This is another one of those strange stories we find in the Bible that leaves us with as many questions as it gives answers.
It starts with a prophet from Judah that goes up to Israel and confronts King Jeroboam with his sin. As he prophesies against Jeroboam, Jeroboam tries to arrest him, only to find his hand withering even as he tries to point at the prophet. He then begs the prophet to pray for him, and when the prophet does, Jeroboam’s hand is restored. Then, typical of many evil people, he tries to bribe the prophet, but the prophet replies,
Even if you were to give me half your possessions, I would not go with you, nor would I eat bread or drink water here. For I was commanded by the word of the Lord: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water or return by the way you came.’ (8-9)
And so the prophet starts back to Judah by another path. In the meantime, another prophet heard from his sons what had happened. Who was this prophet? We don’t know. Was he a true prophet? At a guess, he probably had been at one time. What happened to him? We don’t know. Perhaps he, like the rest of Israel, followed King Jeroboam’s example into apostasy and started worshiping “Yahweh” by using the idols that Jeroboam had set up. At any rate, when he heard about what the younger prophet had said, he chased after him, and invited him over for a meal. But when the younger prophet refused, the older prophet lied to him saying, “God sent an angel to tell me to invite you over for a meal.”
The younger prophet then accepted. But after the meal, the older prophet prophesied for the first time in perhaps years, and told the younger prophet that God was going to judge him for breaking his command not to stop and eat anywhere in Israel, but to go straight back home. The younger prophet left, was attacked by a lion, and died. When the older prophet heard about it, he mourned for him and buried him, sounding very pious all the while.
Why did this older prophet chase after the younger and tempt him into disobedience? Why did God use the older prophet to foretell the younger prophet’s doom? Why did the older prophet then mourn for the younger prophet? I don’t know.
But what I do know is this: the younger prophet died because he did not test what he heard. When he heard the older prophet’s story, he should’ve asked himself, “This guy sounds legitimate, but is he telling the truth?” And by testing the prophet’s words with the word God had already given him, he should’ve rejected what the older prophet said. But he didn’t, and as a result, he disobeyed God, costing him his life.
There are many people that claim to be speaking for God. Many actually do, giving messages on Sunday, or writing books that influence millions. But as Christians, we have a responsibility to test what we read and what we hear. It doesn’t matter how famous or well-respected the person is. And if they preach God’s word faithfully, then we should accept it and obey. But if they don’t, then we need to reject what they say.
When we don’t test what people say by God’s word, that’s when we get into trouble. But too many people don’t. God never changes. And neither does his word. So let us test all things by what he has already said.
As the apostle Paul wrote,
Test everything. Hold on to the good. (I Thessalonians 5:21)