The Old Prophet

(nabhi’ ’echadh zaqen, "an old prophet" (1Ki 13:11), ha-nabhi’ ha-zaqen, "the old prophet" (1Ki 13:29)):

1. The Narrative:

The narrative of 1Ki 13:11-32, in which the old prophet is mentioned, is part of a larger account telling of a visit paid to Bethel by "a man of God" from Judah. The Judean prophet uttered a curse upon the altar erected there by Jeroboam I. When the king attempted to use force against him, the prophet was saved by divine intervention; the king then invited him to receive royal hospitality, but he refused because of a command of God to him not to eat or drink there. The Judean then departed (13:1-10). An old prophet who lived in Bethel heard of the stranger’s words, and went after him and offered him hospitality. This offer too was refused. But when the old prophet resorted to falsehood and pleaded a divine command on the subject, the Judean returned with him. While at table the old prophet is given a message to declare that death will follow the southerner’s disobedience to the first command. A lion kills him on his way home. The old prophet hears of the death and explains it as due to disobedience to God; he then buries the dead body in his own grave and expresses a wish that he also at death should be buried in the same sepulcher.

2. Critical:

There are several difficulties in the text. In 1Ki 13:11, the King James Version reads "his sons came" instead of "one of his sons came," and translation 1Ki 13:12 b: "And his sons shewed the way the man of God went." There is a gap in the Massoretic Text after the word "table" in 13:20; and 13:23 should be translated, "And it came to pass after he had eaten bread and drunk water, that he saddled for himself the ass, and departed again" (following Septuagint, B with W. B. Stevenson, HDB, III, 594a, note).

Benzinger ("Die Bucher der Konige," Kurz. Hand-Komm. zum Altes Testament, 91) holds that we have here an example of a midrash, i.e. according to LOT, 529, "an imaginative development of a thought or theme suggested by Scripture, especially a didactic or homiletic exposition or an edifying religious story." 2Ch 24:27 refers to a "midhrash of the book of the kings," and 2Ch 13:22 to a "midrash of the prophet Iddo." In 2Ch 9:29 we have a reference to "the visions of Iddo the seer concerning Jeroboam the son of Nebat." Josephus names the Judean prophet Jadon (Ant., VIII, viii, 5), and so some would trace this narrative to the midrash of Iddo, which would be a late Jewish work. There is a trace of late Hebrew in 1Ki 13:3, and evidence in several places of a later editing of the original narrative. Kittel and Benzinger think it possible that the section may be based on a historical incident. If the narrative is historical in the main, the mention of Josiah by name in 13:2 may be a later insertion; if not historical, the prophecy there is ex eventu, and the whole section a midrash on 2Ki 23:15-20.

3. Central Truths:

(1) Several questions are suggested by the narrative, but in putting as well as in answering these questions, it must be remembered that the old prophet himself, as has been pointed out, is not the chief character of the piece. Hence, it is a little pointless to ask what became of the old prophet, or whether he was not punished for his falsehood. The passage should be studied, like the parables of Jesus, with an eye on the great central truth, which is, here, that God punishes disobedience even in "a man of God." It is not inconsistent with this to regard the old prophet as an example of "Satan fashioning himself into an angel of light" (2Co 11:14), or of the beast which "had two horns like unto a lamb" (Re 13:11).

(2) It must also be remembered that the false prophets of the Old Testament are called prophets in spite of their false prophecies. So here the old prophet in spite of his former lie is given a divine message to declare that death will follow the other’s disobedience.

(3) One other question suggests itself, and demands an answer. Why did the old prophet make the request that at death he should be buried in the same grave as the Judean (1Ki 13:31)? The answer is implied in 1Ki 13:32, and is more fully given in 2Ki 23:15-20, where King Josiah defiles the graves of the prophets at Bethel. On seeing a "monument" or grave-stone by one of the graves, he inquires what it is, and is told that it marks the grave of the prophet from Judah. Thereupon he orders that his bones be not disturbed. With these the bones of the old prophet escape. Perhaps no clearer instance of a certain kind of meanness exists in the Old Testament. The very man who has been the cause of another’s downfall and ruin is base enough to plan his own escape under cover of the virtues of his victim. And the parallels in modern life are many.