detailed analysis, but I suppose one of the major key themes is that the messenger -regardless of whether the messenger might be a NonChristian or a New Christian because God does work in mysterious ways which is evidenced by

( Isaiah 55:8-9 )

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.)

-or even if he is a believer of God/Christian who falls like King David sin with Bathsheba or even like Apostle Peter who momentarily distanced himself from Gentile Christian believers (Galatians 2:11-14)

is that the messenger herself/himself is also susceptible to falling into sin.

Also, to bolster the credibility of your assumptions/assessment/evaluations based on your arguments for symbolism in 1 Kings 13 , it would be interesting to note that 1 Kings 13:24 recounts the event of a lion killing the unnamed prophet who strayed away from God. 1 Kings 13:24 could be considered as a real event that confirms the symbolism in 1 Peter 5:8 bible verse which uses a lion to symbolize the devil who prowls around for someone to devour:

1 Kings 13:23-25

23 It came about after he had eaten bread and after he had drunk, that he saddled the donkey for him, for the prophet whom he had brought back. 24 Now when he had gone, a lion met him on the way and killed him, and his body was thrown on the road, with the donkey standing beside it; the lion also was standing beside the body. 25 And behold, men passed by and saw the body thrown on the road, and the lion standing beside the body; so they came and told it in the city where the old prophet lived.

1 Peter 5:6-11

6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. 8 Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 [a]But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your [b]brethren who are in the world. 10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. 11 To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.

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I can't disagree strongly enough with the idea that the lesson here is a moralistic take on the prophet needing to avoid returning to an unmentioned previously sinful life. There is nothing in the text to suggest this. This story is about the cutting off of Bethel, and the prophet is merely a prop, without even a name, that appears in the middle of the story to reveal what is going to happen to Bethel.

Context

Please read the preceeding context, from 12:25-33.

Summarizing:

Jeroboam, king of the Israel, was afraid he would lose the kingdom as long as his population kept going to Jerusalem in Judah for the mandatory feasts. Remember that anyone not going to these was cut off. Also, whenever there was a trespass offering or other offering that needed to be given, since it could only be given at the Jerusalem temple, it was done at the next mandatory feast. Obviously that's a problem if your entire kingdom's religious administration is controlled by another country to the south, one that you are rivals with. So he deciced to set up alternate worship sites in his own country, in the old high places of Dan and Bethel (where Jacob saw the dream of the ladder).

Background on the high place at Bethel

Now Bethel was a place where the ark rested for a time (Judges 20.27), and there were priests in Bethel that were descended from the days when it was acceptable to worship there. For over a thousand years, beginning when Abram built an altar east of Bethel in Genesis 12.8 and then dwelt there after returning from Canaan in Gen 13.3. Jacob's dream of the ladder was at Bethel and "the God of Bethel" spoke to him in Gen 31.13. until the temple was dedicated (977 BC), Bethel was a legit sacred place that was important to most of the heroes of Israeli history. It was where people worshipped, creating an established society of priests, prophets, etc.

But when the Temple was inaugurated by Solomon, the priests could no longer sacrifice at Bethel as all sacrifices moved to the temple in Jerusalem. That turned the shrine at Bethel into an idolatrous high place. But prophets were still allowed to prophecy in all places, however when the golden calf was placed in Bethel, God cut off the entire religious establishment. This story is about this separation and reveals some of the social and spiritual consequences of it.

Note that as The temple was only dedicated about 50 years before, so much of the infrastructure and people (hence the "old prophet") were still around for this story.

It was this practice (pre-Temple worship) that Jeroboam was trying to revive as an alternative to temple worship, and if you were going to pick a #2 city in terms of importance and holiness, then Bethel would be there, right behind Jerusalem. This is why Jeroboam picked it. He even put a golden calf there and led worship of the calf. It is this golden calf and instructions to not visit Jerusalem that result in God's visitation in the form of a prophet.

The unnamed prophet of God.

This prophet appears unexpectedly (hinneh!) in the narrative. All we know is that he is from Judah. Thus he is a representative of prophets from Judah.

He prophesizes the slaughter of the existing priests at Bethel and the destruction of the shrine there. But in addition to this obvious condemnation of a shrine on which the golden calf was being worshipped, he is also given two commandments, which are important for the rest of the religious community at Bethel.

Prohibition on returning

This should be viewed as nothing more than an intensive form of "Never return to Beth-El after you give the prophecy"

The idea is not just, don't go back to the city boundaries once you exit, but don't go back to the city or any place within the city. E.g. if we imagine Bethel is a single road, with houses numbered 1 to 10 and the shrine is at 5.

  Bethel:  1  2  3  4  5=shrine  6  7  8  9  10

Say the prophet came to the shrine from house 1, so he is moving right. Then finally he arrived at the shrine at house 5. Then he pronounces the fate of the shrine.

  Bethel:  1  2  3  4  5=shrine  6  7  8  9  10
  Prophet  ----------------
                           |
          <----------------

Now if he were to turn around and go back down the same road, he would visit house 4 twice! And same for house 3, etc. Thus he would be "returning" to a place in Bethel.

But the prohibition was very strict, to never return to Bethel, and so that meant he had to exit the city via a different route in order to avoid returning to the same location in Bethel.

  Bethel:  1  2  3  4  5=shrine  6  7  8  9  10
  Prophet  --------------------------------->

There would only be one visit from God, as this was a message of irrevocable separation between God and the religious infrastructure of the city and once you divorce something you can never have fellowship with it again. There was to be no more contact between the apostate religous leaders and the prophet of God.

A similar prohibition was given to Lot's wife (Gen 19.26) -- she was not allowed to look back at Sodom. When something is condemned, you are not supposed to ever go back to it. But it was not the prophet or his past life that was condemned, it was Bethel, specifically the religious community within Bethel that had been declared apostates.

That's all that's going on here with the different routes.

Prohibition on eating and drinking

Here the idea is of communion or a peace offering. When a messenger of God shares a meal with someone, that is symbolic of enjoying fellowship with them, which again was not allowed in this divorce visitation.

The Old Prophet

The Old Prophet, supposedly from a time when Bethel was a true center of worship, is worried about this cutting off, so he wants to test if it applies to him as well.

Perhaps the prohibition on fellowship was only against the king and priests of the shrine, but not against him and his people, the descendents of prophets of God. After all, while it's true that priests can only perform sacrifices at Jerusalem, prophets can still prophesy wherever they are. Or can they? The old prophet longed for that communion, so he tricked the unnamed prophet into having a meal with him to see if fellowship was still possible between these two groups: the prophets of Jerusalem and the prophets of Bethel.

It was not, the spirit of God came on the old prophet and the unnamed prophet was condemned and then shortly killed by God, with a lion and the old man's donkey standing on either side of the corpse (the lion is symbolic of Judah and the donkey of prophets). The message was clear - God would destroy any prophet of Judah who tried to have fellowship with the prophets of Bethel. The only way to bridge the two groups is with a corpse. This is why the old prophet is so sorrowful - he is not sad about the death of this stranger whom he tricked, but about the finality of God's decision to divorce him and his people.

For surely, the thing which he proclaimed by the word of Yahweh against the altar which is in Bethel will happen, as it will against all the houses of the high places which are in the cities of Samaria.” 1 ki 13.32 LEB

Longing for that togetherness, he calls the prophet "my brother" and instructs to place him in his own tomb, asking that his own body be placed next to his, so that at least in death they can embrace each other.

He put his corpse in his tomb, and they mourned over him, “Alas, my brother!” It happened after he buried him that he said to his sons, “When I die, you shall bury me in the tomb where the man of God is buried; you shall lay my bones beside his bones. 1 Ki 13.30-31

It's a sad, beautiful story about the pain of the divorce between Judah and Israel that shouldn't be marred by tiresome religious finger-wagging.

Rabbinical commentaries on the Old Prophet

Interestingly, Rashi and the rest of the rabbinic tradition -- who enjoy religious finger-wagging as much as Christian commentators -- insist (with no textual basis) that the Old Prophet is a false prophet, and so this passage has been targummed.

1 Ki 13.11 targum[2]:

And one old lying prophet was dwelling in Bethel,

That then creates a problem as to how to explain the old prophet prophesying and why the Spirit of God would come upon him. This is explained by the power of a good meal. The meal was so refreshing that it even allowed a false prophet to give a true prophecy!

From here they [the Rabbis] deduced that [offering] refreshment is a great thing, for it causes the Divine Presence to rest on the prophets of the Baal.[1]

But the old prophet was not a prophet of Baal, he was a prophet of YHWH who happened to live in a city that used to be a site honored by YWHW and by Jacob, but now was separated from YHWH due to the political bumbling of Rehoboam and Jeroboam, and the spiritual and social fallout of this separation is the topic of 1 Kings 12-13.

It is a good idea to avoid reading facile moral stories into every tale of loss in the Bible.

[1] Rashi Commentaries on 1 Ki 13.20

[2]Cathcart, K., Maher, M., & McNamara, M. (Eds.). (1990). The Aramaic Bible: Targum Jonathan of the Former Prophets. (D. J. Harrington & A. J. Saldarini, Trans.) (Vol. 10, 1 Ki 13:11). Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press.

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  • Thx for detailed post. A lot of Charismatic/Pentecostal pastors & preachers see a lot of symbolism in bible verses & passages. Benny Hinn mentions in this video -->( youtu.be/mX_Ts0jAFNU?t=823 ) that Job 28:7-11 is about the benefits of praying and speaking in tongues. Jonathan Cahn associates Donald Trump as a modern day King Jehu(2 Kings 9:5, 2 Kings 9:25) because Jehu had to sort of realign the Northern Kingdom of Israel since she previously strayed away from God. Symbolism is all over the bible.
    – crazyTech
    Jul 31 at 18:07
  • Yes, of course there is lots of symbolism, and I discussed that symbolism for the two prohibitions, but generally speaking inserting your own worldview into biblical accounts is not exegesis. Sharing the grave with the dead prophet is a symbol of being dead with Christ, for example, but if we start interpreting it as referring to organ donation or some other moral fashion, then we have left the world of exegesis.
    – Robert
    Jul 31 at 19:14

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