Agnosticism, Atheism, Christianity, Culture, Faith, God, Religion, Truth

Listening to the Old Prophet

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.

42 thoughts on “Listening to the Old Prophet”

  1. Nate, there’s another dimension to this story. Whenever you’re looking at something demarking Judah and Israel you have to ask yourself who wrote that particular passage. At the time the Pentateuch was mostly written (Kings definitely) Judah was in the process of trying to usurp Israel after being routed by the Assyrians.

    Like

  2. Questioning the Bible is not the same as questioning God.

    So very true. But I run into the same problem whether I am talking to people of faith or atheists. It is as though the both see the questioning of the Bible as a chink in my armor and that I must be doubting God as well and just not willing to say it.

    But yeah, this story is weird one. So many of them are. I do like the meaning you derived from it though.

    Like

  3. @John — those are excellent points. I don’t always think of that angle when I’m reading these passages. It’s an area I need to research further.

    @chialphagirl — thanks for the comment. I’m glad that we see this the same way. The distinction between God and the Bible is very important, and it’s sometimes overlooked in the inerrancy camp.

    Like

  4. Who are you to judge God? Were you there when God gave instructions to the young prophet? Were you there when God gave instructions to Adam not to eat from the tree in the middle of the garden? There is usually a huge amount of information missing or simply not written down about most bible incidents. Just because some information is missing, it doesn’t mean that we cannot get the message of the story. Just like Adam, The young prophet was required to obey God’s command and do as instructed. No amount of excuse would justify his failure to obey the command. They both had to deal with the consequences of failing to do as instructed. We do not have the full details of the instructions that these people received from God. Perhaps God repeated himself a number of times and asked them over and over: have you understood what I have commanded you to do? Like I said, in most bible incidents there is usually a good amount of information missing or simply not written down. However, readers are still able to get the message just from a summary of what’s given.

    Take the following example: if I witness an incident and shortly afterwards appear on tv to comment or say what I saw, I’m most likely just expected to summarize what happened. I’d say something like “the man came out of the car, drew his gun and shot the victim”. From the short statement, someone can easily get an idea of what happened to the victim. Instead of making a long story by saying things like “the car approached from main street, stopped at the traffic lights, turned right and parked in front of the building. The driver then scratched his head and began coughing. After coughing several times he started drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette and talking on his phone. He then came out of his car, peed behind the tree and returned to the car…blah blah blah blah. Although the small details provided about the driver scratching his head, coughing, and peeing are important, someone can still get to know what happened to the victim without being told about these details. What’s important is how the driver shot the victim.

    Like

  5. Hi Sam, and thanks for your comment. I think the essence of what you’re saying boils down to your opening question:

    Who are you to judge God?

    This is actually what I was trying to address in my post. Questioning or judging the Bible is not the same as questioning God. I imagine you view the Book of Mormon as a false religious text. Does that mean you’re judging God? Not at all — you simply don’t believe God had anything to do with the Book of Mormon. And if someone were to ask you why you don’t believe the Book of Mormon is legit, you’d probably have some reasons for that.

    It’s the same with me. I don’t believe the Bible was inspired by God, and I have some reasons (very good ones, in my opinion) for that view. So if you and I are going to discuss the merits of the Bible, you’ll have to demonstrate to me why I should believe it was inspired in the first place — it’s not something I can accept a priori.

    Does that point of view make sense? You could almost say it’s my high respect for the notion of God that keeps me from accepting the Bible as his word. I’m not criticizing God at all.

    Like

  6. And just to add to nate’s point, the young prophet was punished because he took the word of some guy, when the young prophet should have been more skeptical of the dude’s claims.

    Similarly, wouldn’t we be as guilty as the young prophet for simply accepting what random people tell us about god? SHouldn’t we verify that what they claim is true and in fact from god?

    Since the bible is a collection of claims about god from various authors, shouldn’t we try to see if those are in fact true – or just more claims like the one from the old prophet?

    Like

  7. Who are you to judge God?

    To judge means to form an opinion about someone or something; so whenever theists make claims about the quality of God’s character (kind, merciful, loving, etc.) they unwittingly betray the fact that they too are guilty of having judged God.

    Like

  8. I have been absent for a while, and only have a few minutes, but I thought William really nailed this one, and wanted to leave my 2 cents! 😉

    All the stories in the scriptures, whether they really happened or not (I believe they did), are meant to teach us something. They are all thematically connected. They are all the same small group of stories relating to the fall, and plan of redemption, designed to teach us in different ways.

    This story is connected to Eve, Balaam, and Paul. In each of these stories YHWH gave a command not to eat something. Paul says ” 8 Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.”, similarly to what the serpent told Eve “surely you will not die”. And while Eve did not die at the moment she ate, she was removed from the garden, and the tree of life, and slowly began to age a die. In the first witness, we are not told why Balaam was killed, but Yeshua tells us in Revelations that it was for teaching to eat meat sacrificed to idols. This is the same thing that Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 8.

    In Deuteronomy 13 YHWH said He would send a false prophet to test us and see if we would keep His commandments. The story of Paul and the old lying prophet, is the same story. Yeshua gave us His testimony that “there is no new commamdment, but the same commandment that was from the beginning” this was the Torah. That is why He said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, nobody comes to the father except through me”. These are all Hebrew idioms for the Torah. So in essence, He was saying that He is the Torah in bodily form, and nobody gets to the Father except through Torah. So we have Messiahs witness, and then here comes that lying prophet to say “God gave me a new commandment”!

    We are to test, and not just believe every lying spirit. Not all things are from the Father.

    Like

  9. Wow, nice lesson on Skepticism you drew out of that story. Also, I appreciate your demarkation of “questioning God” and “questioning the bible”. In my early days of disbelief, I, too, equated them as the same thing, I suppose b/c as a Believer I equated them as the same thing, b/c, as you know, when you are a believer (in Christianity) then the Bible and God pretty well ARE the same thing, for in what other way do we come to know God, right? I mean, you can believe in Something, but until you know of the message of Christianity from the Bible, you don’t believe in the bible’s god (just as we don’t believe in the Quran’s god, Allah, unless we believe the Quran/Koran).

    But I’m beginning to see a difference. Questioning the bible is not the same as questioning god. No, I don’t believe in (a)god(s) any more now than I did in my early days of disbelief, though I do hold the view that there is the Possibility of god(s) that we simply haven’t found evidence for. But even if we do find evidence of a Creator, we will still have all our work ahead of us proving Which deity it was, since, as you point out, prophecies like Tyre (and I would point out the physical impossibility of the preservation of species by way of the Ark) show the bible to be inadmissible as evidence for the Creator being the deity its pages proclaim.

    But really, this shouldn’t be an issue to most people, b/c the god they believe in isn’t the god of the bible, anyway. They talk about a god who is full of Love, Mercy, Kindness, etc., but evidence (reading the Bible) does not show that to be the same person. Additionally, most Christians keep Sunday, which is nowhere commanded nor exemplified in the NT, and they Don’t keep the Sabbath (10 Commandments? More like 9…unless you’re Catholic, then it is 8–look at all those Graven Images, and all those Mortals they’ve elevated to the level of Demi-gods!), they celebrate Easter, but don’t celebrate Passover (even though Jesus and the disciples DID celebrate passover, and even though you cannot get “three days and three nights in the tomb” from Good Friday to Easter Sunday)…etc.

    Like

  10. Hi eSell! Great to hear from you again!

    Thanks for your comment. I completely agree that the inconsistencies abound when you really start looking at it objectively. I don’t know why it took me so long to see all the problems…

    Like

  11. Hey Nate,

    I was really impressed with your exegesis! If I understand you, the young prophet stands for one who has heard from God and the old prophet stands for the Bible. The young prophet knows the truth and believes the truth but loses courage when the old prophet starts filling him with doubts and worries. The only “argument” the old prophet has to offer is, “I’m old. I represent the way things have ‘always been’ therefore I’m right.” It’s a stupid argument but we’re all prone to fall for it because “everyone” listens to the old prophet and who am I to think I know better than “everyone”? Blah, blah, blah. Boils down to this: you need to strap on your balls if you want to hold on to the truth because the ‘authorities’ are always going to try to overrule you.

    Like I said, very nice exegesis!

    I’ve complained, in the past, that you’re too much of a concrete thinker but you really showed me something with this one!

    🙂

    Paul

    Like

  12. Wow, Paul, is that what Nate was saying? I totally missed the boat! I thought he said, specifically,

    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.

    The Old Prophet had been a prophet, but the message he brought on that day to the Young’an wasn’t from God, but the Young Prophet didn’t check up to see if it was. This business of “hold on to the truth you got from God in the face of the ‘authorities'” smacks of a religious form of Anti-government (church government) Paranoia. Sure, if someone really has gotten a message straight from the (presumably) One and Only True God then you absolutely MUST hold on to it no matter what anybody says or does to you.

    Perhaps I’m a little over-sensitive on this point, but I’ve seen what this type of thinking leads to. The original church I was a part of, the Worldwide Church of God, started splintering heavily after the death of its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, in 1986. The new management started an unprecedented program of Change to make the church Mainstream instead of bible literalist, sabbath keeping, etc. So, the founder of the next church claimed “a message from God!” to “hold on to the Faith once Delivered!” Others did the same…the United Church of God, the Global Church of God, the Philadelphia Church of God, the Restored Church of God, etc, etc. Some split directly from the parent church, others split from each other until now there are an estimated 600 of these COG groups. And when a new group starts, families are torn apart and friends are lost in mutual theological hatreds.

    But the young prophet stands for one who has heard from God and the Old Prophet stands for the Bible? That may be true, but I would hope that it isn’t, otherwise God is revealing extra stuff that 1. Isn’t in the Bible, and 2. From the context of your statements, is something that is Contradictory to the bible (I won’t say “contradictory to our understanding of the bible” b/c every single denomination has its own understanding, so that gets us nowhere). Of course, it is impossible to prove whether someone actually has an extra-biblical revelation; which one of the hundreds of COG splinters is the One True Church? They all claim New Revelation, and leaders of several of them claim to be Prophets.

    I’m not meaning to be as Aggressive as this comment may sound. As I said, I’m pretty sensitive to the idea of “hold on to the Truth from God in the face of the Authorities” b/c of my own church experiences. Please, CaptainCatholic, I would like to hear your thoughts in return.

    Like

  13. I totally understand where you’re coming from and you make solid points. So, basically, I agree with you. I’m a Catholic, you see, so schisms and splinter groups is the LAST thing I want.

    I was simply calling for faith, and the courage to hold on to faith.

    Here’s an example: I know God is merciful and forgiving and He wants ME to be merciful and forgiving. But! Let’s say I were to encourage us all to be merciful and understanding to abortionists (which I do, in fact). What would happen?

    I know what happens because it happens to me! All sorts of people (and I’ve found that the laity is often much worse than the clergy, so it’s hardly ‘anti-government’ on my part — even though I see your concern) will start quoting the Bible, or the catechism, or this encyclical or that one and tempt me to do what they do, which is to remake God in their own image — narrow, Pharasitical, punitive, vindictive and rule bound.

    It takes courage to keep believing that God rules the Universe with mercy when all the ‘religious’ folks around you are ‘improving’ on God’s methods by judging and prosecuting “evil doers” (as if any of us WEREN’T an evil doer!)

    Hope that clears it up.

    Paul

    Like

  14. It takes courage to keep believing that God rules the Universe with mercy

    Yes it does. Considering he is a monster and a maniac. But it takes hardly any effort to dismiss it at all. Unless one is delusional.

    Oh…maybe you don’t believe in the bible , Paul? Are you the consummate cherry picker?

    Maybe /Yahweh Yeshua has been whispering in your ear – being as so many of you believe in a Person Relationship, yes?

    Like

  15. You, Ark, are a dick; but a totally lovable dick so I’m happy to respond.

    “Cherry Picking” is not a concern for me since my faith is not based on the Bible. I feel free to comment on the Bible as I would comment on Nate’s blog. I endorse the things I can see will lead me to joy and to the truth and I question the things that look to me as if they’ll lead me into confusion, insanity and misery.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, Ark, but the folks who insist on consuming the Bible whole — stems, seeds, husks and all — are all nut jobs. Sensible people avoid them and the folks who follow them become as miserable as they are.

    If that’s what you get for renouncing ‘cherry picking’ I’m happy to be a cherry picker.

    Be happy,
    Be well,

    Paul

    Like

  16. So, if you are a Christian:

    1. which doctrine do you adhere to, if not the bible?
    2. where did you discover info about your god, if not the bible?
    3.if this was via inculcation and/or word of mouth how could you trust the source and how did you verify the info?

    Like

  17. @Ark

    I love the way you use the phrase, “so if you are a Christian…” One would think I were on trial for not being Christian enough and you were the prosecuting attorney. Who takes the role if judge in this scenario.

    Your questions are all easy:

    1) My faith is in the Eucharist — the body and blood of Christ Jesus. Don’t like that answer? I got nothing else. My claim is that Jesus asked me to join his Church, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. He asked me and I accepted his invitation.

    2) I got my faith from my mother — and, to varying extent, to other elders in the faith. Living human beings, none of whom presented themselves to me as infallible. I continue to rely on others to encourage my faith.

    3) I’m trying to do as you recommend– that is, think for myself. I consider it an advantage that I seem to have an insatiable appetite for joy. My ‘rule of thumb’ is that whatever leads me away from joy is false.

    And, now, I’m off to Mass.

    Be happy,
    Be well,

    Paul

    Like

  18. @Laurie, “We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.”, similarly to what the serpent told Eve “surely you will not die”. And while Eve did not die at the moment she ate, she was removed from the garden, and the tree of life, and slowly began to age a die.”

    What makes this story not believable is the premise that Adam and Eve would have lived forever if they had not sinned. Most scientists believe the Earth can only support about 10 billion humans. Estimates put the total amount of humans to have ever existed at over 100 billion.

    What would God do with all of these people if they hadn’t sinned ? Good thing sin was invented. 🙂

    Like

  19. Your questions are all easy:

    1) My faith is in the Eucharist — the body and blood of Christ Jesus. Don’t like that answer? I got nothing else. My claim is that Jesus asked me to join his Church, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. He asked me and I accepted his invitation.

    2) I got my faith from my mother — and, to varying extent, to other elders in the faith. Living human beings, none of whom presented themselves to me as infallible. I continue to rely on others to encourage my faith.

    3) I’m trying to do as you recommend– that is, think for myself. I consider it an advantage that I seem to have an insatiable appetite for joy. My ‘rule of thumb’ is that whatever leads me away from joy is false.

    And my answer is also easy:

    From the immortal words of Monty Python’s Life of Brian

    “He’s making it up as he goes along”

    Like

  20. And, from the immortal words of Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall”

    “What an asshole!”

    But I say it with nothing but love!

    One day, perhaps, you’ll want to have an actual conversation. When you do let me know.\

    Paul

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s