I Kings – Chapter 13

A False Prophet Has a True Prophecy

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

G-d sent a prophet to see Yaravam. (Radak quotes the Midrash that it was Iddo, but we’ll call him “the man of G-d” here because that’s what he is called throughout the chapter.) The man of G-d came to Yaravam as he was burning incense on his altar. The man of G-d addressed the altar saying, “A son will be born to the house of David and his name will be Yoshiyahu (Josiah). He will kill the false priests of this place and human bones will be burnt on you. As a sign that this will come to pass, the altar will split and the ashes on it will spill!”

Yaravam was not happy that this prophet was interrupting his service with such dire predictions. He stretched his arm out towards the man of G-d, but it became paralyzed and he could not bring it back. And then… the altar broke and the ashes spilled off, just as the man of G-d had said.

This concerned Yaravam. He asked the man of G-d to heal his hand, which he did. He then invited the man of G-d back to his home for a meal. The man of G-d declined, saying that G-d had commanded him not to eat or drink or to return by the same road on which he came. The man of G-d then departed (by a different road, of course).

There was a retired prophet living in Beth-el who heard that the man of G-d was in town. (There is a difference of opinion as to whether he was a real prophet or a false prophet. Rashi and the Targum Yonasan both say he was a false prophet, so let’s go with that.) The false prophet invited the man of G-d to his home for a meal and the man of G-d replied with the command not to eat or drink. At this, the false prophet lied to him. “I’m also a prophet and G-d told me to go and get you.” So the man of G-d accompanied the false prophet to his home.

G-d wasn’t happy that the man of G-d disobeyed His directions. He lost his gift for prophecy, so G-d spoke to him through the previously-false prophet. “Because you disobeyed the word of G-d and ate and drank in this place, your corpse will not be buried in your family’s grave!” (The Radak explains that this means he would not reach home. Rather, he would be killed en route.)

On his way out of town, the man of G-d was attacked by a lion and killed. Miraculously, the lion did not eat the body, nor did it touch the man of G-d’s donkey. The donkey and the lion just stood there by the body. This was pretty unusual and the people reported it to the old prophet. The old prophet retrieved the corpse and buried it in his own family plot. He instructed his sons that, when he would die, he should be buried in the same grave as the man of G-d, in hopes that his own bones would not be among those burned on Yaravam’s altar. (See II Kings chapter 23 to see how the prophecy of the man of G-d turned out. Hint: it takes place three hundred years later, during the reign of King Yoshiyahu/Josiah!)

And Yaravam? Despite the prophecy, the paralyzed hand, the sign of the altar splitting coming true, and the incidents with the false prophet’s prophecy and the lion, he remained unmoved. He continued in his idolatrous ways. Instead of fulfilling his potential of having a lasting dynasty like David, he caused destruction to be declared on his descendants. The Talmud in Tractate Sanhedrin (102a) describes how G-d offered Yaravam a prominent place in Paradise if he repented. Instead, the Mishna there (10:2) lists Yaravam among those rare exceptions who managed to forfeit their shares in the World to Come.

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