This seemingly simple verse comes near the end of a story about an unnamed ‘man of God’, who was sent from Bethel to Jerusalem to deliver a very clear warning message from God. He had been given instructions by God for the whole trip. He was to stay focussed, deliver the message, not eat or drink with the people, and not to go and return along the same route.
Now the king of Judah, Jeroboam, was standing by the altar when the prophet arrived and spoke out the challenge from God. The king became angry and stretching out his hand he ordered the guards to arrest him. But immediately his hand withered and the altar beside him crumbled, as God had said it would, as a sign that the message was from God. The king was desperate and begged the prophet to `entreat the Lord, your God` to bring healing to his hand. This the prophet did, and when his hand was restored the king offered him hospitality. But mindful of the mission directives the prophet declined all the king`s offers. He stayed focussed on his instruction and set off, choosing an alternative route home. That`s when the story took a dramatic turn.
It`s amazing how often, when we feel we have got it right and done just what God asked of us, we become our most vulnerable. It was at this point in the story that the ‘man of God’ got distracted; just when he was doing so well. He had delivered the message, and God had demonstrated His great authority and power by destroying the altar and then healing the king`s withered hand. Now, probably feeling that the job was done, the man of God was on his return to Bethel. I wonder if his guard was down because he was on the homeward strait.
Just then an old prophet came to speak to him and asked him to come back to his home to eat with him. At first the younger man refused, but when the old prophet pressed him, and even lied, saying that the instructions came by an angel from God, he was persuaded to go with him. Could it be that the old prophet wanted to lead him astray because he was jealous of his obvious anointing? His sons had told him of the amazing happenings in Jerusalem that day. We will never know but, believing this older prophet, the younger man went back to his house to eat and drink with him. He forgot that his clear instructions were for the whole journey, there and back to Bethel.
They ate together, but then God spoke again. He was not at all pleased that His instructions had been overridden and that the `man of God` had not completed the whole assignment. There would be a consequence, as there always is when we step out of God’s covering. Later in the same chapter, in verse 24, we learn what happened The old prophet saddled a donkey for the ‘man of God’ to ride home but, we read, `when he was gone, a lion met him on the road and killed him`. What a terrible end to an amazing story of a man of God.
The moral of this tale is clear. If God gives you some clear instructions, then don’t let yourself be distracted, however plausible the reasoning from others may seem. We must remember that we too can be vulnerable, if we are distracted from God’s instructions. Every day, if we don`t stay on track with God, we are vulnerable because `our adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour` (1 Peter 5:8).
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to remain focussed on the instructions You`ve given me for my walk today, and to carry out the tasks diligently that you set before me. I don’t want to be distracted from Your safe path. Help me too, Lord, never to be the agent of distraction, drawing others off their godly path, with my own soulish reasoning. I pray this in Jesus’ mighty name. Amen.
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