Lessons from Lions: The Day a Lion Stood Still

1 Kings 13

One day the Son of God stood still, and two thousand years later millions still wonder at the grace that stopped the Lord in order to bring a blind beggar into blessing[1]. One day the sun stood still. The trajectory it had taken for centuries had not altered. But God halted the sun at Joshua’s command, until Joshua secured victory over the five kings of the Amorites[2]. Would anyone that saw that sight ever forget it? One day a lion stood still. One man, who saw it, would mourn over it for a long time.

But the narrative does not begin with that one mourner. It begins with King Jeroboam who took the first steps that led the northern kingdom of Israel to become idolatrous. The people advised the king to make two golden calves to thwart any of the king’s subjects making the journey to Jerusalem to the temple Solomon had built less than thirty years earlier (12:28). The solution they proposed was strikingly like the one Aaron claimed the people had asked of him[3].

One day when the king was in attendance at the altar – a service that was the exclusive responsibility of the sons of Aaron – an unnamed prophet arrived at Bethel where one of those calves and an altar had been installed. Boldly, he prophesied against the innovations Jeroboam had made. He even named the king whom God would use against those innovations – Josiah, who would not reign for another 300 years. The only future for the false system of worship was the desecration of that altar, to show God’s abhorrence of it. When this man of God issued the command, Jeroboam’s altar split in two, without the raising of a hand. But, defiantly, the king raised his hand to have the brave messenger arrested, only for his hand to wither in an upright position.

There followed invitations to dine, something God had forbidden to His messenger: the first from the king when the man of God’s prayer restored power to his arm, and a second one from an old prophet who was out of touch with God. The king offered what must have been appealing to the Lord’s servant – refreshment and reward. Mentally and physically exhausted with the demands of service, a little refreshment would have been welcome. And the reward? A hundred years would pass before Elisha would refuse to take “a blessing” from a grateful Naaman[4]. Nevertheless, without a role model to imitate, the man of God refused despite the king’s urging; he chose to obey God rather than man[5]. Stoutly the man of God refused the king, but, deceived by the lying old prophet, the faithful prophet accepted his invitation. He paid dearly for his mistake. A lion slew him. When the old prophet arrived at the scene, lying in death was that faithful man and two unlikely witnesses – an ass and a lion – stood witness to the cost of disobedience.

The inspired historian comments tellingly that “the lion had not eaten the carcass (of the faithful man of God), nor torn the ass” (v 28). As if charged with a noble task, the lion had suppressed its natural appetite. It would see its duty through to the end as a guard of honor to a worthy man, and as a testimony to how even good men can be led astray.

As it was in the days of Jeroboam, so it is today. Men once in touch with God have turned aside to tolerate, if not approve of, innovations in the things of God, often innovations associated with “the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth”[6]. The simple pattern of New Testament testimony they may not have rejected, but certainly they are not upholding. However, some of them would reshape their interpretation of the New Testament. They would not deliberately lie like the old prophet, but would seek to draw earnest servants of Christ into paths of disobedience. They would say like the old prophet: “I am a prophet also as thou art” (v 18). It is always harder to refuse their overtures than to say “No!” to an apostate king!

We read that the old prophet recovered the body of the guest he had recently entertained at his table. He confessed to an understanding of why the disciplining hand of God had cut down the man who before Jeroboam was prepared to be faithful unto death[7]. Then, with the traditional Jewish lamentation: “Alas, my brother!” he buried the man of God in his own tomb (v 30). Did he ask of his God: “Why him, and not me?” For a moment, at least, there was a rekindling in his soul for the God the younger prophet had served so well, until he led him astray. Until the end of his long life, he wanted to be associated with the ways of that younger prophet, even to being buried where he was buried. How sad that it was at this late stage he raised his “Amen” to the ministry of condemnation Jeroboam heard: “… the saying that he cried by the word of the Lord against the altar in Bethel, and all the houses of the high places … shall surely come to pass” (v 32). How long had he been silent?

When the sun stood still upon Gibeon, the inspired historian of the Book of Joshua tells us that “there was no day like that before or after”[8]. Joshua and all who witnessed his great victory could only agree. When the Lord Jesus stood still, blind Bartimaeus would have rejoiced to tell that there had been no day like that day. The old prophet knew well that in his long experience that there had been no day like that day – an altogether calamitous day, when a lion stood still. In a sense, even until this day, that lion still stands still, “that others also may fear”[9].

1. Mark 10:49
2. Josh 10:12-14
3. Exod 32:22-24
4. 2 Kings 5:15-16
5. Acts 5:29
6. 1 Tim 3:15
7. Rev 2:10
8. Josh 10:14
9. 1 Tim 5:20