Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
3 Kings (1 Kings) 13:1
A prophet out of Judah announces to Jeroboam the eventual overthrow of the idolatrous worship, and attests his divine mission by miraculous signs upon the altar at Bethel and the hardened king (Kg1 13:1-10); but on the way back he allows himself to be enticed by an old prophet out of Bethel to go into his house, contrary to the express command of the Lord, and while sitting at table with him has to hear from his mouth the divine threat, that on account of his transgression of the command of God he will not come into the sepulchre of his fathers. This threat was fulfilled on his way home; and the marvellous fulfilment made so deep an impression upon the old prophet, that he confirmed the testimony which he had given concerning the worship at the high places (vv. 11-32). These marvellous occurrences not only teach how Jeroboam brought about the overthrow of his dynasty by his thorough hardening against the word of God (Kg1 13:33, Kg1 13:34), but they also show how false prophecy rose up from the very beginning in the kingdom of Israel and set itself against the true prophets of the Lord, and how it gained a victory, which merely displayed its own impotence, however, and foreshadowed its eventual and certain overthrow.
Prophecy against the idolatrous worship at Bethel. - Kg1 13:1, Kg1 13:2. Whilst Jeroboam was still occupied in sacrificing by the altar at Bethel, there came a prophet (אלהים אישׁ) out of Judah "in the word of Jehovah" to Bethel, and pronounced upon the altar its eventual destruction. יהוה בּדבר does not mean "at the word of Jehovah" here, as it frequently does, but "in the word of Jehovah," as Kg1 13:9, Kg1 13:17 more especially show; so that the word of Jehovah is regarded as a power which comes upon the prophet and drives him to utter the divine revelation which he has received. It is the same in Kg1 20:35. להקטיר is to be taken as in Kg1 12:33. - "Behold a son will be born to the house of David, named Josiah; he will offer upon thee (O altar) the priests of the high places, who burn incense (i.e., kindle sacrifices) upon thee, and men's bones will they burn upon thee." According to Kg2 23:15-20, this prophecy was literally fulfilled. The older theologians found in this an evident proof of the divine inspiration of the prophets; modern theology, on the other hand, which denies the supernatural inspiration of prophecy in accordance with its rationalistic or naturalistic principles, supplies that this prophecy was not more precisely defined till after the event, and adduces in support of this the apparently just argument, that the prediction of particular historical events is without analogy, and generally that the introduction either of particular persons by name or of definite numbers is opposed to the very essence of prophecy, and turns prediction into soothsaying. The distinction between soothsaying and prediction, however, is not that the latter merely utters general ideas concerning the future, whilst the former announces special occurrences beforehand: but soothsaying is the foretelling of all kinds of accidental things; prophecy, on the contrary, the foretelling of the progressive development of the kingdom of God, not merely in general, but in its several details, according to the circumstances and necessities of each particular age, and that in such a manner that the several concrete details of the prophecy rest upon the general idea of the revelation of salvation, and are thereby entirely removed from the sphere of the accidental. It is true that perfectly concrete predictions of particular events, with the introduction of names and statement of times, are much more rare than the predictions of the progressive development of the kingdom of God according to its general features; but they are not altogether wanting, and we meet with them in every case where it was of importance to set before an ungodly generation in the most impressive manner the truth of the divine threatenings of promises. The allusion to Coresh in Isa 44:28; Isa 45:1, is analogous to the announcement before us. But in both cases the names are closely connected with the destination of the persons in the prophecy, and are simply a concrete description of what God will accomplish through these men. Hence the name יאשׁיּהוּ occurs primarily according to its appellative meaning alone, viz., "he whom Jehovah supports," from אשׁה, to support, and expresses this thought: there will be born a son to the house of David, whom Jehovah will support of establish, so that he shall execute judgment upon the priests of the high places at Bethel. This prophecy was then afterwards so fulfilled by the special arrangement of God, that the king who executed this judgment bore the name of Joshiyahu as his proper name. And so also כּורשׁ was originally an appellative in the sense of sun. The judgment which the prophet pronounced upon the altar was founded upon the jus talionis. On the very same altar on which the priests offer sacrifice to the עגלים shall they themselves be offered, and the altar shall be defiled for ever by the burning of men's bones upon it. אדם עצמות, "men's bones," does not stand for "their (the priests') bones," but is simply an epithet used to designate human corpses, which defile the place where they lie (Kg2 23:16).
In confirmation of his word the prophet added a miracle (מופת, τέρας, portentum, see at Exo 4:21): "this is the sign that the Lord hath spoken (through me): behold the altar will be rent in pieces, and the ashes upon it will be poured out." דּשׁן is the ashes of the fat of the sacrificial animals. The pouring out of the sacrificial ashes in consequence of the breaking upon of the altar was a penal sign, which indicated, along with the destruction of the altar, the desecration of the sacrificial service performed upon it.
The king, enraged at this announcement, stretched out his hand against the prophet with the words, "seize him" - and his hand dried up, so that he was not able to draw it back again. יבשׁ, to dry up, i.e., toe become rigid in consequence of a miraculous withdrawal of the vital energy. Thus Jeroboam experienced in the limbs of his own body the severity of the threatened judgment of God.
The penal miracle announced in the word of Jehovah, i.e., in the strength of the Lord, also took effect immediately upon the altar; and the defiant king was now obliged to entreat the man of God, saying, "Soften, I pray, the face of the Lord thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may return to me," i.e., that I may be able to draw it back again, to move it once more. And this also took place at once at the intercession of the prophet. יי את־פּני חלּה, lit., to stroke the face of God, i.e., to render it soft by intercession (see at Exo 32:11).
As Jeroboam could do nothing by force against the prophet, he endeavoured to gain him over to his side by friendliness, that at least he might render his threat harmless in the eyes of the people. For this purpose, and not to do him honour or to make him some acknowledgment for the restoration of his hand, he invited him to his house, to strengthen himself with food (סעד as in Gen 18:5; Jdg 9:5; for the form סעדה, see Ewald, 41, c.) and receive from him a present.
But this design was also frustrated, and the rejection of his worship on the part of God was still more strongly declared. "If thou gavest me," the man of God replied, "the half of thy house, I shall not go in with thee, nor eat bread and drink water in this place; for thus hath Jehovah commanded me," etc. The subject, Jehovah, is easily supplied to צוּה from the context (vid., Ewald, 294, b.). God had forbidden the prophet to eat and drink "to manifest His detestation of idolatry, and to show by that fact that the Bethelites were so detestable, and as it were excommunicated by God, that He wished none of the faithful to join with them in eating and drinking" (C. a Lap.). He was not to return by the way by which he came, that no one might look out for him, and force him to a delay which was irreconcilable with his commission, or "lest by chance being brought back by Jeroboam, he should do anything to please him which was unworthy of a prophet, or from which it might be inferred that idolaters might hope for some favour from the Deity" (Budd.).
3 Kings (1 Kings) 13:11
Seduction of the man of God by an old prophet, and his consequent punishment. - Kg1 13:11-19. The man of God had resisted the invitations of Jeroboam, and set out by a different road to return to Judah. An old prophet at Bethel heard from his sons what had taken place (the singular בנו יבוא as compared with the plural ויספּרוּם may be explained on the supposition that first of all one son related the matter to his father, and that then the other sons supported the account given by the first); had his ass saddled; hurried after him, and found him sitting under the terebinth (the tree well known from that event); invited him to come into his house and eat with him; and when the latter appealed to the divine prohibition, said to him (Kg1 13:18), "I am a prophet also as thou art, and an angel has said to me in the word of the Lord: Bring him back with thee into thy house, that he may eat and drink," and lied to him (לו כּחשׁ without a copula, because it is inserted as it were parenthetically, simply as an explanation) - then he went back with him, and ate and drank in his house.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 13:20
As they were sitting at table the word of the Lord came to the old prophet, so that he cried out to the man of God from Judah: "Because thou hast been rebellious against the command of the Lord, and hast not kept the commandment, ... thou wilt not come to the grave of thy fathers," i.e., thou wilt meet with a violent death by the way. This utterance was soon fulfilled.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 13:23
After he had eaten he saddled the ass for him, i.e., for the prophet whom he had fetched back, and the latter (the prophet from Judah) departed upon it. On the road a lion met him and slew him; "and his corpse was cast in the road, but the ass stood by it, and the lion stood by the corpse." The lion, contrary to its nature, had neither consumed the prophet whom it had slain, nor torn in pieces and devoured the ass upon which he rode, but had remained standing by the corpse and by the ass, that the slaying of the prophet might not be regarded as a misfortune that had befallen him by accident, but that the hand of the Lord might be manifest therein, so that passers-by saw this marvel and related it in Bethel.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 13:26
When the old prophet at Bethel heard of this, he said, "It is the man of God, who was disobedient to the word of the Lord; the Lord hath delivered him to the lion, so that it hath torn him (שׁבר, frangere, confringere, used of a lion which tears its prey in pieces) and slain him according to the word of the Lord, which He spake to him."
3 Kings (1 Kings) 13:27
He thereupon had his ass saddled, and went and found the corpse and the ass standing by it, without the lion having eaten the corpse or torn the ass in pieces; and he lifted the corpse upon his ass, and brought it into his own city, and laid the corpse in his grave with the customary lamentation: אחו הוי, alas, my brother! (cf., Jer 22:18), and then gave this command to his sons: "When I die, bury me in the grave in which the man of God is buried, let my bones rest beside his bones; for the word which he proclaimed in the word of Jehovah upon the altar at Bethel and upon all the houses of the high places in the cities of Samaria will take place" (i.e., will be fulfilled). The expression "cities of Samaria" belongs to the author of these books, and is used proleptically of the kingdom of the ten tribes, which did not receive this name till after the building of the city of Samaria as the capital of the kingdom and the residence of the kings of Israel (Kg1 16:24). There is a prophetic element in the words "upon all the houses of the high places," etc., inasmuch as the only other erection at that time beside the one at Bethel was a temple of the high places at Dan. But after such a beginning the multiplication of them might be foreseen with certainty, even without any higher illumination.
The conduct of the old prophet at Bethel appears so strange, that Josephus and the Chald., and most of the Rabbins and of the earlier commentators both Catholic and Protestant, have regarded him as a false prophet, who tried to lay a trap for the prophet from Judah, in order to counteract the effect of his prophecy upon the king and the people. But this assumption cannot be reconciled with either the divine revelation which came to him at the table, announcing to the Judaean prophet the punishment of his transgression of the commandment of God, and was so speedily fulfilled (Kg1 13:20-24); or with the honour which he paid to the dead man after this punishment had fallen upon him, by burying him in his own grave; and still less with his confirmation of his declaration concerning the altar at Bethel (Kg1 13:29-32). We must therefore follow Ephr. Syr., Theodor., Hengstenberg, and others, and regard the old prophet as a true prophet, who with good intentions, and not "under the influence of human envy" (Thenius), but impelled by the desire to enter into a closer relation to the man of God from Judah and to strengthen himself through his prophetic gifts, urged him to enter his house. The fact that he made use of sinful means in order to make more sure of securing the end desired, namely, of the false pretence that he had been directed by an angel to do this, may be explained, as Hengstenberg suggests (Dissert. vol. ii. p. 149), on the ground that when Jeroboam introduced his innovations, he had sinned by keeping silence, and that the appearance of the Judaean prophet had brought him to a consciousness of this sin, so that he had been seized with shame on account of his fall, and was anxious to restore himself to honour in his own eyes and those of others by intercourse with this witness to the truth. But however little the lie itself can be excused or justified, we must not attribute to him alone the consequences by which the lie was followed in the case of the Judaean prophet. For whilst he chose reprehensible means of accomplishing what appeared to be a good end, namely, to raise himself again by intercourse with a true prophet, and had no wish to injure the other in any way, the Judaean prophet allowed himself to be seduced to a transgression of the clear and definite prohibition of God simply by the sensual desire for bodily invigoration by meat and drink, and had failed to consider that the divine revelation which he had received could not be repealed by a pretended revelation from an angel, because the word of God does not contradict itself. He was therefore obliged to listen to a true revelation from God from the moth of the man whose pretended revelation from an angel he had too carelessly believed, namely, to the announcement of punishment for his disobedience towards the commandment of God, which punishment he immediately afterwards endured, "for the destruction of the flesh, but for the preservation of the spirit: Co1 15:5" (Berleb. Bible). That the punishment fell upon him alone and not upon the old prophet of Bethel also, and that for apparently a smaller crime, may be accounted for "not so much from the fact that the old prophet had lied with a good intention (this might hold good of the other also), as from the fact that it was needful to deal strictly with the man who had just received a great and holy commission from the Lord" (O. v. Gerlach). It is true that no bodily punishment fell upon the old prophet, but this punishment he received instead, that with his lie he was put to shame, and that his conscience must have accused him of having occasioned the death of the man of God from Judah. He was thereby to be cured of his weakness, that he might give honour to the truth of the testimony of God. "Thus did the wondrous providence of God know how to direct all things most gloriously, so that the bodily destruction of the one contributed to the spiritual and eternal preservation of the soul of the other" (Berleb. Bible). - Concerning the design of these marvellous events, H. Witsius has the following remarks in his Miscell. ss. i. p. 118 (ed. nov. 1736): "So many wondrous events all occurring in one result caused the prophecy against the altar at Bethel to be preserved in the mouths and memories of all, and the mission of this prophet to become far more illustrious. Thus, although the falsehood of the old man of Bethel brought disgrace upon himself, it injured no one but the man of God whose credulity was too great; and, under the overruling providence of God, it contributed in the most signal manner to the confirmation and publication of the truth."
(Note: Compare with this the remark of Theodoret in his quaest. 43 in 3 libr. Reb.: "In my opinion this punishment served to confirm the declaration concerning the altar. For it was not possible for the statement of such a man to be concealed: and this was sufficient to fill with terror those who heard it; for if partaking of food contrary to the command of God, and that not of his own accord, but under a deception, brought such retribution upon a righteous man, to what punishments would they be exposed who had forsaken the God who made them, and worshipped the likenesses of irrational creatures?")
The heaping up of the marvellous corresponded to the great object of the mission of the man of God out of Judah, through which the Lord would enter an energetic protest against the idolatrous worship of Jeroboam at its first introduction, to guard those who feared God in Israel, of whom there were not a few (Ch2 11:16; Kg2 18:3; Kg2 19:18), from falling away from Him by joining in the worship of the calves, and to take away every excuse from the ungodly who participated therein.
3 Kings (1 Kings) 13:33
But this did not lead Jeroboam to conversion. He turned not from his evil way, but continued to make high priests from the mass of the people. ויּעשׂ ויּשׁב, "he returned and made," i.e., he made again or continued to make. For the fact itself compare Kg1 12:31. "Whoever had pleasure (החפץ, cf., Ges. 109), he filled his hand, that he might become a priest of the high places." מלּא את־ידו, to fill the hand, is the technical expression for investing with the priesthood, according to the rite prescribed for the consecration of the priests, namely, to place sacrificial gifts in the hands of the persons to be consecrated (see at Lev 7:37 and Lev 8:25.). The plural בּמות כּהני is used with indefinite generality: that he might be ranked among the priests of high places.
"And it became in (with) this thing the sin of the house of Jeroboam, and the destroying and cutting off from the earth;" that is to say, this obstinate persistence in ungodly conduct was the guilt which had as its natural consequence the destroying of his house from the face of the earth. הזּה בּדּבר is not a mistake for הזּה הדּבר, but בּ is used, as in Ch1 9:33; Ch1 7:23, to express the idea of being and persisting in a thing (for this use of בּ compare Ewald, 295, f.).