Prophet vs. prophet; lions, death, and so on.
There are many things I do not fully understand about the Old Testament. There are some passages that, if they weren’t bundled in a book that otherwise appears to be the result of inspiration, I would probably discount entirely. Nevertheless, it was the scriptures that were used in the education of many scriptural writers I do admire greatly, including Christ, so I continue at it gamely striving to learn both the context of those later passages and to deepen my understanding of the Lord’s eternal operations.
Over the past few weeks I have been pondering a story found in 1 Kings chapter 13. Condensing it to a set of bullet points, it goes as follows:
One prophet is given a mission to share a prophesy, as well as an arbitrary restriction.
Another prophet, older and more experienced, is told to persuade the first to violate that restriction.
A lion kills the first prophet for heeding the second. The lion and a donkey stand next to the corpse so others can see it happened.
The second prophet retrieves the first’s corpse, mourns over it, buries it, and affirms the prophesy made by the first.
In pondering this story, the first conclusion I came to was about the lion. The only reason I can find for the lion portion of the story is to make certain everyone knows killing the first prophet was God’s doing: the first prophet was in error in the Lord’s eyes. In the chaotic world of the Old Testament histories, this kind of miraculous event is often needed for that to be clearly seen.
This suggests a simple yet sometimes troubling truth: I should heed the Lord’s word to me over the Lord’s word to others, even if those others are older and more experienced in matters of the Lord than I. It is surprisingly difficult for even as proud and self-assured person as I to actually trust my own revelations over those of established prophets. Fortunately, so far the two have rarely been at odds.
This principle, or a similar one, is taught elsewhere, of course. 1 Nephi chapter 4, for example, has the same core message but that passage leaves open the possibility of thinking the message is “specific beats general”—which may also be true, of course but it does not remove the revelation weighting function “first-person > third-person”. 1 Kings 13 does suggest the less comfortable “first-person > second-person”, but the core ideas are mutually supportive.
Another simple truth the story in 1 Kings 13 teaches is that a prophesy may be true even if the prophet is guilty of sin. Attacking the messenger does not invalidate the message.
A third principle I also glean from this passage is not as clear, and I might have it a little off target. I suspect that God considers death in a much different light than do we. Was having dinner when asked to fast a crime punishable by death? I have been guilty of breaking a fast early myself, so I hope not. But was the lesson taught by this story worth the death of a young prophet? I believe the evidence says yes, it was. The lesson that Elijah was truly inspired appears to have been worth the death of 100 presumably innocent soldiers; the lesson that mocking a prophet is unwise worth the death of 42 children; etc. In many instances I can only conclude that the Lord feels death is less bad than failing to make His point. My students will be happy to know that this is one aspect of the Master Teacher which I have never even considered emulating.