Here is, I. The death of the deceived disobedient prophet. The old prophet that had deluded him, as if he would make him some amends for the wrong he had done him or help to prevent the mischief threatened him, furnished him with an ass to ride home on; but by the way a lion set upon him, and killed him, 1 Kgs. 13:23, 24. He did but return back to refresh himself when he was hungry, and behold he must die for it; see 1 Sam. 14:43. But we must consider, 1. That his offence was great, and it would by no means justify him that he was drawn into it by a lie; he could not be so certain of the countermand sent by another as he was of the command given to himself, nor had he any ground to think that the command would be recalled, when the reason of it remained in force, which was that he might testify his detestation of the wickedness of that place. He had great reason to suspect the honesty of this old prophet, who did not himself bear his testimony, nor did God think fit to make use of him as a witness against the idolatry of the city he lived in. However, he should have taken time to beg direction from God, and not have complied so soon. Did he think this old prophet’s house safer to eat in than other houses at Beth-el, when God had forbidden him to eat in any? That was to refine upon the command, and make himself wiser than God. Did he think to excuse himself that he was hungry? Had he never read that man lives not by bread alone? 2. That his death was for the glory of God; for by this it appeared, (1.) That nothing is more provoking to him than disobedience to an express command, though in a small matter, which makes his proceedings against our first parents, for eating the forbidden fruit, the easier to be accounted for. (2.) That God is displeased at the sins of his own people, and no man shall be protected in disobedience by the sanctity of his profession, the dignity of his office, his nearness to God, or any good services he has done for him. Perhaps God by this intended, in a way of righteous judgment, to harden Jeroboam’s heart, since he was not reformed by the withering of his hand; for he would be apt to make a bad use of it, and to say that the prophet was well enough served for meddling with his altar, he had better have staid at home; any, he would say that Providence had punished him for his insolence, and the lion had done that which his withered hand might not do. However, by this God intended to warn all those whom he employs strictly to observe their orders, at their peril.
II. The wonderful preservation of his dead body, which was a token of God’s mercy remembered in the midst of wrath. The lion that gently strangled him, or tore him, did not devour his dead body, nor so much as tear the ass, 1 Kgs. 13:24-26. Nay, what was more, he did not set upon the travellers that passed by and saw it, nor upon the old prophet (who had reason enough to fear it) when he came to take up the corpse. His commission was to kill the prophet; hitherto he should go, but no further. Thus God showed that, though he was angry with him, his anger was turned away, and the punishment went no further than death.
III. The care which the old prophet took of his burial. When he heard of this unusual accident, he concluded it was the man of God, who was disobedient to his Master (and whose fault was that?), therefore the Lord has delivered him to the lion, 1 Kgs. 13:26. It would well have become him to ask why the lion was not sent against him and his house, rather than against the good man whom he had cheated. He took up the corpse, 1 Kgs. 13:29. If there by any truth in the vulgar opinion, surely the corpse bled afresh when he touched it, for he was in effect the murderer, and it was but a poor reparation for the injury to inter the dead body. Perhaps when he cheated him into his ruin he intended to laugh at him; yet now his conscience so far relents that he weeps over him, and, like Joab at Abner’s funeral, is compelled to be a mourner for him whom he had been the death of. They said, Alas! my brother, 1 Kgs. 13:30. The case was indeed very lamentable that so good a man, a prophet so faithful, and so bold in God’s cause, should, for one offence, die as a criminal, while an old lying prophet lives at ease and an idolatrous prince in pomp and power. Thy way, O God! is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters. We cannot judge of men by their sufferings, nor of sins by their present punishments; with some the flesh is destroyed that the spirit may be saved, while with others the flesh is pampered that the soul may ripen for hell.
IV. The charge which the old prophet gave his sons concerning his own burial, that they should be sure to bury him in the same grave where the man of God was buried (1 Kgs. 13:31): “Lay my bones beside his bones, close by them, as near as may be, so that my dust may mingle with his.” Though he was a lying prophet, yet he desired to die the death of a true prophet. “Gather not my soul with the sinners of Beth-el, but with the man of God.” The reason he gives is because what he cried against the altar of Beth-el, that men’s bones should be burnt upon it, shall surely come to pass, 1 Kgs. 13:32. Thus, 1. He ratifies the prediction, that out of the mouth of two witnesses (and one of them such a one as St. Paul quotes, Titus 1:12; one of themselves, even a prophet of their own) the word might be established, if possible to convince and reclaim Jeroboam. 2. He does honour to the deceased prophet, as one whose word would not fall to the ground, though he did. Ministers die, die prematurely it may be; but the word of the Lord endures for ever, and does not die with them. 3. He consults his own interest. It was foretold that men’s bones should be burnt upon Jeroboam’s altar: “Lay mine (says he) close to his, and then they will not be disturbed;” and it was, accordingly, their security, as we find, 2 Kgs. 23:18. Sleeping and waking, living and dying, it is safe being in good company. No mention is made here of the inscription on the prophet’s tomb; but it is spoken of 2 Kgs. 23:17; where Josiah asks, What title is that? and is told, It is the sepulchre of the man of God that came from Judah, who proclaimed these things which thou hast done; so that the epitaph upon the prophet’s grave preserved the remembrance of his prophecy, and was a standing testimony against the idolatries of Beth-el, which it would not have been so remarkably if he had died and been buried elsewhere. The cities of Israel are here called cities of Samaria, though that name was not yet known; for, however the old prophet spoke, the inspired historian wrote in the language of his own time.
V. The obstinacy of Jeroboam in his idolatry (1 Kgs. 13:33): He returned not from his evil way; some hand was found that durst repair the altar God had rent, and then Jeroboam offered sacrifice on it again, and the more boldly because the prophet who disturbed him before was in his grave (Rev. 11:10) and because the prophecy was for a great while to come. Various methods had been used to reclaim him, but neither threats nor signs, neither judgments nor mercies, wrought upon him, so strangely was he wedded to his calves. He did not reform, no, not his priesthood, but whoever would, he filled his hand, and made him priest, though ever so illiterate or immoral, and of what tribe soever; and this became sin, that is, a snare first, and then a ruin, to Jeroboam’s house, to cut if off, 1 Kgs. 13:34. Note, The diminution, disquiet, and desolation of families, are the fruit of sin; he promised himself that the calves would secure the crown to his family, but it proved they lost it, and sunk his family. Those betray themselves that think by any sin to support themselves.