FROM JUDAH had come a prophet who troubled King Jeroboam of Israel at Bethel. He predicted that one day the bones of the false priests would be burned on the altar there. (I Kings 13:1-6.) On his way back to his home in the nation of Judah, he stopped to rest in the shade of an oak tree. There he was approached by an older prophet whose sons had witnessed what had occurred at the temple at Bethel. The old prophet slid down from his donkey and eagerly went up to the resting man.
"Are you the one from Judah who prayed that King Jeroboam's withered arm would be healed?" the older man asked. "I am the one," was the answer. (I Kings 13:7-14.) The older man was pleased. He wanted to become acquainted and find out more about the interesting prophecy he had made about what would happen to the altar at Bethel. "You look weary and hungry," he said to the resting man. "Come with me to my home and have something to eat and drink." "I have been told by God that while I am here I must neither eat nor drink," the prophet explained. "I am not to accept help from anyone in this idolatrous area. I am not to retrace my steps. Neither am I to associate with people here. Thank you, but I can't accept your hospitality. I must go now." The fellow struggled to his feet and started away without another word. The older man hurried after him and put a restraining hand on his shoulder. "But I, too, am a prophet," he pointed out. "And I, too," he lied, have received instructions from God. I was told by an angel that I should find you and bring you to my home for nourishment." The prophet from Judah turned to give the other man a searching look. It seemed only reasonable that God wouldn't allow him to continue being too weak and thirsty during his mission, even though he had been warned not to consume anything. "Because God has spoken to you, I no longer have reason to refuse your kind offer," the prophet said, yielding to temptation. "I would be very happy to return to your house with you." His eagerness for refreshment caused him to make a terrible decision. He was hungry and thirsty. He wanted to believe that God had spoken to the older man. The painful fact was that the older prophet masqueraded as one of God's prophets, but was in reality a follower of Jeroboam's perverted religion. The older man had made up the story in order to get the other to come home with him. He wanted to question him about the Bethel prophecy. God was allowing the older man, even in his shameful dishonesty, to severely test the obedience of the man from Judah. (I Kings 13:15-19.) The prophet from Judah should not have listened to hearsay. Later, at the older prophet's home, the meal had just been finished when God again spoke to the man from Judah by a voice from heaven. "You have disobeyed by retracing your steps at Bethel and by eating and drinking here. Because you have done this, you will never return home. You will not be buried in the tomb where your relatives are buried." The man from Judah was miserably stunned by the realization that he had been so careless and weak willed as to disobey God and believe the older man's claim that God had contradicted Himself. (I Kings 13:20-22.) Suddenly the prophet from Judah was very afraid of the older man. He wanted to get out of the house and start running back toward Judah. His host, who was as surprised as his guest was at God's sentence of death, was aware of the man's abrupt discomfort and impatience.
The Penalty of Disobedience
"I know that you're anxious to leave," the older man said. "The donkey is saddled." The guest didn't need a second invitation. He left at once on the donkey. On passing through a desolate area, he was terrified to see a lion standing in the road. The animal rushed toward him and sprang. Those were the prophet's last conscious moments. His punishment was swift for not following God's instructions. Some men who were traveling on the same road were startled a little later to see a lion standing over a man's body. They hid behind boulders to watch, puzzled because the lion kept on standing over its victim, meanwhile ignoring a donkey grazing only a few yards away. The men wondered why the donkey didn't seem to fear the lion. They couldn't know that both animals were being used by God for a purpose. At Bethel they told several people what they had seen. (I Kings 13:23-25.) It wasn't long before the old prophet heard about it. Using another donkey, he left at once to look for the slain prophet, whom he found a short distance away. The lion was still standing there, but when it saw him it sauntered away, leaving him free to go to the dead man, whom he managed to hoist on the waiting donkey and take back to Bethel and bury in his own sepulchre. "After I die," he told his sons, "bury me in my tomb with this man of God. When his prophecy comes to pass about the bones of some of the men of Bethel being burned on the altar, I have cleverly planned that mine won't be burned there if they are beside those of this prophet from Judah." (I Kings 13:26-32.) In spite of the supernatural breaking of the altar and the damaging and healing of his arm, Jeroboam didn't split away from the wrong ways he had established. The old false prophet convinced him that since God allowed the prophet from Judah to be killed by a lion, he didn't represent God and his words need not be feared. Even in the face of the warning from God about what would happen to the false priests, Jeroboam continued to hire men for those offices who had little ability and low character. This was going to mean the difference between his staying on as king of the ten tribes and the sudden end of his rule over them. (I Kings 13:33-34.) It was Israel's great turning point. To warn Jeroboam one more time of his evil ways, God allowed his son, Abijah, to become very ill. Jeroboam was greatly concerned when the boy didn't recover. No one could tell what caused the sickness or how long it would last. But it was obvious that Abijah couldn't live very many more days if he stayed in his weakened condition.
"Perhaps Ahijah the prophet would know what's wrong with Abijah and what should be done for him," Jeroboam said to his wife. "He was the one who told me that I would become king. Possibly he has other supernatural knowledge." "Would it be wise for you to be seen with him?" Jeroboam's wife asked. "He has made some strong statements about the golden calves." "I don't intend to see him," the king explained. "I want you to go do that. You'll have to disguise yourself so that you won't be recognized as my wife by anyone who sees you, including Ahijah. Possibly we can outwit God's prophet." (I Kings 14:1-3.) Jeroboam's wife didn't relish the mission, but she set out with servants and donkeys to travel to Ahijah's home at Shiloh, about eighteen miles to the south. As gifts for the prophet, she took ten loaves of bread, some small cakes and a bottle of honey. (I Kings 14:3.) Dressing in drably plain clothes prevented her from being recognized on the trip. Deluding Ahijah obviously would be easy, inasmuch as he had become blind! He had servants, but he preferred to open the door after Jeroboam's wife knocked. "Come in!" he exclaimed. "Come in! I am honored to be visited by the wife of King Jeroboam!" The woman was so startled that she lost her composure and temporarily couldn't think what to say. It was unnerving to be instantly recognized by a blind man with whom she had no acquaintance. What she didn't know was that God had told Ahijah only a little while before that she was coming, the reason for her visit and what he should say to her. "Why have you tried to conceal who you are?" Ahijah asked. (I Kings 14:5-6.) "My husband thought it was necessary," she replied uneasily. "How did you know who I am?" "God told me," the prophet answered. "He also gave me a message for you to take to your husband. You are to convey to him all that I'm about to tell you." Jeroboam's wife was suddenly filled with fear by the feeling that she was about to hear something terribly unpleasant. "Tell Jeroboam," Ahijah began, "that God wants to remind him that he was given a high honor and a very special opportunity when most of the kingdom of Israel was taken away from the house of David and given to your husband to rule. He could have become a great man by following David's example of obedience. Instead, he foolishly chose to mislead the people by causing them to turn to worshipping metal images — an evil pursuit in which he has outdone any ruler of Israel before him." (I Kings 14:7-9.) Jeroboam's wife became more uncomfortable by the second because she knew that the accusations were true. But the most shocking part of the prophet's utterance was yet to come.
"Inasmuch as Jeroboam has acted so wickedly," Ahijah continued, "God will bring evil times to him. He will lose his rulership. God has already chosen another man to reign in his stead. Any of Jeroboam's family who try to rule Israel shall be destroyed by this man. Then God is going to shake this nation as a strong stream shakes a reed. The people shall be driven out of the land and scattered in other countries because they have worshipped the idols their king has set before them. "As for your son Abijah, whom you came to ask about, he shall die as soon as you return home. None of your husband's family shall receive a proper burial except him. That he shall have because he didn't want his father to set up idols for Israel to worship." (I Kings 14:10-16.) Jeroboam's wife was pale and trembling as she left Ahijah's house. She couldn't wait to get back to the town of Tirzah, where Jeroboam had moved his palace after deciding to leave Shechem. At the same time she feared to go home because of Ahijah's prophecy that her son would die as soon as she returned. She hoped desperately that the prophet would be wrong, but when she reached the room where Abijah had been confined to his bed for many days, she was told that he had just died. (I Kings 14:17-18.) Matters weren't going much better in Jerusalem. The true priests and many other faithful Israelites had swarmed into Judah from the other ten tribes to escape idol worship. (II Chronicles 11:13-17.) But after three years a large part of Judah and Benjamin had turned to the abominable practices and customs of pagan religions. Rehoboam didn't set out to promote idolatry as Jeroboam did, but he was so absorbed in his own interests, including his eighteen wives and sixty concubines, that he failed to give proper attention to the welfare of his subjects. (I Kings 14:21-24; II Chronicles 11:18-23.) In the fifth year of his reign Rehoboam received a shocking surprise. A messenger came from the desert of Shur between the Sinai peninsula and Judah to report that a large army was moving northeastward toward Jerusalem. Reports disclosed that at least sixty thousand horsemen, twelve hundred chariots and uncountable thousands of footmen were moving steadily toward Jerusalem. The Egyptian army and their allies were about to attack Israel! Rehoboam was nearly overcome with panic. His dwindling army was somewhere off to the north, involved as usual in skirmishes with Jeroboam's troops. With Israel divided, there wasn't enough military strength to even defend Jerusalem's walls. Days passed, during which many defenseless towns in southern Judah were attacked and easily taken over by the Egyptians. In that time Rehoboam managed to muster enough troops for defense of the city, but there weren't enough to send out to meet the invaders. (II Chronicles 12:1-4.)
There was great turmoil in Jerusalem when the Egyptian army came in sight of the capital of Judah. The vast force was led by Shishak, the Egyptian king who had harbored Jeroboam after Jeroboam had escaped a death sentence by Solomon. (I Kings 11:37-40.) Also known in historical records as the great chief of the Meshwesh Libyans Sheshonk I of Dynasty XXII, King Shishak brought many Africans who weren't Egyptians. There were Ethiopians, Libyans and even men from a tribe that lived in caves in the mountains along the Red Sea. There were enough horsemen and foot soldiers to surround Jerusalem several ranks deep. The Israelites' only hope was in the city's strong walls, which Solomon had built for such a situation. The tension grew by the hour. Waiting for an attack that might never come didn't improve the morale of the caged-up Jews. It was possible that the Egyptians planned to besiege Jerusalem until the occupants would surrender because of lack of food. The city was crowded with people, including most of the leaders and officials of Judah and Benjamin. Traffic stopped when the gates were closed and barred. One man who came into the city just before the gates were shut was Shemaiah the prophet. He was the one who had warned Rehoboam five years before not to start a full-scale war with the ten tribes over which Jeroboam had become king. Shemaiah asked to speak at once to Rehoboam and the leaders of Judah. Rehoboam had a special respect for the prophet. He immediately called the men of high rank together to listen to what Shemaiah had to say. "I have a message from God for all of you," the prophet began. "He wants you to know that He has sent the Egyptian army against Judah because you and many of the people of Judah have turned away from God and have taken up idol worship and other ways of perversion. The Egyptians will overrun Jerusalem just as they have overrun your towns that have been taken! You will be completely at their mercy!" (II Chronicles 12:5.) Rehoboam and the others in the room stared at each other in fear. They knew that the only mercy they could expect from their attackers would be sudden death. After Shemaiah had gone out of the room to leave them to their terrifying thoughts, some of them dropped to their knees and called out to God to forgive them for what they had done. Others followed the example, but only because they were so desperate that they yearned to cry out for forgiveness and help. Facing death as they did, they were truly remorseful because of their foolish and corrupt ways. Later, as some of the men with Rehoboam were still sprawled in humility and dejection, Shemaiah returned to state that he had some news they would welcome. "God has heard your prayers," the prophet told them. "He knows that you are deeply regretful of leading your people wrongly. Because you have humbled yourselves, God has decided not to allow the Egyptians to destroy you. But they will take this city and you will become their servants and pay tribute. Then you will learn how much better it is to be servants of God than of man." Rehoboam and the others were on their feet and eagerly crowding around Shemaiah to shower him with questions. At that moment there were frenzied shouts from outside. Through a window Israelite soldiers could be seen milling excitedly about on a part of the walls. (II Chronicles 12:6-8.) "The Egyptians are attacking!" a breathless servant yelled. The wall guards nervously fingered their spears and bows as they looked down to watch Shishak's many thousands approach and surround Jerusalem.