O Altar

1 Kings 13.2-6: And he cried against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, O, altar, altar, thus saith the LORD: Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name; and upon thee shall he sacrifice the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men’s bones shall they burn upon thee. And he gave a sign the same day, saying, This is the sign which the LORD has spoken: Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out. And it came to pass, when the king heard the saying of the man of God, which he cried against the altar in Beth-el, that Jeroboam put forth his hand from the altar, saying, Lay hold on him. And his hand, which he put forth against him, dried up, so that he could not draw it back again to him. The altar also rent, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD. And the king answered and said unto the man of God, Intreat now the favour of the LORD thy God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored me again. And the man of God intreated the LORD, and the king’s hand was restored him again, and became as it was before.

With each part of this continuing story, more important aspects are shown unto us. Here, we have Jeroboam, king over Israel, about to offer sacrifices on an altar that he himself erected. The time had come for one of the feasts that God had commanded the Israelites to keep. However, since the kingdom had just become split (with Rehoboam as king over Judah), Jeroboam was worried that if his people should return to Jerusalem for this festival, they would want to return to the fold and be one again with Judah, hence stripping him of his kingdom. So, he built two calves of gold and told Israel, “Behold, thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” All of these actions came even after God had spoken the promises He would do if Jeroboam were to keep His statutes and commands (1 Kings 11.37-39).

When God sends forth a man out of obscurity, the world will view him as foolish and as a nobody. He will be received mostly with, “Who are you to tell me..” This is the case here.

The man of God comes, sent by the power of the word of the Lord, and speaks against the altar. He wasn’t speaking against Jeroboam himself, but prophesied to the altar what would soon happen to it: “O altar, altar…” The words were harsh and not ‘easy’. The king was burning within himself and could not believe that this man whose name wasn’t even known would come speak in front of the king in such a manner. To make matters worse, the man of God wasn’t even from his kingdom, but from Judah’s. Jeroboam’s reaction reminds me of the Pharisee’s reaction to a blind man’s words in John 9, who had just received his sight: “Thou was altogether born in sins, and dost thou teach us?”

We have a tendency, just as the king’s here, to react in rage when the word of God comes forth against us, against our thoughts, our beliefs, our organizations and denominations, our own ‘altars’ that we have built around our own hearts. We raise our hand against the man of God and say, “Lay hold on him.” and/or “Sinner, dost thou teach us?” To speak and react this way against the true man of God, is to speak and question God Himself whom is speaking through that man. Why was Jeroboam’s reaction like this? It is because it didn’t fit into his categories and his own intentions. When God sends forth a man to speak, it will be with a sword that cuts through soul and spirit, bone and marrow, separating that which is man made and that which is commanded of God.

Jeroboam had just heard a prophecy against this altar with which he was about to sacrifice, and had his people seize the man of God. He raised his hand against the man and his hand dried up and withered. The altar was rent and ashes poured out from it, according to the sign given by the man of God. This points to this passage in scripture, Hebrews 12.25-29:

See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not, when they refused him that warned them on earth, much more shall not we escape, who turn away from him that warneth from heaven: whose voice shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more will I make to tremble not the earth only, but also the heaven. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made, that those things which are not shaken may remain. Wherefore receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us have grace, whereby we may offer service well-pleasing to God with reverence and awe: for our God is a consuming fire.

God warned Jeroboam from heaven through this man of God. And yet, he ‘refused Him that speaketh’. If it doesn’t fit into our own plans and if the word seems harsh or unsentimental, then we refuse Him, even though He has spoken since the beginning. God will shake heaven and earth just as this passage speaks. Not only that, but the ‘shaking of christianity’ will also take place. The things that are man-made in christianity itself, just as the altar built by Jeroboam, will be rent and the ashes of all of those spiritual sacrifices that men have made unto it will pour out onto the ground.

Jeroboam was never thinking about eternal things, as evidenced by his reaction. Instead of taking heed of the words spoken, he worried about what? His own hand being withered. He was worried about the ‘now’, the appearance of things.

When the word of God is spoken, though harsh, though hard, though cutting, the question to all of us now becomes: Will we intreat the Lord to restore our hand? Or will we intreat the Lord to restore our souls?

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