By Jeannette Haley
“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” – Proverbs 4:23
It’s important to note that God’s Word mentions our heart hundreds of times throughout the Bible. Of course, He is not talking about our physical heart, but that which makes up our mind, will, emotions, and conscience. We can see these four areas in the following scriptures beginning with the mind: “And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?” (Matthew 9:4); the will, “Who, when he came, and had seen the grace of God, was glad, and exhorted them all, that with purpose of heart they would cleave unto the Lord.” (Acts 11:23); the emotions, “And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.” (John 16:22); and the conscience, “For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” (1 John 3:20). [Emphasis added.]
In Psalm 51:6 (written by King David), we read, “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.” The “inward parts” is where our true character is established (or lack thereof), for this is the very core of a person and where love for the truth must be first established if the heart (or innermost being), the thoughts, the will, and the emotions are to be in line with God and His will. In order to keep (or guard) our heart we must maintain a right spirit. We read in verses 10-13, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.”
I don’t know about you, but when I meditate on these Scriptures I can sense the call of God, the wooing of the Holy Spirit, and the invitation of the Lord Jesus Christ to draw near, take His outstretched hand and follow Him into the depths of the wells of salvation where the living waters flow that never run dry but continually give everlasting and abundant life. The key is, if we are to go deeper in God, we must give way to His call, His Word, His ways, and His will.
Every day we live on this earth we are giving way to something. We give way to so many things without even thinking about it because it’s natural to be swayed by the many “voices” that surround us in this world. The problem is, most of these “voices” have nothing to offer but delusion, disappointment, destruction and death because they are made up of lies and there is no truth in them. For believers and unbelievers alike, the battle begins in the soul—in our mind, our will, and our emotions. Some people “figure” it all out in their mind as to how things will work out for their benefit and base their decisions on their conclusions, while others have strong wills that have been fortified by decisions that insure they are able to maintain control over their lives, and some go with whatever makes their “image” look good to others. Finally, there are those who base their decisions on their emotions, giving way to how they feel about a matter and concluding that because they feel so strongly about it, they must be right. No wonder Jesus said to His disciples, “Are ye also yet without understanding” Matthew 15:16?
This brings us back to the heart of man, out of which come the issues of life. Jesus went on to say, “Do not ye yet understand that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man” Matthew 15:17-20a. That defilement is what King David felt when he wrote Psalm 51, and it is the same defilement a true Christian will feel if he or she gives way to the world, the flesh and the devil, which can and does happen because when we receive Christ into our hearts, our free will remains. In other words, we can still decide to give way to sin. In David’s case, he gave way to his emotions in the matter of Bathsheba. The Apostle Peter gave way to his emotions when he denied Christ; John gave way to his mental reasoning when he wanted to call fire out of heaven upon the Samaritans; the Apostle Paul gave way to his strong-willed conclusion in the matter of John Mark, so much so that he and Barnabas separated; and Judas Iscariot gave way to the image he had set up in his own heart of what the true Messiah should be.
In the Old Testament in the book of 1 Kings 13 we read the interesting account of a man of God who is called the “Unknown Prophet.” He came out of Judah to Bethel when king Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense which was not lawful for a king to do. The Bible records the prophecy he gave to Jeroboam, the signs that followed and how he initially obeyed God’s instructions to the letter in not accepting the king’s invitation to go to his house for refreshments and a reward. “And the man of God said unto the king, If thou wilt give me half thine house I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place: For so was it charged me by the word of the LORD, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that he came to Bethel” 1 Kings 13:8, 9. The man of God stood firm upon the Word of the Lord, and could not be swayed to give way to the king’s enticing invitation to refresh himself and receive a reward.
So far, so good but the story is far from finished. Having passed the first test, on his way home he suddenly found himself tempted by an invitation that was hard for him to resist. He had done everything the Lord told him to do, and even though he hadn’t made it all the way home yet, no doubt he gave way to weariness and took some time out to rest. After all, he was alone, hungry, thirsty and no doubt exhausted, which is the normal state of a servant of the Lord after God has mightily manifested Himself through him or her. Therefore, when the lying prophet found him sitting under an oak tree, he found him in a vulnerable state when he said unto him, “I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the LORD, saying Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water.” In disobedience to the Lord, the unknown prophet gave way. “So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water.” (Verses 18, 19.)
How easy it is to give way to the flesh, for it is weak! How easy it is to give way to our own conclusions instead of walking in obedience to God because we think we have it all figured out and “deserve a break!” How easy it is to give way to temptation when our will is not firmly grounded on truth; and, what is truth? Jesus said, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” John 17:17. How very easy it is to be swayed to give way to something that strongly appeals to our mind, will and emotions when we are not thoroughly persuaded of the truth, established in the truth, standing on the truth, and living by the truth. And in the case of the unnamed prophet, he should have known that God would not alter His Words or change the explicit instructions that He gave him. At the very least, he should have inquired of the Lord instead of giving way to temptation.
The old prophet said to him, “I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the LORD, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he lied unto him” verse 18. Perhaps the unnamed prophet, in his humanness, longed for someone like-minded whom he could fellowship with. In a way, this reminds me of lonely and vulnerable Christians who end up joining a “social club church” where people sit for years listening to regurgitated baby food “sermons” week after week, followed by coffee and cookies, or a potluck where surface chit chat replaces true communion and fellowship in the Spirit. No one is hungry for the true Bread from heaven or thirsty for the Living Water; instead, they give way to whatever is comfortable, easy, convenient and predictable. Granted, such a church has a strong appeal for those who long for companionship, but at what price?
What the unnamed prophet forgot, and what we need to remember is this: “And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” 1 Samuel 15:22.
Giving way to the flesh, the world and the devil may bring a moment of pleasure in some instances, but it’s usually short-lived as in the case of this prophet. “So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water. And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the LORD came unto the prophet that brought him back: And he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the LORD, and has not kept the commandment which the LORD thy God commanded thee, But camest back, and hast eaten bread and drunk water in the place of the which the LORD did say to thee, Eat no bread, and drink no water; thy carcase shall not come unto the sepulcher of thy fathers” verses 19-22.
This pronouncement was devastating to both of the prophets because, according to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, “for a Jew to not be properly buried with their fathers was a point of great shame. (Isaiah 14:18-20; Jeremiah 16:4)The strong emphasis in the Old Testament on burial serves to bind the dead with their ancestors, and, hence, the Jews together as a people. Typical burial expressions include “he was gathered to his people” (Genesis 35:29; 49:33) and “he rested with his fathers” (1 Kings 2:10; 11:43). Indeed, families were buried together (Genesis 49:29-33), even if it meant traveling a great distance to do so (Genesis 50:12-13). That burial resulted in the corruption of the body was understood (Genesis 3:19 ; Job 17:13-16 ; Psalm 16:10 ; Acts 13:36), but it was precisely against that common recognition of the fate of the dead that the hope of resurrection was born (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2).” From Got Questions.com we read this interesting statement: “The prophet who had lied buried the man of God in his own grave and instructed his own sons to, upon his death, bury him beside the man of God. In doing these things, the old prophet showed his sincere belief that the prophet who died had been a true man of God—his prophecies against the idolaters of Israel would come true (1 Kings 13:31–32).”
There are those who have many questions surrounding why this unnamed prophet met such a horrible fate. Granted, humanly speaking, it’s easy to sympathize with the mental, physical and spiritual challenges he faced. He obeyed the word of the Lord as far as traveling to Judah and confronting King Jeroboam, which took a great deal of courage. Not everyone who goes up against a king survives! When the king went to move against him, the power of the Lord was with him to also give a sign and the king’s hand instantly dried up so that he couldn’t move it. The altar also was rent and the ashes poured out from it. The third miracle was when the king’s hand was restored in answer to the prophet’s prayer.
Then came temptation in the form of an invitation from the king to go home with the him for refreshment and a reward. This is how the enemy works after a powerful manifestation of the presence and power of God because he knows that after the Lord uses a person in such a manner, their emotional energy has been greatly concentrated and spent out; their mind is caught up in the events making it harder to process the awesomeness of supernatural intervention and power; and, their body is shaken because physically our flesh cannot long endure a sustained outpouring of God’s power. Remember, God placed Moses in a cleft of the rock to protect Him as He passed by.
Even though the unnamed prophet was undoubtedly tired, hungry and thirsty he did not give way to the king’s invitation because what fellowship has a believer with an idolater? 2 Corinthians 6:15 says, “And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” Unfortunately, the younger prophet believed the old prophet, thus giving way to deception instead of giving way to the Word of God. The Apostle Paul warned of this in Galatians 1:8-10, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.”
The examples and lessons we can glean from this story are many, but one of the things that I want to focus on is the repetition of God’s instructions concerning not to eat bread or drink water in “this place.” We read God’s explicit instructions in verses 8, 9,16, 17, 18, 19, 22, and23. In order to begin to understand why this was so important we first need to consider some facts about “that place,” that is, Bethel, which means “House of God.” It was a place for the Hebrews’ early encounters with God. Bethel is mentioned in over sixty verses in the Bible, representing over thirty distinct stories and prophecies, all of them in the Old Testament. From Got Questions.com we learn, “Two towns named Bethel appear in the Bible. The Bethel of lesser significance, a village in the Negev, is mentioned as one of the places where David sent spoils to his friends, the elders of Judah (1 Samuel 30:26–27). Another Bethel, a city of foremost importance in the Bible, was located about 11 miles north of Jerusalem near Ai. A major trading center, Bethel stood at a crossroads, with its north-south road passing through the central hill country from Hebron in the south to Shechem in the north, and its main east-west route leading from Jericho to the Mediterranean Sea. Only Jerusalem is mentioned more frequently than Bethel in the Old Testament.”
One can only wonder if the oak tree that the unnamed prophet sat beneath was the same oak that Deborah, Rebekah’s nurse, was buried under near Bethel (Genesis 35:8). Perhaps he was going over in his mind the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or perhaps how Deborah, the judge of Israel, held court at a site between Ramah and Bethel (Judges 4:5) We can only guess, but he had his reasons for resting under the oak tree.
Thus, we see how important Bethel was because of God’s dealings with Israel, but now it had become a place of idolatry instead of the “House of the Lord.” The question remains, what was so important about not eating bread or drinking water that it’s recorded in Scripture eight times? First, it is obvious that God called the prophet to fast so that he could concentrate on the Lord and his mission. Fasting is one form of self-denial, and consecration to God. Perhaps another answer lies in the biblical symbolism of bread and water. In the Old Testament, the “bread” that God gave the Israelites to eat for forty years was Manna from heaven which symbolized Jesus as the Bread of Life. As Christians we know that Jesus is the bread from heaven. He declared, “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” John 6:35. In John 6:58 He said, “This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.”
Again, in the Old Testament, the water that gushed out of the rock (which rock symbolizes Jesus) represented the living water that comes from Christ. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 we read, “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” 1 Samuel 2:2 says, “There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.” Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” In John 7:38 Jesus said, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”
I believe that the Word of the Lord to the unnamed prophet to not eat bread or to drink water in “that place” was a message for the people that God’s presence could no longer tolerate the sin and debauchery taking place at Bethel. Because God is holy, and because the bread and the water symbolizes the bread from heaven and the living water that is to be partaken of before Him by His children alone, they could have no fellowship or communion in an unholy place that had been defiled by devil worship. In other words, God calls us to “come out and be separate,” and to be “holy, for God is holy.” “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,”2 Corinthians 6:17. “For it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” 1 Peter 1:16.
For the unnamed prophet to refuse to eat bread or drink water with a wicked king was not a great temptation for him. But he failed the test and let down his guard when it came to another prophet. He assumed it would be okay for him to be with a fellow servant of God, and was swayed to give way to his own mind, will and emotions, and it cost him his life.
This is a great lesson for all of us to remember, that no matter who or what tries to persuade us to disobey the LORD in any matter, be it great or small, we must be steadfast in our obedience to the Lord.