Prophets with no names, lions that do not clean their plates, altars that split without an axe and a king with an arm that looks like a raisin: all these elements contribute to an intriguing and sometimes baffling story found in First Kings 13. Evangelicals are attracted to it because the story contains powerful prophetic fulfillment. Charismatics love it because signs and wonders are displayed. The Emergent crowd likes it because the story values authenticity and relationship. What do we make of this prophecy for the ages?
A fascinating story of prophetic courage and failure is found in First Kings 13. If the story were only verses one to ten, it would rank with Elijah’s confrontation with the Baal priests at Mt. Carmel as one of the great bold strokes in Old Testament history ( v. 1-3 ). The Judean “man of God” (a euphemism for prophet) confronts the Northern Kingdom’s ruler, Jeroboam. Jeroboam’s idolatry and false altar (he worships at Bethel instead of Jerusalem) calls forth Yahweh’s judgment. The man of God prophesies that King Josiah will be born from the house of David (Southern Judean ruler) who will judge the idolatry of the northern kingdom. This prophecy is truly remarkable. Not only does the man of God precisely describe the actions of Yahweh three hundred years before the event, but also he calls the future king by name. This is prophetic accuracy at its finest (see 2 Kings 23:15-20 ). The man of God truly must have been a man of God; intimately acquainted with the ways, heart, and character of Yahweh ( Isaiah 55:8-9 ). In addition, the man of God prophesies a split altar signifying Yahweh’s displeasure with Israel’s idolatrous worship ( v. 3 ). The word is fulfilled as God performs his own version of Demolition Day ( v. 5 ). The prophet walks in the intimacy with God and the power of the Spirit: the words and works of Jesus.
By Whose Authority?
High drama continues when Jeroboam points his finger at the man of God, demands his arrest, and the king’s hand withers ( 1 Kings 13:4-6 ). In our culture, finger pointing is simply an added gesture for emphasis. In some parts of Africa, pointing is considered rude beyond all measure. In Bible times, pointing the finger symbolized authority. In scripture, the right hand is a symbol of intense power and strength.1 The king by his right hand was leading the Israelites in false worship, but God’s mighty power reduced the king’s hand into a dry shriveled appendage. “The withering of Jeroboam’s hand demonstrated the superiority of God’s authority.”2 The man of God displays Yahweh’s mercy and kindness when he heeds the king’s request to restore his hand. Then, Jeroboam tries a little manipulation by inviting the prophet to dinner ( 1 Kings 13:7 ).