The first character we meet is a man of God who faithfully delivered to Jeroboam the message of judgment that God gave him, refused the king’s attempt to flatter him, was gullibly led astray by the first person who claimed to have a contrary word from the Lord, and was finally killed by a lion as punishment for his disobedience.
Then we have Jeroboam himself, the wicked king who turned down God’s promise to make him a lasting dynasty and sought to build up an alternative religious system. Despite his wholesale rejection of the true worship of God, however, he had no qualms about asking God to heal the hand that withered upon his attempt to seize God’s messenger.
But the strangest character to me is the old prophet of Bethel, who deceives the man of God with a false word from the Lord, and then delivers a true word from the Lord pronouncing judgment on the man of God for the disobedience to which he himself had tempted him. When the judgment falls, he then goes after him, brings him back, mourns over him, and has him buried in his own tomb, apparently for no other reason than the hope that it will protect his own bones from being desecrated when the man of God’s prophecies come true.
This chapter is decidedly lacking in heroes.
At the same time, however, this chapter is a vivid picture of why we need a hero. The deception of the man of God at the hands of the old prophet and his subsequent violent death were a picture of what was going on with the people as a whole. His disobedience brought about swift, sure judgment. The doom that had been pronounced on the false worship of Bethel may have been less swift, but it would be no less sure. The chapter ends with Jeroboam continuing in his wicked idolatry, ignoring the example that God had just provided of what happens to those who rebel against His commands.
We get a hint of a hero in the prophecy delivered by the man of God concerning a future son of David, “Josiah by name,” who would execute God’s judgment on Bethel. But even Josiah was not the hero that the people of God needed. His reign marked the last stand for righteousness in the kingdom of Judah before the rapid downward spiral that led to the Babylonian captivity.
Israel was living in disobedience and rebellion. Kings, priests, and prophets all alike failed to bring about any lasting change, and God’s judgment was well deserved. God’s people throughout all of history need a hero who can not only issue an external call to repentance, but who can atone for our sins and change our hearts from the inside out.
We need a Hero who is also a Savior.
And God provided.
In Christ, those of us who, like Jeroboam, have sought God when convenient and rejected Him when inconvenient are given the ability to offer true worship.
In Christ, those of us who, like the man of God, have been led astray by the lies of those who falsely claim to speak the word of God are taught to know and live the truth.
In Christ, those of us who, like the old prophet, live for our own selfish ends are enabled to die to self and live for Christ.
God’s judgment is sure, but the escape that He has made for His children in Christ is just as sure.
He is the only Hero we’ll ever need.