There’s a story in the Bible that always bothered me when I was younger. Located in 1 Kings 13, it’s the story of a young prophet living in Judah whom God sends to Bethel in order to pass along a message to King Jeroboam of Israel. When he arrives, the prophet calls out to the altar in Bethel and prophesies that a king named Josiah will one day sacrifice all the false priests and prophets on it, and that it will be destroyed. Jeroboam doesn’t like the prophecy, and reaches out toward the prophet as he calls on his soldiers to seize him. But when he sees that his outstretched hand has become withered, he asks the prophet to have God restore his hand. The prophet complies. Then Jeroboam offers to reward the prophet, and this is what happens (v 8-10):
But the man of God answered the king, “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.’” So he took another road and did not return by the way he had come to Bethel.
But there was an old prophet living in Bethel who heard about what happened at the altar. So taking his donkey, he overtakes the young man and asks him to come back and eat with him. But the young prophet declines and tells the old man the same thing he said to Jeroboam. At this point, the old prophet lies and says that an angel of God told him to find the young prophet and bring him back home so the young man could eat. So the young prophet believes the old man and goes home with him.
Here’s what happens next (v 20-22):
While they were sitting at the table, the word of the LORD came to the old prophet who had brought him back. He cried out to the man of God who had come from Judah, “This is what the LORD says: ‘You have defied the word of the LORD and have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you. You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore your body will not be buried in the tomb of your ancestors.’”
Once they finished eating, the young man left on the old prophet’s donkey, but God sent a lion to kill him on his way home.
This story always bothered me. The young man may have made a mistake, but he was still trying to do what God wanted him to do. It just didn’t seem fair. But as I got older, I began to see the lesson in this story. Even though the young prophet’s intentions were pure, he didn’t validate the claims of the old prophet. He simply took the man at his word, instead of trying to investigate the truth of the old prophet’s claims.
As I’ve spoken to my family about the issues in the Bible, I’ve been reminded of this story. They have accepted the Bible as a message from God without really vetting it. Like the old prophet, the Bible has made the claim that it speaks for God. Why should we believe it? Simply because it says so? That’s the same mistake that the young prophet made. We should honestly examine the evidence and see how the Bible measures up. Unlike the young prophet, we need to exhibit some skepticism until we’ve each done a thorough investigation.
For some reason, most of my family has had a very difficult time realizing that questioning the Bible is not the same thing as questioning God. To question the Bible is to question the men who wrote it. If they were really inspired by God, it shouldn’t be too difficult to discern it. Even the Bible says we shouldn’t just believe everything we’re told, but we should test messengers to make sure they’re really speaking for God (1 John 4:1). Why do so many act as though the Bible should get a pass on that? It’s because they’re trying to defend what they’ve always known.
For instance, take Ezekiel’s prophecy of Tyre (Ezek 26-28), which I’ve written about here. Ezekiel prophesied that Tyre would be destroyed, and that it would never be rebuilt. He even said that though people would search for it, they wouldn’t find it. Yet Tyre is still there today. It’s still called by the same name. And even though people sometimes argue about whether Ezekiel’s Tyre was on the island or the mainland, modern Tyre sits on both spots. In other words, this prophecy could not have been a more complete failure. Yet that doesn’t deter most Christians I’ve spoken to. Why do they continue to believe it? Because questioning their faith is too frightening and painful. In the end, they’re just not willing to do it, even though they believe that Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, etc should all question theirs. In other words, they’ve chosen to believe the old prophet, even when evidence shows they shouldn’t.