Buried With the Bones by Joel Urshan

I K.13:1–10 Behold! Out of nowhere in Judah, an unknown prophet appeared at the altar at Bethel where Jeroboam was offering sacrifice–with priests and worshippers presumably looking on. The prophet denounced the altar, rather than Jeroboam or the priests. Three strange things happened.

a. He prophesied that some-day a king named Josiah would desecrate this altar with the bones of the dead. (That prophecy was fulfilled in detail as recorded in IIK.23:15–20, some 300 years later.)
b. The proof of that prophecy was that Jeroboam’s altar would fall apart at once. It did. That would stop the worship and throw the assembly into confusion.
c. The response of Jeroboam was to make a threatening gesture to the prophet and command that someone grab him. His arm went stiff. He begged the prophet to restore his arm. “Stroke the face of God for me.” And to our chagrin, the prophet asked God and the king’s arm was restored.

The king invited the prophet to the palace for a reward and a good dinner, but the prophet stated his orders from God: I may not eat or drink here or return the same way I came. This prophecy was to be acted out, to say that there is no fellowship with God here, and no hope of reversing His decrees.

I K.13:11–32. The rest of the story is bizarre. An old prophet in Bethel heard from his sons of the young prophet’s exploits and determined to meet him. He found the young prophet resting on his way home. He told him an angel had told the old prophet to bring him back. He was lying. But the young prophet went to the house of the old prophet in Bethel and ate and drank.
Then, in a complete reversal, the old prophet pronounced the judgment of God on the young man. He would not be buried with his fathers.
On his way home, a lion killed the young prophet, but then stood as if at attention next to the body and the donkey stood there as well. Whatever the meaning–other than “Obey God’s Commands”–the story would be told in the streets of Bethel for years to come.
The old prophet went to recover the body of the young prophet, buried it in his own tomb, mourned for him, and asked to be buried with him. He knew that the young prophet’s words would come to pass. The puzzle of the young prophet, but more particularly the old prophet, remains. The old prophet’s behavior is hard to explain. Why did he lie? He may have been curious to find the secret of the young man’s power. He no doubt felt guilty that God did not speak through him. He lived right there in Bethel. Why had he been left out of the mission to Jeroboam? Did jealousy seize him? Could he secretly have desired to see a young competitor ruined?How could the old prophet still speak for God after his deception? Clearly he remained a prophet of God, even after telling a terrible lie.

The young prophet’s failure to follow his first instructions may have come from his respect for an older member of his order. Had an angel really spoken to him? Paul warns us: “If we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal.1;8). Many of the false prophets of the past and various American non-Christian religions were inspired by angelic visitors.


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